Hanoi is a popular tourist destination in Vietnam which attracts over 30 million visitors per year. This bustling city is an exciting melting pot of Vietnamese culture, but…. it is well on the tourist path.
If you prefer authentic travel experiences and visiting places where few tourists have seen, then you have landed on the right page. After spending three weeks exploring this northern Vietnamese city we found some incredible hidden gems. In this article we share with you some of the most authentic and unique places to visit in Hanoi which will not be found in other guides or travel blogs.
We enjoy getting off the beaten path while travelling and spent three glorious weeks exploring Hanoi city. We discovered many of this city’s hidden local places, none of which were lacking in charm and authenticity. So if you want a truly unique and local experience in Hanoi, keep reading for our full guide to Hanoi’s secret local treasures.
How to Get off the Beaten Path in Hanoi?
After spending three weeks exploring this incredible Northern Vietnamese city, here are our top tips!
1. Walk Across Cầu Long Biên Bridge
Take a 20min walk north east of the old quarter and you will find the Cầu Long Biên Bridge. Built in 1902 by Eifel, the bridge is a historic reminisce of French Colonisation which links two districts together across the mighty Red River.
It is a rusty old bridge that to the ordinary tourist would not be particularly interesting. However, for those adventurers wanting a glimpse into local life in Hanoi crossing this mile long bridge is an exhilarating and interesting way to spend a few hours.
Crossing on foot provides a burst of local energy and is not for the faint hearted. We had to hold our breath at times as we stepped over crumbling concrete slabs at towering heights as a myriad of motorbikes, pedestrians, bicycles and trains rushed by.
As you walk across the bridge you will see an incredible view of the river and Hanoi city. The streets and areas around the bridge are worth exploring as well, you will see quintessential local Hanoi life undisturbed by tourism.
We walked to the bridge from the Old Quarter and got a nice cold drink at one of the cafes on the other side before catching an uber back to our airbnb. Some recommended cafes at the east end of the bridge are Jacks and Sành Cafe.
2. Explore Văn Chương District
A 30min walk southwest of the old quarter of Hanoi will lead you to a small district named Văn Chương. We visited this area of Hanoi after a fellow traveller told us how he stumbled across it when he got lost.
We were so glad to find it! This charming part of the city feels like you have stepped back in time and are witnessing Hanoi life as it was 50 years ago.
As you walk around the streets of Văn Chương you will discover lots of market stall holders and will be delighted by the alluring alleyways and the quintessential local way of life.
Tourists hardly ever make their way here so locals are extra friendly and intrigued by visitors. We were invited by a group of local men to sit with them and enjoy a glass of beer or two which was a highlight for us!
So to escape the touts and scammers and explore a part of Hanoi which enjoys an authentic Vietnamese way of life, we recommended getting lost in the narrow streets of Văn Chương for an hour or two!
3. Visit Chau Long Market
Visiting local markets is one of the best ways to see the day to day life of the places you are visiting. When we say ‘markets’….we don’t mean the markets catered to tourists which are filled with souvenirs and Adidas rip offs. We are talking about the markets that locals visit daily to buy their food supplies and to indulge in authentic street snacks. Chau long is one of these markets.
Chau Long is one of the last remaining wet markets in Hanoi city. This bustling marketplace is a sensory experience with over 200 food vendors selling fresh meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, dried goods and street snacks.
The market runs in the traditional Vietnamese way with live frogs in buckets and motorbikes zooming down the aisles. Visiting Chau Long Market will give you an opportunity to step outside the touristic old quarter of Hanoi and visit one of the local districts named Ba Đình. We suggest arriving in the early morning between 6-8am to witness the market in full swing!
4. Explore Truc Bach
Chau Long Market is a nice segway to our next recommendation which is exploring the area of Truc Bach. The Truc Bach neighbourhood is located near the market and is within the Ba Đình district on the banks of Truc Bach lake. The area is made up of a small island connected to the mainland by road bridges as well as the lakeside areas on the mainland.
Truc Bach resembles a lesser known version of the old quarter and is adorned with incredible history, french colonial architecture, vibrant lakeside cafes and incredible street food…..all without the hordes of tourists.
Truc Bach has a distinct relaxed vibe and laid back atmosphere and is even home to Hanoi’s oldest pagoda. So if you are after that old quarter vibe minus the tourists then make your way to Truc Bach for a real offbeat Hanoi experience.
5. Find Amazing Street Food Down Ngo Trung Yen Alley
The great thing about Hanoi is that it is oozing with authenticity. You can even find local gems in the heart of the old quarter…..that leads us to Ngo Trung Yen Alley.
About 300metre north of Hoàn Kiếm Lake and tucked away behind some mains streets you will find a hidden alley that is teaming with delicious local street foods. The small dim alley is actually a culinary paradise packed full with dozens of street vendors selling fresh noodles and other delicious traditional snacks!
Reti stumbled across this alley when looking for lunch one day and found a yummy seafood noodle dish at Miến trộn mực. It was so delicious he returned a few times to have the same dish again! So if you want to try some mouth watering traditional Vietnamese street food head to Ngo Trung Yen Alley, you won’t be disappointed!
6. Visit Cho Hom Market
Located 2km south of the main Dong Kinh Nghia Square and well off the beaten path is Cho Hom Market. This is a large indoor market full of vendors selling fresh food, household appliances, fabrics and clothing.
This bustling market place is where many locals come to shop and you won’t spot many tourists or english speaking people here. We came to Cho Hom to purchase winter coats and although there was a large selection at great prices, it was so local that there were no sizes that would fit our giant foreigner bodies!
Cho Hom is a dress maker’s dream and is a great place to buy textiles with a seemingly endless supply of almost any fabric imaginable. Other than the incredible supply of fabrics, Cho Hom is a great place to catch a glimpse of local life. We recommend making the journey here to spend an hour or two wandering through this local gem as you take in all the colours, textures and life of the market!
7. Stay Outside The Old Quarter
This is probably one of our top tips for getting off the beaten path in Hanoi. The old quarter of Hanoi is an exciting array of culture, ancient architecture and busy streets. It is also the central hub for tourism and many shops, hotels and restaurants are catered for travellers. This touristic approach takes away from its authenticity a bit.
We do recommend to spend some time exploring the old quarter, but if you want to experience the true authenticity of Hanoi city, then you need to ditch the old quarter and stay in an outside district. Airbnb or couch surfing with locals can even further guarantee a truly local experience, and the airbnb price will likely be cheaper in an outside district too!
We found a lovely Airbnb (you can it find here) run by a sweet older couple located in the Lang Ha area. Lang Ha is situated about 5km west of the old quarter. Our homestay was tucked away in a quiet lane where we discovered an array of hidden restaurants and street food vendors with not a tourist in sight!
Staying in Lang Ha allowed us to experience how the local people of Hanoi live their daily lives, and we believe this is when true travel happens. The great thing was we were not too far from the old quarter and we could still walk to the city centre or catch a cheap taxi there! Another great place to stay is the Ba Đình district which will also give you that glimpse into local life without being too far from the old quarter.
8. Visit Thay Pagoda
Take a day trip outside of the city and discover the quaint and serene Thay Temple. Located in the countryside about 25km from the Hanoi’s old quarter, the Thay Pagoda is one of Vietnam’s oldest buddhist temples and is home to monks who take care of the grounds.
This ancient site was built in the 11th century during the reign of Emperor Nhân Tông of the Lý dynasty. So, step back in time and visit this beautiful hidden gem which is situated on a small picturesque lake….the perfect place to get off the beaten path and find some tranquility when you need a break from the bustle of the city.
9. Discover the Trompe-l’œil Murals
Inject a bit of colour and art into your Hanoi adventure and visit the Trompe-l’œil Murals. This collection of 19 wall art murals are a fairly new addition to the city, so they are not yet listed in many guidebooks or blogs, meaning you will likely have the place to yourself!
The art pieces are a collaboration between Vietnamese and Korean artist and depict street scenes of Hanoi in the form of optical illusions blurring the lines between art and reality.
These incredible murals are painted on stone railway arches and are an incredible sight not yet discovered by mass tourism. To find the wall art head to the western end of end of Long Bien Bridge on 27 Phùng Hưng road.
10. Walk Everywhere
We find hidden gems and off beat places by exploring without a plan & on foot. We did this in Hanoi city on many occasions, it’s how we found the majority of the hidden gems we have shared in this blog. So our tip to you is to pave your own way and find your own hidden Hanoi gems by exploring on foot, without a plan.
Walk in a direction that looks interesting on the map and see what you discover. Nine times out of ten, the unplanned adventures are the ones that are the most memorable! So load up your map of Hanoi, put on some good walking shoes and set foot on the city to explore its hidden corners…. we bet you will find some incredible local treasures undiscovered by other tourists!
11. Hire a Local Guide
We don’t often hire guides, we are avid supporters of independent travel. But sometimes having a local guide with deep knowledge of the place you are visiting can be the best way to see it from a local perspective. Some of the paid tours we have been on have given us incredible experiences that we may not have ever had independently, it’s also a good way to support local tourism.
But you have to be careful which guide you pick as many are tailored to the masses and lack authenticity. Hanoi BackStreet Tours are a company that do off the beaten path tours well and have glowing reviews on Tripadvisor. Their Full-day Hanoi City and Countryside tours takes you beyond the city and to he unseen countryside of Hanoi.
We hope these tips have inspired you to get off the beaten path in Hanoi. If you have any questions regarding travelling to Hanoi or Vietnam please leave a comment and we will do our best to answer your questions!
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