Ah to visit Hanoi, memories to last forever. The people, the food and the heat!
The place that captures your mind, enriches your senses and when you thought you’ve seen it all, there is always more.
This is our recommended way of discovering Hanoi and in our opinion, by far the best things to do in Hanoi lies in discovering the local way of life!
AFTER A LIST OF THE TOURIST ATTRACTIONS IN HANOI?
If you are searching for a list of the popular tourist attractions in Hanoi, check out our blog of
Top Tourist Hanoi Attractions.
Today, I will show you what really happens behind the scenes; where the interesting places in Hanoi are hidden and what is really important to see and learn about this amazing city.
In my opinion, these are the best things to do in Hanoi, although we do recommend you see the typical Hanoi tourist attractions too.
Authentic things to do in Hanoi
Discover the real Hanoi!
I didn’t know what to expect from Hanoi. I was just like you, searching the web for information, reviews and the typical “what to do in Hanoi?” questions.
But the best way to really see this city is to open your mind for new things and make your way to the heart of it all. To me, the heart of Hanoi is the Old Quarter.
Once you look out of the window of your comfy hotel, the journey to discovery begins. The air was filled with gentle sweetness, smells of the various food enticing you to run down and try it all.
The city calling your name, inviting you, vibrant and enchanting.
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The Busy Streets of Hanoi Old Quarter
Once you step outside, you are right in the middle of it all. People going in all different directions, seemingly no rules on the road, but perfectly coordinated traffic.
Beeping of the horns everywhere, locals and tourists talking all different languages all around you. The sweat dripping down your shirt reminding you that you are in South East Asia.
It is hot! It’s sweaty, it’s crazy busy and it is absolutely awesome!
Apart from using our maps on the iPhone so we could get back to the hotel later or to find the recommended areas to eat at, all we wanted to do was to get a little lost.
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Sometimes you have to take a road less travelled to see where it leads you.
Sometimes it is the only way to discover some awesome places of interest in Hanoi, away from the crowds and typical tourist hot spots.
With authentic things to do in Hanoi in mind, we crisscrossed the streets to see it all.
Amongst it all, a special gem. The famous Banyan tree in Hanoi, where Buddhists come to light incense, a gesture they believe gives them great luck.
It was a day like any other for all the locals. Rows and rows of filled-to-the-brim gift shops, colourful and inviting menus of restaurants everywhere and beautiful temples almost on every main street of the city. Pretty much every space serving a purpose.
Even the tiniest hallways between the buildings, filled with little plastic chairs for the visitors to sit on, whilst indulging in the yummy dishes.
There are a couple of spare plastic chairs waiting for you at every corner. You can join in with the locals. Take a moment to relax with a beer and some snacks.
Behind the Scenes
What is really behind the busyness of this city? I think it is the people. The people that drive this city, the locals, the masses that travel in the early hours of the morning to work.
Those never-complaining, hard-working people who provide us with the food they grow; who welcome us to their homes; to their city.
I always thank them for their hospitality and treat them with respect.
As we wondered about the Old Quarter, we found alleyways that were perhaps more obscure in comparison to the brightly lit shop streets. However, this is exactly what we wanted to find and I’m glad we did.
Picture perfect little spots everywhere! We love taking the time to see things through the lens of our camera.
The world looks different through a photo. Sometimes, it creates something much more then the eye can see. Captures a memory that will live forever.
The Train Tracks in Hanoi
Now, this one always brings a smile to my face. As I’m writing this story for you, I have a grin on my face and millions of pictures zoom through my head.
For no particular reason, we decided to take a walk along the train tracks that run along the North to the West of the Old Quarter. I think this must be the most unique thing to do in Hanoi!! So incredible!!
At first, we wanted to find the best picture that would represent how close people live to the train tracks, but we found so much more.
Life on the train tracks may look amazing and somewhat romantic to us, the foreigners, but this is just life here. Densely populated Old Quarter spares no crevasse.
People simply make most of what they got. Cooking, cleaning, washing, resting or enjoying the family gatherings with their loved ones, just like anywhere else in the world.
Some people did ask for the privacy of seeing our cameras in hand.
It must be quite annoying for them when tourists walk past their kitchen with “Wow” eyes staring at them.
Discover and Photograph Life on Hanoi’s Train Tracks
People don’t have much here and it doesn’t really look like they mind it as much. We did peek through a few open doors and saw how some families live.
There were next to no furniture, small crowded spaces, but still smiling faces. Just goes to show, you don’t need much to be happy.
Surrounded by a loving family, having a roof over your head is all that you need, regardless of the train tracks next to your window.
The most exciting part of the train tracks can be found here:
Tip: Please make sure that you are not walking on the train tracks at the times that the trains are running. We did a silly thing and we walked all the way from the North section of the Qld Quarter to the West.
No trains were running at that time, but some sections of the walk may have been slightly too narrow for both us and the train. If you know what I mean. Running shoes are a good thing to wear on this hike, haha…
The Markets in Hanoi
Ah, Markets… They don’t make them like this everywhere. I grew up in Poland in a small town called Ketrzyn, where the weekend markets were very popular for buying all fresh produce and more.
Nothing in comparison to these markets though.
Capture Hanoi’s Long Bien Market at Dawn
The variety of colourful spices, freshest veggies and fruit is intoxicating here. The wonderland of flavours and aromas play with all your senses.
I believe there is a hidden chef in all of us, just give me a recipe and I will make you something delicious.
Cooking in the Alleys of Hanoi Old Quarter
Hanoi has a magnitude of choices of food. Every street is littered with places to pull up a little plastic chair and indulge in the authentic street food with the locals. It is pretty incredible how things are done here.
Cooking the food in the ways that you have never seen before.
Most of those Hanoi kitchens are tucked away in the back streets and few streets away from the busy shops. Most tourists prefer cosy high chairs in restaurants with air-conditioning.
Well, so do we, but when you are in Hanoi, you must try to eat on the streets as well.
Yes, some of the things you see may deter you from eating. Especially when you see the dish washing in a bucket on the footpath, but that’s just normal here. When you don’t have a dishwasher or a room to put it in, any space is good.
Why not join a Hanoi Home Cooking Class!?
Sign up for this brilliant Hanoi Home Cooking Class, where you will head to the market to grab some ingredients. Then you get to cook up a variety of dishes and of course, once done, you get to eat your own yummy meal!!
Whether you are cooking on the side of the train tracks or on the side of the street, all that really matters is the flavour. And the Vietnamese food is all about that.
To this day Hanoi has some of the yummiest Asian cuisines I have ever had! BBQ’s to die for, freshest salads, crunchiest spring rolls, and the most delicious Pho.
Well, I hope that your imagination is stretching right now, as to what kind of goodies you can try whilst in Hanoi. But definitely make sure to put the authentic street food on your list of things to do in Hanoi.
Grab these fabulous Vietnam books from Amazon:
Which of our Authentic Things To Do in Hanoi grabbed your attention the most?
If I have missed anything that you would add, please share in the comment.
Other Things To Do in Hanoi:
- For Top 5 Tourist Hanoi Attractions click here. In the post you will also find our recommendations for where to eat, where to get the best coffee and where you can enjoy a cocktail at an awesome Lantern Lounge!
Where to stay in Hanoi Old Quarter:
- Our Hanoi hotel recommendation is Paradise Boutique Hotel. To read our review of this super cozy hotel please click here. Perfect place to stay and very affordable!
- We also have a full guide on where to stay in Hanoi here that will be helpful for you as well.
- Check out other best places to see in Vietnam here.
- Check out the best time to visit North Vietnam here.
- Check out what else you can do in Vietnam in a week.
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22 thoughts on “Authentic Things to do in Hanoi – Discover the Real Hanoi!”
I love this post! You have captured Hanoi perfectly! This is one of the best cities in the world to wander and get lost in. Walking on the train tracks is a unique Hanoi experience and something you don’t read about in most tour books. Thank you for sharing your beautiful photos.
Glad you enjoyed it!! Hanoi is pretty spectacular and yes! those train tracks are truly worth exploring 🙂
What is the address of where you thought the train tracks are the most exciting part to see?
Walk along Dien Bien Phu and you will see the tracks and you can follow them there. Have a look at the post you commented on as we included a little map to help point the way 😉
You really captured authentic Hanoi 🙂 I loved spending some time walking the streets and see the ‘locals’ at work.
I believe I saw the traintracks too…when I walked near some war museum?!
Oh thank you Stephanie 🙂 I don’t recall a war museum? But then I’m not that into history, more the culture side of travels! The train tracks were the most fascinating part of our visit to Hanoi!
Great article! The picture about Life on train tracks is gorgeous, I really love it! Maybe the next trip to Hanoi, I’ll take a collection of train tracks moments photo :)))
Hi, yes the train tracks were our favourite part of our explorations. We spent a long time there and got to meet some great locals 🙂
Currently living in Hanoi, deeply in love with the country and the people thank you for sharing your photos they are stunning
Yes Vietnam is one of our favourite countries! Hoping to return for a visit again soon! 🙂
Great post & photos. I found the tip on the Klook Wi-Fi router especially valuable. Thank you so much!
Makes life so much easier doesn’t it 🙂
Great post, thank you 🙂 when I visited Hanoi at Christmas time a couple of years ago I found a small theatre on one of the back streets not far from the lake. That night they had a Water puppet show on.. I did not understand a word of what was said but the experience was fantastic. It was a really old theatre with the tiniest seats that I could barely fit my legs in!
Apparently it was a really traditional Vietnamese thing to go and watch at that time of year. Some of the puppets were hilarious , even more so when you don’t really understand the story!! There was one with just a pair of underpants on smacking a fish around the water ??
haha! Yeah, the water puppet show isn’t for me, but seems to be a very traditional thing that they love to show for the tourists 🙂
I visited Ha Noi around 15 years ago. And wow, there is still something doesn’t change after all. Such as the life of people surround the train trailways
That is one of the things we love about Hanoi – the fact that you can still see traditional Vietnamese culture there hidden away in the tiny alleys etc 🙂
I totally agree with your suggestions when traveling to Hanoi. Now you can use a double-decker bus to move around Hanoi center, a very interesting new experience. Also, if you’ve come to Hanoi, don’t miss enjoying sidewalk cafe, it is also a culture of Hanoi people.
Thanks for those tips 🙂
I live in Ho Chi Minh City, I also go to Hanoi several times to travel and work. so I understand what you’ve experienced here. Thank you for sharing
Great to hear from you 🙂 and thank you for the comment. All best to you and your family for the new year!
I liked the post, very interesting and well written, I really needed to know about Hanoi, thanks for sharing :D!
Thank you very much for your kind words, and sorry for the much-delayed response.
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