Visiting Hanoi with children is more about experiences than sight-seeing especially in comparison to other South-East Asian cities such as Bangkok.
The first thing that struck me was the traffic, especially the motorcycles zipping everywhere. Technically people drive on the right in Vietnam but rules don’t seem to apply at all. People just drive in any available space, in any direction.
Traffic lights and pedestrian crossing don’t mean anything and so to cross the road with children means being willing to step out into a space and simply keep walking calmly, trusting that nobody will hit you.
There is something for everyone in Hanoi whether you are looking for upmarket shopping, street food in a laneway, or museums.
WHAT TO DO IN HANOI WITH KIDS
Explore the Old Quarter
The Old Quarter is fascinating to walk around. It is busy, colourful, noisy and filled with character. You will find lots of little shops, old buildings, temples, and markets tucked into every corner.
Hoan Kiem Lake
Very pleasant to walk around and there is a Pagoda to visit. Cafes and shops in this area are quite expensive as this is a major tourist area.
The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
This is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and well worth a visit, especially with older children (7yrs+).
We enjoyed exploring the expansive grounds and looking at the artifact rooms. You need to cross the road to visit the archaeological site at 18 Hoang Dieu Street. This archaeological site was discovered during excavation works for a new building.
Take a tour with Hanoi Kids
Hanoi Kids is a non profit organisation that provides walking tours by Vietnamese University students who want to practice their English. The tours are free of charge however you can make a donation to the organisation. You only need to pay for any transport or entrance fees.
We spent a morning with two lovely girls who were very knowledgeable and friendly. They taught my eight year old how to count to 10 in Vietnamese. I learned how to tell people the ages of my children in Vietnamese which proved to be a wonderful icebreaker when encountering the many women in the streets who wanted to adore my girls.
Museum of Ethnology
We visited this museum as part of our tour with Hanoi Kids. Inside the museum was hot and noisy and quickly overwhelmed my children. Luckily the museum has a wonderful outdoor section where you can visit houses recreated for all the different ethnic groups in Vietnam. We really loved this and appreciated the insights our Hanoi Kids guides could give us.
Paddle Boats on True Bach Lake
This is a fun way to spend some time with kids. It costs 100,000 VND ($6 NZD) per hour but the day we went was so hot we only hired for 30 minutes.
Things we didn’t do
There were a few things on my list that we didn’t end up doing with the kids:
- A cooking class – I thought this would be fun with my 8 year old but I wasn’t able to make a booking
- Hoy Tay water park – I have heard mixed things about the water park but had it on my list in case we needed a “cooling down” session for the kids
- Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex
- Water Puppets – we saw a small water puppet show in a village on our way back from Bai Tu Long Bay. That was enough for me! The Hanoi Water Puppet show is meant to be great, as far as water puppets go. The kids will love it, the adults possibly not …
SHOPPING IN HANOI
You name it, you can buy it in Hanoi. There are markets, hole-in-the-wall stores, or shiny shopping malls. Stores on the streets are grouped in themes such as kids toys, shoes, hardware, local crafts, clothes etc. Shop after shop after shop filled with similar items.
Unless a shop has a sign saying “Fixed Price” expect to bargain hard. You should be able to reduce the original asking price by 40% or so.
What did we buy in Hanoi? Lots of things such as:
- Fake North Face vests for kids
- Bamboo Light Shades
- Had dresses made for older girls
- Silk/Cotton dresses for me
- Waterproof Sports watch
EATING WITH KIDS IN HANOI
Your eating experiences will be shaped by how brave your kids are. My husband and I only ate “street food” once for dinner because we let the girls have spaghetti bolognaise at the hotel first. The rest of the time we ate local food but cafes/restaurants with the kids.
Breakfast – buffet breakfast at the hotel was a winner. Filled up the kids tummies for the day with fruit, pain au chocolate, spring rolls, cake, sushi … you name it!
Lunch – We would mostly grab some bread to eat back at the hotel with fruit as we were so full from breakfast. We found a great French bakery outside tourist area which sold delicious baguette for 9,000 VND ($0.55 NZD)
Dinner – we ate at a variety of local restaurants while in Hanoi and encouraged our girls to try as many different things as possible. Favourite dishes included lemongrass and ginger chicken, most pork dishes, spring rolls. Boiled rice always available so kids never go hungry.
Dinner out in Hanoi for our family of 5 cost 300,000 – 500,000 VND ($20 – $30 NZD)
You could eat for MUCH less if your kids were more willing than mine to eat anything in front of them.
- A soft drink at a simple restaurant costs 15,000 VND ($1 NZD)
- A bottle of local beer costs 30,000 VND ($2 NZD). The fresh local brew of Bia Hoi is delicious and only 7,000 VND a “mug” ($0.45 NZD). We would let the girls have a lemonade and some prawn crackers before dinner so we could enjoy a Bia Hoi or two.
Snacks – you will be stopped many times a day by women selling snacks. Cut up pineapple, baskets of sugary donut style treats, and bread are common. Make sure you bargain!
Vietnamese Coffee is great – I preferred mine cold with milk. You won’t need sugar as the milk is sweet condensed milk
I love walking the streets of a new city. It is such a wonderful way to explore. However, Hanoi was hot and humid while we were there which meant that kids were not as resilient as usual when it came to walking. We would usually have our big walk time first thing in the morning while they were fresh knowing we could always jump in a taxi home if needed at the end of the outing. Walking allowed us to stumble across some wonderful markets and laneways that we would never have discovered otherwise.
Taxis are actually a very economical way of getting across the city. It cost us 150,000 VND ($10NZD) for a 2o minute drive to the museum. However, some taxi companies seem to have meters that tick over VERY FAST so ask your hotel to recommend honest and reliable company for you.
Mostly available on the Old Quarter these are a fun way to cruise the streets with kids. Be sure to clearly negotiate the price before getting on. Expect around 100,000 – 150,000 VND per hour. A taxi is actually a cheaper way of getting from A to B but a cyclo more fun and a nice way to take in the atmosphere.
*Tip: always carry the address of your accommodation with you as many taxi drivers etc don’t speak English
WHERE WE STAYED
There is accommodation for all budgets available in Hanoi. As a family of 5 I find it a challenge to get accommodation that allows us all to be in the same room – even Airbnb didn’t help this time.
We chose to treat ourselves in Hanoi to a Family Suite at La Siesta, a luxury boutique hotel. If this is in your budget I highly recommend it. The suite was fabulous and the staff amazing, and being located in the heart of the Old Quarter makes it a great base to explore from.
The buffet breakfast ensured my kids started the day with full tummies which meant that if they turned their noses up at local food for the rest of the day they still couldn’t starve.
How long do you really need in Hanoi?
I would suggest that 3 days is plenty of time in Hanoi with kids. Allows you to explore at a leisurely pace and make the most of what this city has to offer. You could see plenty in two days though if that is all you had.
Are you thinking of travelling to Vietnam with kids? You might find this webinar replay useful. I share lots of tips about what it was really like travelling with 3 young children.