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The 20 Best Hanoi Photo Spots

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Hello again Hanoi! We had fond memories of chaotic Hanoi from our first visit years back and decided that it warranted a longer stay this time around. Of course, coming from tidy, orderly, quiet Japan, Hanoi was always going to be a shock to the system, and not just because we’d be subsisting on an ever-so-slightly different kind of noodle.

Yes, Hanoi is busy and wild and there are millions of scooters and bikes and walkers and even a few cars here and there. But the stuff we didn’t even think about – in comparison to Japan, specifically – were the sounds and smells. Five minutes in Hanoi gave us a whole new appreciation for just how quiet Japan is. Not to mention, almost completely devoid of smells.

Fruit and vegetable shop

Hanoi, on the other hand, is an assault on the nasal senses – vehicle exhaust, fruit, grilling fires, cigarettes, deep fryers, dogs, the list goes on. And is mostly unpleasant. But very evocative and memorable.

And the traffic, well, walking the streets of Hanoi streets is essentially a sport. A very challenging, occasionally dangerous sport that is only fun in very short stretches. And never when you’re in a hurry to get somewhere.

Cluster of scooters under a brightly lit tree

Navigating Hanoi’s Old Quarter, even on foot, is truly an art form (at one point Laynni insisted she needed to just follow behind because it felt like her “street mojo” was off that day). Knowing when to stay on the sidewalk and when to move to the street because the sidewalk is about to be completely blocked by tables, chairs, construction, flower arrangements or BBQs. To tuck in behind a local or speed up and pass. To wait for a break in the traffic to cross or just step out and Frogger your way across. Stop or go. Fast or slow.

Hanoi Old Quarter traffic

Whatever you decide, though, always – always! – give a quick shoulder check for scooters that can appear anywhere, anytime, heading in any direction, at any speed. A rule I failed to follow one night on the way to beer street (note I said “to”, not “from” – I was fully sober… at that point). Anyway, cue me stepping out if front of this old guy on a surprisingly quiet scooter, getting smoked in the back of the leg for my trouble, the mysterious shoebox he had been carrying ending upside down on the street, both of us apologizing profusely to each other, without a common language, but plenty of demonstrative hand signals.

Luckily, thanks to the low speeds and apparently iron-like solidity of my calf, no damage was done, depending, I suppose, on what exactly was in the box. Hopefully just some mildly shaken baby chicks or scattered dominoes and not some time-sensitive transplant organs or very specific bull semen.

The 20 Best Hanoi Instagram Spots

Anyway, enough about the unique mobility challenges of Hanoi. We’re here to show you some of the best photo spots in Hanoi – the reasons millions of tourists are willing to brave the chaos every year.

Classic French building covered pink flowers

Now, obviously, Hanoi is a very big city and it would take months to explore every nook and cranny so we can’t claim these are the ONLY great Hanoi photo spots. Plus, the quality of any given photo spot can change significantly depending on weather, where your arrival falls within the tour group crowd’s schedule and how many scooters race past in front of you while you’re taking it.

Finally, these best Hanoi photo spots are NOT listed in order from best to worst, or most popular to least popular, or even by their proximity to speeding trains. Nope, instead I’ve gone with the ever-popular “as they occurred to me” method.

1. Old Quarter – Everywhere

Scooter and walkers on a street in the Hanoi Old Quarter

The Hanoi Old Quarter why people come to the city. Well, for the Old Quarter and because a lot of flights leave and arrive from there. But the wild, turbulent streets of the Old Quarter are the reason most people choose to stay longer than they absolutely have to.

Definitely our favourite thing to do in Hanoi is simply wandering the hectic streets, stopping off at another little food stall, perfectly placed set of plastic bar stools or unexpected market whenever the mood strikes.

Yes, the traffic is crazy. And, yes, it is loud. And it pretty much always smells like… something. And eventually the novelty will wear off and you’ll want to get the hell out. But in the meantime, it is a truly fun and memorable place.

2. Hanoi Train Street (old)

Supposedly making one of the big lists of top bucket list items IN THE WORLDfor 2023, I wasn’t able to actually find the specific article. But Hanoi train street is definitely on SOME list because at all times of day and evening there were large groups of people jockeying for photos or hard-won glimpses.

The unique part is that the train passes down a narrow street lined with homes and, now, cafés, basically brushing right past you within a metre or two while you casually sip your latte. Or drunkenly and boisterously cheer and holler, as the case may be.

Train tracks lined with shops and cafes at night

Things to know:

Train street is guarded at both ends from early in the morning until late at night.

Tourists are only allowed in with a café owner escort. They congregate outside the barrier – don’t worry, they’ll find you.

Or during a small, trainless window during the day, the exact schedule of which was rather hard to pin down.

And if you stay at WeCozy Hanoi, like we did, you can actually see the train, the street and a couple of the cafés from your bedroom window. And, most definitely, hear it.

3. Hanoi Train Street (new)

Located about a 15-20-minute walk south of the more popular version, this second Hanoi train street has a similar setup and similar rules, but fewer cafés, fewer tourists and less hassle.

4. Hoan Kiem Lake

Red bridge on Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi

A terrific little lake with a scenic red bridge, a cute little island (Turtle Island, for some reason) and loads of Vietnamese people out for their morning/evening constitutionals, tai-chi or just to relax. We even saw a Vietnamese version of my dad (short, wiry, grey) doing typical Barry-stuff. Specifically, doing chin-ups on a tree branch while wearing long pants but no shirt.

Man doing chinup from a tree branch while a couple women clean the park

5. Hanoi Flag Tower

Old tower with a Vietnamese flag

Not a main highlight but conveniently located right on the route between the Old Quarter and the palaces and other big attractions. Plus, the street in front features a row of ATMs that are just about shabby enough to seem retro (but probably too shabby to trust with your bank card) and the flag tower is directly across the street from a park where they rent out a fleet of little children’s cars. Only to children, presumably.

6. Thang Long Imperial Citadel

The Imperial Citadel in Hanoi

Much larger and more expansive than we realized, and quite enjoyable despite (or because of?) the massive single-file lines of small children touring the grounds while holding each other’s identical shirts for security.

There is a good mix of photo spots here, from the classic citadel shot to the tunnel with a flag in the distance to the odd umbrella lawn.

Hanoi flag tower seen through a dark tunnel

7. National Assembly

Hanoi National Assembly

This seemingly very important building is fittingly both very large and very square. It also has a pretty photogenic golden arch out front (no, not those ones).

Golden arch reflected in the black tiles

8. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Quite a nice-looking building from the outside, surrounded by flowers and neatly groomed shrubs. However, the (free) entrance to the grounds comes with some conditions.

Ho Chi Minh mausoleum in Hanoi

1) No water bottles inside. And even if you stand there and guzzle 750 ml of downtown-Hanoi-temperature water as the guard watches, he will insist you leave behind the empty bottle, leaving you to wonder why he didn’t stop you from guzzling it in the first place. Then you’ll need to return before that particular gate closes (at 11 am!) or risk forever losing Laynni’s personal favourite Nalgene bottle, the one with around 30 countries under its belt.

2) You will be ushered into a line shuffling across the tarmac in a very military way. That line will eventually make its way inside the mausoleum and continue on, slowly, steadily, formally, into and around the room holding the body of famous, revered Ho Chi Minh.

3) The body is preserved in a very official-looking glass case, which seems to agree with him since he could easily pass for your average-run-of-the-mill revolutionary leader sleeping off a wild night on beer street.

4) No hats, no sunglasses on your head (a type of hat, I suppose), no talking, no dressing provocatively. I’m guessing, no mocking of the corpse, although I was too scared to test this.

5) Once you emerge from the other side, that’s it. Your guards all just disappear and you’re suddenly on your own, like a dog who considered itself loved until one day if finds itself all alone in the middle of an unfamiliar forest.

9. The Stilt House

Modern stilt house

Apparently old Ho Chi was a simple, yet practical, soul who, despite the nearby palace, preferred his basic little stilt house on a pond. I’ll be honest, it’s not one of the most amazing Hanoi photo spots. But it’s okay, and it’s literally right there when you exit the mausoleum. Although I wouldn’t recommend getting stuck behind a large tour group with a lot of time on their hands slowly making their way around the narrow, fenced path around the pond. That part was, um, unpleasant.

10. One Pillar Pagoda

Women dressed in traditional clothing posing in front the One PIllar Pagoda

Very close to the main mausoleum entrance/exit, the One Pillar Pagoda is spiritually important and architecturally unique, although it is also fairly small and not quite as impressive as some of the larger pagodas around the city. You’ll probably get to see lots of women dressed in traditional clothing posing in front of it, though, if that happens to be on your Hanoi bucket list.

11. Beer Street

Street Level

People on plastic stools on street

Quite famous and predictably raucous. This narrow street in the Old Quarter is filled with low tables and small plastic stools from each of the many, many bars along the way. First you’ll have to run the gauntlet of people trying to get you to choose their crappy plastic chairs. And if you decline they may want desperately to grab you, but show admirable restraint, settling for running their finger down your arm in as creepy a way as possible. Don’t choose that one.

Once you do pick a place, you’ll face a barrage of beer girl/reps who will swarm you, trying to convince you their particular brand is the way to go (and that Carlsberg is somehow “the best local beer”).

Strangely, though, once you have chosen, ordered and enjoyed your Hanoi Beer, Saigon Beer, Viet Beer or “local” Carlsberg, it may suddenly become confusingly difficult to get anyone’s attention so that you might order a second, or try something new, or even just to talk.

Regardless, there are some fun photos to be had and plenty of people watching. On a related note, is it just me, or are tourists getting less and less attractive? Are humans? Discuss.

From Above

Busy street from above

The typical Beer Street experience is worth at least one visit but for return visits we much preferred enjoying the view from one of the several rooftop bars in the area. Our personal favourite was Northern Soul, with great views from both terraces and much cheaper beer than other rooftop bars – 40k ($2) bottles / 80k ($4) draft). Of course, the prices are still only half that down below.

12. Tran Quoc Pagoda

Tran Quoc Pagoda in Hanoi

The pagoda and temple are nice and the location on a narrow isthmus on Tay Lake has the potential to be spectacular, if not for the clouds and haze the day we went there and the long-term construction project completely blocking off large chunks of the lakeshore. However, based on the pictures featured on the construction hoardings, the malecón is going to be quite something once it’s done.

Also, on the temple grounds, you’ll find a fascinating board illustrating all the many Laws of Karma. Most are pretty garden variety (do good things, experience good things, blah blah blah) but a few caught my attention, being, potentially, relevant to my long-term plans.

“Doing business involving loud music” apparently leads to “Bringing an idiot”. Not sure if they are saying I will be the idiot or that I will be surrounded by idiots, but either one seems plausible.

Laws of Karma regarding loud music

And we may need to seriously reshuffle our plans for the rest of our time in Vietnam, since “Rebirth as poisonous snakes in the next life” seems like too steep a price to pay for the otherwise tempting “Pretending to be a monk/nun to destroy the Buddhism”. For the record, I think I could pull it off (along with the nasty sneer and evil goatee).

Laws of Karma regarding ruining Buddhism

13. Hanoi Ceramic Mosaic Mural

Well, the name is certainly a mouthful. Although that is probably fitting, considering this intricate wall of tile mosaics runs for at least a couple kilometres, featuring hundreds of impressive murals.

Tile mosaic of a classic building on a Hanoi wall

Of course, those couple of kilometres are entirely along a very loud and busy street – a freeway, almost – which takes a little of the lustre off. Still worth a look, though.

14. Long Bien Bridge

Scooters driving along an old bridge

We saw some very cool photos of the classic metal bridge featuring trees, the river, the bridge and distant hills. Lots of cool stuff, really. But we also did not manage to find that spot, or even anything similar, ending up somewhat trapped on the bridge walkway itself (along with quite a few other tourists, it must be said, or maybe not “must”, but definitely “will”). I recommend you do better than we did. The spot marked on the map is my best guess for where you might get the best view. I promise nothing.

15. Phung Hung Street Murals

Woman walking toward a painted mural of a Hanoi street scene

These are regular, painted murals (no tiles) and they only extend for about a block. But they are also closer to the Old Quarter, really interesting and the street itself is quiet and pleasant. So, considerably different than the other mural street, is what I’m saying.

16. Dong Xuan Market

Hectic street in downtown Hanoi

A big covered local market that spills out onto the streets certain days of the week. The type of place where you can buy a deformed squash in one area, a lightly used rag in another, and a beautiful wreath of funeral flowers in a third. And probably even a few other things.

17. Saint Joseph Cathedral

Saint Joseph Cathredral in Hanoi

The only Christian church we saw in Hanoi, it sort of feels out of place, like something you’d find on every corner in a classic old European city. But in Hanoi it feels a bit random. Random enough to make it one of the MOST important Hanoi photo spots? No, no it is not.

18. Bay Mau Lake

Man fishing in a calm lake with an island reflected in the water

This big lake is another popular hangout for local families. There is the National Circus – where tourist shuttles pickup and drop-off (among other things, I assume), some playgrounds, several restaurants, an island, quite a few fishermen, some giant pigs made out of discarded water bottles. And some artistic depictions of the relative distances between the planets. Illuminating, but in a boring sort of way.

19. Jeweler Street

Tuk-tuk driving down brightly lit street

The entire street is lined with jewelry shops that are, apparently, also money changers, although there are no signs to that effect, as though it was a black market enterprise, except that it’s definitely not, because there are loads of other money changers advertising openly in other places. Yet we have it on good authority, Jeweler Street is the place to go to change money. Unfortunately, we had no money to change, rendering this otherwise valuable inside knowledge rather useless.

20. Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre

A famous Hanoi tradition, these bizarre shows take place a few times each day near Hoan Kiem Lake and, supposedly, people really love them. We didn’t go to one, obviously.

Hanoi Photo Spots Map

Click the star to save this map to your Google Maps – then find it under Saved/Maps (mobile) or Your Places/Maps (desktop)

Where to Stay in Hanoi

We spent a week at WeCozy Hanoi, a friendly, well-equipped hotel located on a terrific little street full of restaurants. On the other side of the hotel is famous Hanoi Train Street, which means you literally can’t get any closer than this. In fact, we stayed in the (surprisingly huge) two-bedroom apartment and you could see the train passing by out the window, along with one of the most popular café viewing spots.

Pedestrian street lined with restaurants

The downside: the noise from the trains, obviously. There were usually only a couple in the night, and as long as they didn’t feel the need to blast their horn we didn’t notice much. Of course, they almost always felt the need to blast their horn, especially during the 5:30 am passing.

The other rooms on the other side of the hall might not be as loud and, either way, if you can handle a bit of noise it is a pretty great location and an excellent value apartment.

Check prices and availability at WeCozy Hanoi

For a more conventional choice right in the heart of the Old Quarter, try Media Central Hotel & Spa. Located in the most evocative area of Hanoi, this comfortable, affordable hotel has a restaurant, bar, shared lounge and a popular breakfast buffet.

Check prices and availability at Media Central Hotel & Spa

If you don’t mind staying a little bit of a walk outside the Old Quarter, Somerset West Point is a beautiful hotel located along the shores of Tay Lake. It is a little pricier than the first two options but it shows in the facilities. This 5-star luxury hotel has a pool, restaurant, fitness centre and beautiful views, all for the price of your average mid-range hotel.

Check prices and availability at Somerset West Point Hanoi

Hanoi Photo Spots Summary

Woman on the Umbrella Lawn in the Imperial Citadel, one of the best Hanoi photo spots
Hidden gem at the Imperial Citadel

Hanoi is a burgeoning favourite on the Southeast Asia tourist trail. While it used to be mainly visited by shoestring backpackers on their way to the limestone karsts of Tam Coc, the gorgeous islands of Ha Long Bay or the lush hills of Sa Pa, these days you can find every variation of traveller from high-end Westerners pulling large rollie luggage to grubby youngsters with high socks and Crocs.

And to a certain extent, they all find Hanoi a bit wild, a bit hectic and occasionally overwhelming. But photogenic, for sure. Which is why you could do worse than checking off a list of the best Hanoi photo spots as you enjoy the standard Old Quarter wanderings.

Be sure to let us know if you find any other cool spots that deserve to be on the list!

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