The busy streets and hectic traffic in Hanoi make it less than child-friendly, but don’t let that put you off: the city offers many activities that children will enjoy. Here’s a selection you might want to consider during a stay.
Most people want to explore Hanoi’s atmospheric Old Quarter, but walking around the area with young children can be stressful as you negotiate the open cooking stoves on the pavements and the chaotic traffic. Avoid the stress by taking a ride on one of the electric buses, which don’t cost much for a family: your hotel will probably be able to organise this, or head (by taxi) to the office at Dong Xuan Market.
If you do want to walk then avoid the central part of Old Quarter and spend your time to the east, along roads like Hang Vai and Hang Ga, or near St Joseph’s Cathedral, where streets are quieter and, in the cathedral area at least, the shopping is good too. Take a stroll down Hang Trong – “art street” — and watch artists at work — maybe even get a family portrait. A large number of Western-oriented restaurants are also in this area.
Alternatively, wander around Hoan Kiem Lake or the French Quarter, where pavements are wider and small parks provide rest opportunities.
If the traffic doesn’t bother you, kids will love Luong Van Can — “toy street” — but take a big wallet and an even bigger bag.
The larger parks are also, generally, vehicle free. Try Thong Nhat park to the south of Hoan Kiem, which has plenty of space for running around. Hanoi Circus, next to Thong Nhat park, may also appeal — the acrobatics and juggling are excellent, it’s a good length for children, and it’s great value for money. Do be aware though that animal acts may be disturbing for some. The Sunday morning performances are aimed at children.
While on the subject of animals, although there is a zoo in Hanoi I wouldn’t recommend it: the animals do not look well-treated and children will likely be disappointed by the lack of exotic creatures. However, the park next to the zoo offers the unusual activity of floating in large plastic balls on the lake.
When it’s hot, as it often is, you may want to consider simply going for a swim. If your hotel doesn’t have a pool, try the Army Hotel pool — the water’s clean, there’s a shallow area, and the space around the pool is big enough for kids to play or adults to relax with a book. Sao Mai pool is another option, also with a children’s pool. You might be tempted by the Water Park on West Lake, and I’m all for it, but I know some parents here have concerns over the water quality.
Inside activities include Starbowl and cinemas, such as Megastar at Vincom Towers. Vincom Towers also has an arcade games area for older kids and The Little Gym of Hanoi for younger ones. For those feeling active, try VietClimb, suitable for adults and children; its comprehensive website provides details on location and pricing.
As for museums, the Ethnology Museum is the best of the bunch in terms of child appeal. Inside are numerous engaging displays, but it’s exploring the traditional ethnic houses outside that kids will really enjoy. The cafe’s a decent spot for a drink or lunch break, or bring a picnic to enjoy on the plentiful expanses of grass. Older kids may enjoy the Military History Museum, where they can climb into a plane, or up the flag tower. Inside the museum’s not such fun though.
If you want to get away from the centre of Hanoi altogether, then take a trip out to Bat Trang ceramic village, where children and adults can paint a piece of pottery to take home as a souvenir. If you are feeling adventurous take the number 47 bus that departs from the bus terminal near 190 Yen Phu; the fare is 5,000 VND per person and the village is the last stop, with a market directly opposite the bus stop.
Finally, the Water Puppet Theatre may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s an enchanting tale and enjoyed by children of all ages — book in advance and take a leaflet prior to entering the theatre so that you and the children can follow the story.
* Thanks to Nada Offner for the photo of the kids in the balls and for their mum’s permission to use the photo.
67 Tran Nhan Tong, Hai Ba Trung, Hanoi
33C Pham Ngu Lao, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
T: (04) 3825 2896
Hanoi Star Bowl
2B Pham Ngoc Trach Street, Dong Da District, Hanoi
T: (04) 3574 1614
191 Ba Trieu, Hai Ba Trung District, Hanoi
5th Floor, Vincom Towers, Hanoi
T: (04) 3974 3333
Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
Nguyen Van Huyen Street, Cau Giay, Hanoi
T: (04) 3836 0350
Military History Museum
28A Dien Bien Phu St, Hanoi
Water Puppet Show
57B Dinh Tien Hoang St (near Hoan Kiem Lake), Hanoi
By Sarah Turner
Last updated on 24th October, 2014.