Spice up your trip with some of the city’s hidden secrets…
With its honking motorcycles, chaotic Old Quarter, and vibrant culinary scene, Hanoi is well-established as a favorite destination among backpackers and adventurous travelers. The Vietnamese capital is often overlooked as a family-friendly destination, with many families skipping the metropolis to head to Ha Long Bay. But don’t let that steer you away from Vietnam’s bustling capital! Hanoi has a whole lot of kid-friendly attractions, including museums, water-puppet shows, vertigo-inducing “sky walks”, fun food, and flower markets. These attractions do tend to draw quite a crowd, however, so families in Hanoi will need to head off the tourist trail for a queue-free experience. Read on for the low-down on how to spice up your trip with under-the-radar sights and activities in Hanoi.
Cook Up a Storm with Culinary Classes
Kids usually take well to Vietnamese food (once everybody’s clued up as to how to ask for dishes that won’t bombard your taste buds with fiery heat), and the whole family can usually be found happily chowing down on phó after just a day or so. Fire up your family’s new-found fondness for Vietnamese cuisine with cooking classes, some of which also involve a shopping trip to one of Hanoi’s colorful food markets, fragrant with spices and alive with the sound of shouting traders and bargain-hunting shoppers. For English-language classes with kid-focused options, check out Hanoi Cooking Center, which offers kids’ classes from around $14 USD. This centrally-located school has an excellent reputation, and also arranges street food tours and other foodie treats. There’s an on-site café, too, should the kids want to see how it’s done before they sign up.
Feed a Passion for Books at the Temple of Literature
An inscription at the entrance advises horse riders to dismount their steeds, providing a clue as to the aristocratic importance of the young scholars who once strolled these blissfully quiet courtyards in the heart of Hanoi. The home of Vietnam’s earliest university (founded in 1076), the Temple of Literature was set up to educate sons of mandarins and to honor the great and good of literary accomplishment. Ornate pagodas and temples, statues and stone tortoises dot the grounds, which make for a pleasant place for a stroll or just to let little ones race around without fear of a car or motorbike mounting the pavement. The entrance fee is less than $1 USD, so it’s a cost-effective way to get some fresh air and exercise while goggling at the architecture.
Take a Free Walking Tour
Strap babies into slings (forget strollers on these busy streets) and tell older kids to get their comfy trainers on! Hanoi’s Free Walking Tours are a great way to get to know the city’s nooks and crannies without the all-too-real possibility of getting lost. As the name suggests, the tours are free-of-charge, although the friendly volunteers that run them will happily accept donations. The tours were set up in 2012 by a group of students as a way of showing the best of their city to curious visitors, and today walkers can take tours ranging from three hours to a full day. Don’t worry, there are plenty of pit stops along the way, and each tour explores a different areas of the city such as the Old Quarter or French Quarter. There’s even a dedicated street-food tour, which will delight foodie families. It’s best to book in advance so the guides know how many people are coming along.
Try an Egg Coffee at Giang Café
Visitors to Hanoi can get a caffeine kick and protein hit in one fell swoop by sampling one of Hanoi’s most intriguing coffee creations. Rich, fragrant cà phê trứng (egg coffee) was invented by Nguyen Van Giang in 1946 in response to wartime milk shortage, and the success of his brew was such that he was able to open a café on the back of it. Nowadays the coffee is a more elaborate confection made with top-quality coffee, sugar, hot whisked egg and condensed millk or butter. It’s possible to try egg coffee at lots of places in Vietnam today, but where better to try it than the place where the delicious drink was invented? The café is hidden away in the backstreets of the Old Quarter, but well worth hunting out, and kids can be lured here with the promise of sticky-sweet cakes, or even try the drink itself. Just ask for it with a mere drip of coffee to keep the caffeine level low and minimise the risk of the kids tearing around at an even faster pace than normal.
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