11 THINGS TO DO IN HANOI with KIDS
Updated: Jul 24
As the second biggest city in Vietnam, with over 8 million people, Hanoi can be a lot to handle. We admit, it took us a couple of weeks to warm up to Hanoi, as it was our kids' first introduction to the country. To start, the cold and rainy weather in January really limited our outings. Then, the lunar New Year celebrations known in Vietnam as "Tet", surprised us with a widespread shut down of the city for almost a week. Not long after that, covid-19 happened, and things got serious with more closures and restrictions. Somehow though, towards the end of our month long stay in Hanoi, we ended up really enjoying this vibrant city. Even the kids. Below are some of our highlights as a family.
1) HOAN KIEM LAKE
At first glance, this murky, green lake doesn't look too impressive. However, considering it is smack in the middle of the busiest part of the city, it is a peaceful place to go for a stroll. The trees all along the lake, precariously lean down towards the water casting mirror-like reflections, with the hazy horizon adding to the mystery and intrigue.
The kids found the legend of the turtle and the magical sword fascinating. A small fee (60,000 vnd/ $3.60 CAD for all 4 of us) must be paid to visit the Nuoc Son Temple, found at the end of the bridge with bright red railings. Inside, two giant, sacred, taxidermied, tortoises are on display.
Mornings draw yoga and tai chi enthusiasts while evening salsa and rumba classes create a more lively ambience. The night scenery is a dramatic change from the day, and seemingly less smoggy, with the bridge and temple all brightly lit up.
2) WATER PUPPET THEATER
The Thang Long Water Puppet theater in Hanoi is famous for their lively performances. Puppeteers hide behind a screen and skillfully handle long, bamboo poles that are hidden from the audience and submerged under water. Musicians perform on the sidelines, singing and playing traditional instruments while narrating a series of folklore. Though it is in Vietnamese, the stories are easy to follow, even for kids. PRICE: 400,000 vnd/ $24 CAD for all 4 of us. (variable prices depending on seat selection)
3) TRAIN STREET
This once popular tourist spot, officially shut down in late 2019, due to a few too many oblivious selfie-takers getting dangerously close to the oncoming trains. With hardly any room to spare on either side of the tracks, this charming street is lined with old, vine-covered, brick homes and colourful cafes.
There is now a sign that says you cannot just wander unsupervised, and a military guard will blow his whistle at you if you try to ignore the rules. A few local people hang around, who can "escort" you to their cafe with permission from the guard. Apparently, this is allowed. From their cafe, you can buy a drink or food, while you wait for the next scheduled train to pass by.
We didn't expect much from this outing, and we were surprised to find it was technically "closed" to tourists. However, we did enjoy staying at the cafe, and anticipating that train passing while playing a game of chess. Just for fun, the cafe owner lined up a few beer bottle caps along the tracks, and the kids were amazed to discover how much they flattened post train-passing. A fun little keepsake. The old train slowly rattled passed us right on schedule, but not before getting a friendly wave and smile from the train conductor.
4) SHOPPING MALLS
Anyone who has traveled with kids know that sometimes, going to a shopping mall is a welcomed change. On a hot day, the aircon alone is inviting enough, but being able to walk and shop around, without the fear of getting run over by a motorbike, is also kinda nice. As long as you avoid going on weekends and holidays, you won't have to worry about crowds. At AEON MALL, there are a couple of giant, paid play areas, toy and book stores (with english books!) to browse plus a slew of yummy food options.
Tini World, a small indoor amusement park with rides and play areas is very reasonably priced (200,000 vnd/ $12 CAD for 2 kids, unlimited time). Kidzoona and Molly Fantasy (PRICE: 240,000 vnd/ $14 CAD for 2 kids, unlimited time) are also two great options. We went there when COVID-19 in Vietnam was just starting to get some serious attention, which explains the lack of kids in all the photos. I would say their target age is 6 and under, but my 8 year old still found it thoroughly fun. Don't forget to try the blue, soft serve icecream at the AEON supermarket. Only 8000 vnd (0.46c CDN/ 0.34c USD) and it is delicious.
The largest mall in Hanoi is Vincom Mega Mall Royal City. It is huge. There are the usual arcades and play areas, but also a large, ice-skating rink. You can rent skates for a reasonable price and forget about the oppressive heat wave for an afternoon. (We went back to Hanoi in June, and boy was it HOT!)
The only other stand-out for this mall is that they have a store called: Decathlon, a french sporting goods shop that has everything from outdoor camping equipment, to travel gear for the whole family. A perfect place to go should you need to replace or stock up on any hard to find quality items, such as sport sandals or swimwear for kids. Also a fun place for the kids to try out different skateboards, rollerblades and bikes.
5) OLD QUARTER
The Old Quarter encompasses a lot of sights listed here. A word of caution. These streets are narrow, crowded and often challenging to navigate with little ones. Think stimulation overload with smells of ripe durian, sounds of honking vehicles, and all kinds of moving obstacles along your path that you must constantly dodge and zig zag past. At times, we found ourselves gripping our kids' hands tighter than ever before. However, dangers aside, there is so much life pulsing in every direction that you are bound to be entertained in some way. Wandering around the Old Quarter is all about soaking in the history, admiring the crumbling colonial architecture, and tasting some of the best Vietnamese cuisine the country has to offer. A fun alternative to doing a self- guided tour on foot, is hiring a rickshaw.
6) TRAN QUOC PAGODA
This tall, terracotta coloured temple, is the oldest Buddhist temple in the city. Located on a small island on a lake, the surrounding scenery is calm and picturesque, drawing lots of local and international visitors. It is free to visit, but a donation is encouraged. There is another temple nearby as well as some cafes and bakeries to make it a worthwhile excursion.
7) MUSEUM OF ETHNOLOGY
When you think of the word "ethnology", fun doesn't exactly come to mind. Yet, we spent over 3 hours here with the kids and they took it all in with great interest. Possibly one of their favorite museums to date. A lot of time is needed to explore all areas, inside and out. From ethnic weaving and clothing, to traditional homes made by hand, there is a great deal to see and learn. The kids' favorite were the outdoor buildings where you could climb up tall wooden ladders and go inside. PRICE: 100,000 vnd for 2 kids and 2 adults. (under $6 CAD, just over $4 USD)
8) NGHIA DO PARK
If you go to the Museum of Ethnology, check out the park across the street afterwards. There is a nice lake you can stroll around, and a large playground for the kids. The equipment is in decent shape compared to other sadly neglected playgrounds around the city. A popular place with locals and an opportunity to meet and play with other children.
9) TRY VIETNAMESE DESSERTS
What kid doesn't enjoy a sweet treat? The famous ice cream place in Hanoi is KEM TRANG TIEN. Nothing fancy, but cheap and delicious, with interesting flavours like coconut, taro and rice flake. There are "che" places everywhere in Hanoi, but this particular one (below) was incredible, especially the che troi nuoc, glutinous rice balls with black sesame filling, in a gingery coconut syrup. The more familiar "flan", which is creme caramel, is also a big hit with the kids.
10) HANOI ECOPARK
This is where we were staying during our month in Hanoi. Hanoi Ecopark Township is a lovely, modern development just outside the hustle and bustle, with lots of high rise buildings, vast greenspace, and amazing playgrounds. It is 30 mins from the Old Quarter, very quiet, with minimal traffic. It is probably one of the safest places to ride a bike in Hanoi. You can even rent electric and kid-sized bikes here. It is worth going to Ecopark for the day if you need a quiet retreat from the busy city.
11) VIETNAM MILITARY HISTORY MUSEUM
Centrally located, this national museum costs 40,000 vnd adults/ 20,000 vnd kids ( just over $1 - $2 CAD/pp) for admission and it's a great rainy day activity as it is mostly covered. There is an extensive collection of displays and artifacts from the ancient tribes people of Vietnam to the approximately 100 year occupation of the French, and the the war that drove them out. There is, as expected, a lot in of information, vehicles, and weapons on display from the Vietnam War as well.
We can't say Hanoi is the most family-friendly city there is. It can be intensely overwhelming at first, especially for kids. But if you stay long enough, you just may get desensitized to the chaos and learn to appreciate the great many things the city has to offer for families and children. We still prefer Danang or Dalat over Hanoi. However, considering we are generally not huge fans of big cities, we were pleasantly surprised by how much we were able to enjoy ourselves.