Plenty of fun to be had
The crazy streets and hectic traffic in Hanoi make it seem less than child-friendly, but the city offers many activities that children will enjoy. Here’s a selection of things to do with kids in the Vietnamese capital.
Most people want to explore Hanoi’s atmospheric Old Quarter with its famed 36 streets, but walking around the area with young children can be stressful as you negotiate your way around streetside barbecues, speeding (and parked) motorbikes plus shop displays spilling onto the road. Avoid the stress by taking an hour-long ride on one of Hanoi's electric cars, which cost 300,000 dong for an hour-long tour. The cars seat up to seven adults officially, or probably five or six Westerners comfortably. Head to the north end of Hoan Kiem lake, and you can't miss the cluster of them parked there with a ticket booth. You can also ask your hotel to arrange for them to pick you up directly. Do this early on during your stay as it will help you get your bearings of the city. Another more traditional option is to hire a cyclo (or two) to guide you round the city. An hour is plenty to get an initial taste of Hanoi and a few key sights.
If you do want to walk to explore, 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. A large number of Western-oriented cafes are also in this area—we liked colourful Eden, in particular. If the traffic doesn’t bother you, kids will love Old Quarter's Luong Van Can—Toy Street—but take a big wallet and an even bigger bag.
Alternatively, circumnavigate Hoan Kiem Lake, where depending on the time of year you may find plenty of artists at work—time for a family portrait, perhaps? Make a quick stop at the Ngoc Son Temple and check out the preserved turtle inside, which is a bit freaky. Or wander around the lovely French Quarter, where footpaths are wider and small parks provide rest opportunities. See what's on at the Hanoi Opera House—some shows may be suitable for kids. Stop for ice cream at Kem Trang Tien, where the cold treats have been served up to Hanoians since 1958.
The water puppet show at Thang Long is a signature Hanoi attraction. The hour-long performance sees the lacquered wooden puppets perform over water—traditionally they told their tales over flooded rice paddy—as their masters stand waist-deep in water behind a curtain. The show, with firecrackers and live traditional music, should keep kids aged around eight and above entertained. Do make sure you get tickets at least a day or so ahead of time, as the show is popular and tickets sell out fast.
Hanoi is home to loads of museums, but the Museum of Ethnology is probably the best one for kids. The exhibits are top-notch, there's a small hands-on activity room offering various things to do, such as traditional stamp rubbing, and the large outdoor section has interesting traditional ethnic minority houses that you can go inside to explore. If you miss the water puppets in town, shows are offered here, too (we wouldn't bother to see both). 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.
Tie in a trip to the Museum of Ethnology with a stop at the Lotte Observation Tower, where not only will you get a real sense of the size of sprawling Hanoi, but adventurous kids can try the heart-stopping skywalk. This large section of glass floor juts right out over the roads, 65 storeys down and is not for the faint-hearted.
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, don't panic! You can buy day passes to a number of hotels and chill out at one of them instead. You can buy day passes at both the Army Hotel and Army Guesthouse. The former is more convenient to Old Quarter, the latter to the French quarter. The pool costs 90,000 dong per person to use. Apricot Hotel has a lovely rooftop pool but is quite a bit pricier, at $23 for a day, half-price for kids under nine. Sao Mai in West Lake area is a standalone pool and costs 80,000 dong to use. It has more limited space for sitting and lounging but is a huge pool with a large shallow pool making it ideal for children.
You could also consider a trip out to Hay To Water Park, which boasts a wave pool, plenty of slides, rides and pools. We haven't been here for some time—it opened in 2000—so we're not sure what the standard is like, but it gets very good reports.
Hanoi's larger green parks are generally vehicle free and great for letting kids just run around to let off some steam. Try Thong Nhat Park to the south of Hoan Kiem, which has plenty of space. We went on a weekday when the rundown rides, including dodgem cars and a super-mini-rollercoaster were shut, but weekends should see them open, when crowds are larger. Otherwise a few modest slippery dips might do the trick, but the focus here is really on grown-up exercise equipment; you'll see plenty of adults using the various pieces, too.
With kids who are older and can confidently cycle, you could hire bikes (try the Hanoi Bicycle Collective) and circumnavigate Tay Ho, or West Lake, Hanoi's largest lake. The traffic is not as crazy as around Old Quarter, and you can check out a few sights like Tay Ho Temple and stop for a swan boat ride.
If your children are enjoying Vietnamese food on their trip, signing them up for cooking classes might be a good way for them (and you) to keep on doing so once you're home. Hanoi Cooking Centre offers specifically designed classes for kids for 340,000 dong. Contact them for full details.
On a rainy day, perhaps consider a few rounds of ten-pin bowling. There are a few alleys to choose from, but Starbowl has been going a while. Jump in a taxi for the 15-minute ride out of Old Quarter. Catching a movie is another option if you need to fill a few hours and don't mind if it's not a Hanoi-specific activity. Try Megastar Cineplex at Vincom Towers, but there are several around town. Vincom is also one of the locations of Tiniworld playgrounds. We haven't taken our kids here, but it could be an option if you need to fill a few hours. For those feeling active, professionally run VietClimb is suitable for both adults and children; its comprehensive website provides details on what you can do, and pricing.
If you want to get away from the centre of Hanoi, consider a trip out to Bat Trang ceramic village, where children and adults can paint a piece of pottery to take home as a souvenir. We didn't have much luck finding places open on our last visit as it coincided with a village wedding, but ask around and you should find a studio.
Apricot Hotel: 136 Hang Trong, Hoan Kiem; T: (024) 3828 9595; apricothotels.com/.
Army Guesthouse: 33A Pham Ngu Lao, Phan Chu Trinh.
Army Hotel: Nguyen Tri Phuong St, Ba Dinh; T: (04) 6299 3322; armyhotel.com.vn/.
CGV Cinema: 6th Floor, Vincom Towers, 54 Nguyen Chi Thanh, Dong Da; T: 1900 6017; https://www.cgv.vn/en/.
Hanoi Cooking Centre: 44 Chau Long St, Ba Dinh; T: (024 3715 0088; hanoicookingcentre.com/.
Hanoi Star Bowl: 2B Pham Ngoc Trach Street, Dong Da; T: (04) 3574 1614.
Hay To Water Park: 614 Lac Long Quan, Tay Ho; T: (024) 37184 222; www.facebook.com; open daily 08:30-19:30.
Lotte Observation Tower: 54 Lieu Giai, Ba Dinh; T: (098) 0724 3922 ; www.lottecenter.com.vn; open daily 09:00-22:00.
Military History Museum: 28A Dien Bien Phu St, Ba Dinh; T: (04) 3823 4264; www.btlsqsvn.org.vn ; open Tues-Thurs, Sat-Sun 08:00-11:30, 13:00-16:30.
Museum of Ethnology: Nguyen Van Huyen St, Cau Giay; T: (024) 3765 2193; vme.org.vn/home/; open Tues-Sun 08:30-17:30
Sao Mai Pool: 98 Quang An, Tay Ho; T: (024) 3718 3161; open daily 05:00-20:00.
Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre: 57B Dinh Tien Hoang St (near Hoan Kiem Lake); T: (04) 3824 9494, (04) 3825 5450; ticketing daily 08:30-21:15.
Tiniworld: Vincom Towers, 54 Nguyen Chi Thanh, Dong Da (see website for all locations); tiniworld.com/vi/home/; open daily 10:00-21:30.
VietClimb: 40 Lane 76 An Duong; T: (024) 6682 4352; www.vietclimb.vn/; open Tues-Sun 09:00-22:00
Samantha Brown is a reformed news reporter. She now edits most of the stuff you read on Travelfish.org, except for when you find a typo, and then that's something she wasn't allowed to look at.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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