Our family visited to Hanoi without expectations. We aren't really city people, it's fun for a short time, but not so much a long time. Our family enjoyed this city more than I thought we would. There is so much to do here and you definitely can't cram everything in over a weekend. I created the best of Hanoi for families blog with my kids vote on their favourite thing to do in Hanoi so you can easily find the best spots to visit on your trip to this city!
Hanoi is in the North of Vietnam and is a wonderful base for exploring Northern Vietnam. This is how we've racked up so much time here! We've really enjoyed worldschooling here because there are so many opportunities for the kids to learn. Here are our favourite spots:
The Imperial Citadel
At the top of our best of Hanoi for families list is the Thăng Long Imperial Citadel. This place cannot be missed. The entry to this place is free for children (winning) and includes entrance to Doan Mon Gate and some incredible underground bunkers!
If we were visiting Hanoi as a family for only a couple of days, this place really deserves to be at the top of your adventure list. You can even easily pair it with our number 2 spot in the best of Hanoi for families blog, the Vietnam Military History Museum.
Vietnam Military History Museum
This Vietnam Military History Museum is right next door to the Imperial Citadel. Please click here to check the most up to date opening times. When we visited it was open Tuesday to Sunday 8am-11.30am and 1pm-4.30pm. Not open at all on Mondays.
Our kids love anything with war planes and bombs. They enjoyed learning about the older historical resistance wars with China, Mongolia, France and Spain. The displays of the ancient weapons had all our kids interested. We felt like we learned more about Vietnam from this museum than we learned at the War Remnants Museum in Saigon.
It's more than the American War (aka Vietnam War)
This is because the museum covers more than just the American war and it made us appreciate how much hardship this country has endured over many years. We particularly enjoyed learning about how boss the women here are. The women fought these wars and they were important to Vietnam's independence.
We also appreciate the resourcefulness of the Vietnamese people. Something we particularly love here is how they use their motorbikes and bikes to carry everything. Swipe to the end of the Instagram post below to see one of the most creative uses of a bike!
Hanoi Train Street
If you are done with history and want to see a different side to Hanoi, I'd recommend checking out Hanoi's Train Street. We spent a lot of days on the tracks exploring here. It was fun, and we found a fabulous spot to enjoy a coconut cacao - our kids favourite thing in Hanoi! This place deserves to be in the best of Hanoi for families because it is unlike so much of the rest of the world. People live right beside the tracks and it is an insight to the daily life of people who live here!
Is it open or is it closed?
I have read in places that it is 'closed' and that you cannot go here anymore. But things were relaxed during our time here. We didn't find any issues getting in with the entrance on Trần Phú. This was a place we stumbled upon. We hadn't looked it up, or searched for it and just happened to be walking to our favourite MB Bank machine following a map when we found it.
I think perhaps if you are trying to get into the Train street from Phung Hung you will have more difficulty with possibly being denied or escorted. You may discover you have to choose a cafe before you enter. If this happens for you, I have one suggestion, Cafe Ga Dong Duong.
We spoke with a reporter who told us that the tracks are closed these days - he asked what we thought about it since we are lucky to visit during Covid. I told him we would love to see it still open, but perhaps there needs to be a limit on the number of people allowed to enter at one time (especially when there are trains approaching).
Be safe, trains run on these tracks
Trains do actually run along here, so be mindful of the times. If you enter on Trần Phú as we did, you will likely be fine, someone will stop you and you can ask when the next train is coming. Some of the cafes along the tracks have signs advising the times, but consider giving yourself and your family plenty of time to clear out before they come because trains can be early or late. Be safe while watching them. In Australia there is no way we could ever get so close because these things do not stop. Don't sit out on the tracks for an amazing photo (we are going to set up our Go Pro on a tripod to capture an oncoming train so we aren't putting our lives at risk).
Just up the road from Train Street are the impressive Street Murals. My daughter Aaliyah is an artist and she absolutely adored the art along the walls. It is well set out and they make for some stunning photos! Check out our instagram shots below, I think they are some of the best photos we took during our time in Hanoi.
We visited this place one evening after visiting Bahn Mi 25. It was a nice afternoon/early evening walk and a great 30 to 45 minutes spent together as a family.
Dog Lovers Beware
Dog lovers please be warned. Don't cross the street if you or your kids like dogs.
Perhaps you've heard that some Vietnamese people eat dog. If you start walking from the intersection of Hang Cot and Phung Hung, when you reach the end, don't cross over the street. There are at least two street vendors cooking dogs on spits. If I'd known this, we wouldn't have crossed. My daughter was quite upset by it. It's probably not something dog lovers would want to see.
If you stumble upon the murals from the Southern end, stay on the side with the murals until you are up closer to the intersection with Hang Cot.
Temple of Literature
One thing I don't get enough of is temples. I love visiting them but my kids are of the rowdy and wild sort which means taking them to temples is generally not that enjoyable. However, I particularly enjoyed our visit to the Temple of Literature because it is a Confucian temple. Confucius is very deep, thoughtful and interesting. I was surprised to learn that he only started teaching in his 30s. This inspires me in my work, perhaps I can make an impact on our world too!
"It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop." - Confucius
Although my kids didn't enjoy it as much as I did, this place is worth a visit to see the temples and the grounds. It is has some great teaching points for the kids too. Check it out if you have time and find this sort of thing interesting like I do. If not, it's ok, there is plenty to see in this city!
Hoa Lo Prison Relic aka 'Hanoi Hilton'
We were curious to see the Hanoi Hilton because we'd heard good things. It was an eye opener. The kids had lots of questions about the Vietnamese prisoners that were held there by the French. We spent a lot of time reading about the war and how the prisoners were secretly taught in prison. Seeing the female inmates area was also heat-breaking. I couldn't believe how they were treated. There was a lot to take in, but this again deepened our understanding of the history of Vietnam.
Our kids were very impressed to see how some prisoners escaped from the prison through the sewer systems. We were all saddened to see how the original prisoners were treated, shackled to their beds. This was priceless for our children to understand the absurdity of war. It is so senseless to harm other humans, and seeing this first hand made our kids ask 'why'?
We learned about the name, Hanoi Hilton. This comes from the time the prison held American POW's. They were treated far better than the Vietnamese had been. There are many photos of the American soldiers playing sports, cards and smiling. I don't know first hand if that was how it always was for American soldiers, but it made me think how much I'd love to read a memoir from a soldier held there!
Ngoc Son Temple
This is another place that is well worth a quick visit. It won't take long and again, cheap entry. The Ngoc Son Temple is located on a little island connected by a small but cute bridge on the North Eastern side of Hoan Kiem Lake.
Our kids are getting good at spotting a photo opportunities. They both got photos looking back toward the bridge which came out much better than the ones we took on the bridge.
Our kids pick for the Best of Hanoi for Families
Now that we have spent so much time here, I asked the kids what has been their favourite places in Hanoi. It's a mixed bag of the Military History Museum, the Citadel (because of the underground bunkers) and they all can't get enough of the coconut cacao at Cafe Ga Dong Duong. I would agree that these deserve to be in the best of Hanoi for families!
You can definitely visit all three of these in a day if you want to. We survived with lots of ice-cream breaks and bribery using coconut cacao.
Getting to Hanoi
We flew here straight from Da Nang with a plan to see the Northern areas of Vietnam. Taxi's can be a bit tricky for us because we travel with everything we own.
I recommend asking your accommodation to book an airport transfer for your arrival into Hanoi. This makes your arrival easier. If you can manage with less than a seven seater, you probably can get by with Grab or Fast Go once you land. Click here to get the links below for these essential apps.
Other people might arrive by train or sleeper bus. It's pretty easy to get around the city.
Getting around Hanoi
Hanoi is a pretty big place. In the cooler months you'll probably be able to walk to most places easily. For us, it was excessively hot in the middle of the Vietnam summer. Definitely not part of our original travel plan!
Most people stay in the Old Quarter, this is the easiest area to base yourself, especially if you decide to take tours from Hanoi. It's also a great place to base yourself to find lots of good food and things to do.
We got around by walking shorter distances, occasionally stretching the kids out to two or three kilometres and if we walked a lot, we would catch a Grab back to our hotel or trusty train cafe for a coconut cacao (yes, this is a thing and yes, you have to try it here in Hanoi)!!
The only taxis we recommend are Mai Linh or VinaSun taxis. We had an incident with DaNang taxis where they gave us a set price and on arrival pulled a language card that had us paying a lot more than we expected (but it was still cheap, so we let it go).
Mai Linh is common around Vietnam and safe to use
VinaSun is more common in the bigger towns (we didn't see these in the smaller areas)
We didn't need to use these, we seemed to see them everywhere when we were 100m from our hotel! But what I've learned is you need to agree on a price before you jump on the ride. They seem safe enough, and there are plenty around the Hoan Kiem Lake area.
I'm not sure yet if the getting around needs to be in the best of Hanoi for families blog. But for now, here it is. I'll be writing up more Hanoi blogs over the coming days and weeks so check back soon!
Is there anything I've missed? Let me know and I'll add it soon!