Have you ever passed by restaurants and seen them packed with locals and thought “I wish I knew what “they did”, about this restaurant?”. Vacations are great and being a tourist is fine. But what if you want to go deeper? What if you want to shake off the limitations of the well trodden tourist track and experience a place as the locals do?
Let us take you to one city in Vietnam that offers scenic walks, interesting nooks, and natty places featuring local cuisine and a true authentic vibe.
Hanoi, the beautiful capital of Vietnam, is a dazzling mixture of the ancient and modern. Gleaming skyscrapers share the city with charming French colonial architecture and more than 600 traditional pagodas and temples. Although the country has yet to fully open international borders following the global outbreaks COVID-19, it is hopeful to do so soon.
The ideal way to spend your time in Hanoi is learned by following the locals.
Listed below are some of the best places to grab a bite or simply enjoy an afternoon.
Hoàn Kiếm Lake
One of the most scenic spots in Hanoi is the expansive freshwater lake of Hoàn Kiếm (Lake of the Restored Sword). The mythical Turtle Tower sits on an island and is named after a 15th-century war legend. Stroll across to Jade Island over the elegant red Thê Húc Bridge (Perch of the Morning Sunlight). If you are lucky, you may spot one of the lake’s elusive turtles.
Locals gather at this sacred spot to jog, chat with friends, or simply lounge on the grass. Join them by relaxing and forgetting about the hustle of the city for a moment.
Address: Hanoi 100000
Vietnamese coffee is an unexpected surprise for visitors. First brewed with a traditional drip filter, the coffee is mixed with condensed milk and whipped fluffy egg. The end result is a smooth, creamy cup with a jolt of caffeine that will make returning to a regular latte a disappointment.
The bustling Giang Cafe is the birthplace of Hanoi’s famous egg coffee and has been serving it since 1946. If you are feeling brave, try their signature varieties, mixed with everything from beer to chocolate.
Address: 39 Nguyen Huu Huan Hoan Kiem, Hanoi 100000 Vietnam
Banh Canh Ghe Ut Coi
When you find a restaurant in Hanoi bustling with locals who all ordered the exact same dish, you know you have found a hidden city gem. Banh Canh Ghe Ut Coi may list several other dishes on its menu, but people come here for its famous crab noodle soup. With a thick broth, fresh crab meat, and quail eggs, the soup is a rewarding mix of flavors and textures.
Address: 2B Quang Trung Street, Hang Trong Ward, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi 10000 Vietnam
The Old Quarter
Walking along the busy streets of Hanoi’s historic Old Quarter, or Hoan Kiem District, is like taking a step back in time. However, don’t expect to find a peaceful moment here. Scooters, bikes, and cars race through the narrow streets while the sidewalks are a constant stream of pedestrians. Many beautifully preserved temples and cathedrals, like St. Joseph’s, can be found in or just outside its streets.
Here, the most daring travelers can sample traditional street food while browsing through the local sidewalk vendors and shops. Many of the streets are named after the merchandise the sellers traditionally specialized in, with Hang Dao Street (Silk Street) being the place to buy silks while Hang Thiec Street signifies tinsmith street. These markets are a feast for the senses, with an almost overwhelming combination of unique tastes, smells, touch, and sights that you won’t find in any other part of the world.
This welcoming eatery is a city favorite for traditional Vietnamese pancakes (Bánh xèo). These savory crispy pancakes are stuffed with tasty vegetables and meat. Dine at Hoang Cuisine to indulge on pineapple fried rice, pickled vegetables, pork spring rolls, and sizzling beef with a cold Saigon beer, one of the most popular varieties in the country.
Address: 2nd floor, 20 Bat Dan street, Hang Bo ward, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội 100000, Vietnam
Central Sky Bar
Located in the old quarter, this rooftop bar boasts panoramic views of Hanoi. Head to Central Sky Bar to sip on a tropical cocktail while watching the sunset over Hoan Kiem Lake. This is the perfect place to escape the crowds of the streets below and take a break. Locals come here for the happy hour deals and live music.
Address: 61 Hang Be Level 12, Delicacy Central Hotel & Spa, Hanoi 10000 Vietnam
Pho Bo Mau Dich
Pho, a brothy soup with noodles and fresh herbs, is one of the top exports of Vietnamese cuisine. Pho Bo Mau Dich is a cozy place to slurp up one of the best bowls in Hanoi. Available with meat, seafood, and vegetarian, top your pho with an egg and make sure to drizzle it with the flavorful fish sauce.
Address: 01 Bao Khanh, Hanoi 100000 Vietnam
Phi Banh Mi
You will find the delightfully crunchy bahn min sandwich almost everywhere you look in Hanoi. This popular french baguette filled with pork, cilantro, and chilis is the tasty byproduct of French colonialism. Many places in the city make a great Bahn Min, from modern to traditional, but many locals swear by Phi Banh Mi, located outside of the usual tourist path.
With both vegan and meat varieties, there is a bahn min sandwich for everyone here. Made with fresh, crispy bread and homemade chili sauce, you will want to come back the next day.
Address: 88 Thai Phien, Hanoi Vietnam