The grand old dame of the Orient, Hanoi is perhaps the most graceful, atmospheric and exotic capital city in Asia. Its appeal is instant, with sweeping boulevards, tree-fringed lakes, ancient pagodas and a relatively compact historic centre that’s best explored on foot.
A constant tide of motorbikes swarms through the quixotic web of streets in the Old Quarter, the city's cauldron of commerce for almost 1000 years, and still the best place to take Hanoi's pulse. Life here is carried out on the street, with hawkers in conical hats plying their wares as locals sip drip-coffee and bia hoi (beer).
Witness goateed grandfathers tugging at their wisps over the next chess move, while groups of t’ai chi enthusiasts go through their synchronised paces on the shores of Hoan Kiem Lake. The elegant heart of Hanoi, Hoan Kiem Lake is just south of the Old Quarter. Most visitors prefer to base themselves in this part of town thanks to its incredible energy and atmosphere, its narrow winding streets and alleys that are too narrow for cars.
Recommended things to do & see
Our top picks for Hanoi
The huge permanent tent at the northern end of Lenin Park is home to Hanoi's Central Circus. The Russians introduced circus arts during their era of influence here, and the Vietnamese have retained a fondness for it. The Sunday morning show is geared towards children.
Hanoi Water Park
Hanoi Water Park is a family-geared water park around 5km north of the city centre with pools, slides and a lazy river. Entry costs 50,000d for those over 110cm tall, and 30,000d for shorter people, translating roughly to adults and children. It gets extremely busy here on hot summer afternoons.
Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
You can't leave Hanoi without seeing a traditional water-puppet show. The shows, which appeal to all ages, are charming, picaresque entertainments accompanied by a traditional Vietnamese pit orchestra. Order your tickets early in the day for the best seats. Your hotel can probably help.
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