Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is home to several interesting museums that offers insight into the country’s rich history,culture and art. Here are five museums you should not miss in Hanoi.

1. Vietnam Museum of Ethnology

The Vietnam Museum of Ethnology is certainly one of the most captivating museums in Hanoi and the country. Designed in closed collaboration with the Musée de l’Homme in Paris and inaugurated by President Jacques Chirac in 1997, this museum, with a space of more than 4 hectares, presents the traditions of the 54 ethnic groups that make up the country’s beautiful mosaic.

The museums has 3 main exhibition areas

  • The outdoor exhibition area displays a variety of Vietnamese houses as full-scale replicas with great attention paid to the varying architectural styles set within the authentic and tranquil garden.
  • The Trong Dong, “bronze drum”, this part is one of the most exciting. You’ll be immersed in the universe of the ethnic groups thanks to the permanent exhibition which explains the history of this beautiful country, the customs, religions, traditional clothings, ornaments, weapons, musical instruments…but also many photographs and audiovisual documents. Temporary exhibitions are also organized and change quite often.
  • The Southeast Asia, dedicated to different cultures of SouthEast Asia in general.                       

You also the have the opportunity to occasionally enjoy many performances of traditional Vietnamese music such as Cheo singing, water puppetry,etc…and participate in Vietnamese folk games when visiting this Hanoi museum. It will be one of the most fascinating experiences in Hanoi without doubt.

2. Vietnam National Fine Art Museum

Being one the best museum in Hanoi, Vietnam National Fine Arts Museum explains the evolution and characteristics of Vietnamese art on more than 4,700 square meters and three floors.

Located in the immediate vicinity of the Temple of Literature in a building built in the 1930s and mixing Eastern and European architectural styles, the Museum of Fine Arts presents works covering a period ranging from prehistory to the present day. The museum is a place for research, collection, display, preservation, and introduction of Vietnamese art heritage to visitors. Its beautifully arranged galleries house a unique collection of art treasures dating from every era of national life, from early prehistory and classical antiquity through to the epic story of Vietnamese creative genius in the modern age. The collections in this Hanoi best museum are divided into national treasures, lacquer paintings, oil paintings, silk paintings, paper paintings, folk paintings, sculptures, and ceramic collections. . Do not miss the chance to admire the magnificent goddess of Mercy with "a thousand eyes and a thousand arms", a major work in lacquered wood which testifies to the artistic genius of the craftsmen of the time.

3. Vietnam Women’s Museum

Vietnamese Women’s Museum was established in 1987 and run by the Vietnam Women’s Union which is recognised as one of the country’s most powerful movements.

In 1991, Vietnam Women’s Museum began construction and opened officially to the public in 1995. This museum highlights the Vietnamese woman through history, family life, Vietnamese fashion with beautiful colorful traditional costumes or by the collection of photos or other various objects. With the rich collection of more than 1,000 objects and photos, organised thematically on three levels You will learn things like the rituals related to engagement and marriage, the education of children, the history of some heroines during the war.

4. National Museum of Vietnamese History

Formerly the seat of the French consulate, transformed into a hotel for the Resident of France until 1887. This superb building, designed by the renowned architect Ernest Hébrard and completed in 1932, housed the museum of the French School of the Far East before becoming the national museum of the history of Vietnam. This national heritage building houses and preserves around 200,000 artifacts and historical-cultural materials of Vietnam. The museum also displays artifacts from archaeological cultures such as the Stone Age and masterpieces of well-known Vietnamese cultures like the Dong Son culture and Cham sculpture. Additionally, the museum possesses over 80,000 valuable documents and artifacts related to Vietnam’s struggle for independence.

5. Hoa Lo Prison Relic

Hoa Lo Prison was a prison used by the French colonists in French Indochina for political prisoners, and later by North Vietnam for U.S. prisoners of war during the Vietnam War.

The name Hoa Lo, commonly translated as “fiery furnace” or “stove” originated from the street name - phố Hỏa Lò - due to the concentration of stores selling wood stoves and coal-fire stoves along the street in pre-colonial times.

The prison was built by the French, in dates ranging from 1886–1889 to 1898 to 1901, when Vietnam was still part of French Indochina. The French called the prison Maison Centrale, ‘Central House’, which is still the designation of prisons for dangerous or long sentence detainees in France. It was intended to hold Vietnamese prisoners, particularly political prisoners agitating for independence who were often subject to torture and execution. A 1913 renovation expanded its capacity from 460 inmates to 600. It was nevertheless often overcrowded, holding some 730 prisoners on a given day in 1916, a figure which would rise to 895 in 1922 and 1,430 in 1933. By 1954 it held more than 2000 people; with its inmates held in subhuman conditions, it had become a symbol of colonialist exploitation and of the bitterness of the Vietnamese towards the French.

Following the defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu and the 1954 Geneva Accords the French left Hanoi and the prison came under the authority of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

During the Vietnam War, from 1963 to 1973, Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi imprisoned American pilots whose planes had been shot down during the bombardments in the north of the country and was ironically dubbed the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ by the POW. Its most well known inmate was John McCain, war vet and later US Senator and Republican presidential nominee.