Are you seeking unique things to do in Hanoi and some insider tips from local travel experts? Our Hanoi off the beaten path travel guide has got you covered! You can expect to discover the city’s hidden places and experience the local way of life. From exploring the Old Quarter’s narrow lanes to discovering lesser-known coffee, let’s go and have a few non-touristy experiences in Hanoi!
Our 12 Favorite Off the Beaten Path Experiences In Hanoi
Hang Than Street – Hanoi’s thriving wedding cake stores
Hang Than Street, a hidden gem in Hanoi, where you can immerse yourself in the rich traditions of Vietnam’s wedding ceremonies. Stay away from the well-trodden tourist paths, Hang Than Street offers a unique opportunity to witness firsthand the cultural significance of weddings in Vietnam.
At Hang Than Street, you can observe skilled artisans meticulously organize wedding cakes. These creations are true works of art, often adorned with elaborately shaped phoenixes, dragons, and flowers with hope for the couple’s harmonious journey ahead.
When you enter this street, you can meet friendly shop owners who are proud of their craft and will be delighted to share stories and insights about Vietnamese wedding customs. You may even get a chance to sample some of these delightful cakes, as a gesture of their hospitality.
The ornate wedding cakes and Hang Than Street’s traditional atmosphere bring fantastic photography opportunities. You can capture captivating images that reflect the essence of Vietnamese weddings and the area’s cultural heritage.
The Northern Gate of the ancient citadel
Nestled amidst the vibrant streets of Hanoi, The Northern Gate of the ancient citadel stands as a hidden gem, waiting to be explored by the history seekers. Away from the tourist crowds, this off-the-beaten-track destination offers a tranquil escape into Vietnam’s rich history.
It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and worth a visit if you want to immerse yourself in the places deeply associated with Vietnam’s freedom movement. This is a citadel which was built before that of Hue and was probably of equal size and splendor. When the dynasty moved south, it was abandoned, then most of the buildings, palaces and pavilions were destroyed because of the war over 100 years ago.
Once the heart of Hanoi’s forbidden city during the imperial days, this place later served as the seat of the French colonial rulers and eventually became the communist party’s command center during the Vietnam War. Today, it offers a unique blend of old and more recent buildings, providing a captivating journey back in time. Make sure not to overlook the Vietnam War bunkers hidden beneath the garden’s ground.
Now you can see some ruins, but it’s still a good insight into the scale and sophistication of Vietnamese culture and history. Quite an interesting structure and area which is undergoing archaeological excavations currently. Plenty to see from exhibition of finds to paintings, so you need some time to walk to the citadel and check them.
Explore Hanoi’s Old Apartment Buildings for a Local-Touch Experience
If you’re seeking a truly unique and immersive local-touch experience during your visit to Hanoi, then I highly recommend exploring the old apartment buildings in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. These charming structures are a testament to the rich culture and heritage of this incredible city and are sure to leave you feeling inspired and amazed.
As you wander through the narrow alleyways and winding streets of the Old Quarter, you’ll be transported back in time to Hanoians in 6X – 8X generation. You can be inspired by some sorrowful but joyful stories of older people.
Location: You can visit Nguyen Thien Thuat Street to explore Hanoi’s Old Apartment Building
It’s not just the buildings themselves but also the sense of community and connection that you’ll feel as you explore this incredible space. It is home to many friendly locals who are always eager to welcome visitors and share their unique culture and traditions with the world.
It’s an absolute feast for the senses, with the smells, sounds, and sights of Hanoi all around you.
Bach Ma Temple
Unlike the more famous temples crowded with tourists, Bach Ma Temple provides a more intimate and authentic atmosphere as it mostly frequented by local people. You can take your time to explore its intricate architecture, adorned with traditional Vietnamese designs and vibrant colors.
If you are intersted in temple or religions, then Bach Ma Temple or White Horse is a must-visit temple. One of the highlights of Bach Ma Temple is its historical significance. It’s one of the oldest temples in Hanoi, dating back over a thousand years. Stepping inside, you’ll feel deeply connected to Vietnam’s rich cultural heritage.
Another difference you’ll notice is the lack of overwhelming crowds. This allows you to have a more meaningful experience and immerse yourself in the authentic essence of Hanoi’s history and spirituality.
Helpful tip: You should check the opening time before you go.
Opening hours: Open every day (except Monday) during 8:00 AM – 11:00 AM; 2:00 PM – 8:00 PM.
If you’re looking for unique artistic or hand-craft things to do in Hanoi, you can check out the Zó project – a traditional handicraft workshop.
This is a project where Vietnamese young people preserve the traditional Dó Paper, which is almost forgotten in modern times.
You will learn about the craft and practice making your own Origami Lanterns taught by local artisans. You can also shop for beautiful handmade things made from Dó Paper.
But it is more than just a handicraft workshop – it’s a movement to spread awareness and appreciation for this traditional Vietnamese craft worldwide.
Going to Thanh Ha Market in the early morning
If you truly want to experience the authentic and off-the-beaten-path side of Hanoi, then a visit to the Thanh Ha morning market is an absolute must. Located at Hanoi’s Old Quarter, Thanh Ha Market offers you a unique and authentic glimpse into the everyday life of locals in the city.
As the sun begins to rise, you’ll find yourself surrounded by bustling stalls and eager vendors showcasing their wares. This is when you’ll have the opportunity to witness Hanoi’s true essence before many of the stalls start selling out and people begin heading home.
You can find some vendors to buy fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers, and raw meat at a very low price. Most of these vendors who go to the market in the early morning are farmers. They usually collect their agricultural products in the early morning to Hanoi for sale.
However, they just sell till around 6.30 am then come back home in countryside area. If you go to market late, you have to buy from retailers with higher prices. Therefore, a smart Vietnamese housewife will go to the market very early to buy fresh foods at the best price.
To truly immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere and get a taste of the real Hanoi, I highly recommend arriving at Thanh Ha Market by 5:30 am.
Don’t miss out on this opportunity to connect with the heart and soul of Hanoi – the early bird catches the worm!
Watching Flag Ceremony at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
As the day draws to a close, watching the flag-lowering ceremony can offer you a fascinating glimpse into Vietnamese culture, even though not spectacular. It’s an enchanting and unforgettable experience awaits you
At 9 pm each evening, a brief ceremony takes place with 37 soldiers marching around the parade ground to lower the flag. During your visit, you may be the only Westerners present among locals. You will stand back from the parade area, the view remains clear, and the crowd is minimal.
As you attend the ceremony, it will be an unforgettable moment that leaves a lasting impression. It offers a chance to participate in a deeply meaningful and unique aspect of Vietnamese tradition.
More than that, you can witness the evening daily life of local people, when a family gathering here stroll for a walk, and some people take walking around the square as an exercise. Some children can come to you and say “Hi”.
Phung Hung Mural Street
If you’re exploring Hanoi in an authentic way, Phung Hung Mural Street is a hidden gem worth discovering. It’s not like the usual tourist spots, making it extra special for Westerners looking for a different experience.
When you arrive at Phung Hung Mural Street, get ready to be captivated by the colorful artwork on the walls. Along Phung Hung Street, there is a long stretch of murals, each one within one of the arches under the train lines. The paintings tell stories about Vietnam’s history, folklore, and daily life, all done by talented local artists. It’s a fantastic way to soak in the country’s culture.
This street is calmer than the busy areas you might have seen in the Old Quarter. You can take your time to walk around, admire the artwork, and snap some cool photos. The locals are friendly too, and they love sharing the stories behind the paintings.
Aside from the art, you’ll get a glimpse of how people live in Hanoi. There are cute cafes, little shops selling traditional crafts, and locals having lively chats. It’s a beautiful mix of old and new, giving you a real taste of the city’s soul.
Walking around Ngoc Ha village
Ngoc Ha village is a charming and picturesque village in Hanoi’s heart. Everyone who enjoys exploring off-the-beaten-path destinations will find Ngoc Ha a delight, with its narrow alleyways, beautiful traditional homes and gardens, and friendly locals.
Walking around the village is the best way to fully immerse yourself in the local culture and way of life, as one can observe the daily routines and traditions of the villagers, such as preparing meals, tending to gardens, and caring for their families.
Additionally, Ngoc Ha is known for its historic sites, including the Ngoc Ha Communal House and the famous B52 wreckage site, adding to the village’s unique character and history. Overall, walking around Ngoc Ha village is a wonderful experience for people seeking to explore Vietnam’s rich culture and history in a peaceful and authentic setting.
Hidden Gem Cafe
If you want to find a charming coffee in Hanoi, there’s an absolute must-visit hidden gem that coffee enthusiasts and eco-conscious travelers alike will adore. What a nice hidden place far from the bustling noises of the streets of Hanoi. Tucked away down an alley and up a flight of stairs, you’ll discover a quirky café with an enchanting name: “Hidden Gem Cafe”.
This restaurant has a very quaint and cool decoration. It is “hidden” inside an old shop house. All of the decor is made from reused stuff. The owner is a one man activist to educate his village, his nation and his guests in the importance of reduce, reuse, recycle. It’s a great small café with a social conscience.
The name speaks for itself. You will get the vibe in every corner. So beautifully decorated with recycling bikes and tyres and bottles. The way they recycled so many items is so inspiring.
They serve Vietnamese cuisine cooked with organic ingredients from local farms. You can try many types of food and drink, especially give a try to egg coffee and coconut coffee. It is a very nice experience, so do check it out.
Location: 3B Hang Tre Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
Visit Ancient House on Ma May Street
If you’re looking for a glimpse into Hanoi’s past, visiting the Ancient House on Ma May Street is a must. This beautiful old house is a perfect example of traditional Vietnamese architecture, and it’s full of fascinating history. You can learn about the lives of the people who once lived here and admire the intricate carvings and decorations that adorn the house. It’s a truly unique experience and one that you won’t regret.
Location: 85 Ma May Ancient Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
Bat Trang Pottery village
Venturing to Bat Trang Pottery Village is a worthwhile and unique experience if you want to explore the countryside of Hanoi. Located just a short distance from the bustling city, this charming village is renowned for its centuries-old tradition of pottery making.
As you walk around the village and visit family doing workshop, you’ll witness skilled artisans learn about the village’s history and gain insight into the importance of pottery in Vietnamese heritage. You can understand more about their daily life while sharing their experiences and perspectives.
You can try making pottery by yourself and release your inner creativity. If you want to take your creations home as souvenirs, you should visit here 3 days before leaving Hanoi so they have time to glaze and fire them for you to collect.
The village’s tranquil surroundings and charming streets make for a pleasant and picturesque visit. It’s a refreshing escape from the city’s hustle, allowing Westerners to unwind and enjoy the rural scenery.
A trip to Bat Trang offers an enriching blend of rural charm, creative exploration, and cultural immersion, making it an unforgettable and off-the-beaten-path addition to your Hanoi itinerary.
Must-Try Local Foods in Hanoi
Hanoi is known for its delicious and diverse cuisine, and there are some dishes that you simply must try while you’re here.
Egg coffee: This is one of Hanoi’s most unique and popular delicacies, which is made by whisking egg yolks, sugar, condensed milk, and coffee until frothy. If you smell it, you probably think it’s not the egg, it must be a kind of coffee-flavored ice cream. Until if you have a sip, it’s real coffee with egg. So weird, so creamy, so tasty and so delicious.
Bun cha: Another must-try dish is bun cha, which consists of grilled pork served with rice noodles, fresh herbs, and a dipping sauce.
Pho rolls: For a tasty snack, try pho rolls, which are rice paper rolls filled with beef, noodles, and fresh herbs, served with a dipping sauce called “Mam” (Fish source)
Bun thang: This is another Hanoi classic, a noodle soup with chicken, egg, and mushrooms and it is perfect for breakfast or lunch.
If you’re a vegetarian, don’t worry – Hanoi has plenty of restaurants serving for you. Some great places to find vegetarian food in Hanoi are Loving Hut, Bo De Quan, Ha Thanh Restaurant or you can find more vegetarian food in Hanoi here.
Getting Around Hanoi
Short distance: Walking is a great option, especially in the Old Quarter where streets are narrow and traffic can be heavy.
Medium distance: Motorbike taxis, or xe om, are a popular way to travel with drivers weaving through traffic to get you to your destination quickly.
Helpful tip: You can use Grab to catch a taxi or motorbike since it is also widely available and offer a convenient way to travel longer distances or in areas, where walking or “xe om” may not be practical.
For those who want to explore Hanoi’s surroundings, renting a motorbike or car is a good option. However, it’s important to note that traffic in Hanoi can be chaotic and unpredictable, so you should be careful when using any type of transportation.
Recommend Hanoi Off the Beaten Path Itinerary
This day tour will take you to the most significant sites of Hanoi. It is well-balanced by the mix of highlights and non-touristy
- Start your day with a cyclo ride tour around the Old Quarter, where you can see the lively morning activities of Hanoians.
- Stroll around the Old Quarter and enjoy a cup of egg coffee, a local specialty.
- Visit the Ethnology Museum, where you can discover the rich and diverse cultures of 54 Vietnamese ethnic groups through fascinating artifacts and artworks.
- During the tour, you will taste some Vietnamese street food such as Banh cuon or Banh goi (spring rolls/ Pillow cake), Nom Bo Kho (Green Papaya Salad With Dried Beef), Banh My Hanoi (bread with grilled meats and vegetables), etc. About drinks, you can try local beer (Bia Hoi) or smoothie or mixed fruits or Vietnamese egg coffee.
- Visit the Ho Chi Minh Complex. Once where Ho Chi Minh – the great leader of Vietnam lived, it is now an insightful place for travelers who’re interested in his life and career.
- Stop by the Temple of Literature, the first university of Vietnam.
Where to Go Next?
If you only have more than a week to spend in Vietnam, there are several incredible destinations to explore after visiting Hanoi. Ninh Binh offers tranquil waterways, ancient temples and bicycle rides through the rice fields. Halong Bay for a slow cruise and explore its dramatic limestone cliffs, fishing village, and emerald waters. Sapa, a mountain town, boasts picturesque rice terraces, traditional villages, and trekking opportunities. You can take a look at our suggested North Vietnam tour in 8 days with the itinerary covering the highlights and culture exploration.
You can extend the itinerary to explore Hue, Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh, and the Mekong Delta if you have more than two weeks in Vietnam. These destinations offer a deeper insight into Vietnam’s rich history, culture, and natural beauty. From imperial citadels to charming town, from bustling cities to serene waterways, each destination has its own highlights and reasons to visit.
I hope that with my sharing, you can have an overall view of Hanoi off the beaten paths with local daily life and hidden gem places. Then you will arrange one day by yourself and try as much as unique things in Hanoi as I have mentioned.
If you don’t have much time and need someone to guide you through those activities, let’s have a look at Hanoi walking tour and ask for expert’s advice.
Minh Vu – Travel Specialist
8 years experience – the mastermind behind 1000+ epic trips, will design your dream adventure with passion and precision