Family travel expert Karin Louzado shares the best things to do in Hanoi with the kids after taking the family on a business trip to Vietnam.
The Complete Guide To A Kid-friendly City Trip
City trips are not suitable for kids.
Kids need open spaces, fresh air and freedom to run. Not crowded streets. Not being trapped in long queues at tourist attractions. Not having to sit still and be quiet watching a show.
It’s quite a challenge to navigate a city with children.
I thought we’d leave cultural city trips until the kids are a little older and can appreciate architecture and art.
For now, our family holidays would focus on the vast outdoors: beaches, mountains, rice paddies. Anywhere we can enjoy fresh air and get rid of all that energy.
But then I had to go on a business trip to Vietnam, to find a supplier for the crockery business. Meaning I would be away for at least two weeks.
My kids were only 1 and 3, I didn’t want to be away that long. Being a full time working mum, our time together was much too precious.
The era before sleep-deprivation
Before the kids came along, my husband and I had combined business trips with pleasure.
We accompanied each other to wherever work took us, adding a few days to each trip to see a little more than just the airport, the hotel and a stuffy meeting room.
It was the perfect way to see the world. But nowadays we kept the work trips as short as possible, rushing to the airport seconds after the meetings had ended.
My soft spot for Vietnam (it was there where my husband proposed) encouraged me to make a bold move; I invited my husband AND kids along. What if we extended the trip and made it an amazing family holiday?
No sooner said than done and within weeks all four of us were sitting on tiny plastic chairs on a Hanoi street corner, savouring fragrant local dishes.
The city is a fun destination to explore with children and offers countless great experiences. Here’s our insider list of favourite things to see and do in Hanoi, skipping the obvious tourist traps.
1. Visit The Temple Of Literature
This temple was Vietnam’s first university, where students were educated in the principles of Confucianism, literature, and poetry.
Nowadays the temple and its monuments honour Vietnam’s greatest scholars, from poets to mathematicians and historians.
This is the one temple you need to visit with the kids. Its traditional Vietnamese architecture is stunning, the complex is spacious and has lots of interesting things to see: monuments, artifacts on display and the biggest gong ever (very tempting, I admit).
On a normal day, walking around the peaceful quiet courtyards and gardens, you’d forget you are in the middle of a bustling city. We, however, visited on Graduation day, adding quite a bit of colour to the experience.
After your visit, be sure to pop into Koto across the street, it’s one of my favourite cafes/restaurants in Hanoi.
Koto is a not-for-profit program giving hospitality training to disadvantaged kids, all staff are graduates of the program.
I love the interior, the kids can hang out on the purple sofas, the food is amazing, and service professional and friendly. And all while overlooking the temple of literature.
2. Eat Like A Local
I’m a foodie and I love trying out local snacks and specialties.
In Hanoi, you’ll find the locals crouched down on tiny plastic furniture, a bowl in one hand, chopsticks in the other. Joining them for steaming Pho or fresh spring rolls is the best way to expose your kids to Vietnam’s amazing cuisine.
It’s cheap, it’s fast, it’s super healthy, tasty and lots of fun. Even the pickiest eater will take up the challenge of eating noodles with chopsticks. And Vietnamese cuisine is fragrant, not spicy, so lots of options for the little ones.
And don’t forget to go for ice cream at the Hoan Kiem Lake.
While enjoying your cold treat, keep a watchful eye on the water: you might just spot a giant Sword Lake tortoise (fact or fiction?).
3. Watch The Magical Water Puppets Dance
A must for every visitor to Hanoi, children and adults alike. I was truly mesmerised the first time and now overexcited to return with the kids to see their reaction.
The art of water puppetry is over 1000 years old and was traditionally performed in ponds or lakes.
Today, the stage consists of a large water basin of murky water, hiding the secrets of the skillful puppeteers. Where marionettes are being brought to life through strings from above, these wooden puppets are operated from below by puppeteers submerged waist-deep in the water.
The graceful puppets gliding on water, the live music dramatising their actions, the sounds of splashing water and the dark auditorium, it all adds up to a magical experience you can’t miss.
4. Try Your Hand At Pottery
Hanoi is surrounded by numerous handicraft villages, each specialising in their own craft.
You’ll find villages dedicated to traditional furniture, ceramics, copper, silk and even snakes.
While the snake village definitely sounded like a cool kids attraction, I did travel to Vietnam to find a crockery supplier, not a snake catcher.
Bat Trang Ceramic Village
Bat Trang, known as ‘the ceramic village’, is located 13km southeast of Hanoi and is a true joy for any ceramic enthusiast.
Pro Tip: Ceramic shops dot the main streets, but the key is to venture down the smaller back-alleys.
Here you’ll find the potters working the clay, trimming and glazing pots and filling the kiln. We received the warmest welcome from the non-English speaking toothless craftsman.
The kids were given some off cuts to play with, while we received a tour of his intriguing workshop.
5. Indulge In A Foot Rub
I consider a great massage the ultimate treat. So with many cheap spa services on offer, it would be a shame not to take advantage.
If you’re like me, you might deny yourself this indulgence, because of the kids. But why? Don’t their chubby kiddy feet get tired wondering around?
We opted for 30min foot massages and the kids absolutely loved it! Most parlours have the chairs conveniently set up in a row, so you can sit next to each other.
Just bring a book along to read to them during the session, sit back, relax and spaaaah.
6. Go On A Shopping Spree
I am not a fan of the usual fridge magnets, but I do love to bring back a souvenir.
We usually go for a piece of local art to brighten up our interior like a sculpture or a candle holder. Once back home, these items are gentle reminders of our amazing travels.
We’d already secured some typical handicrafts on P Hang Gai and scouted the galleries on P Trang Tien.
But with such beautiful fabrics available and tailors all around, I was keen to bag some tailor-made fashionables on the cheap.
Best Shop as Chosen by TripAdvisor: I picked the best-reviewed shop on Tripadvisor: Chula Fashion, run by longtime Spanish residents Laura and Diego.
If you love handmade, ethical, stylish fashion, this is your place to go.
There is one shop in the city centre, but venture a little further out to their main location on 43 Nhat Chiêu, and you won’t be disappointed.
The kids will love the long tuk-tuk ride there, and this is where you find the workshop where they hand make every item.
After trying too many gorgeous colourful dresses, Spanish owner Laura led us upstairs for a peek behind the scene.
Here deaf seamstresses work their magic. “75 percent of our employees have a physical disability“, Laura explained after introducing us through sign language.
The kids had great fun going through baskets of leftover fabric strips, while I watched my chosen dress being stitched together.
What a great way to spend an afternoon, indulging in a little shopping spree while witnessing the fascinating process from cloth to clothing.
7. Become A Vietnamese Chef
After eating with the locals, the next best way to experience Vietnam’s cuisine, is to sign-up for a cooking class.
It’s great fun for the kids and I find that mine are much more prone to try unknown dishes if they’ve been involved in the cooking. Today they happily fill their fresh spring rolls with mint and coriander leaves, while spinach is still a big no-no.
We booked our class at Highway 4 and the two bubbly chefs taught us how to roll, fry and most importantly eat our scrumptious creations.
Your Guide To A Kid-friendly City Trip
Being seasoned family travellers, we figured out our itinerary on the fly, just bringing along a Lonely Planet and checking the latest on Tripadvisor.
But, I have to admit, there were some things that worked in our favour:
- We went to a city we had already visited once before, thus being familiar with its people, cuisine and atmosphere. Some items on the list we had experienced previously, like the temple and the water puppets, so we were certain of success.
- This was not our first family holiday and not the first long-haul flight, we had some practice travelling with toddlers
- I don’t struggle with guilt feelings (not anymore anyways) about dragging my kids across the globe. If you do, this might help.
Is Hanoi good for travelling with kids?
Hectic Hanoi kept our family of four entertained for two full weeks and we’re eager to return. This list is just a snapshot of all the city has to offer, pick your favourites and use them as base to make your plan. I can assure you, your family will be sad to leave when the time comes.
As it turns out, I was wrong. A city is no less worthy of our family visits than tropical beaches, lush green forests and snowcapped mountains. Any fresh new environment provides endless possibilities to play, to explore and to make memories together.
So go on, the city awaits.
Karin Louzado is a family travel expert who helps other parents stay sane while travelling. A Dutch expat mum of 2 toddlers, she explored over 45 countries without losing her mind, wallet or kids. Download her free guide The Zen Of Toddler Travel and learn how to simplify family travel. Facebook Instagram
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