With Ho Chi Minh's tomb in the heart of the city, Vietnamese history doesn't get any richer than it does in Hanoi.
The Ho Chi Minh memorial complex is a sacred pilgrimage for Vietnamese, but it's also tourist friendly. Spiritual and traffic-free, start by exploring the sombre marble mausoleum, then marvel at the stilt house where legend says Ho Chi Minh spent his final years. Be sure to catch the extravagant changing of the guard ceremony outside the mausoleum.
For a more low key history lesson, meander around Hoan Kiem Lake. Known as 'the lake of the restored sword', it's home to severely endangered soft-shell turtles. Legend has it that an old emperor was visited by the turtle god while crossing the water. There's a scattering of ancient temples, but watching locals practising age-old exercises by the shore might be all the culture you need.