The city is dotted with ancient pagodas, sprawling public parks, well-preserved colonial buildings and tree-lined boulevards that reflect its long, complex history – from millennia-long Chinese rule to French colonisation, and later, as a new, reunified nation.

Over the last few decades, Hanoi has grown rapidly, yet modernity has not overshadowed its old world charm.

Walk around the city and you’ll see traditional street vendors plying their trade next to chic new cafes and towering skyscrapers, a testament to Hanoi’s resilience through the ages.

Enter an ancient university

Explore the vast grounds of Van Mieu or the Temple of Literature, one of the world’s oldest educational institutions.

Considered Vietnam’s first university, it was established in 1070 to honour the Chinese philosopher Confucius.

Six years later, Van Mieu opened its doors to sons of aristocratic families as an imperial academy where students learned classical Chinese literature, history and philosophy.

The institution moved to the imperial capital of Hue in 1802, but the university’s lush grounds, with its expansive courtyards, study halls, towering trees and centuries-old altars, remain intact in Hanoi.

Watch a water puppet show

Don’t miss out on the experience of catching a water puppet show live at Hanoi’s Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre.

This unique art form, which dates back to the 11th century, was born in the Red River Delta where puppeteers would entertain village folk by using flooded paddy fields as a stage.

While the theatre itself is a comfy, contemporary space, the art form remains unchanged. Shows are typically an hour long and consist of short stories depicting Vietnamese life and folklore.

It’s quite a sensory experience, as puppeteers in knee-deep water create graceful movements with ornate wooden puppets, accompanied by dramatic lighting and a live traditional orchestra.

Admire colonial architecture

The French, who ruled Vietnam from 1858 until 1945, left their mark on Hanoi – the former capital of French Indochina – in the form of a number of remarkable colonial structures.

You’ll come across buildings like the Art Deco-style State Bank of Vietnam built in 1928 and the palatial Presidential Palace, a Neoclassical that was once the offices of the governors of French Indochina.

One of the must-sees is St Joseph’s Cathedral, the oldest church in Hanoi. Completed in 1888, this imposing Gothic Revival structure closely resembles the Notre Dame in Paris.

Built out of stone, brick and plaster, the church’s most recognisable feature is its twin bell towers, each housing five bells, their chimes still echoing through the city to this day.

You won’t want to miss the grandeur of the Hanoi Opera House either. Modelled after Palais Garnier in Paris, this Neoclassical beauty took 10 years to build and was one of Hanoi’s grandest buildings when it opened in 1911.

Stroll along Hoan Kiem Lake

One of the best ways to get a glimpse of Hanoian life is by taking a stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake, a picturesque oasis in the heart of the bustling city.

This tranquil, 12-hectare freshwater lake, fringed by trees and dotted with flower beds and park benches, is a favourite chillout spot for locals.

Watch groups perform tai chi or line dancing, marvel at street performers and take in the scenic views of the centuries-old historic Turtle Tower, built in the centre of the lake to commemorate the King Arthuresque legend of Emperor Le Loi and the Golden Turtle God.

The view is equally spectacular from Cau The Huc, the distinctive red bridge on the north side of the lake that connects to the Temple of the Jade Mountain, a shrine dedicated to Confucian and Taoist philosophers.

Kick back with bia hoi

Bia hoi is a type of draught beer more commonly found in northern Vietnam that’s brewed and delivered to bars daily.

Due to the short fermentation time, the alcohol content of this local brew is only about 3 percent, making it a light, refreshing beverage that’s cheap to boot.

Head over to Ta Hien Street, better known as “Beer Street”, to sample this unique tipple – while lounging on short stools and snacking on tasty treats, of course.

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