The light turned green, but I was cemented to the sidewalk. The swarm of motorbikes, scooters, and the occasional bus stampeded through the intersection. I clutched my children (at the curb) and watched the local Vietnamese walked confidently through the crosswalk while the traffic flowed around them. We were in Hanoi, on a family vacation in the capital city of Vietnam, and I started to wonder if we would be sightseeing from inside a taxi, instead of on foot.
After a few light changes and not one pedestrian + vehicle incident, we summoned the courage to cross the road amidst a group of locals. While I was reluctant, the boys were excited about walking into oncoming traffic and arriving at the other side of the street unharmed. In fact, their prized souvenirs from our family vacation in Hanoi are t-shirts with a stop light printed on the front and three simple sentences. Beside the green light, it says, “I can go.” It says the same next to the amber light. And next to the red light, which in any other country we know means stop, the t-shirt slogan proclaims, “I can still go.” In Vietnam this is true.
Apart from the thrills (and my chills) of crossing street after street in Hanoi, here are a few more memorable things to do in Hanoi with kids.
Get Up With The Sun in Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi, Vietnam pulses throughout the day and well into the evening, but at daybreak, the city stretches to life.
Locals chase badminton birdies on leafy boulevards. These games are serious – look down at city sidewalks and you may see badminton court markings painted on the stone. In city parks and squares, graceful couples practice ballroom dancing while middle-aged ladies work it to American pop icons like Michael Jackson. Watching Hanoians gather in the city’s public spaces in the early morning is one of the most memorable things to do in Hanoi with kids or on your own.
Visit Hoan Kiem Lake
Considered to be the soul of Hanoi, the area around Hoan Kiem Lake hosts early bird ballroom dancers, Tai Chi practitioners, plus locals and tourists all day and into the night.
Huc Bridge and Ngoc Son Temple
Cross Huc Bridge, a red pedestrian passage leading to a tiny island where you can visit majestic Ngoc Son Temple. Meaning ‘Temple of the Jade Mountain,’ this temple is dedicated to scholars as well as General Tran Hung Dao, a military strategist, and hero responsible for defeating Mongol invasions. In a side room, a sculpture of a Yangtze softshell turtle pays tribute to giant turtles that resided in Hoan Kiem Lake until the passing of Cu Rua (the grandfather turtle) in 2016.
Turtles are one of Vietnam’s sacred animals. Look out into the center of Hoan Kiem Lake and ask your kids if they can spot Turtle Tower on a tiny island.
Wander the French Quarter
As the former capital of French Indochina, the European influence on Hanoi is apparent in the French Quarter’s buildings, Parisien-style boulevards, and the cuisine. In addition to traditional Vietnamese food, we enjoyed countless chewy baguettes and macaroons on par with what is available in Paris.
Learn about Ho Chi Minh
President of North Vietnam from 1945-1969, Ho Chi Minh led the Vietnamese nationalist movement for nearly 30 years. He was committed to the unification of North and South Vietnam under communist control. When communists took over the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon in 1975, the renamed the city Ho Chih Minh in his honour.
Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum
Join the line of Vietnamese and other tourists for the opportunity to visit Ho Chi Minh. Also known as Uncle Ho, a visit to the mausoleum provides a sense of the tremendous regard for this man.
Visitors progress in an orderly manner under the watchful eye of soldiers in crisp white uniforms. Respect is required at this historic site, meaning no photography, appropriate clothing, no sunglasses, hands at your sides (as my youngest son discovered when a soldier asked him to remove his hands from his pockets), and no talking inside the mausoleum. Visitors walk past the revered leader in a single file and at a reasonable pace. There is no stopping to stare at tiny ‘Uncle Ho’ resting under the transparent enclosure.
Ho Chi Minh House
After a visit to the Mausoleum, learn more about Ho Chi Minh at his nearby house. This stilt house is where Ho Chi Minh lived for the last 11 years of his life. His simply-built home is in stark contrast to the nearby Presidential Palace where Ho Chi Minh reportedly refused to reside.
Constructed in 1901, the ornate Presidential Palace is not open to the public, but you can view the exterior and wander through the gardens.
Ho Chi Minh Museum
Opened on May 19, 1990, this museum celebrates Ho Chi Minh’s life and the role he played in Vietnam’s history.
Explore Hanoi’s Old Quarter
Also known as the “36 Streets” because of the guilds that once operated here, Hanoi’s Old Quarter is still somewhat organized by product offering. It’s similar to the aisles in a modern-day department store. One street specializes in textiles; another sells books and paper. Shops spill onto the sidewalks, so pedestrians join the flower-laden bicycles and scooters navigating the roads in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.
Eat Vietnamese Food in Hanoi with Your Kids
Slurp up a steaming bowl of pho (pronounced “fuh”), munch on deep-fried chicken feet, or sample crepe-like Vietnamese pancakes (known as Bánh xèo). Eating flavourful Vietnamese food is one of the best things to do in Hanoi with kids.
If you want to learn more about Vietnamese food, book a family cooking class. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to cook with the kids in Hanoi. But we learnt how to cook delicious Vietnamese food on on our family visit to in Hue, Vietnam.
See the Temple of Literature (Van Mieu)
Recommended by a local friend as one of the top things to do in Hanoi, the Temple of Literature is Vietnam’s premier Confucian sanctuary. It is also the one-time home to the Imperial Academy (Vietnam’s first university). Before significant exams, local students and their parents go to the Temple of Literature to pray for good luck. Visitors can wander through manicured gardens and under ancient trees in the Temple of Literature’s five walled courtyards.
Watch a Water Puppet Performance with Your Kids
Unique to Vietnam, water puppet theatre is thought to have originated in the Red River Delta almost 1000 years ago. Locals created over-water puppet shows by standing waist-deep in flooded rice paddies. Today, visit the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre located near Hoan Kiem Lake. Kids and adults enjoy watching water puppet theatre.
Travel Tips – Things to Do in Hanoi with Kids
- Visitors to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum must deposit cameras and bags near the entrance. These personal articles will be available near the exit.
- Stay at the award-winning Sofitel Legend Hotel Metropole Hanoi located near Hoan Kiem Lake in the Hanoi’s French Quarter. The luxurious Hotel Metropole Club Floor offers excellent value for travelling families.
- When you visit Vietnam, you might be interested in riding a cyclo (three-wheeled bicycle taxi). Talk to the hotel concierge about reputable companies before you ride a cyclo.
- Hanoi’s International Airport (Noi Bai) is modern and efficient. Consider booking a hotel car to transfer you from the Noi Bai to your hotel.
- After you have experienced all of the memorable things to do in Hanoi with kids, consider travelling to Huế. Located in central Vietnam, Huế , also known as the Imperial City, was the national capital 1802 to 1945. In Huế stay at the luxurious La Residence Hotel & Spa.
Google Map – Memorable Things to Do in Hanoi with Kids
Have you travelled to Hanoi or elsewhere in Vietnam?