24 HOURS WANDERING HANOI
Known as the thousand-year-old capital of Vietnam, Hanoi expresses itself in both ancient and modern vibes. The charm of this culturally rich old town lies in the antique beauty of The Old Quarters, historic monuments, tasty cuisines, and a fascinating culture of many colorful folklores. Let’s follow Hanoikids and get on board for a cultural adventure to discover Hanoi in 24 hours.
Start a day at Hoan Kiem Lake (Sword Lake), enjoy a local signature ‘Banh My’ breakfast and a cup of legendary egg coffee.
Topping the ‘must-see’ list of attractions in Hanoi, Hoan Kiem Lake earned its credit for many reasons. Situated at the heart of town, witnessing the history of Hanoi, the lake has long become a spiritual symbol of the old capital. Legend has it that the brightest king of the Le dynasty, circa 15th century, earned the Turtle god’s support and return the celestial sword to the god right on this lake, hence the name ‘Hoan Kiem’, meaning ‘sword returning’. For Hoan Kiem’s significance in geography, culture, and local history, the lake is now the heart and soul of Hanoi where major cultural events and entertainment activities take place.
Put on your shoes, take a deep breath of fresh air, and let’s go for a walk around the lake, starting the early morning part of your #24HoursInHanoi challenge. One of the must-try experiences in Hanoi for you cultural enthusiasts, is starting a new day with waking up your body, and joining the lovely “fitness community” at Hoan Kiem Lake just like a local. Feel the lake breeze on your face. Move in sync with local people young and old, who keep this ‘ritual’ of exercising by the lake every morning. Sense positive vibe and community bonding in the air.
From Hoan Kiem lake, just take a 10-minute walk, you’d arrive at Nguyen Huu Huan Street, populated with cafeterias, especially the legendary Giang Café, famous for its egg coffee recipe created in the 1940s. Have a cup of that milky, delicious yolk-base coffee. And grab a ‘Banh Mi’ – the globally famous sandwich listed as Vietnam’s greatest culinary gifts to the world. It’d be one of the tastiest culinary adventure one can have not only in Asia. And on top of that, watching Hanoi’s vibrant streets life just make it all such a flavorful experience.
A journey to the glory of the past: visiting Hanoi’s historic monuments
Approximately 2 to 3km away from the Sword Lake, you can get to Ho Chi Minh Presidential Palace Historical Site, the colonial style mansion where “Uncle Ho” – Ho Chi Minh – the founder of Vietnamese Communist regime, also the first president of Vietnam, used to live and work.
The next must-see stop would be a visit to the over thousand-year-old Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, a world cultural heritage and a national historic site. This citadel will impress visitors with the amount of history that lies above and beneath the ground. Take a tour to get some juicy storytelling, for so many tales and legends, historically based or fiction, lie within the relic.
Last but not least, no must-see landmark list of Hanoi is complete without The Temple of Literature. As the name itself already suggests, The Temple of Literature is known as the beacon of Vietnam’s history of education, the first National University of feudal Vietnam. Generations of Vietnamese scholars, historical figures, had made their marked and left their footprints of achievement here. A solemn and almost sacred studious spirit dwells the temple air. Throughout a millennium, the brightest students have come here to study and find inspiration. passing on traditions from generations to generations. Nowadays, Temple of Literature is still a crucial part of Vietnamese life, as students and graduates keep coming here to pray, seek blessing, and take their convocation photos.
Enjoy local performing art – a great way to experience Vietnamese culture, perfectly complemented with street food dinner in the Old Quarters.
Spending an unforgettable evening exploring local culture through Vietnamese performing arts is also essential to the 24-hour exploration of Hanoi. Among the many culturally rich theaters around Hanoi center, beside the signature Water Puppet shows, the not-to-be-missed should also include Hanoi Opera House and Vietnam Tuong Theater. The latter one, a cozy, humble yet charming French built theater, is worth mentioning for its significance in Vietnamese performing art history. Sheltering the local army during the independence war, the place later on acted as a melting pot for several Vietnamese performing art genres to take stage: from traditional ones like Tuong, Cheo, Hat Xam, to contemporary shows such as the much talked-about bamboo cirque Lang Toi – My Village: a poetic rendition of Vietnamese village life using unique stage visuals and mesmerizing live ethnic music. The other must-visit spot for theater goers and fans of colonial architecture is Hanoi Opera House. Built in 1911, by then the biggest theater in South East Asia, Hanoi Opera House witnessed the capital’s crucial historical moments through Vietnam’s changing times and stays an honorable venue for the arts and important cultural events local and regional. An eventful performing calendar includes various genres from traditional Cheo, classical Western concerts and plays, contemporary bamboo cirque like My Village, or ethnic concert such as the Seaphony orchestra’s.
(Image: Lang Toi – My Village show)
After enjoying theatrical art, you can either stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake and Dong Xuan night market (only on weekends), or take a walking tour in Hanoi Old Quarters, where you’d find the best of Hanoi street food, dive into bustling local activities, or shop for some exquisite handicraft.
Next, let’s move to the most happening area of Old Quarter by night – Ta Hien Street – now a popular spot for both locals and tourists. Let’s slurp some cold beer, grab a bite of delicious street food, and immerge into the vibrant night life of Old Quarter and view Hanoi in a very different light.
#24hoursinHanoi is fun as a marathon challenge of cultural experience. Though we hope you could have as much time as possible to discover the many surprises and hidden gems of Hanoi’s colorful culture. Just as the local saying goes: ‘It’s Hanoi, take it slow’. Vietnam’s ancient capital is a delicious dish best consumed at leisure.