As you taxi into the city from Hanoi's Noi Bai Airport, rickety buildings, buzzing motorbikes, and gorgeous pastels overwhelm the senses. The capital of Vietnam and the country's second largest city, Hanoi is rich in history and bursting with energy, a beautiful amalgamation of French Colonial architecture, ancient pagodas, wide boulevards and narrow streets laced with the aroma of some of the best street food in the country. A more intimate and approachable alternative to sprawling Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi is a fabulous starting point for a trip to Vietnam. 

SLEEP IN STYLE → Book a stay at Sofitel Legend Metropole, located steps from the opera house in Hanoi's French Quarter. The historic hotel, which opened in 1901, has hosted such luminaries as Charlie Chaplin, Somerset Maugham, and Graham Greene. Boasting a lovely covered patio overlooking a grand boulevard, it's the perfect spot for settling in with a cold drink after a long flight and planning your next move. 

TAKE A STROLL TO SWORD LAKE → After all that time in the air, a walk will do you good. Take a stroll through the bustling streets—just watch out for speeding motorbikes—and enjoy the sights around nearby Hoan Kiem (Sword Lake), including Ngoc Son Temple, a 13th-century pagoda poised on a small island in its center. If it's early enough, you might catch the locals practicing yoga and Tai Chi along the banks. 

PAY YOUR RESPECTS TO HO CHI MINH → Wait your turn in line and pay respects to Ho Chi Minh, the late Chairman of the Communist Party, whose body is preserved in a glass sarcophagus in a monumental mausoleum in the center of Bah Dinh Square. Just be sure to dress for the occasion: legs must be covered and hats must be removed. 

EXPLORE THE TEMPLE OF LITERATURE → No trip to Hanoi would be complete without a visit to the Temple of Literature, Vietnam's 1,000-year-old shrine to Confucius and the country's oldest monument to education. Modeled after Confucius's birthplace in China, the ancient site, with its interconnected courtyards, lush lawns and grand pavilions, is a great example of traditional Vietnamese architecture and a wonderful place to while away an afternoon in the city.

EAT LIKE A LOCAL → Hanoi boasts some of the best street food in all of Vietnam, and while there are plenty of French-influenced, fine dining options to choose from, there's no experience more quintessentially Hanoian than pulling up a plastic stool and indulging in some piping hot Pho bò (beef noodle soup) or Bánh xèo (crispy crepe filled with shrimp, pork, herbs, and onions) with the locals—and washing it all down with an ice cold bia (beer). For those weary of diving right in, a street food tour, lead by a local guide who knows his or her way around Hanoi's maze-like corridors, is a great way to get acquainted with the region's cuisine and an opportunity to visit some of the best food stalls in the city.