Things to do in Hanoi

I naively assumed Vietnam would be a less touristy version of Thailand. There are similarities, but when I visited this beautiful country I discovered so much more, from sensational street food to fascinating architecture, with Hanoi at the centre of it all.


To Stay

Sofitel Legend Metropole – This grand hotel plays a special role in Vietnam’s capital city. It has long been considered as the top accommodation in Hanoi, with celebrities, diplomats and royalty all staying in the luxurious rooms. Be sure to check out the atmospheric original bomb shelter, which was only discovered a few years ago.


To Eat

Pho Ga (42 Quan Thanh) – This unassuming, family-run soup stop serves some of the best pho in town. The chicken and broth has a real depth of flavour, topped with fresh herbs and onions, it is the ultimate comfort food.

Bun Cha (34 Hàng Than) – Locals spill out from this popular bun cha spot. You’ll be served a generous portion of pork patties (cooked with fragrant betel leaves), rice noodles and green salad. Order some extra ‘nem’ (spring rolls) which cost the equivalent of 40 pence each!

Cau Go Restaurant – If you’ve exhausted the street food scene and fancy something a little smarter, head to the stylish Cau Go restaurant which offers amazing views of the lake. The eatery has a long menu offering regional dishes like fresh spring rolls.

Chá Cá Thâng Long (21 Duong Thanh) – Cha Ca is a traditional Vietnamese dish of turmeric catfish and dill, which is cooked on a stove at the table. It’s great fun to enjoy as a group and is rarely found outside of Asia.

Bun Rieu Cua (11 Hàng Bac) – Find a space at this cosy little street food cafe and order a bowl of the speciality, Bun rieu cua (tangy tomato crab soup). Chilli and herbs are added for extra punch.

Banh Mi 25 (25 Hàng Ca) Banh Mee (18 Au Trieu) – Situated outside a lock shop this banh mi sandwich stop is widely regarded as the best in Hanoi. Banh Mi shows the French influence on Vietnam, it is a crispy french baguette filled with handmade pate, bbq pork, French ham, crispy salad and a secret family sauce. It is irresistibly tasty.

Bun Bo Nam Bo (67 Hàng Dieu) – This simple and delicious dish consists of vermicelli noodles, grilled marinated beef, fresh vegetables and pickled carrots. The long table is constantly full of locals and tourists in the know, all there for their Bun Bo Nam Bo fix.

Kem Tràng Tiên (35 Tràng Tiên) –  Kem Tràng Tiên opened in 1958 and has become an ice-cream institution. The customers drive in and order their ice-creams whilst sitting on their motorcycles. I loved the coconut milk flavour.


To Drink

Cong Caphe – There are a few of these eclectic cafes round the city. The decor is fun and kitsch with Communist memorabilia and vintage furniture. Order a caphe sua da (iced coffee with condensed milk).

Bia Hoi (2 Duong Thanh) – Bia Hoi is very cheap light draft beer and is served on every street corner. This establishment serves beer made fresh each day and costs just 25 pence a glass.

Cafe Giang (39 Nguyen Huu Huan) – A cute hidden cafe in the city’s old quarter, head here to taste the famous thick Vietnamese coffee, made with egg yolk, coffee powder and condensed milk.


To See & Do

Hoàn Kiêm Lake, Huc bridge and Ngoc Son Temple – The Ngoc Son Temple (built in commemoration of the 13th century military leader, Tran Hung Dao) is surrounded by a beautiful, peaceful lake and is a lovely place to look around.

Hoa Lo Prison – This evocative site is all that remains of the original Hoa Lo Prison, which was built by the French in 1896, but has since been used for prisoners of many nationalities. Learn about the lives of prisoners, their torturous conditions and their touching personal stories.

Temple of Literature – This beautiful temple was built in 1070 and is now used as a university. It costs just £1 to visit and is filled with impressive pagodas and tranquil gardens.

Vietnamese Women’s Museum – A museum dedicated to Vietnamese women, displaying intriguing artefacts from through the ages and showing the role women have played in the country’s history.

Thâng Long Water Puppet show – This world-famous puppet show is a popular performance for tourists to experience this ancient art form of water puppetry. There are five shows a day and ticket prices start at £2.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (and museum and one pillar pagoda) – A chilling memorial to Vietnam’s former leader Ho Chi Minh. You will be guided silently through the mausoleum to see the embalmed body before visiting the museum to see his home and gardens.


To Shop

aN Shop – Hidden away, this charming little boutique sells lovely handmade crafts and clothing made and designed in Vietnam. The perfect place to pick up a gift to take home.

Cho Dong Xuan market – Found in the centre district of Hanoi, this chaotic market sells everything from homeware to clothes and food. It is a fun place to wander round even if you are not planning to buy anything.

Hàng Gai (Silk street) – This street in the old quarter is the best place to shop for high quality silks and traditional Vietnamese apparel. Pick up your favourite shade of silk before having it made into a custom piece of clothing.


To Escape

Ha Long Bay with Emeraude Cruises – Halong Bay is a must for most travellers visiting Vietnam, but choosing the best tour can be a challenge with a lack of genuine information online. Steer well clear of the cheap and unsafe options and sail the turquoise waters in style aboard the Emeraude. The classic cruiser is a replica of a 1920s French paddle steamer that sailed around the famous bay nearly 100 years ago, and it is the best way to see this magnificent UNESCO World Heritage site.

Hotel Sofitel Legend Metropole, Hanoi

The Sofitel Metropole Legend plays a special role in Vietnam’s capital city. It has long been considered as the top accommodation in Hanoi, with celebrities, diplomats and royalty all staying in the luxurious rooms. Built in 1901 by two French investors, this magnificent colonial building has lived through over one hundred years of tumultuous Vietnamese history. During the two wars Metropole Legend played a vital role, and in just 2011 a remarkable bomb shelter was discovered in the grounds. Now designated a UNESCO site it is an insight into the country’s past, and the hotel offers informative tours of this underground bunker.

The historic hotel was restored and refreshed in 1992 and in 1994 work commenced on the opulent 135-room Opera Wing, a modern extension. The grand Metropole building commands attention from the street and inside it is equally impressive. Wherever possible original features have been kept beautifully in tact including the wooden flooring and antique furniture. The new wing is quite different, a slick addition for guests who prefer a more up-to-date style of accommodation.

I was staying in the charming Metropole wing that has 106 rooms including 3 legendary suites (named after three renowned guests, including Charlie Chaplin who came to stay for his honeymoon). Room 128 was a perfect example of old-fashioned luxury, with Sofitel modern touches. After months spent touring contemporary hotels this bedroom was a welcome dose of character. Particularly memorable details in the room included the luxurious Vietnamese silk, ceramic lamps and rice-paper wall lanterns, all adding a touch of exotic orientalism. Modern touches ensure guests are extremely comfortable, a soft indulgent bed, flatscreen tv and air conditioning. The bathroom was equally grand, with separate shower and bath, framed vintage mirrors and Hermes toiletries from Paris, another reminder of the Metropole’s French heritage.

There are several dining outlets to choose from, including upmarket Vietnamese cuisine at Spices Garden and fine French food at Le Beaulieu. For an afternoon treat head to Le Club Bar for the famous chocolate buffet, all made in-house. The Bamboo bar, a recent addition in the central garden, is a calm outdoor option overlooking the pool, or alternatively the Terrace is popular with locals for coffees and snacks.

Breakfast is served in both restaurants, a feast of continental and traditional Asian dishes are available at the buffet or made to order. Enjoy the tasty homemade pastries or ask the chef to whip you up some French toast or omelette.

While staying at the Metropole make sure you join a daily Path of History tour to learn about the preserved bomb shelter in the hotel grounds. The hotel’s knowledgeable historian will educate you with fascinating facts and personal stories about the American war.

Steeped in history, this hotel truly deserves its legendary status. Whether you stay in one of the enchanting rooms or not, be sure to include a visit to this significant building in your Hanoi itinerary.

More information and book a stay at Metropole Legend here.