Hanoi is a loud, chaotic, energetic city best explored on foot. You would be wise to prepare for a sensory overload. Hanoi will test your patience and alertness time and time again. Although it is an exciting and vibrant city to visit, we think 2 days is more than enough time to get in, see the sights and move on! This Hanoi itinerary is quick, efficient and action packed.
We will cover how to get to Hanoi, transport options to downtown, where to stay and where to eat/drink. But the focus here is on the best things to do and turning those into an awesome (and achievable!) 2 days in Hanoi itinerary.
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Where is Hanoi?
How To Get To Downtown Hanoi
Flights to Hanoi Noi Bai International Airport (HAN)
Fortunately, Hanoi Noi Bai International Airport (HAN) is one of Vietnam’s 2 major international airports. This results in an enormous amount of options both internationally and domestically for flying to Hanoi.
Be sure to research prices thoroughly and be as flexible as possible with your dates. We recommend you book your flight using Skyscanner for the best user interface and value.
Flying internally in Vietnam and regionally in South East Asia is incredibly good value even for backpackers on a tight budget. Look out for VietJet Air, Vietnam Airlines, Jetstar and Bamboo for unbeatable value. However, keep an eye on hefty luggage allowances if you are backpacking.
Trains to Hanoi
Traveling by train in Vietnam is the perfect way to see beautiful countryside regions that you otherwise would never see. Train travel can also be quite comfortable if you pay a little extra and book a whole first class sleeper cabin. Your other option is to keep it cheap and cheerful by booking a second class seat.
Long journey times up and down the long narrow country can understandably put some people off. For example, if you were to take a train directly from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, it would take around 35 hours. More likely you will be traveling up from Da Nang, Hue, Dong Hoi or Ninh Binh.
Trains arrive into Ga Ha Noi station. From there expect a 20 minute walk to the heart of Hanoi’s old quarter where most people will base themselves.
Be sure to look at more than one resource and compare costs for your upcoming trip to ensure you get the best prices for train travel in Vietnam. We recommend comparing prices on 12Go Asia and Baolau.
Sleeper Bus to Hanoi
Are you really a tourist in Vietnam if you haven’t taken at least one sleeper bus?! This option tends to be a favorite among backpackers due to low costs and convenience as it saves paying for accommodation! Read about our 5 hair raising sleeper bus experiences before booking.
You will not struggle to find options for jumping on a bus from most cities in Vietnam. It’s as easy as falling asleep and waking up in Hanoi. Cities such as Hoi An, Hue and Ninh Binh will run daily buses North to Hanoi.
The Best Things To Do In Hanoi
Let’s take a brief look into the top things to do on your visit to Hanoi. Please do not be alarmed by the large number of things we list!
You might be thinking “how do you expect us to fit all that into 2 days?!” Trust us, Hanoi is easy to see in 2 action packed days and we will show you in this itinerary.
Plus, we have included an interactive map at the end which shows each point of interest for Day 1 and Day 2 respectively.
1. Explore The Old Quarter Rat Run & St Joseph’s Cathedral
Our feelings are extremely conflicted when we think of Hanoi’s old quarter. While it is quaint, antique, ancient, electric and cultural, it is also infuriating, loud, dirty and stressful. Even for the most laid back and relaxed travelers this place is enough to test anyone’s patience.
An eclectic blend of Chinese, French, Vietnamese and even Russian influences throughout Hanoi’s colorful history have resulted in intriguing architecture. Many buildings appear as though they are hanging on by a thread!
Interestingly, property tax in Hanoi is based on width of a building and that’s why the old quarter consists of high rise but narrow buildings.
Hanoi’s old quarter is the commercial heartbeat of the city, containing 36 alley-like streets overflowing with shops, restaurants, travel agencies and hotels. These services are typically provided at ground floor level with the majority of old buildings in this district rising another further 3 or 4 levels.
Construction of St. Joseph’s Cathedral began in 1886. The French government in Indochina based its architectural design on Notre Dame in Paris. The building is the shining light in Hanoi’s rat-run old quarter, especially at night when the Cathedral illuminates yellowy-black.
Consider staying in the French quarter if you have a healthy budget but the old quarter is our top recommendation for setting up base.
The old quarter is perfect because accommodation is cheap, you’re right in the action, it’s entertaining and close to a high proportion of the best things to do in Hanoi.
Just be sure to keep an eye on your blood pressure crossing the street!
2. Walk Around Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem lake is a relatively large body of water separating the old quarter from the French quarter in Hanoi’s busiest tourist region. The lake acts as a focal point as it attracts early morning runners and families strolling slowly around a pedestrian footway at the waters edge.
We found ourselves drawn toward the lake a few times each day as though we were magnetic opposites. Walking around the lake will take you longer than you think!
A lone grey empty building sits on a small circular mound of soil and grass, right in the center of the lake. It raises many questions. How did it get there? Why is there no access? What is its purpose?
It is called Turtle Tower and was built by the French in 1886 in memoriam of a centuries old Vietnamese leader known as Le Loi. Today it is seen as a symbol of unity for the Vietnamese as they endured French occupation.
3. Visit Ngoc Son Pagoda
Ngoc Son Pagoda is a temple situated on a small island at the Northern end of Hoan Kiem lake. However, the public can access this island.
To enter the temple, you must cross the Rising Sun Bridge to Jade Island. The bridge itself is ruby red colored and very photogenic with the lake as a backdrop. You will not miss it!
Ncog Son pagoda was built in commemoration of Tran Hung Dao, a famous military leader from the 13th century. You won’t need much time for a visit. It’s also usually very busy.
Price: 30,000 VND (US$ 1.30)
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 7am to 6pm / Sat-Sun 7am to 9pm
4. Watch Vietnamese Traditional Water Puppet Show
One of our top rated things to do on your Hanoi itinerary. Why? Because where else can you watch a water puppet show?
You will sit in a lovely theater (we were surprised by how upmarket the interior was), watching a number of stories told about Vietnam’s history and culture through the art of puppeteering! We were thoroughly entertained throughout the show as dragons, dances and drama both underwater and above surprised the audience.
There are 2 venues to choose between: Thang Long or Lotus and both are right on the lake edge. Thang Long to the North East and Lotus to the West. Thang Long is the more popular and highly rated, you can book tickets in advance below.
Tickets: US$ 9 per person
Show Times: 4.10pm / 5.20pm daily (plus 8.00pm only on Saturdays)
5. Discover Upperclass Hanoi – French Quarter
Hanoi’s French quarter is a classier and more upmarket district than its old quarter. Hotels, restaurants and bars are fancier and cater to a more international clientele. The French quarter is the place to be seen in Hanoi and offers a more relaxing evening in comparison to its much wilder sister district.
Architecture in the French quarter is early 20th century European. You will find that pavements are wider and much less chaotic here, which will likely come as a welcome relief.
6. See The Ancient One Pillar Pagoda
One Pillar Pagoda is a historic Buddhist temple dating back almost a thousand years to 1049. The name is derived from its unique structure. A small wooden temple sits atop a single stone pillar measuring 4m in height and just over 1 meter in diameter.
A staircase on one side allows the public to enter the temple to discover it is filled with ornaments, food and candles. The whole structure sits in the middle of a small lotus pond. The emperor at the time had a dream about a son being passed to him as he sat on a lotus flower. Because of this fantasy, the emperor commanded the temple to be built from a lotus pond in the shape of a lotus flower.
Imagine if we could all build whatever we saw in our dreams?!
The temple had to be rebuilt after French forces destroyed the pagoda as they withdrew in 1954 following the end of the Indochinese war.
7. Eat at a Wonderful Vietnam ‘Top Chef’ Restaurant
Duong’s Restaurant in Hanoi old quarter is simply amazing. The owner and head chef has appeared on both Vietnam Top Chef and Ironchef Vietnam which means the food is definitely going to be top drawer.
Additionally, the waiting service was on another level at Duong’s. Each food item is described and explained as you receive them and boy do they just keep coming!
The restaurant is elegant, the delicious flavors evoke emotion and the service is impeccable. What are we missing here? Oh yes. Price. You will be delighted to know that you can enjoy a tasty feast and drink wine at just a fraction of what you would pay for similar at home.
Duong’s will surely be one of the best restaurants on your entire Vietnam Itinerary. Check the interactive map at the end of the article for locations.
If we only succeed in giving one piece of advice from this whole article, please let it be this one!
8. History & Culture Learning At Vietnamese Women’s Museum
The women’s museum in Hanoi’s French quarter showcases women’s roles in Vietnamese history and family life. An original museum was opened in 1995 but closed in 2006 for complete renovations. The museum re-opened in 2010 with a transformation both in terms of exhibits and focus.
There are 3 primary themes to learn about in the Vietnamese women’s museum:
1 – Women in History
2 – Women in Fashion
3 – Women in Family
Recent modernizations have brought the museum to life by wonderfully presenting exhibits across 4 levels. There are over 28,000 objects here relating to women in Vietnam that have been collected since the 1970’s.
Lookout for heroic and poignant stories of women throughout war torn Vietnam in modern history. This is definitely a worthwhile stop on your Hanoi itinerary.
Price: 30,000 VND (US$ 1.30)
Opening Hours: 8am-pm every day
9. Drink Delicious Robusta Vietnamese Coffee
Egg coffee is a Vietnamese delicacy originating in Hanoi. Egg yolks were used in place of milk, which was scarce due to short supply as a result of the post Vietnam war trade embargo.
Ca phe trung or egg coffee is made from the yolk of eggs, condensed milk, sugar and coffee. Sometimes you will be served a small coffee mug placed above a candle with a hollow bottom to allow air to pass through.
Did you know that Vietnam produces the second highest amount of coffee in the world? We didn’t either! Vietnam was once primarily a tea drinking country but the French had other ideas. Coffee was introduced to the country back in the 1800’s.
Which type of coffee bean will you find in a Vietnamese egg coffee? Vietnam produces so many Robusta beans that they account for around 40% of the entire world’s production of that particular variety of bean. Robusta beans are used in almost all coffee you will drink from a cafe in Vietnam.
Our top recommendation for coffee in this Hanoi itinerary is Dream Beans Cafe in the old quarter. It is outrageously well rated and for good reason. The care and effort they put into creating the perfect coffee each time is worthy of their number 1 rating.
10. Take An Amazing Cooking Class
You simply have to take a cooking class when you visit Vietnam. If you choose to do a Halong Bay cruise, you will learn how to create a few mediocre spring rolls so that doesn’t count! Book a top rated tour for a true authentic cooking class.
We would recommend both Hanoi or Hoi An for a cooking class as they both offer excellent options. Many restaurants display ‘cooking class’ on their menu’s or advertising boards outside entrances. You can either walk in and ask about availability or book in advance if you are sure of your dates.
11. Visit The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The resting place of Revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh is another must visit in Hanoi. We say this primarily because of his significance in Vietnam. It’s often easy to forget about history. Vietnam has had a rough ride over the last few hundred years. Ho Chi Minh was a key figure in shaping the country as it is today.
There is also a fascinating story you can learn about if you visit the Ho Chi Minh museum just a few minutes walk away. Alternatively, if you plan to visit Hoi An, check out our amazing article about the private tour we had with a Vietnam War veteran who gave us an incredible insight into Ho Chi Minh and Vietnam’s turbulent modern history.
Ho Chi Minh’s body was embalmed in 1975 before being placed into a glass casket and put on display inside the mausoleum. It is claimed that the body is perfectly preserved even today. We’re not sure that can be scientifically accurate! Embalming may add a few years before de-composure but not this many.
The 22 meter high building can be found in Ba Dinh Square which is a huge open area filled with plants and flowers. Pathways in a hash system cut through these gardens for pedestrians to look at various species as they approach the mausoleum.
Opening Hours: Tues-Thurs 7.30am to 10.30am / Sat-Sun 7.30am to 11am
Note: Lines can be huge here so arrive early
12. Avoid Dong Xuan Market
Dong Xuan is a gritty and crowded local market that really doesn’t do justice to the amount it is talked about. We were hugely underwhelmed personally. It is difficult to find anything unique or interesting at Dong Xuan having visited several markets around the world.
The market can be visited every day but also on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. There are better ways to spend your time in Hanoi.
13. Walk The Museum At Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton)
Hoa Lo Prison was also built by Hanoi’s French colonists around the 1890’s as a ‘Maison centrale’ or central house, which means a place for dangerous prisoners. This is where the French would torture and execute Vietnamese political prisoners who were seeking independence having grown tired of occupation.
After the French era, came the Vietnam / American war. Hoa Lo became the place American prisoners of war were incarcerated. It became sarcastically known among Americans as the Hanoi Hilton and unconfirmed reports of maltreatment are common from ex residents of Hoa Lo.
Today only a small part of the former prison area remains as a museum, which is mostly geared towards the French era complete with guillotine room. We felt the mock up exhibits of American POW’s living conditions were slightly misleading at reflecting how it would have been 50 years ago.
We’re sure it wasn’t that cozy!
Price: 30,000 VND (US$ 1.30)
Opening Hours: 8am-5pm every day
14. Hanoi Beer Street … Drink Beer!
A visit to Hanoi would not be complete without drinking at least one beer at one of the many vendors bars along Ta Hien Street – colloquially known as Beer Street.
In essence, this is the place to party in Hanoi! However, there are also restaurants offering cheap food and cheap beer during the day. Beer street is always teeming with fun loving backpackers.
Local craft breweries often sell their own beer to thirsty tourists from all over the world. It is such a sight to see everyone revel together on tiny plastic chairs congregated around tiny plastic tables. This is the perfect place to have a few social beers before moving onto a classier joint as the evening progresses.
15. Then A Cocktail At A Sophisticated Rooftop Bar
The best way to end the night in Hanoi is at one of its many sky bars. To the North East of Hoan Kiem lake you can find 3 in close proximity, including Skyline Hanoi, Diamond Sky Bar and Twilight Sky Bar.
Prices here are a little higher than the street level bars but that is to be expected with a rooftop bar, often inside the swankiest hotels in the old quarter. The suggestions above are more for those travelers with a healthy budget.
For backpackers and low budget visitors an alternative is Legend Beer which is a bit cheaper and cheerful. It’s not a rooftop bar but it still offers elevated views over the pedestrian area on the Northern edge of Hoan Kiem lake. As a top tip, it is also great to watch the traffic unfold as you watch from above.
16. More Education At Thang Long Imperial Citadel
Hanoi’s Imperial Citadel, known as the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, is a complex of buildings that were first constructed in 1010. Over the following 800 years more buildings were added until 1810 when the Nguyen dynasty moved Vietnam’s capital city to Hue.
Around 4000 French colonial soldiers were briefly imprisoned inside the citadel under Imperial Japanese control in 1945. The citadel was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 2010 and today its main room exhibits how the citadel would have once looked.
A part of the citadel complex is a huge cube shaped stone structure with a towering flagpole and Vietnam’s flag rippling in the wind. The flag tower reaches a height of 33m (excluding the flag itself) and offers views over Hanoi city. The citadel is in the same complex as the military museum.
Price: 30,000 VND (US$ 1.30)
Opening Hours: 8am-5pm every day (except closed Monday)
17. Visit Vietnam Military History Museum & Flag Tower
Hanoi’s military museum was not what we expected considering the country has been defined by war in its modern history. It felt very outdated and glorified Vietnamese victories primarily in the first Indochinese war. But there is one very interesting model depicting the defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu in Northwest Vietnam.
The views get much better as you head outside as this is where the flag tower belonging to the Imperial Citadel can be found. There is also a cool array of full sized wartime fighter jets, tanks and helicopters below in a courtyard ensemble display.
Unfortunately, at the time of our visit, the exhibit about the Vietnam / American war was closed. We can’t speak to this part of the museum, but be sure to ask on your visit if this section is open. If not, we would recommend visiting the war remnants museum in Ho Chi Minh city instead.
Price: 30,000 VND (US$ 1.30)
Opening Hours: 8am-11.30am & 1pm-4.30pm / Tues, Weds, Thurs, Sat, Sun (closed Mon, Fri)
18. Enjoy The Reflection Of Ancient Buddhist Tran Quoc Pagoda
The oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi is about as far away from the old quarter as we will take you on this itinerary. The pagoda is extremely photogenic in what we would consider an otherwise not particularly photogenic city. We’re not sure if everyone would agree?
The pagoda was originally built in 548 – over 1,450 years ago – on the banks of the Red River to the East. It was relocated to its current spot on a small island within Hanoi’s West lake once the river began to get a little too close for comfort.
Tran Quoc stands at 15m tall and consists of 11 levels gradually getting smaller in circumference the higher they go. A red bricked path must be followed through a canary-yellow gated entrance to reach the pagoda.
Be warned that this place is always busy but none more so than every 1st and 15th of the lunar calendar when incense is offered.
Opening Hours: 8am-4pm every day
19. Binge On Eggettes (You Won’t Be Able To Stop!)
Egg waffles or eggettes are a delicious street snack that originate out of Hong Kong but you can find in many South East Asian countries. They are ridiculously moreish (British for ‘Ok, just one more’). The danger is once you start, it’s very difficult to stop!
There’s a brilliant little place close to St. Joseph’s cathedral in the old quarter called Take Eat Easy where you can double up on trying egg coffee with an eggette together. Take Eat Easy is a simple in and out ice cream place primarily but does great coffee and egg waffles.
It’s marked on the interactive map at the end so be sure to check it out when you’re in Hanoi!
20. Relax With A Massage
We are going to assume that massages are expensive for you back home? Well, not in Vietnam. Hanoi has a wide range of massage parlors and options available. We paid US$ 10 for a one hour full body massage each. You can’t argue with exceptional value for money!
Check the interactive map for the massage pin at Wonderfoot Massage but remember there are others in Hanoi’s old quarter.
21. Close Your Eyes & Hold Your Breath At Famous Hanoi Train Street
Finally we come to what we consider the last of the best things to do on your Hanoi itinerary. Did we save the best until last? Well we saved perhaps the most popular until last thanks to the age of instagram.
There are 2 locations on google maps for Hanoi train street so take care about which one you visit.
- 5 Tran Phu – Train street North of train station is on the edge of old quarter. It is easily accessible and fits in with this Hanoi itinerary more efficiently than its alternative.
- Ngo 224 Le Duan – This option is South of the main train station. When we learned this section was much less touristy, we opted for this choice.
The latter is frustratingly far to walk but is the iconic spot where the train gets VERY close. There are only a handful of low key cafes and bars at this location compared to plenty of fairly upmarket bars and cafes at train street in the old quarter.
Both locations are pinned on the interactive map at the end of the Hanoi itinerary. It’s up to you to decide which works best for your schedule! Both have become so popular that it’s almost impossible to get a photo with no one else in it but you will have a better chance at the South site with fewer tourists.
Watch for trains passing around 3pm and 7pm. Try to make the 3pm train so you don’t have to cut into dinner.
Let’s quickly look at pros and cons to both options.
Old Quarter Train Street
Train Street South of Station
2 Days Hanoi Itinerary
Hopefully you don’t feel too overwhelmed by all of the things we have discussed above. You won’t once we put it all into this 2 days Hanoi itinerary. One of our pet peeves is reading guides that offer “100 things to do in X city” or “35 things to do in Y country” without explaining how it’s possible to feasibly do all of those things!
The following 2 day itinerary is action packed and will require 2 full days in Hanoi. It’s likely you will land the day before and have a few hours to relax and recover close to your hotel. Get up early and begin this itinerary before moving on to Sapa, Halong Bay or Ninh Binh.
Day 1 is lighter on the step count but still full of things to do. Day 2 will require a little more physical exertion and will keep you busy all day!
Hanoi Itinerary Day 1
|8am||After a hearty breakfast take a leisurely stroll around the old quarter and stop at Dream Beans Cafe for an amazing Robusta or egg coffee. Check out St. Joseph’s Cathedral on the way to Hoan Kiem lake.|
|10am||Once you arrive at the lake book your ticket for the 5.20pm puppet show (if you haven’t already booked online). Walk clockwise around to Ngoc Son pagoda and continue to half way around Hoan Kiem lake, taking stops at regular intervals to see Turtle Tower in the center.|
|11am||Walk into the heart of the French quarter stopping first to quickly look at the Opera House before heading West to enter the Vietnamese Women’s Museum.|
|1pm||A short walk to the West in the French quarter is Hoa Lo prison. A tour of the museum won’t take long.|
|2pm||Make tracks for either one of Hanoi’s train streets but plan to arrive no later 3pm. Any later and you could miss the train! Grab a late lunch and beer/wine on the way to Train Street or even at one of the cafes on site. *|
|4pm||Back to hotel to freshen up.|
|5pm||Catch the 5.20pm water puppet show you booked earlier.|
|7pm||Duong’s restaurant for an amazing dinner.|
|9pm||Beer street for a wilder night or a rooftop bar for a much more relaxing evening.|
* (Note: The more popular train street is much easier to get to at this point and has better quality cafes / bars to relax at. Also, lunch options are much greater as it is in the old quarter. The train street South of the train station is a bit of a walk out of the way and food options are limited, but it offers the more iconic photo opportunities and fewer tourists.)
Hanoi Itinerary Day 2
|8am||Start the second day early. Take either a motorbike or car Grab to Tran Quoc Pagoda. It’s a fair way up and would mean walking back on yourself otherwise. We all know that’s the worst!|
|8.30am||Have a quick look around the pagoda. Head South along the road splitting the lake. There are great photo opportunities of boats and high rise buildings reflecting on the still surface. Before you reach Bai Dinh square you will pass a huge 1900’s yellow French colonial mansion.|
|9.30am||Arrive at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and hope the line is kind to you!|
|11am||You will find One Pillar Pagoda a short walk from the mausoleum. Ho Chi Minh Museum is a few minutes walk from here for those who are interested.|
|11.30am||Head South East towards old quarter. Make your next stop at Thang Long Imperial Citadel.|
|1pm||Right next door is Hanoi’s Military History Museum and iconic flag tower.|
|2pm||Make your way back to your hotel in old quarter before 3pm.|
|3pm||Hotel pick up for Hanoi Rose Kitchen food tour & cooking class – book before arrival!|
|7.30pm||Try some eggettes for dessert after your cooking class and on the opposite side of the road finish with a relaxing massage.|
And there you have your action packed 2 day Hanoi itinerary! As long as you follow the itinerary and interactive map you will easily be able to see everything.
Now let’s take a look at our top rated places to stay in Hanoi. We’ve picked out the best hotels in each different price band. But location is key here and from experience, we know the best places to set up base.
Best Places To Stay For Your 2 Days Hanoi Itinerary
You can use the booking search engine below simply by adding your dates and checking on the best deals you can find or take a look at what we recommend below.
Note: Hanoi is a backpackers paradise. There is an enormous amount of extremely cheap hostels all over the old quarter. We are covering hotels only in our recommended list because there are so many incredibly valued hotels!
Interactive Map 2 Days Hanoi Itinerary
Use this interactive map for orientation on your Hanoi itinerary. Follow the itinerary as outlined above and plot your route using this map. Here’s a key:
Black = Transport hubs
Blue = Hotel recommendations
Maroon = Day 1 points of interest
Green = Day 2 points of interest
Be sure to read our in depth transport guide explaining your options for getting from Hanoi to Halong Bay.
How much have you budgeted for your Vietnam trip? Take a look at our 1 month Vietnam expense report to get an idea of how much you will spend.
And finally, be sure to read our top 30 key things to know about Vietnam before you visit.
Please let us know if you have any questions by commenting below. If you need help with your itinerary just ask and we will be happy to help!
Trivia: Typically, how much will a beer cost on Hanoi's beer street?
10,000 VND (US$ 0.40)
Beer street is actually a crossroads between Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen known as the Bia Hoi junction. Local vendors sell their home brewed bottled beer for as little as 10,000 VND. Safe to say it’s easy to get carried away at those prices!
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