Dynamic, vibrant, bustling – the modern-day Hanoi has found its future by appreciating its past.

Vietnam’s capital city is a sprawling, lively city with an energetic cultural scene, noted for its graceful colonial architecture and French and Old Quarters. Hanoi is the second most populous city in Vietnam, right in the heart of the Red River Delta. Thanks to its mix of broad tree-lined boulevards, narrow alleyways, lakes and parks, temples and pagodas, the city is a stunning blend of Indo-Chinese and French colonial influences.

The Old Quarter (or Hoan Kiem District) is a sprawling, thirty-six street marketplace, where busy pedestrians, scooters, bicycles, rickshaws and cars zip by at lightening speeds. The oldest neighborhood in the city – a maze of boutiques, trendy cafés and sidewalk vendors – dates back to the 13th century. The ancient commercial streets here are named after their original businesses which date back about 1,000 years. Charming colonial architecture, pagodas and Buddhist temples mix with these businesses, letting visitors get a feel of older customs and life here. Most of the preserved shop-houses were built over a century ago, constructed in a long, narrow style to avoid being highly taxed. Trading takes place in front of the storefronts while the family occupies the rest. Top artists and craftsmen create lacquerware, silk products, embroidered fabrics and bags, conical hats, coffee beans and paintings. Bargaining is expected – and part of the fun – even though goods are already at cheap to affordable prices.

The French Quarter (or Ba Dinh District) is nearby and is where most government offices and embassies are located, including the Presidential Palace. More high-end shopping can be found here, and is home to some of Hanoi’s fanciest restaurants and the picture-perfect Opera House.

The One Pillar Pagoda is a historic Buddhist temple and is regarded as one of Vietnam’s two most iconic temples. Originally built by Emperor Lý Thái Tông in the 11th century in appreciation of the birth of his son, there is a small shrine inside devoted to Avalokitesvara Boddhisatva. The structure is built of wood on a single stone pillar and is designed to resemble a lotus blossom, a Buddhist symbol of purity, as a lotus blossoms in a muddy pond. French forces destroyed the original before withdrawing from Vietnam in 1954 but a replica was rebuilt in its place. Locals believe a prayer here will bring special prosperity and well-being.

The Temple of Literature is composed of several courtyards and is actually a Temple of Confucius, dedicated to the veneration of the Chinese scholar and is a rare example of preserved traditional Vietnamese architecture. Students from all over Vietnam travel here to study his teachings, literature and poetry. Vietnamese New Year celebrations take place here as well.

Visiting Hoa Lo Prison – what American POW’s not-so-affectionately dubbed The Hanoi Hilton – will be a poignant experience. While the museum focuses mostly on the sufferings of the Vietnamese when they were imprisoned here by the French – visitors will undoubtedly be moved to know this is where John McCain and his fellow POW’s were held prisoner by the North Vietnamese.

The embalmed body of Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh lies in the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and is another draw.