Is Hanoi or Hoi An better? It’s a common question for first-time visitors to Vietnam. If you’re planning a trip itinerary or you’re short of time on a Vietnam vacation, you may be wondering whether to spend your time in Hoi An or Hanoi. They are both wonderful destinations with a lot to offer visitors, but they are quite different.
Hanoi is the country’s capital. It’s a big city in the north of Vietnam with many attractions and all the positives and negatives of a large city. Hoi An, on the other hand, is a charming small town in Central Vietnam and very popular with local and overseas tourists.
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I’ve enjoyed visiting both Hanoi and Hoi An as a solo traveller in Vietnam. In Hanoi, I stayed in the Old Quarter and visited beautiful temples, night markets, the Imperial Citadel, the Presidential Palace and the Mausoleum. I took motorbike taxis to get around. The sights in Hanoi are impressive, but the city is busy with lots of traffic, and it is not always safe to be out alone at night.
In Hoi An, I walked the laneways of the Old Town and enjoyed the lantern-filled streets, the quaint heritage architecture, the local markets and museums. I rode a bicycle through rice fields to the beach and enjoyed learning to cook delicious Vietnamese food.
Whether you choose to stay in Hanoi or Hoi An really depends on your personal preferences and what kind of holiday you’re looking for. This article looks at the similarities and differences between these two famous destinations in Vietnam to help you decide “Is Hanoi or Hoi An better?”. You might even decide to spend some time in both.
Hanoi vs Hoi An – Pros & Cons
Hanoi vs Hoi An – Pros
|Hanoi Pros – Reasons to visit Hanoi||Hoi An Pros – Reasons to Visit Hoi An|
|A large capital city||A small Heritage Town|
|International Airport with a wide choice of flights.||International Airport at Da Nang|
|Hanoi has a historical Old Quarter||UNESCO World Heritage-listed Old Town|
|UNESCO World Heritage-listed Imperial Citadel||Very pretty riverside location with lantern-filled laneways.|
|French colonial architecture||French colonial architecture|
|Large Museums, ancient temples, Opera House and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum||Small museums, temples and heritage houses|
|A wide variety of shops & markets||Good shopping and local markets|
|Inland location – 4 hours from the coast & Ha Long Bay||Coastal location with surf beaches nearby|
|Busy Nightlife||Quieter nightlife with a more romantic atmosphere|
|A wide variety of accommodations for all budgets||A wide variety of accommodations for all budgets|
|Bustling atmosphere||Peaceful ambience – No cars or traffic in the Old Town|
|Hanoi is a major transport hub||Slightly cheaper than Hanoi|
|Large choice of restaurants, bars and glitzy cubs||Safer at night|
|Closer to Ninh Binh||Closer to Hue|
|Closer to Tam Coc||Closer to My Son ruins|
|Closer to Sapa||Close to Da Nang City|
Hanoi vs Hoi An – Cons
|Hanoi Cons – Reasons to Avoid Hanoi||Hoi An Cons – Reasons to Avoid Hoi An|
|Very busy with a large population||Distance from Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City|
|Traffic||Walking or bicycle to get around|
|Large distances between attraction||Many tourists|
|Slightly more expensive||Quieter nightlife|
|Less safe at night||Fewer international flights than Hanoi|
|Weather: The rainy season is from May to September in Hanoi||Weather: The wet season is from September to January in Central Vietnam|
Hoi An Vs Hanoi – When to go
Knowing the best and worst time to visit Vietnam and what to expect from the weather at the time of year you plan to visit may help you work out whether Hoi An or Hanoi is best for your vacation. The climate varies in the north and Central parts of the country, and it could be the deciding factor.
The best months to visit Hanoi are the spring months of March and April and the Autumn months of September, October and November. It’s the dry season and the weather is warm and sunny. While there’s no bad time to visit Hanoi, the weather is chilly and misty in the Winter months, (January and February) and summer (June to August) can be hot and humid. Typhoon season is from June to September in the north and is best avoided.
But the dry season in Hoi An and Central Vietnam is from February to June and it’s the best time to travel to Hoi An and Da Nang for a beach holiday. The typhoon season is from September to November it’s a good time to avoid in Central Vietnam.
If you are visiting both Hanoi and Hoi An, March and April are the best months to go.
Hanoi vs Hoi An: Location
Location is another important factor to consider when deciding whether Hanoi or Hoi An is better.
Hanoi is located in the north of Vietnam on the Red River around 140 kilometres from the coast. It’s an inland city and the capital of Vietnam.
Hoi An on the other hand is a small coastal town in Quang Nam province in Central Vietnam. It’s situated near the mouth of the Thu Bon River around 42 kilometres from Da Nang.
The two cities are around 806 kilometres apart so there is a considerable distance to travel between them and this may be another deciding factor in the choice between Hoi An or Hanoi.
Hanoi is a capital city and a transport hub with more options for flights, trains and buses. Hoi An is around 50 minutes (29 kilometres) from Da Nang’s International Airport and domestic flights are cheap and plentiful. To fly from Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City to Da Nang takes about 1.5 hours and it’s the quickest way to get to Hoi An.
While Hanoi is a transport hub in Vietnam and 3-4 hours from Ha Long Bay, Hoi An has a coastal location near ocean beaches that gives it the edge for a holiday destination in Vietnam.
Winner: Hoi An
Hanoi vs Hoi An for Ambience & Culture
When choosing either Hanoi or Hoi An for an itinerary, the ambience and culture of each destination are worth considering.
As the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi is a centre for art and culture. The city has a long history with an Old Quarter, a UNESCO World Heritage-listed Imperial Citadel and Colonial French architecture. Hanoi’s museums include the National Fine Art Museum, the Women’s Museum, the Hanoi Museum and the Vietnam National Museum to name a few.
Cultural performances are held regularly at the Hanoi Opera House and visiting the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum to view the embalmed body of the dead leader is a fascinating insight into Vietnamese culture.
Hoi An, on the other hand, is brimming with charm and character. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Old Town has an ancient history as a trading port from the 15th to the 19th century with some of the best-preserved heritage architecture in the country including wooden Chinese shops and Assembly Halls, traditional Vietnamese houses and colonial French buildings. Hoi An is a centre for art and culture with museums and galleries throughout the Old Town.
In Hoi An you can wander the lantern-filled laneways and canals and enjoy the quaint and beautiful ambience of the Old Town.
Hanoi has a big city vibe, lots of traffic and hustle and bustle but in Hoi An you’ll step back in time The historical charm of Hoi An’s Old Town is unsurpassed and there’s nowhere prettier than Hoi An at night.
Winner: Hoi An
Hoi An versus Hanoi: Cost
Vietnam is an inexpensive country to visit and you can visit either Hanoi or Hoi An and enjoy a cheap holiday. Whether you choose budget accommodation or 5-star hotels there’s a good range of options in both destinations. Vietnam is a great choice for a budget holiday or for a more luxurious vacation.
In either Hanoi or Hoi An you can eat in expensive restaurants or enjoy a cheaper local meal or street food. But the capital, Hanoi, is a bit more expensive than the regional town of Hoi An.
Winner: Hoi An
Hoi An versus Hanoi for Safety
Safety is another consideration If you’re still tossing up between Hoi An or Hanoi for your vacation, especially for solo travellers. While Vietnam is generally a safe country to visit, nowhere is entirely safe.
The current travel advice from the Australian Government is to exercise normal safety precautions in Vietnam. Road accidents, petty theft, scams and fraud are the most common safety concerns, but aggravated assaults and robberies can happen and it’s always best to be mindful of safety when you’re travelling.
In Hanoi, I was advised by hotel staff that it was unwise to walk alone in the dark in the city centre in the early morning when the streets were quiet. Having said that, I felt safe most of the time in Hanoi as a female travelling alone.
The small-town vibe of Hoi An is a better option than Hanoi for solo travellers. I was comfortable walking alone in the Old Town visiting the night market and enjoying the lovely ambience of the laneways of Hoi An at night.
Winner: Hoi An
Hanoi or Hoi An for Activities
Either Hanoi or Hoi An will provide a wide range of activities for visitors but which is better is a matter of personal preference. In Hanoi, the activities are centred around visiting the Old Quarter, shopping at markets, and visiting museums and temples.
While in Hoi An, you’ll spend your time wandering around the Old Town where there are good shopping opportunities, local markets and many small museums and galleries in well-preserved historical houses. And when you’re done shopping and sightseeing you can relax on the beach.
What to do in Hanoi
- Explore the historical Hanoi Old Quarter, wander the streets, enjoy the historical old-world atmosphere and indulge in some shopping. For over a thousand years, the Old Quarter in Hanoi has been a place of trade in traditional arts and crafts such as clothing, colourful lanterns, sweets and silver jewellery.
- Visit the 9th-century Bach Ma Temple in Hanoi’s Old Quarter and the traditional Vietnamese heritage House, the restored home of a merchant.
- Shop for souvenirs and street food at the Hanoi Night Market after dark.
- Head to Train Street, a narrow street near the Old Quarter where a train passes scarily close to a row of terrace houses.
- Stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake in the centre of Hanoi and cross the bright red bridge to the colourful Ngoc Son Temple on a small island in the lake.
- Visit the picturesque Temple of Literature in Central Hanoi an ancient shrine and university dedicated to the philosopher Confucius that dates back to 1070 AD.
- Join the thousands of Vietnamese people in the queue at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum to view the embalmed body of the dead leader, a former communist President who led the country to independence in the 20th Century.
- Visit the Presidential Palace, a grand and stately building, with a beautiful, lush garden.
- Visit the One Pillar Pagoda and the Tran Quoc Pagoda, the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi. Both of these ancient shrines are a peaceful escape from the busy city streets.
- Explore the Thang Long Imperial Citadel, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Wander through the ancient remains of palaces that date back to the 7th century and visit the archaeological site, military bunkers and French colonial buildings in the citadel.
- Head to the Hanoi Opera House for a circus or cultural performance.
- Go to mass at St Joseph’s Cathedral and see the impressive neo-gothic architecture, twin bell towers and stained-glass windows.
- Enjoy history art and culture at one of Hanoi’s many museums such as the Hanoi National Museum, the Women’s Museum, the Fine Arts Museum, and the Ho Chi Minh Museum to name a few.
What to do in Hoi An
There are so many things to do in Hoi An you could easily spend 4 or 5 days here so you’ll have to choose carefully how you spend your time. Here are some of the best:
- Stroll or cycle along the lantern-filled laneways, soak in the ambience and enjoy the Old Town. Look for the remnants of French colonial days with yellow French Terrace houses and traditional wooden Vietnamese houses and browse the galleries museums and shops.
- Walk across the canal through the ancient Japanese Covered Bridge and explore the Chinese Quarter, the Chinese Assembly Hall and the Guan Di Temple.
- Go shopping in Hoi An for souvenirs like silk scarves, jewellery, paper lanterns and China tea sets, and have some clothing made to measure by a local tailor or shop for fruit and vegetables at the bustling Central Market by the river.
- Join the crowds on the bridge to the vibrant Night Market to shop for souvenirs and delicious street food.
- Take a boat ride by lantern light on the river at night. Hire a boat and an oarsman and enjoy the lovely ambience.
- Enjoy a romantic meal or try a traditional seafood dish at a local restaurant. Morning Glory has a lovely ambience in a colonial building decorated with colourful lanterns or enjoy a cocktail by the river near the busy night market at Mango Mango.
- Visit the Food Hall at the Central Market for a selection of local dishes in a bustling atmosphere. It’s perfect for a quick meal and for solo travellers in Vietnam eating alone.
Visit either Hanoi or Hoi An and you’ll find a wide range of activities so which is better is a matter of personal preference. While I enjoyed Hanoi, Hoi An has won again for me.
Winner: Hoi An
Hanoi or Hoi An for Day Trips & Nearby Attractions
You can choose either Hanoi or Hoi An and find exciting opportunities for day trips.
Hanoi – Day Trips
- Stunning Ha Long Bay is one of the most popular and scenic destinations in Vietnam and it’s a must-see for first-time visitors. A day trip is possible but an overnight cruise is the best way to see the beautiful karst mountains, emerald waters and limestone caves in this world-renowned UNESCO World Heritage National Park just 4 hours by road from Hanoi.
- Travel back in time at Duong Lam Ancient Village, and explore centuries-old architecture, cultural landmarks, and local specialties. Duong Lam is just 40 kilometres from Hanoi and is an ideal day trip.
- Hike the trails in Ba Vi National Park and explore the cultural and historical sites.
- Visit beautiful Tam Coc on a day trip from Hanoi. Enjoy a unique sampan boat ride to impressive caves, and cycle through picturesque traditional villages. Visit the ancient Vietnamese capital of Hoa Lu and climb up to the top of Mua Cave to enjoy panoramic views of the countryside and Ngo Dong River.
- Immerse yourself in Vietnamese culture and history with a day trip from Hanoi to Ninh Binh. Visit the Bai Dinh Temples, take a scenic boat tour through Trang An, and admire the views from Mua Caves.
Hoi An Day Trips
- Visit the Imperial City of Hue, the former capital of Vietnam with a UNESCO World Heritage-listed Imperial City, Emperor’s Residence and Royal Tombs. Hue is a couple of hours away and around 126 kilometres from Hoi An.
- Take a day trip to see the ancient Hindu Temple ruins at My Son. UNESCO World Heritage-listed, the ancient Hindu Temple ruins are one of Vietnam’s most important religious sites.
- Learn to cook your favourite dish in a Vietnamese Cooking Class. Immerse yourself in the local culture and enjoy some great food in Hoi An.
- Hire a bicycle and pedal your way through the rice fields to An Bang Beach just 5 kilometres from Hoi An.
- Spend the day exploring Marble Mountain and Da Nang City. Relax on the beach, visit the Lady Buddha, and the Dragon Bridge and enjoy the view from the stunning Golden Bridge in the Ba Ha Hills.
- The spectacular Phong Nha Ke Bang Caves are also worth seeing in Central Vietnam but they are around 300 km from Hoi An.
You can choose either Hanoi or Hoi An and find amazing day trips, but Hanoi wins for its proximity to spectacular Ha Long Bay and Ninh Binh, both recognised by UNESCO. Although the attractions near Hoi An, Hue & My Son are also amazing.
Hanoi versus Hoi An for Nightlife
Choose either Hanoi or Hoi An for nightlife and you’ll find plenty of things to do. Hanoi has a wider selection of flashy bars and lively nightclubs but Hoi An also has some popular clubs, live music bars and bistros with traditional entertainment along the riverside.
Both Hoi An and Hanoi have busy night markets, street food and a good selection of restaurants to enjoy. But Hoi An is a quieter and more romantic destination than Hanoi. At night it’s one of the prettiest places in Vietnam.
Whether Hanoi or Hoi An is better for nightlife depends on what you’re looking for and what kind of nightlife you enjoy.
Winner: Hoi An
Hoi An vs Hanoi for Accommodation
In either Hanoi or Hoi An, there is a good choice of accommodation for all budgets.
Where to stay in Hanoi
The best place to stay in Hanoi is in the Old Quarter and there’s a good selection of hotels to choose from. Here are some suggestions:
Mid–Range: The Hanoi Graceful Hotel is located in the Old Quarter. I enjoyed staying here and loved the intricately carved wooden bedhead and the tiny decorative balcony overlooking the tree-lined streets. But be careful when you book because the cheaper rooms are internal and have no windows.
Luxury: The Oriental Jade Hotel is a more upmarket choice with an excellent location in the Old Quarter. This small boutique hotel offers a pool and personal touch. The reviews are exceptional.
Where to stay in Hoi An
Mid-Range: The Green Apple Hotel in Hoi An offers spotless rooms, a pool and excellent service with a shuttle bus to the Old Town and on-site bicycle hire. I enjoyed staying here.
Luxury: The Allegro Hoi An Luxury Hotel & Spa is a more upmarket choice that gets exceptional reviews for its comfortable rooms, stunning décor and attentive service.
Accommodation is slightly more expensive in Hoi An than in the capital, Hanoi.
Hanoi versus Hoi An for Solo travellers
Solo travellers will enjoy the attractions in either Hanoi or Hoi An but getting around is much easier in Hoi An. The Old Town is walkable, and many hotels offer a shuttle bus service or bicycle hire.
While it’s fun and budget-friendly to ride around Hanoi on the back of a motorbike taxi, it’s not the safest way to travel and it can be unpleasant in the city traffic with dust and exhaust fumes.
As a small town, Hoi An is safer and slightly cheaper for solo travellers who often have higher accommodation costs and are more concerned with personal safety.
Winner: Hoi An
Hanoi or Hoi An for Couples & Families
Couples and families can visit either Hanoi or Hoi An and find plenty of things to do. Hanoi has many attractions like museums, shopping at markets, circus performances and Train Street, but Hoi An is a winner for both couples and families.
The lovely Old Town in Hoi An has a very romantic atmosphere for couples at night and it’s a favourite spot for wedding photos and honeymoons. Hoi An is also close to the beach. Kids will enjoy cycling through the rice fields, swimming in the surf and playing in the sand.
Winner: Hoi An
There is a wide variety of things to see and do in Vietnam and long distances to cover between Hanoi, Hoi An and Chi Minh City. I travelled the length of the country in 3 weeks, but if you have less time, perhaps focus on either North or South Vietnam.
Below are some itinerary suggestions that are ideal for travelling in Vietnam.
Final Thoughts – Is Hanoi or Hoi An better?
If you’re wondering whether to spend more time in Hoi An or Hanoi, Hoi An is a clear winner on many fronts. While Hanoi has UNESCO World Heritage sites, ancient temples, a large number of museums, a great selection of hotels, restaurants, markets and a vibrant nightclub scene, Hoi An has all of this plus a coastal location with lovely beaches nearby.
But Hoi An is a bit harder to get to. Hoi An is more than 800 kilometres from the major transport hubs of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, but there is an International Airport nearby in Da Nang and domestic flights are cheap and plentiful. Hoi An is a delight to visit and it’s worth any extra time and cost to get there.
Brimming with charm and located near the beach, Hoi An has all the conveniences that you’ll find in Hanoi, a great selection of restaurants, hotels, bars, markets and activities.
If you have to choose between Hanoi or Hoi An, my vote is for Hoi An. While I enjoyed Hanoi, Hoi An has the charm of a small historic town and was a favourite destination for me in Vietnam and it’s slightly cheaper than the capital.
Winner overall: Hoi An
Is Hanoi the same as Hoi An?
No, Hanoi is not the same as Hoi An. They are two separate places. Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam located in the north of the country and Hoi An is a charming historic town in Central Vietnam.
Is Hoi An near Hanoi?
No, there’s a distance of 806 kilometres between Hoi An in Central Vietnam and Hanoi in North Vietnam.
Which one is best Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh?
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and is located in the north of the country while Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam and located in the south of the country. Whether Hanoi or Hoi An is best is a matter of opinion, but personally, I think Hanoi has more to offer visitors with its traditional Old Quarter, UNESCO World Heritage Imperial City and proximity to spectacular Ha Long Bay and Ninh Binh.
Is Hoi An close to Ho Chi Minh City?
No, there’s a distance of 910 kilometres between Hoi An in Central Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City in North Vietnam.
Is Hoi An worth visiting?
Yes, Hoi An is worth visiting for its historical charm, Old World ambience and coastal location. Hoi An is a picturesque UNESCO World Heritage port town in Central Vietnam and a delightful place to visit.
Can I fly from Hanoi to Hoi An?
Yes, there are regular domestic flights between Hanoi and Da Nang in Central Vietnam. Hoi An is around 50 minutes (29 kilometres) from Da Nang International Airport.
How far is Halong Bay from Hoi An?
Halong Bay is 926 kilometres from Hoi An. The easiest way to get there is to fly.