Hanoi Itineraries: Vietnam's Past and Present (Central Circuit)

The few tourist attractions here may not be as popular as those in the other circuits described earlier, but may offer a good photo stop whilst traversing the roads of Hanoi. You may be surprised as to what you will be able to find here.



Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
Opening Hours: 0800h – 1700h (Tue – Sun) 
Entrance Fee: VND 30,000

The imposing Đoan Môn through which you will be able to enter the Citadel

The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is an enormous complex that dates back to the 11th century to mark the independence of Dai Viet after being ruled by the Chinese dynasties for a prolonged period of time. Although a large portion of the ancient relics had been demolished in the past centuries, the central sector of the Imperial Citadel which is the most important part of the entire architecture remains well-preserved. Therefore, this historical landmark has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Being the capital of Dai Viet, Thang Long was the most important political region in the entire country, making visiting this impressive fortress that served to protect the capital especially meaningful and enriching. Standing on top of the fortress walls, you may find yourself imagining how vibrant the royal palaces must have been back when Thang Long was still in its heyday. 

There was an extensive exhibition of the archaeological relics that were excavated at 18 Hoang Dieu where miraculous discoveries were uncovered. Items dating back as early as the Dai La Dynasty (7th century AD) were found to be preserved in good condition and showed the continuous development of civilisation of Vietnam over the many centuries. The display items, such as stone carvings and roof tilings, were well documented and clearly showed tourists the progression through the different dynasties. I really felt like I was travelling through time as I viewed the vastly different exhibits.

Authentic artefacts excavated from the site at 18 Hoang Dieu!

Just as what you may expect, Uncle Ho appeared in the citadel as well. During the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese military set up its headquarters within the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long to conceptualise attacks and defences of the nation against its enemies in South Vietnam and the United States. Therefore, you will be able to have a first-hand experience of the actual locations where these conferences were conducted and visualise how they must have taken place back in the day. You will also have the opportunity to admire the authentic photographs, detailed geographical maps and life-size exhibits like the conference tables showed how the North Vietnamese leaders planned the occupation of South Vietnam to achieve unification. There was even an underground bunker built for the same purpose which showcases weaponry and how North Vietnam was planning to counterattack during the Vietnam War which was really impressive. 

The conference room in the D67 House, which North Vietnamese leaders used to deliberate on their military tactics against their enemies

There is really no end to the Imperial Citadel with an abundance of relics to view with numerous miniature temples and even an altar in a building with extremely steep stairs (each step must have been 1 foot high). Visiting this attraction is a definite must when you visit Hanoi not just for history buffs, as it really gives you a good overview of how this Southeast Asian nation has developed over the years from historic times to the recent decades. Unlike ordinary museums, you get to feel the actual aura and atmosphere of how grand Thang Long must have been while being educated on history. Awesome!

Just look at all the 'bling bling' ornaments and beautiful sculptures in this temple!


Flag Tower of Hanoi
Opening Hours: 0800h – 1700h
Entrance Fee included in Military History Museum

The Flag Tower of Hanoi is the only complete section left of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long and was previously used as an observation post to watch over the citadel. Unlike most architectural structures which were destroyed during the invasion and colonial rule by the French, the Flag Tower was spared and continued to serve as a military post looking over the entire expanse of the Hanoi city centre with its strategic location.

The Flag Tower of Hanoi basking in its former glory

Today, the Flag Tower is located in the grounds of the Military History Museum which will be introduced shortly. If you are not that interested in learning about tanks and weaponry (like myself), you may wish to consider strolling along Lenin Park which is opposite the road from the tower to enjoy the view of the iconic Vietnamese flag proudly swaying in the wind before heading off to your next stop.

Military History Museum
Opening Hours: 0800h – 1130h, 1300h – 1600h (Tue – Thu, Sat – Sun)
Entrance Fee: VND 40,000 (an additional fee of VND 30,000 per camera)


An impressive North Vietnamese tank representing their decisive victory over the South

For history buffs, the Military History Museum is definitely an attraction to be visited. It proudly displays the military relics and weaponry wielded by the Vietnamese soldiers during their armed resistance against the invading French and American troops. One of the most prized exhibits is the tank which rammed its way into the Presidential Palace in Saigon, ending the entire Vietnam War with a smashing victory.

The wreckage of the American planes which were shot down by the North during the war

Apart from static displays like photographs taken back in the day, you will be wowed by the gargantuan exhibits. It not only boasts its own triumphant military aircraft which brought the local troops to a soaring victory but also brings to your attention the destroyed weapons captured from the enemies during the conflicts. You can choose to pose in front of the impressive armaments or just visualise the epic scene of how the fighter jets used to survey the battleground and protect their homeland against the aggressors.

Lenin Park

Many visitors would never even bother to visit Lenin Park because it is nothing fancy or touristy. Since it was on the way, I decided to stop by and see what I could find here. Initially, I was disappointed as I realised it was probably a neighbourhood park where elderly men were enjoying a puff and playing card games on stone tables. However, the longer I lingered around and took in the views, the more I liked this place.

Vladimir Lenin standing on a pedestal watching over the people of Hanoi

The centre of this park is home to a commanding statue of Vladimir Lenin standing on a pedestal (yes, it’s very typical of communist nations to do so – just like the Mansu Hill Grand Monument in North Korea). The statue faces numerous monumental landmarks like the Flag Tower of Hanoi and is in the vicinity of prominent government buildings, which reflects how important the Marxist-Leninist school of communism is in Vietnamese politics and governance.

Children climbing up the pedestal and playing around in Lenin Park

In the park, you will see some children climbing onto the pedestal and some locals ingeniously putting up nets along the pavements to play badminton. I found this scene quite awe-inspiring, as it seemed to display how the fundamental beliefs in this country manifesting in the communist ideas of Leninism seem to be watching over the locals as they go through their daily activities and entertain themselves through their leisure activities just like how a parent looks over his/her child.

Having learnt more about Vietnam's ancient past from the Citadel and its recent joyous victory from the Military History Museum, we will be exploring one of the most popular tourist attractions in the entire of Vietnam - where the natural beauty and scenic landscapes can certainly rival those of Milford Sound in New Zealand. Halong Bay, here we come!

Are you inspired to visit Hanoi after reading this post? If so, please feel free to check out the wide range of accommodation options which have been made available by Booking.com in the link below. You will have the opportunity to choose from stunning vacation homes and luxury resorts to apartments and amazing B&Bs where you will be hosted by local families - to make your holiday the most amazing one you've ever had!

Booking.com

Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means that I will earn a commission if you click through and make a booking at no extra cost for you. Thank you for your support!

Comments

  1. I never made it to Hanoi when I was in Vietnam. Clearly, it was a big mistake as it looks very interesting, and full of history too. I think I would stop by Lenin Park; it's a big part of the history there.

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    1. No worries, just visit Hanoi when you're in the area, because it's booming with history and heritage!

      Lenin Park may look like an ordinary park where children play and the elderly rest, but it also symbolises the importance of Leninism in Vietnam's communist rule, in my opinion :)

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  2. I’m in awe with the exhibits of the Military History Museum. Those are just so fascinating to see, especially that wreckage. Intriguing how they were able to preserve it and include it in the museum. Overall, despite the ‘limitations’ of the tourist attractions, the ones you have enumerated are pretty interesting especially for history buffs!

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    1. Thanks Marvi! I'm really impressed with how Vietnam works so hard to preserve its heritage and historical monuments - not just those listed here, but also the architectural buildings I've introduced in the other itineraries! :)

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  3. We visited Hanoi in-between venturing to the mountains of Sa Pa and a cruise in Ha Long Bay. We had a fantastic time walking around and exploring the city. We didn’t see everything you outlined but had a great time and look forward to returning again sometime in the future.

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    1. Hey Dominic, great to hear that you enjoyed your stay in Hanoi visiting the sights around the city! I'm sure you'll enjoy exploring the city more during your next visit to Vietnam :)

      I've heard great things about Sa Pa and would love to visit the mountain ranges and experience the cold weather up north. How did you find it? :)

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  4. I love some where with rich history. This place looks great

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    1. Indeed, Tahnee! Hanoi has such rich heritage and does a great job preserving these historical relics such that we and our future generations are able to admire it first-hand. Do consider visiting this charming city! :)

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  5. We lived in Haiphong for a year, so visited Hanoi a lot. Thanks for the memories!

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    1. Wow, must have been quite an experience living in Vietnam! Great to hear that you were able to reminisce about the good times you had there :)

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  6. This blog post really refreshed my memories! I visited Vietnam two years back. Unfortunately, I was able to cover only Halong Bay around Hanoi.

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    1. Hi Umang, great to hear that! I'm sure you'll have plenty of opportunities to head back to Vietnam real soon, so that you'll have more time to really explore Hanoi :)

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  7. Vietnam is such an intriguing country. thx for this glimpse of Hanoi.

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    1. Hi Doreen, Vietnam is indeed a lovely country which has done extremely well in preserving its history and heritage! Do visit someday and I'm sure you'll enjoy it as much as I did :)

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  8. I have not visited Vietnam yet. But I will definitely keep Hanoi in mind when i visit the country. This Hanoi itinerary is so comprehensive. The Imperial Citadel also sounds interesting. Being a history buff, I am sure i will be able to relate to the place.

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    1. Thank you for your comment! I really enjoyed visiting the Imperial Citadel as it was no ordinary museum with only exhibits, but it was in itself a piece of history and a relic to be preserved. I'm sure you'll enjoy it tremendously! :)

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  9. This is so interesting, I've been to Hanoi about 3 times already but have never done any of these. I'm not a big war history fan so I've stayed away from the museums, but the citadel looks cool.
    www.aniatravels.com

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    1. Hey Ania, the Imperial Citadel is really awesome as it not only has plenty of relics on display as exhibits but is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site itself, being a part of the history of Thang Long (the capital of Dai Viet). You should consider visiting it when you're in the area :)

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  10. I am enjoying how some of these seem kind of off the track. I haven't been to hanoi, so I would only be aware of the really big tourist destinations, but I am a sucker for a museum and I like the looks of this

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    1. That's totally understandable, Kimmie! There are plenty of museums in Hanoi for you to choose from in the different itineraries I've published here. My favourite would still have to be the Imperial Citadel, since it is a piece of history in itself housing numerous relics on display! :) How cool is that!

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  11. You definitely had a nice time!.
    I love being a tourist 😊

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    1. Hey Joy, I really enjoyed my trip to Hanoi - and I'm sure you'll love it too! Do consider visiting this charming little city :)

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  12. After reading this post I'm putting Hanoi on my bucket list. I love places that have history!

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    1. Hi Sherry, great to hear that! Hanoi has a really rich history, but it goes deeper than that - Vietnam makes concerted efforts to preserve this heritage they are proud of, which gives us the golden opportunity to witness these relics of the past today :) I'm sure you'll enjoy visiting Hanoi!

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  13. This place looks incredible! Love your pics

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    1. Thanks Tahnee! Hanoi really has lots of amazing photo opportunities, so I really had a great time just snapping my camera away! :)

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  14. This looks amazing! I'd love to visit Vietnam one day. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thanks! Vietnam is truly a great travel destination with rich history and great food! Hope you'll be able to visit real soon! :)

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  15. Nice article. Happy to see those pictures and beautiful place through your blog :) Keep up the good work. Love from Nepal.

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    1. Thanks Bishal! Hanoi has plenty of amazing attractions where they do a great job preserving their heritage. Being a cultural enthusiast (and a nature lover), I really found it easy to connect, as it was able to resonate with me rather easily :) Have you been around Hanoi?

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  16. I can't thank you enough for this post. This is a perfect itinerary for a beautiful country like vietnam. I shall be following the same .

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    1. Hey Purvi, great to hear that the itinerary was able to help you in planning your trip around Hanoi! I hope the others I've posted on this blog as well will be able to help you out as well - do check them out too :)

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  17. I'm dying to get to Vietnam! I'm definitely not one for museums though, but beautiful architecture I'm all about!

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    1. Hey Alyssa! Hanoi has a unique blend of traditional Vietnamese architecture with the French colonial flavour, since it was administered by France for quite some time. You may wish to check out the temples for a more 'local' flavour and the French Quarter for a more Western visual experience.

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  18. I would love to visit Vietnam some day. The post is really enticing and engaging.

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    1. Hi Bhavi, I enjoyed myself just checking out the sights and sounds of Hanoi - I'm sure you'll enjoy yourself as much as I did here as well! :)

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  19. Hanoi is definitely on my Vietnam Bucket list. I love how the Imperial Citadel combines the old history with the modern.
    Also the Military history looks great. As an american, it can be a bit weird to see a museum devoted to success against us, however, it is a great way to learn both sides of the story.

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    1. That's the right attitude, Eric! Having an open mind is one of the most important things to bring along when travelling, as we will be exposed to conflicting ideas and opinions in foreign lands. Nevertheless, I'm sure you'll get something out from your visit to the Military History Museum.

      And you're right about the Imperial Citadel as well! It has the ancient (archaeological findings), the modern (Northern Vietnam's military HQ) and is a relic in itself (from the days of Thang Long)! How awesome is that :)

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  20. More important than photo ops, really is the meaning of the history that the Vietnamese work so hard to preserve. Across long centuries I was struck by the Vietnamese fighting spirit - so often encroached upon by others, never giving in to become absorbed into another nation.

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    1. Hey Nuraini, definitely! I'm really impressed with the efforts that the Vietnamese have put in to preserve this unique heritage of theirs, which grants us the opportunity to glean from it today. Through all the wars and conflicts, they have managed to retain most of them and continue the traditions and cultures of the olden day and age :) Amazing!

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  21. Great tips here! I regret not visiting Vietnam when I lived in SE Asia and I'm definitely hoping to remedy that soon! I love the food, the culture and the architecture and hope to experience first hand sooner rather than later!

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    1. Thanks Erica! I'm sure you'll have the opportunity to visit Vietnam real soon.

      I really can't think of anything this country is lacking - good food, lovely architecture, rich heritage and fantastic natural landscapes. I'm sure you'll enjoy it tremendously! :)

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  22. I am more interested in visiting the rural Vietnam but Hanoi sounds really fascinating.

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    1. Hi Anshul! In that case, you may wish to consider visiting Ninh Binh province where you can visit Hoa Lu (the ancient capital) and Tam Coc (Halong Bay on land). It's about 2 hours away from Hanoi and gives you those countryside vibes you're looking for! :)

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  23. Military museums can be more interesting than some might think, I have learned a great deal from visiting them when I go to different countries. This area of the world I have not been able to visit as of yet- but soon I hope!

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    1. I'm sure you'll be able to visit Vietnam soon :) Military museums are in fact very much intertwined with the country's history and culture, so they do give an alternative viewpoint through which one can learn about history. I'm sure it's interesting checking out these museums all over the world! :)

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  24. The Military History Museum looks really interesting. It looks like the information around the Vietnam war would be really informative. Nice photos too!

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    1. Thanks David! I think it's interesting hearing to an alternative account of the Vietnam War and thereafter cross referencing it with what we've heard and been taught. It'll certainly give us a more balanced, well-rounded understanding of what actually happened! :)

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  25. Amazing recommendations, I need to this tour when going to Asia. Thank you for sharing!

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    1. Hi Citlali! Great to hear that, these attractions are located very near to the Old Quarter in Hanoi where most of the accommodations are located, so they should be easy to get to. Hope you enjoy visiting these places and learning more about Vietnam's history! :)

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  26. Great itinerary! Thank you for sharing! I have never been to Vietnam but I really want to and this is very useful!

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    1. Nice to hear that, Claire! Hope that you'll be able to visit Vietnam really soon, and I'm sure you'll enjoy it as much as I did! :)

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  27. All those sights somehow seem to me very "soviet" like with strong russian impact. Maybe I feel so cos of Lenin but somehow I had different imprression of Hanoi before. Not that I would have anything against Lenin - was smart man. I guess I would enjoy hangout in Lenins park as well as in any other park.

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    1. Hi Ethel, indeed - Vietnam adopted a rendition of Leninism-Marxism as their doctrine of communism. As a result, there is a strong sense of Soviet influence on Vietnam's culture, politics and architecture. Hope that clarifies! :)

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  28. Hanoi offers some fascinating sights and experiences for history buffs. I especially found the Imperial Citadel to be a veritable treasure house of history. I am sure the conference room that was the setting for military strategy discussions has an eerie aura. The place is really a window to the past of Vietnam.

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    1. Most definitely, Sandy! The citadel incorporates the ancient (archaeological findings), the past (the citadel itself) and the recent (North Vietnam's military HQ). Visiting the citadel certainly felt like I was travelling through time whilst traversing to the various sections! :)

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  29. I haven’t been to Vietnam but would love to someday. The military museum, flag tower and the Citadel showcase the bravery of the Vietnamese against its enemies. All of them are incredible monuments

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    1. Most certainly Suma! I love how the Vietnamese are proud of their heritage and make concerted efforts to preserve these historical monuments so well until this very day. I would highly recommend the Imperial Citadel - it could take up to an entire day to explore it all! :)

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  30. So many things of interest for me. The military museum is a definite must as is that citadel. The planes wreckage is quite something. Have never seen anything like it before. Thanks for sharing this.

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    1. Hey Ami, I found the way which the Military History Museum presented its exhibits to be quite interesting. The giant wreckage of American planes juxtaposed against the victorious North Vietnamese tanks certainly gets their message across!

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  31. I have never been here, but we were taught some of it in history class so I feel like a trip to the military museum would be so interesting for me! I feel like the citadel would be very atmospheric. Definitely a place for my bucket list.

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    1. Hey Sam, do pay the museum a visit when you're in the area. It will not fail to provide you with an alternative viewpoint on the Vietnam War and you can be the judge on what really happened by cross-referencing the facts presented with those perpetuated by the media. After all, it's part of learning about history, isn't it? :)

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  32. Wow very interesting post. the wreckage of the American Air plain looks insane!

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    1. Thanks! I found the exhibit of the debris of the American jets to be extremely intriguing as well. It not only represents the North Vietnamese victory over their enemies, but also seems to symbolise their nationalist pride. Do check it out if you're in Hanoi! :)

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  33. I am such a sucker for history and museums that I'd love Hanoi I think. The Flag Tower is gorgeous as well!

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    1. I'm sure you'll enjoy Hanoi very much, as the city in general makes concerted efforts to preserve its history and heritage as evident from how they managed to maintain their monuments and ancient relics in tip-top condition! :)

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  34. Thanks for sharing the best places to visit in Hanoi. It's very helpful for me since am visiting Vietnem soon.

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    1. Hi Jithin! Nice to hear that you found the itinerary useful in planning your vacation to Hanoi.

      Nevertheless, do note that there are many other attractions which I have identified in the other itineraries as well. I clustered these as the Central Circuit due to their geographical location, so do check out the other places of interest which will charm you as well! :)

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  35. I would love to visit Vietnam. Great post, saved for future reference :)

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    1. Hi Amy, great to hear that you're interested to visit Vietnam and that you found my post helpful in planning for your trip. I'm sure you'll enjoy exploring this country which is so rich in culture and history! :)

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  36. I've really enjoyed your Hanoi itinerary posts, they give me a really comprehensive idea of the wide variety of sites I can visit when I finally make it to Hanoi, which has been on my wishlist for such a long time!

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  37. As a history buff, the central circuit seems to be tailor-made for me. I particularly enjoyed your description of the Citadel of Thang Long, with its historical significance for both the recent and the medieval past.

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  38. This post definitely made me want to visit Hanoi. As an American, I feel it's very important for me to learn the history of Vietnam. And the Military History Museum sounds fascinating. I would also like to see Lenin Park. It was very surprising to me to see Lenin statues when I was in Russia.

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  39. Wow - looks like an amazing tour. I'd really love to do this tour, as I am very interested in history. Great photos, by the way!

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  40. All these places are equally fascinating with impressive history associated with them. I like the artefacts, relics as well as the 'bling bling' ornaments of the Imperial Citadel. The victorious tank and the plane wreck at the Military History Museum is another place of my interest. Thanks for sharing lovely photographs as well as the interesting facts about these interesting places. Hope to visit Hanoi some day and explore these landmarks. :)

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