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When I googled Hanoi hidden gems, I was underwhelmed with the existing blogs on the subject.
Many listed main tourist attractions in Hanoi like the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Water Puppet Theatre or just general things like ‘explore the street food’. Hence I decided to seek out the non-touristy things to do in Hanoi, Vietnam for myself.
As a result, my recent three days in Hanoi were filled with quirky finds and early morning wakeup calls. Upon leaving, I’d spent a grand total of 7 weeks in Hanoi since 2015 – more than enough time for some hidden gem-hunting and copious amounts of pho, right?
These are my top suggestions for getting off the beaten path in Hanoi…
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Copy of Lonely Planet Vietnam
Check visas requirements: iVisa
Getting there: flight (Kayak) / train / bus 12GoAsia
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Accommodation: Booking.com // Hostelworld
Essential reading: 101 Southeast Asia travel tips
Hidden gems in Hanoi
So if you’re keen to see more than the main museums and temples of Vietnam’s capital during your Vietnam itinerary, consider visiting these Hanoi hidden gems. I hope there’s something here for everyone!
1. Hanoi Mosaic Wall
The Hanoi hidden gem that’s biggest in size might receive the smallest amount of attention. The Ceramic Mosaic Wall is 6km long – enormous! I couldn’t run that far let alone pave every inch of wall with tiny mosaic pieces. I can’t imagine how many people were involved but I do know that it took three years, from 2007 to 2010.
It was created to celebrate the millennial anniversary of Hanoi, otherwise known as its 1,000th birthday. The images depict everything from famous Hanoian landmarks to local people, religion, myth, and cartoons for the city’s children.
The only downside to the Mosaic Wall is that much of it runs along the highway. As you’re right up against it, it’s hard to step back (unless you want to brave the traffic!) and take a photo or view the bigger picture. The best spot I found was by total accident whilst visiting another of Hanoi’s hidden gems (which I’ll mention below). Here there are plenty of detailed designs and a bit more room.
This spot is outside the entrance to Long Bein Market. Find the art to the right (if you’re facing it) or head to the location pinned here.
2. Binh Minh Jazz Club
Jazz in Vietnam? This quirky activity should be on every traveller’s Southeast Asia bucket list.
I’ve never been a fan of jazz before. That all changed the night we ran into Binh Minh Jazz Club to escape the rain. This low-light, smokey bar is frequented almost every night by Quyen Van Minh, the man who bought jazz to Vietnam. I’m not sure if he ever takes a night off – if he does, I feel sorry for whoever visits that evening!
After hearing the American greats on the radio, Quyen Van Minh was left inspired to practice the music himself. Since then, he’s performed with many of the greats himself and displays the signed photos to prove it.
As someone who doesn’t know her jazz, I was totally captivated with the energy, enthusiasm and sheer talent of the performances. A few times Quyen paused to drag from a cigarette but no one cared because he was so damn cool! He could have made us wait 20 minutes mid-song – we were hanging off his every note!
3. Train Street
I’m almost sure not whether to class this as a Hanoi hidden gem because it seems to be quickly growing in popularity (probably due to blogs like mine calling it a ‘hidden gem’ – sorry world). Since you can still see so much local life on the tracks, I decided it’s still worthy of a mention. Train Street is truly one of the craziest places I’ve been as the railway is far from out of use. A few times a day, the train comes roaring through the city, sending locals and tourists sprawling flat against the walls and rocking the buildings around it (I slept in a room on the tracks for two weeks so I would know!).
Read next: A guide to visiting Train Street Hanoi
You can drink coffee at a number of cafes whilst watching the train pass or opt to explore at other times of day. The second option is better for ditching the crowds and observing the locals cook, wash, socialise and go about their days.
4. The grand houses of Phan Dinh Phung
Phan Dinh Phung is one of Hanoi’s grandest streets yet it remains a lesser-known attraction in Hanoi.
The impressive houses are shaded by greenery and set aside from city’s other attractions, hence why it’s overlooked. If you have time, take a stroll and admire the old French mansions, many peppered with contrasting pagoda entrances.
You’ll notice Phan Dinh Phung is flanked by police booths. Apparently, the area was once a military compound protecting the nearby Imperial Palace of Thang Long, but its since been opened to the public. One police officer told me to stop taking photos (after I’d already taken a million) but quite halfheartedly and without explaining why. If the Instagram tag is anything to go by, plenty of people take pictures all over Phan Dinh Phung so just assess the situation when you visit.
To find the gorgeous houses, start by locating the sunny yellow Cua Bac Church.
With your back to it, turn right. Don’t do what I did – turn left, not find anything of interest and leave, deeming Phan Dinh Phung a dud attraction. A few days later I drove down the street and realised all the gorgeous houses had been metres away, the other side of the cathedral. Doh!
5. Trade Shop #37
You probably already know but Where Goes Rose LOVES a quirky caf. It’s not every day you end up at a Communist, military-themed hang out, is it?
(Actually, if you live in Vietnam and regularly visit coffee giant, Cong Caphe, you probably do!)
Trade Shop #37 (Vietnamese name Cửa Hàng Ăn uống Mậu dịch số 37) replicates a war era canteen. The menu resembles a ration card and the walls are adorned with 1970s military details. The only difference is that the food served is plentiful and tasty! Find it at 37 Nam Tràng on Truc Bach island.
6. Ngoc Ha
For a fantastic non-touristy thing to do in Hanoi, head to the neighbourhood of Ngoc Ha. This Hanoi hidden gem contender was recommended to me by Emily of the Wander-Lush blog. Since I’ve enjoyed her recommendations before, I decided to pay a visit.
As I walked up the hectic main road, Google Maps informed me I was just one minute away. Hmn. Ngoc Ha wasn’t looking like a Hanoi hidden gem, whatsoever! Perhaps this was where mine and Emily’s tastes would differ?
Nope – suddenly I turned a corner and a serene, quaint paradise appeared in front of me. The highlight was this gorgeous temple and bridge, not inhabited by another soul.
Ngoc Ha as a neighbourhood is very interesting and local. Take a walk around the ponds, admire the towering houses and get lost in the tightly-packed alleyways. It’s also a great place to meet the locals and experience daily life, free from tourist traps. Put Dinh Ngọc Ha into Google Maps and start there (right beside the temple).
7. Long Bein Morning Market
To get off the beaten path in Hanoi, you must visit a morning market. When I say ‘morning market’ what I really mean is ‘dead of night market’. To get the best of Long Bein, you really need to visit by 5am. After this, many of the stalls are selling out and people are heading home. The purpose of Long Bein is to provide restaurants and businesses with their ingredients for the day.
Ever seen street stalls opening up at 6am, already frying up meat and veg? Chances are they bought it at Long Bein two hours earlier. Going there once to take photos was an exhausting mission so I don’t know how people work there every day! The market is hectic and tightly packed: an authentic, gritty and very real side to Hanoi. I’d recommend a visit if you have some stamina and don’t mind a 4.30am wakeup call.
8. Truc Bach
The only neighbourhood I’ve enjoyed visiting as much as Ngoc Ha is Truc Bach. This sleepy area of houses and cafes juts out onto Truc Bach Lake (location: here) and is a great place to explore local life and take photos over the water.
Read next: Truc Bach: photo blog + visitor’s guide
This non-touristy area of Hanoi shares a location with State-run Food Shop, so you could combine visiting the two or check out some of the temples in the area.
9. Phung Hung Public Art Project
I found this incredible modern art project by accident. I’d got stranded in the rain outside Long Bein Market and after cancelling on some annoying Grab drivers who accepted my journey then ditched me, I ended up getting banned from the app. Super annoying! I was forced to walk home in the pouring rain at 6am feeling very sorry for myself.
That all faded away when I stumbled upon these beautiful murals. The Phung Hung Public Art Project jazzes up the arches alongside Long Bein Bridge thanks to a Korean/Vietnamese art collaboration.
Mural walls are very popular in Korea as I learnt when I visited Tam Thanh Mural Village in Central Vietnam so I was thrilled to discover another one. Apparently, the works celebrate 25 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Aren’t they crazy lifelike? Head to 29 Phùng Hưng as the Phung Hung Public Art Project itself doesn’t appear to be mapped yet.
Had you heard of any/all of these Hanoi hidden gems before? Let me know if you have any others! I enjoyed the non-touristy things to do in Hanoi waaaay more than the main attractions so I hope I’ll be back to find even more!
Thanks for reading!
Check out some of my other Hanoi & Vietnam posts:
- Complete Hanoi itinerary
- The ultimate Vietnam travel itinerary
- Complete Northern Vietnam itinerary
- The perfect Southeast Asia backpacking route
- Hanoi street food guide
- Best Hanoi cafes
- Finding the best egg coffee in Hanoi
- Complete Ho Chi Minh itinerary
- A Hoi An street food guide
- Best cafes in Hoi An
See you next time for more adventures,
Ps. Liked my guide to the hidden gems in Hanoi? Pin it for later!
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