If you’re planning a honeymoon or romantic getaway to Vietnam, don’t overlook the city of Hanoi. Tanya Joslin shares her experience of discovering the city’s beauty, from its tree-lined boulevards to its ancient architectural gems. Find out why Hanoi should be on your list of destinations for a memorable trip with your loved one.
What surprised me the most about Hanoi is just how beautiful it is. A city of treelined boulevards, lakes and ancient architectural gems that remain modern-day reminders of Vietnam’s fascinating history. Hanoi experienced the tragedies of many wars including the Chinese, the French, and of course the Vietnam (American) war – and all left their mark on lovely Hanoi.
Having said this, much of the city escaped bombing during the horrendous period of perhaps the most famous war, the Vietnam/American war, so its streets and buildings evoke the city’s rich history. Over a period of four days, we easily enjoyed some of Hanoi’s best sites and, like many visitors to the city, the architecture from 100 years of French influence was a highlight for us.
As you would expect, The French Quarter, located on the southern and eastern sides of Hoan Kiem Lake, exudes a distinct French charm. During the late 1800s, Hanoi was under French occupation, and many of the traditional Vietnamese structures were replaced with magnificent French-style houses and villas in this neighbourhood. The result is a beautiful blend of Vietnamese and French architecture that is sure to captivate visitors. It’s is also where you will find the famous Opera House. This cultural and architectural gem is a stunning example of neoclassical architecture and has stood at the heart of central Hanoi for over a century.
The area around The Presidential Palace was one of our favourite to walk around, not least of all because of the beautiful tree-lined path leading to the building that is at the other end of the city’s historical scale – the Ho Chi Minh Stilt House.
Constructed in the gardens of the Presidential Palace, this simple structure does not even have a kitchen and, when you consider the risk of bombings at the time, it seems unfathomable that Ho Chi Minh could sleep well here. In a true testament to his humble background and sincere agenda, ‘Uncle Ho’ refused to live in grand surrounds while so many of his countrymen suffered.
Not far from here is Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, Uncle Ho’s resting place in Ba Dinh Square. His preserved body lies in a glass case… Eerie but a must-see (more below).
Exploring Hanoi’s War History
For those interested in exploring Hanoi’s war history, there are numerous sites throughout the city to visit. However, if you’re on a honeymoon or romantic getaway, you may not want to spend all your time at these locations. That being said, there are a few sites that we highly recommend for their historical significance and fascinating stories. Including these sites in your itinerary will provide a deeper understanding of Hanoi and Vietnam’s past.
The Hanoi Hilton – or Hoa Lo Prison – is just one example. It is incredibly haunting, but is a Hanoi do not miss. While it was the Americans who gave the sarcastic reference to a brand known more for its comfortable or luxury hotels, the prison today focuses on the Vietnamese revolutionaries who were sentenced and sometimes even executed here during the French reign. There are dummies that highlight how emaciated the prisoners were, and some even depict children; original tiny dungeon linked cells, and placards to tell the revolutionary story from the Vietnamese point of view.
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a large granite building that contains the preserved body of Ho Chi Minh, the revolutionary leader of Vietnam. Those who visit the area can pay their respects to the former president and explore exhibits and displays showcasing his life and legacy.
The Long Bien Bridge, spanning across the Red River, holds great historical significance as it played a crucial role during the Vietnam War. Despite being a target of heavy bombing by American forces, the bridge remained standing and was utilised for transporting troops and supplies. Today, visitors can take a stroll across the bridge and marvel at the stunning views of the river and its surroundings.
The Vietnam Military History Museum is highly recommended and boasts an extensive collection of weapons, vehicles, and other artefacts from various wars, including the Vietnam War. One of the highlights of the museum is a replica of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which played a crucial role in transporting supplies and troops during the war.
Related article: Sights, Smells and Sounds of Hanoi
Old Quarter, Hanoi
Old Quarter, where the streets date back to the 13th century, has a long history and is a great way to get an idea of the how Hanoians have traded with each other over hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
It’s a bustling and vibrant area, filled with narrow streets that are steeped in history and culture. Each of the 36 streets in this rustic enclave is dedicated to a particular trade, from haberdashery to hardware to porcelain. As you wander through the maze of lanes, you’ll discover a treasure trove of architectural gems and cultural landmarks, as well as plenty of bargains.
One of the most unique experiences in the Old Quarter is watching the trains that race along tracks jammed between houses at Train Street.
Located in the heart of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, the narrow street is flanked by houses on either side, with train tracks running through the middle. Several times a day, trains race past, creating a thrilling spectacle for onlookers.
Although the street was temporarily closed in 2019 due to safety concerns and then impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, it has since reopened with new safety measures in place. Despite the influx of tourists, locals continue to live their lives alongside the tracks, providing a glimpse into daily life in Hanoi. So, be sure take a break from snapping selfies and observe the locals as they go about their day amidst the excitement of the Trains!
Stop at Beer Corner, pull up a small blue plastic chair and enjoy a cold beer and some fried cheese sticks while you watch the surrounding chaos!
While there are plenty of bars and nightclubs in the Old Quarter that cater to both locals and tourists, one of the most unique experiences is found at Beer Corner.
Located at the intersection of Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen streets, this bustling corner is the perfect spot to enjoy a cold pint of Bia Hoi, a type of Vietnamese draft beer that is both refreshing and incredibly affordable. With hundreds of people sitting on plastic stools and enjoying the lively atmosphere, Beer Corner is a must-visit for anyone looking to enjoy a quintessential Hanoi experience.
The Temple of Literature
The Temple of Literature, also called the Imperial Academy, has a long history that goes back nearly a thousand years. Initially constructed in 1070 to pay tribute to Confucius, it was Vietnam’s first university and a centre of learning for ancient scholars.
Despite experiencing various wars and renovations, the temple has retained its original architectural design and charm, making it a must-see tourist spot. The well-maintained gardens, pagodas, and spacious courtyards are surrounded by neatly trimmed hedges and a large square pond.
The temple is approximately 2-3 km west of Hoan Kiem Lake and south of Thang Long Imperial Citadel. It is easily accessible by taxi, taking only 10 minutes or by foot, taking approximately 1 hour from Hoan Kiem Lake.
We stayed at the Somerset Grand Hanoi apartments, situated right next to the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ (the jail!). Although fabulously located and a great mid-range option, for couples enjoying a romantic getaway or Hanoi honeymoon, you can not go past the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi if you are honeymooning in Hanoi and want something special.
One of Asia’s finest heritage hotels, the Sofitel Legend Metropole oozes old-world romance and is located just steps from Hanoi’s French Quarter and the famous Opera House. As you wander through the hotel’s corridors, you’ll feel the echoes of its dramatic past and the lingering French ambience that infuses every inch of the property.
The simplicity of fresh ingredients and herbs makes Vietnamese cuisine a favourite for many and we loved eating our way around the country’s capital. Restaurants were so affordable we would often order a range of dishes that we had never tried or heard of before. The interesting thing about Vietnam is that visitors usually eat and enjoy the same meals that locals do – the famous Pho is one of the most popular dishes for breakfast for Vietnamese!
Consider booking a street food tour. Mark Lowerson and Van Cong Tu (author of blog Vietnamese God) have been pounding the streets of Hanoi for more than two decades and offer visitors street food tours (SBS’s Featured Foodie series covered them, as did CNN Travel). Their street food tour was a highlight for us – but check out what other people are saying about their tours.
Top sites include (but are not limited to) The Old Quarter, The French Quarter, Vietnamese Museum of Ethnology, The Temple of Literature, Hoa Lo Prison. You can easily do all of these on a four day visit
One of the best afternoons we had was with a not for profit group, Hanoi Kids. This volunteer group of university students are happy to show guests around Hanoi for free (you just cover their meals and entry charges). In return, they get to practise their english skills and take joy in showing visitors their city. They will tailor a day or afternoon to what you want to see from the Temple of Literature – a Confucian temple and said to be one of the first universities in the world – to the backstreets of the Old Quarter. It was one of our best afternoons; however be aware that there are scammers pretending to be this group so email them to discuss your visit and interests, and their availability.
Best Time to Travel to Hanoi:
Hanoi has a mild tropical climate with cold winters from November to February and a monsoon season that reaches its peak from June to August.
The weather in Hanoi is governed by tropical monsoons that alternate directions over the year, resulting in three distinct seasons. The rainy season lasts from June to October, the cool, dry season lasts from November to February, and the hot, humid season lasts from March to May.
The peak tourist season is during the cool, dry months, and prices for transport and accommodation are highest during this time. From a purely weather perspective, this is also best time to visit Hanoi – the weather is pleasant and walking around the city is enjoyable. To avoid the crowds and high prices, it’s best to visit Hanoi during the cool season from October to December.
The temperature in Hanoi ranges from 16.2 Celsius ( 61 degrees F) lows in January to 28.9 Celsius ( 84 degrees F) highs in June, with humidity peaking during the rainy season and rainfall measuring 12.2 inches.
Couples will love
Not only is Hanoi itself a beautiful and charming city, but it also serves as a gateway to other amazing destinations in Vietnam. Take a cruise through the stunning Halong Bay, explore the hill tribes of Sapa, relax on the beaches of Southern Vietnam gems such or head north to Danang, soak up the culture and history of Hoi An, or experience the vibrant energy of Ho Chi Minh City.
With so much to discover, your Vietnam honeymoon is sure to be unforgettable.