In a city as accessible as Hanoi, city tours aren’t entirely necessary, as most travelers are able to hit their preferred points of interest alone. There are plenty of standard, generic city tours around town; skip these since they don’t enhance your Hanoian experience. A handful of outfits in the capital excel at providing urban excursions with a more personal touch.
Founded in 2006, Hanoi Kids (tel. 09/8327-8272, 9am-5pm daily) is a free, student-run tour service that pairs curious travelers with young Vietnamese hoping to practice their English. All guides participate in regular training sessions before hitting the town with their new foreign friends, and your only costs as a traveler are admission fees and transportation for you and your guide. With equal give and take, these young Hanoians are enthusiastic and outgoing, making the experience feel more like a friendly outing than a run-of-the-mill tour. Due to the popularity of the group, reserving a spot ahead of time is a must. The booking department at Hanoi Kids sometimes needs a reminder. Confirm your tour in advance and, if response seems slow, give the office a call and check in.
A popular and reliable operator for tours both in town and around northern Vietnam, Adventure Indochina (6 Ma May, tel. 04/6683-5539, 8am-9pm daily) arranges trips to Ha Long Bay and Sapa in addition to running city tours of Hanoi, cyclo excursions, a one-day journey focused around the city’s pagodas, and a tasty street food tour. Staff are knowledgeable and efficient, and prices tend toward the more affordable end of the spectrum.
Just over two miles north of the Old Quarter, Hidden Hanoi (147 Nghi Tam, tel. 09/1225-4045, 9am-5pm daily Mon.-Sat., VND420,000-1,245,000) introduces travelers to the finer points of Vietnamese culture through food, language, and walking adventures around the city. Its popular cooking classes take place at the center’s charming location on the eastern edge of West Lake, as do a handful of language courses. Several walking tours, along with a much-touted street food tour, take place around the Old and French Quarters. Prices vary depending upon the activity, but all guides are enthusiastic and knowledgeable, making these tours a worthy investment.