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Nestled into Vietnam's northern corner, Hanoi is a jumping off point for many backpackers and holiday-seekers looking to explore the stunning bays and cliffs of Ha Long Bay and the terraced and misty mountains of Sapa to the west. But this capital city isn't just a hub for adventures elsewhere, it's a destination all its own. From historic landmarks that offer looks at the effects of French colonization and the Vietnam War to cultural sites that hint at the area's deep-rooted traditions that pull back centuries of old dynasties, there's plenty to check out inside the city limits. Whether you want to discover ancient architecture and heritage in the Old Quarter, indulge in a day of shopping at Vincom Times City Megamall or the silk street of Hang Gai Street, or simply stroll around the lakes and rivers that divide up the city's ever-growing grid of streets, there's no end to the things to do in Hanoi.
Hanoi's many districts are peppered with cultural landmarks and historic monuments. Take the time to seek them out between the skyscrapers, bustling markets, and green spaces that make up the modern city.
Old Quarter - Hanoi's Old Quarter is characterized by its original French colonial architecture and the nearby Hoan Kiem Lake. On weekends, the area comes alive with the intoxicating smell of street vendors serving up everything from barbecue to bowls of steaming noodles at Dong Xuan Market. Historic landmarks in the Old Quarter include the Confucian Temple of Literature and the One Pillar Pagoda, both built during the Ly Dynasty.
Tay Ho - The urban district of Tay Ho is a mix of modern and ancient Hanoi. Wrapped around the large West Lake, or Ho Tay, the district is dotted with cultural sites like the 6th-century Tran Quoc Pagoda and Quan Thanh Temple, one of Vietnam's Four Sacred Temples. Tay Ho is also a retreat from the rest of the city, with scenic botanical gardens and a paved path that winds around the lake.
Imperial Citadel of Thang Long - A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long was the former residence of Vietnamese royalty. The complex dates back to the Ly Dynasty and served as the political center of the country through the Nguyen Dynasty, the last ruling family of Vietnam. See the formidable Hanoi Flag Tower and artifacts dating from the 6th to the 20th centuries.
French colonial architecture dominates much of Hanoi, with wide, tree-lined boulevards like Phan Dinh Phung street flanked by mansions and villas. See elegant examples of the architectural style at the Hanoi Opera House, Presidential Palace, or beautiful Saint Joseph's Cathedral. Hanoi is also home to a number of museums, including the National Museum of Vietnamese History and Vietnam Military History Museum. And, don't forget to take in a water puppet show, where skilled artists present traditional Vietnamese folk stories using water puppetry, found at the aptly named Thang Long Water Puppet Theater.
The list of places to explore and activities to try in Hanoi is endless, with the city offering both modern and historic experiences. Hanoi food is a must-do during your stay, with the city offering rare cuisine like snake dishes, insect-inspired menus, and local bia hoi (fresh beer), along with the city's signature dish, bun cha (vermicelli noodles with barbecue pork and fresh herbs). Night owls can check out the scene at Bia Hoi Junction, where locals gather to drink the Vietnamese beer at cozy bars that spill out onto the street, and shopaholics can browse the name brands at Dong Xuan Market, the largest indoor market in the city where you can find everything from produce to electronics and handcrafted goods. Get some exercise in with a stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake, where you can soak in local culture and discover a piece of history at the 18th-century Ngoc Son Temple, or consider getting out of the city for a day. Plenty of operators offer service to reach Halong Bay and its incredible collection of picture-perfect beaches surrounded by soaring limestone karsts. Need to cool down? A trip to mountain-toppin Sapa is an ideal place to beat the heat while exploring remote villages on stunning trekking trips.