Hanoi is the heart of Vietnam

Although Hanoi is rapidly progressing as a city, it does so without forgetting where it came from.

Through the sea of scooters and bustling market stalls, you'll see mesmerising ancient architecture - be it Vietnamese, French or Chinese. A self-guided walk of the city's key sights is a down-to-earth way to discover the region's turbulent history and promising future.

Hanoi highlights

Explore the sombre marble mausoleum, then marvel at the stilt house where legend says Ho Chi Minh spent his final years.

Live local

Hanoi's Old Quarter has stayed remarkably true to its name, packed with ancient custom and local charm. Although it's now also home to trendy cafes and a thriving nightlife, the modern touches fuse with old to give the district a unique atmosphere.

Woman crossing road, Vietnam.

There's no better way to get a taste of Vietnamese culture than by haggling your way through a market. Thanh Ha wet market overflows with local delicacies. Walk through an explosion of exotic spices and flavours at the Dong Xuan markets, a local favourite. For bargains in a buzzing atmosphere, ride the wave of bodies at the Hanoi Night Market.

If you're feeling adventurous, feel Hanoi's energy on the saddle of a scooter. Whizz past temples, through market streets or over a French-designed bridge - just be sure to keep your wits about you.

Raw history

With Ho Chi Minh's tomb in the heart of the city, Vietnamese history doesn't get any richer than it does in Hanoi.

Puppet theatre in water, Hanoi, Vietnam.

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.

Café culture

Though you may not think coffee when you think Asia, French influences and Asian innovation have made Hanoi a quirky caffeine hub, and that's helped to put Vietnamese coffee on the map.

Traditional Vietnamese coffee, Vietnam.

Café Pho Co has gorgeous views over Hoan Kiem Lake. Entry is through a silk shop, then you order coffee and snacks before taking a staircase to the rooftop. This café is also a juice bar, if you want to enjoy the outlook decaffeinated. Giang Café embodies Western-Asian fusion, and is famous for its tasty egg coffee. For a more conventional espresso, try Café Nhi, but don't be surprised if you end up standing on the pavement outside – it's a hot spot that earns five-star reviews.

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