Welcome to my Hanoi itinerary! After writing 5,000 words on Hanoi food and coffee alone, it’s clear I have A LOT to say about Vietnam’s capital.
If it’s your first time and you’re keen to suss out the top things to do during 3 days in Hanoi, as well as the best eats, coffees, hotels, hostels and day trips, keep reading.
HANOI ESSENTIALSE-sim data planCopy of Lonely Planet VietnamCheck visas requirements: iVisaGetting there: flight (Kayak) / train / bus 12GoAsiaPre-book your Hanoi airport to city transferAccommodation: Booking.com // HostelworldTours: GetYourGuide
Essential reading: 101 Southeast Asia travel tips
How long to spend in Hanoi?
I’ll never tire of Hanoi. Teaming with scooters, reaching to the skies and bubbling with life, noise and street food, it’s one of the most interesting and overwhelming cities I know, and a must for your Asia bucket list.It’s not a place that could leave you without an opinion. Love it or hate, you’ll remember it forever while it won’t stop to remember your name. Like a bucking bronco, you’ll either enjoy the ride or it’ll send you flying (literally – I’ve narrowly escaped too many scooters collisions!)I want to spend forever but the average visitor spends around 3 days in Hanoi often as part of a bigger Southeast Asia itinerary. There are plenty of museums and cool neighbourhoods so 2 days would be tight.
While you might want to spend 4 or even 5 days exploring quirky corners in the Old Quarter, you’ll also want to explore other parts of Northern Vietnam. For that reason, 3 days in Hanoi is optimum.
Related read: The ultimate 2 week Vietnam itinerary & my Northern Vietnam itinerary
Where to stay in Hanoi
There are so many places to stay during 3 days in Hanoi that you’ll be spoiled for choice. Obviously, the Old Quarter is the best for convenience and local life, but I also liked staying above quirky Hanoi Train Street. A couple of my favourite places to stay in Hanoi include the following.
- Nexy Hostel – this comfy hostel in central Hanoi has comfy bunks with privacy curtains, a roof terrace, cafe and games room. The private rooms are gorgeous with unique Hanoi wall murals. A great option if you want to meet others and use the social areas but want somewhere private to relax, too.
3 day Hanoi itinerary
Let’s get stuck straight in with my itinerary for Hanoi. Afterwards, I’ll run through how to get around, where to stay and what to eat. Let’s go…
Hanoi itinerary day 1 – Old Quarter & Hoan Kiem Lake
The description above about bucking broncos and scooter collisions? Pretty much about Hanoi’s Old Quarter.For such a busy and hectic place, there’s buckets of charm. From steaming cups of coffee to hidden temples, you’ll find quirky corners once then never see them again. A hundred people could go wandering and have totally different experiences. It’s a wonderland out there!
Did you know many of the streets in the Old Quarter are named after what they used to sell (and in many cases still do)? Hàng Bạc was once the area of silversmiths and is now packed with jewellery shops, while Han Gai is famed for its silk and tailoring, and Lan Ong sells medicinal products. Have a wander around – it’s busy but a lot of fun.
Breakfast – banh cuon
Begin your 3 days in Hanoi with a local breakfast. My favourite Hanoian breakfast dish is banh cuon.
Steamed rice batter is wrapped around a mix of pork and wood ear mushrooms and served with chilli, and fish sauce to dip, as well as a generous handful of herbs. In the Old Quarter, you’ll find banh cuon cooked fresh on hot plates at modest restaurants and street stalls for around 30k VND.
Pull up a little red stool and dig in!
Related activity: small group Hanoi street food tour by foot or private tour with cyclo driver
Coffee in the Old Quarter
If you’re the kind of person that can’t function without coffee, you’re reading the right Hanoi itinerary. Check out my guide to the best cafes in Hanoi, a topic I worked selflessly and tirelessly to research 😉In the Old Quarter, I’d recommend Loading T coffee shop set inside a repurposed French mansion and Cafe Dinh, a hidden-away cafe serving egg coffee, the most famous Hanoian beverage. This cafe is a mission to find so find it in my guide to the best egg coffee in Hanoi.
Real coffee fanatics can take a coffee tour with a local guide ($26).
Other things to do in the Old Quarter– Wander the various old guild streets and try to work out what they’re famous for.– Go for a cheap beauty treatment. Massages in Hanoi are so cheap and amazing!– Shopping! You can buy souvenirs here from gorgeous painted coconut shell bowls to silk scarves, decorated notebooks and clothing. Don’t forget to haggle.– Head inside pretty Bach Ma Temple, the oldest Buddhist temple in the city.
– Admire Joseph’s Cathedral, a neo-gothic cathedral and place of worship for 4 million catholic Vietnamese people (who knew?)
The French Quarter
Hanoi’s French Quarter is a picture of colonial grandeur. With oh-so-Asian scooters buzzing by, it’s a bizarre and intriguing sight to see.
Don’t forget to gawp at the sunny yellow Opera House, or even come back later in the evening for a Cirque du Soleil-style show with talented local performers. Pay 600k a ticket.
Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem is a must for your Hanoi itinerary
Hoan Kiem Lake is the beating heart of Hanoi. Every day (and especially at weekends), locals come to the shores to chat, exercise and relax. They pounce on you in the friendliest way possible, keen to practice their English and check you’re having a great time.Nestled in the centre of Hoan Kiem is the Turtle Tower, a poignant landmark for the Vietnamese.
Its history is part fact and part myth, dating back to the days of Chinese rule and the fight for Vietnamese independence. Leader, Le Loi, was paramount in the bloody war and was said to have been handed a magic sword from an underwater dragon king which helped him defeat the enemy.
Later, it was taken by a turtle who swum it to the bottom of what subsequently translates as the ‘Lake of the Restored Sword’. Real-life turtles genuinely do appear in the lake today, much to everyone’s excitement.Don’t miss Hanoi’s most visited Temple, Ngoc Son, is on an island in Hoan Kiem Lake. Cross the pretty red bridge to reach it and admire views across to the Turtle Tower.
Useful info: Entrance is 30,000 VND and opening times are 8am-6pm.
Bun cha, one of my favourite Hanoian dishes
If you’re hungry again and want to sample more food in the Old Quarter, I would suggest bun cha or banh mi. Bun cha is my favourite Vietnamese dish, smoky pork balls bathed in a tangy broth with veggies and a side of rice noodles to dip. You can order it with ‘nem’ which are crispy, meat-filled spring rolls to dunk. Eat it at Bun Cha Nem at 6 Ngõ Trạm Street.Banh mi is a globally famous dish that can be tried at Banh Mi 25, a touristy joint that deserves the hype. From meaty baguettes to mushroom and tofu, there’s something for everyone, plus it’s cheap as chips. Just order two… no, scrap that, five!
Check out my guides to Hanoi street food and finding the best banh mi in Vietnam.
Afternoon – Temple of Literature
My favourite temple while visiting Hanoi was the Temple of Literature. This is the site of Vietnam’s oldest university – it even features on the 100k banknote.
It became a university 1,000 years ago and has survived various wars and disasters. Early graduates had their names engraved on a stone which can still be seen today. The Temple of Literature (local name, Van Mieu Mon) is a beautiful, chilled place to spend a couple of hours. Entry is 30k VND.
Evening – Water Puppet Show
If watching shows is your thing, may I recommend the Water Puppet Theatre. If you like having a clue what’s going on, may I recommend avoiding the Water Puppet Theatre.
Originally a show for local children, this is now a tourist favourite that many people will ensure you is a must for 3 days in Hanoi. You probably won’t follow the plot (is there a plot?) but it’s a bit of a novelty if you’ve got time on your hands while visiting Hanoi. You can buy tickets for the 50-minute show on the door or online for $9. It’s right beside Hoan Kiem Lake.
Hanoi Night Market
If you’re visiting on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, you can check out Hanoi Night Market which can be found in the heart of the Old Quarter. As well as street food from Vietnamese to Korean and fresh smoothies and juices, it’s one of the best places to shop for crafts, arts and souvenirs.
Bia Hoi Junction
Shuttershock / Sitthipong Pengjan
Essential to any Hanoi itinerary is a trip to Bia Hoi Junction at the corner of Ta Hien and Lương Ngoc Quye. Locals and tourists alike flood the streets, perched on red stools and sipping pints of bia hoi, otherwise known as fresh beer.
This local drink is brewed on site but don’t think that makes it any weaker – a few too many pints will give you a very sore head the next day. It will definitely be worth it for an evening at Bia Hoi Junction especially as a pint can set you back as little as 5k VND (that’s 17p to Brits!).
Hanoi itinerary – day 2
Provided you didn’t drink too much beer hoi the night before, we’ve got a day of culture and cool neighbourhoods coming up.
Morning – Hanoi museums
The Women’s Museum: this is one of my all-time favourites, telling the story of Vietnamese women from the issues they face to their successes and bravery throughout Vietnamese history. You could easily spend a half-day as there’s plenty to see. Entrance is 30k VND and the museum can be found near the Old Quarter.Hoa Lo Prison: this is another important stop during three days in Hanoi. It’s where political prisoners were kept during French rule and US prisoners were kept during the war between Vietnam and America. During this second period, it became nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton despite its bleak living conditions.
While this museum has a dark history, it’s important in understanding Vietnam’s most important political events. You can visit from 8am-5pm seven days a week (apart from a lunch break from 11.30am to 1.30pm daily). Entrance is 30k VND.
Afternoon – Truc Bach and Tay Ho
Floating cafe on Truc Bach Lake
I’d suggest leaving the Old Quarter behind and continuing your Hanoi itinerary to an area called Truc Bach. This ties in well with a tasty lunch because Truc Bach is famous for one specific Hanoian speciality.Set beside Truc Bach Lake, the commercialised corner of the neighbourhood is home to a giant floating Highlands Coffee boat where you can sip cold drinks or hire a swan pedalo to cruise around the lake.
Alternatively, pay a visit to the much less touristy side where a relaxed community resides on Truc Bach island. Not only can you see how the locals live but you can head to Phở Cuốn Hương Mai restaurant known for serving pho cuon, tasty rice batter rolls filled with pork and served with chilli, lime and fish sauce to dip.
You can also try pho chien phong, deep-fried rice batter served with meat and veggies. This no-frills restaurant is busy and authentic: the real deal!
After lunch, you can use my Truc Bach guide to explore the neighbourhood. The best thing to do nearby is check out Tran Quoc Pagoda, the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi known for its lakeside views and sunny yellow pagodas. It’s free to visit.
Other things to do in Truc Bach:
- Wander over the ornate bridge to pretty Đền Thủy Trung Tiên, also known as the Temple of the Dog.
- Sample tasty and affordable food at State-Run Foodshop Number 37, a ration-themed restaurant with quirky military memorabilia on the walls.
- Look out over the lake where US senator John McCain crashed his plane during the war with the US.
- Visit cute cafes like Lang Thang Coffee & More.
West Lake / Tay Ho
For the late afternoon, head to West Lake, the biggest lake in Hanoi with a 17km shore length. Sunset from the banks is a reason to visit alone. West Lake translates into Vietnamese as Tay Ho which is the name of the district beside it. This is where most of the Westerners who work as English teachers live. It might not sound highly cultural but an influx of stylish bars, cafes and restaurants have sprung up as a result.My favourite is Maison de Tet Decor which is a coffee shop and restaurant in a giant yellow repurposed mansion with gorgeous lake views. You can have a coffee or beer looking out over the lake for the perfect end to the day. I wouldn’t blame you for returning the following morning for a delicious brunch.
For dinner, I hear great things about Bao Wow with its Instagrammable ‘I licked it so it’s mine’ sign. As well as great Asian food with plentiful veggie options, they stay open late and turn into a bar.
Hanoi itinerary – day 3
For your final day in Hanoi, I would suggest checking out the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and a few other attractions nearby. Despite being a bit morbid, the body of the first Communist leader of Vietnam preserved in a glass case is an iconic site in Hanoi. Visit for just 10k VND from Tuesday-Thursday and Saturday-Sunday.While in the area, you can swing by One Pillar Pagoda. This isn’t the most impressive temple in Hanoi in my opinion but entrance is free and it doesn’t take long to walk the grounds and ponder how the pagoda stays upright with just one leg.
From Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and One Pillar Pagoda, you’re nearby another of my favourite areas in Hanoi…
This neighbourhood may be little-known to tourists but it’s well worth a visit. The sleepy old-fashioned flower neighbourhood is one of the oldest in Hanoi, dating back 1,000 years.
It doesn’t take long to explore so I’d recommend spending an hour or two wandering the streets and checking out local life, using my Ngoc Ha guide for further info.
Final night – explore the bars
The Hanoi nightlife scene has a bit of everything from smoky, grimy clubs to fancy bars and local beer streets. You’ll notice that everything officially gets shut down by the police at midnight but there’s usually a way around this.
People initiate lock-ins, plus outdoor clubs spring up at weekends just a few out of miles out of town. Be sure to check out:
Polite & Co
Hanoi’s most stylish bar is without a doubt Polite & Co. With a speakeasy theme, it’s quirky from the offset and boasts a range of creative and unusual cocktails. The ‘around the world’ menu offers coffee cocktails from Ethiopia, chai-infused Indian options and maple syrup liquors from Canada.
We opted for Vietnamese classics. Mine was flavoured with sticky rice and ice cream while my friend Lola’s stole the show and wore a mini rice hat.
Ne Bar has all your usual cocktails as well as some you’ll need to dare your friends into trying. Following a strong drink at Polite & Co, I was coerced into drinking both a pho cocktail and a fish sauce cocktail.Despite sounding bizarre, both were refreshingly aromatic: icy cold flavoured with chilli and lime. I’d forgive you for sticking to a mojito though.
Looking for a fun evening excursion? Take a cocktail-making class with Viator. Their tours are always great1
Other things to do in Hanoi
Since I’ve spent much longer than 3 days in Hanoi, I have a few other favourite corners. If you have extra time or don’t fancy something mentioned above, for example admiring the embalmed body of a communist leader, swap any of these into your itinerary for Hanoi.
Check out my guide to all the best Hanoi hidden gems.
Take a craft class
From ceramics to cooking and even knife making, there are loads of ways to get engrossed in traditional professions while visiting Hanoi. One of my favourite afternoons was spent at a watercolour painting class where I got to unleash my creative side (which admittedly didn’t go very well due to my lack of talent) and take home the most beautiful piece of artwork that my instructor had painted himself.
Browse craft classes in Hanoi.
Take a cooking class
To try your hand at making the local cuisine, a cooking class is a fun option. Several tour companies will pick you up at your accommodation, take you shopping at the local market, then help you prepare a meal in ambient settings. Book a cooking class from $40.
Long Bein Morning Market
For a cultural but quite gritty and exhausting experience, set your alarm for 4.30am and head to Long Bein Market beside the bridge of the same name. This is where local traders sell fresh goods so that restaurant staff can have them cooked and on the table by the opening time of 9am. I woke up at 4.30am and called a Grab scooter to spend an hour walking around in flip flops getting very muddy and almost having my feet run over by in the bustling market. If you’re keen to see the real Hanoi, this is it.
You can also see the colourful 6km Hanoi Mosaic Wall running along outside when the sun comes up.
Dong Xuan Market
While lots of tourists visit Dong Xuan Market, it’s big and busy enough that it remains a local experience and an insight into hectic Hanoi. If you don’t fancy waking up at the crack of dawn for Long Bein Morning Market, this is your best bet.
Grab your camera and explore the indoor and outdoor sections overflowing with fruit, spices, drying squid and many other items you’d rather admire than actually buy.
The Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
Focussing on the 54 ethnic minorities in Vietnam, this museum aims to preserve their cultural heritage by showcasing their cultures, regions and practices. The site is massive – as well as your usual clothing and artefacts, you can see and full-size homes in the grounds, and visit a whole exhibition on water puppet theatre. Entrance is 40k VND.
How to get around Hanoi
It’s easy to explore the whole Old Quarter by foot, you’ll rarely have to take any form of transport.For heading further afield to Truc Bach, Tay Ho and Ngoc Ha, the quickest and cheapest option is to take a Grab scooter, the Asian version of Uber but on scooters. Call one on the app and within 2 minutes, a driver will whiz up with a spare helmet for you and you’ll jump on the back.You can also order cars but, given hectic Hanoi traffic, scooters are by far the quickest option. If there’s two of you, I’d suggest ordering separate Grab scooters. When you’re coming from the airport, you’ll obviously need a car for your luggage.Some expats in Hanoi hire or buy their own scooter but I wouldn’t recommend this unless you’re a real pro. The traffic is so hectic that it could be dangerous.
Local buses also run and the routes are mostly marked on Google Maps. These cost practically pennies!
Day trips from Hanoi
With so many things to do in Hanoi, I don’t see how anyone could ever get bored. If you have a fourth day to add to your Hanoi itinerary, I would highly recommend…
The best day trip from Hanoi is Ninh Binh, a gorgeous countryside region just a two-hour drive away. Actually, I’d recommend catching a bus and staying overnight but if you’re tight on time, $48 will get you a fun and all-inclusive return day trip.
The popular attractions in Ninh Binh are the Tam Coc cliffs and boat rides, as well as the numerous temples in the countryside. Read about how to plan a Ninh Binh day trip here.
The Perfume Pagoda
Also known as the Huong Pagoda, this stop is a series of Buddhist shrines and temples set into the mountains. It takes around two hours to reach from Hanoi and most visitors arrive via a day tour. I’ve never been myself as some people say it’s a bit of a tourist trap but I’ll leave you to make your own decision.
Bat Trang Pottery Village
Porcelain pottery has been made in Hanoi for seven centuries and provides a livelihood for countless residents. A visit to Bat Trang allows you to shop for souvenirs and visit the factory to learn about the rich history of Hanoi handicrafts. Take a day trip from Hanoi and arrive via a tour, local bus or taxi.
Hanoi is a fantastic launching point for some of Vietnam’s most incredible attractions. To best explore, check out my Northern Vietnam itinerary. Must-see spots include…
Ha Long Bay
If you do one thing outside of Hanoi, make sure it’s Ha Long Bay. I’ve now been twice and I’d love to do it all again. Book a tour in any Hanoi agency and you’ll get picked up and driven to the harbour where you’ll board a cruise. The itinerary will include caves, kayaking and climbing viewpoints.Some people manage to do Ha Long Bay as a day trip though as it’s a three-hour drive each way that sounds pretty tiresome. I’d recommend taking a two-night cruise with the second night on Cat Ba Island. On the way to Cat Ba, you make it further into the bay (past the busy, touristic mouth) and see more local life.
Browse GetYourGuide’s overnight Hanoi cruises including meals, kayaking and guides.
Magical little Sapa is a misty hilltown I had the pleasure of visiting for the first time recently. The main activity is trekking the rice terraces with a local guide who will take you to some of the most picturesque spots.The highlight for me was meeting the minority hill tribes who have their own unique languages and forms of traditional dress.
Like Ha Long Bay, you can see Sapa in a short period of time if necessary. You can take a sleeper train from Hanoi, stay in Sapa Town and explore independently, or take a multi-day tour. Browse tours in any Old Quarter travel agency or book in advance. I took this 3 day tour with a homestay or you can opt for a hotel stay instead.
Going down the coast?
Many people visit Hanoi at the beginning of their Vietnam trip. Once your 3 days in Hanoi are up, use my Vietnam travel itinerary to plan your trip. There’s so much to see and do in Vietnam so I’d recommend at least a month if you have time.
Spending time in other SE Asian countries? Read my 3 month Southeast Asia itinerary