If spirituality is your preferred cup of tea, then Hanoi has all the sustenance you need in the form of unassuming shrines marked with faded Chinese characters or grand complexes steeped in notability. The most important of these is Van Mieu, or the Temple of Literature.
Founded in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong, the compound features five manicured courtyards and is the site of the Imperial Academy – Vietnam’s first university. More venerable still, at least in its original form before it was destroyed by the departing French in 1954, is the One Pillar Pagoda, which was originally constructed in 1049 by Emperor Ly Thai Thong as gratitude for being granted an heir by the Goddess of Mercy.
Modern fashion has also taken a prominent role in Hanoi’s culture and contemporary threads should be explored. Hip retail options include An Store, an excellent vintage boutique set within a cute shophouse in the Old Quarter; Collective Memory, a treasure trove of high-quality Vietnamese curios and gourmet products; or the Cho Hom Fabric Market, where you’ll find pretty fabrics, homeware and clothing.
Want to take Vietnamese cuisine home with you? Sign up for a four-hour cooking class in Hanoi’s popular Blue Butterfly Restaurant & Cooking Class, which begins with an interesting shopping trip to the Dong Xuan market.
If you have a week in Hanoi
While most visitors manage to tick off the Old Quarter, fewer make it to the French Quarter, where grand villas rub shoulders with stately Art Deco edifices. Notable structures in this part of the city include the Hanoi Opera House (built in 1911 and modelled after the Palais Garnier in Paris) and the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel – one of the grandest old hotels in the region, where guests can take a tour of its WWII bunker.