Ultimate Hanoi Itinerary + Well-Crafted Travel Guide

Although Hanoi may not be the largest city in Vietnam, it’s the country’s capital so is a must for any Vietnam itinerary! Hanoi is located in the North of the country, while Ho Chi Minh City dominates the South. Hanoi is also one of the best places to start a trip through Vietnam.

Hanoi is famous for its incredible architecture, rich culture, and bustling Old Quarter. You won’t run out of things to do in Hanoi! Whether you’re looking to explore temples, eat delicious local food, or visit a museum – Hanoi has something for everyone!

Hanoi’s history dates back to the 3rd century BCE. Throughout the years it’s acted as the Vietnamese nation of Âu Lạc, part of Han China, the political center of Đại Việt, and the capital of French Indochina. This is why there’s such a mismatch of architecture and culture, which creates a truly interesting and mesmerizing city!

With so much to do, how can you possibly decide where to visit? Well, I’ve come up with the ultimate 3-day Hanoi itinerary to guarantee that you make the most of your trip! This article is packed with very useful information, from the best ways to get to Hanoi, the best places to stay, how to get around, how to plan your budget, and much more!

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Ultimate Hanoi itinerary

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Hanoi Itinerary Overview

With a bustling population of nearly 8 million people, Hanoi is undoubtedly one of the most chaotic cities in Vietnam. Although its population may not be as large as Ho Chi Minh, it certainly feels just as busy if not more so!

Aside from the people, you’ve also got millions of motorbikes to contend with and they aren’t just restricted to the roads I’m afraid. Many of them choose to drive on the pavement so you’ll need to keep your wits about you. This is also the case if you’re planning to cross the road as they won’t stop!

Once you’ve gotten used to the craziness of Hanoi, you’ll learn to love the city! Hanoi is full of culture and charm, and many of the places you visit will leave you in awe. Not to mention Vietnam’s capital is considered to be one of the best foodie destinations in the world!

Before you head to Hanoi, it’s best to do some research before you visit – as you would with any new destination. This Hanoi itinerary is going to go through the best attractions, places to stay, and some top tips on how to make the most of your trip.

Day 1 Hanoi Itinerary:
Explore the Old Quarter, wander around Dong Xuan Market, visit St. Joseph’s Cathedral, take a cooking class, Walk around Hoàn Kiếm Lake, and Catch a show at Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre.
Day 2 Hanoi Itinerary:
Head to the iconic Train Street, visit the Vietnam Military History Museum, explore the Temple of Literature, Head to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, and Wander around Hoa Lo Prison.
Day 3 Hanoi Itinerary:
Visit the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, admire the views from Lotte Center Hanoi, visit Long Bien Train Bridge, and end your time in Hanoi with some delicious food
Hanoi Vietnam itinerary

Hanoi Itinerary

Day 1 Hanoi Itinerary: Food, markets, and plenty of walking!

The first day of your Hanoi itinerary is going to involve you walking around the city and visiting some of the best spots! Today, you’ll get to explore markets, taste delicious food, and head to one of Hanoi’s most unique attractions.

When it’s my first day in a new place, I like to just take in all the sights and smells and learn about the local culture. I like to talk to the locals if I can, and just get an idea of what’s waiting for me on my trip!

1. Spend some time exploring the Old Quarter

The Old Quarter is one of the most famous areas in the city and it’s a must for any Hanoi itinerary! If you walk north from Hoan Kiem Lake then you’ll come to the bustling streets of this area.

What’s interesting about the Old Quarter is that it dates back over 500 years. So as you can imagine there’s a unique mix of cultures, architecture, and fusion food here! As well as being one of Hanoi’s tourist hot spots, this area is also considered to be the main business hub.

Simply wandering around the Old Quarter is one of the best things to do in Hanoi. It’s full of authentic restaurants and awesome attractions including the Hanoi Tube Houses, Hanoi Bach Ma Temple, and the Night Market.

This area is a fantastic foodie destination too so you’ll want to check out this street food tour! Your guide will take you to some of the best foodie spots in the Old Quarter where you’ll get to try a variety of local dishes. This may include rice noodle soup, traditional Vietnamese sandwiches, and steamed pancakes.

Hanoi itinerary

2. Wander around Dong Xuan Market

In the Old Quarter, you’ll find Dong Xuan Market which is the largest covered market in Hanoi! Covering an impressive area of 6,500 square meters there’s a lot to see at this market as you can imagine!

Dong Xuan Market has been around since the 1890s and today it attracts a variety of traders selling everything from food to fashion. Over the years, the market has been renovated several times, with the most recent renovation taking place in the 1990s when a fire nearly destroyed it!

There are three separate floors in Dong Xuan Market. These are generally separated into food which is found on the first floor, clothing, and other items on the second floor, with the third floor, which is home to children’s clothes and toys. All the items are relatively cheap here, but the vendors will expect you to bargain. This is generally the principle for most markets in Vietnam!

Tips for visiting Hanoi

3. Visit St Joseph’s Cathedral

St Joseph’s Cathedral is the oldest church in Hanoi and is one of the best examples of French colonial architecture in the city. Dating back to the 1880s, this cathedral has quite the history and gets its name from the patron saint of Vietnam – Joseph!

This was one of the first buildings to be built by the French colonial government. Considering its age and the wars that have taken place in Vietnam, is still in relatively good condition. This makes it a popular historical attraction and a great place to visit in Hanoi.

You can either simply admire the wonderful architecture from outside St Joseph’s Cathedral or you can head inside. If you decide to do the latter, then you’re in for a real treat as the cathedral is full of beautiful stained-glass windows, murals, and intricate arches.

Just keep in mind that you can only go inside the church at certain hours, and this will differ depending on whether there’s a ceremony on or not!

Visiting Hanoi Vietnam

4. Take a cooking class

One of the best ways to learn about a country’s culture is through food. For this reason, I’d recommend doing a cooking class wherever you go on your travels! As Hanoi is one of the best foodie destinations in Asia, you won’t have a shortage of options.

One of the most popular options is this small-group cooking class. It includes a visit to the local market, free and unlimited wine tasting, and pick-up and drop-off from the Old Quarter. You’ll also get to learn traditional recipes that you’ll be able to try once you get home!

There’s also this local cooking class that will teach you how to make Vietnamese dishes from scratch. Like the previous tour, you’ll get to visit a local market and shop for the ingredients you need before taking them back to the class. Then be prepared to make some of your best dishes yet!

Hanoi itinerary

5. Walk around Hoàn Kiếm Lake

Hoàn Kiếm is a freshwater lake that’s located in the center of Hanoi and it covers an impressive 12 hectares. It’s one of the most scenic places to visit in the city which is why it’s so popular with locals and tourists alike.

Hoàn Kiếm Lake translates to ‘Lake of the Returned Sword’ which is based on a local legend. It’s thought that heaven sent down a magic sword called ‘Heavens Will’ to help Emperor Lê Lợi protect Vietnam from Chinese invaders. Once, the Emporer won the war, it’s said that a giant golden turtle came to ask for the sword back and he dived back into the lake with it – hence the name!

There’s actually a small building in the center of the lake which is thought to be associated with this legend as it’s named ‘Turtle Tower’.

This is one of the city’s areas that comes alive in the evening. This is especially the case between Friday and Sunday as traffic is banned from 7 pm. Instead, you’ll find tons of locals having fun at this square which gives it quite the atmosphere.

Hanoi itinerary

6. Catch a show at Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre

Last but certainly not least, finish your first day of this Hanoi itinerary by catching a show at this unique place! The Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre is situated right by Hoàn Kiếm so it’s the natural place to visit after exploring the lakeside.

If you head to this puppet theatre you’ll get to witness a unique art form that has origins dating back over 1,000 years ago. However, some people believe the roots of this art form actually might be as old as the 11th century so there’s plenty of history here. Essentially, the theatre works by using large rods to make the puppets appear as if they’re moving across water.

At the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, you’ll be able to watch plays that are dedicated to ancient Vietnamese legends and myths which is really cool!

PRO-TIP: I recommend purchasing your tickets in advance for the water puppet theatre and that means you can skip the long lines, and collect your tickets quickly and easily! All the taxes, fees, and handling charges are also included if you purchase your ticket with Get Your Guide!

Best places to go in Hanoi

Day 2 Hanoi Itinerary: A day to explore the city’s most cultural and historic attractions

Start the second day of your Hanoi itinerary by heading to the city’s famous train street. You’ll then get to learn about the city’s history (and Vietnam’s for that matter) by visiting a museum, temple, mausoleum, and historic prison.

This is a day full of exploring cultural and historic attractions, and you’ll get to truly understand the history of Hanoi! There’s quite a lot to fit in for this day so make sure you get an early start!

1. Admire the iconic Train Street

Now, before I go any further it’s important to note that Hanoi’s famous Train Street has been closed by the government due to people making a nuisance of themselves on the track. You can no longer access the railway line itself and the small cafes that were once located to the side have all gone now.

That’s a real shame as you used to be able to walk along the railway, and when the trains were due to come you could watch this crazy street transform; so all the cafes would shut up shop and move their tables, and all the market stalls would magically disappear.

Although you may not be able to view the train street as you once could, this awesome motorbike tour will take you to the Train Track Cafe at the perfect time so you can witness the train coming through this famous street! You’ll also pass by Long Bien Bridge which I’ll mention later on!

Hanoi Vietnam itinerary

2. Visit the Vietnam Military History Museum

Next up on this Hanoi itinerary is the Vietnam Military History Museum! If you’ve already been to Ho Chi Minh then you’ve likely been to the War Museum and are wondering whether to leave this place off your itinerary – well, my answer would be no!

Aside from the weaponry and machines from the United States, this museum also has a large collection of French, Soviet, and Chinese equipment. In fact, some of the artifacts here date back to the Hong Bang Dynasty which took place in 2879 BC. The most recent war depicted in this museum is the border war of 1979 against Chinese invaders!

Inside the museum, you’ll get to wander through a series of rooms and see thousands of exhibits including photographs, maps, and scale models. However, one of the most important items at the Vietnam Military History Museum is the Hanoi Flag Tower.

This Flag Tower is one of Hanoi’s symbols and it’s a national historical architectural monument. It’s thought that the tower was built in 1812 and it was an observation post to the city’s Citadel. It somehow survived the wars to come which is pretty impressive!

3. Explore the Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature may not be one of the most well-known things to do in Hanoi but it’s not a place that you want to miss. It was built in 1070 so is around 950 years old which is an achievement in itself, considering the turbulent history that Vietnam has.

The Temple was built during the dynasty of Ly Thanh Tong and it became the country’s Imperial Academy. From there, it was known to be a prestigious school for the most academic students in the country, and these students would study there for up to seven years!

 The Temple of Literature is split up into five courtyards, and each one has something special to offer. If you’ve got the time, then I highly recommend exploring each one! Not only will you get to relax and admire the incredible architecture but you’ll be walking in the footsteps of ancient scholars!

Where to go in Hanoi Vietnam

4. Head to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum is one of the most popular attractions in Hanoi and it’s not hard to see why! If you’d not already guessed by the name, then this mausoleum is home to the body of Ho Chi Minh, who was the president of Vietnam between 1945-1969.

What’s crazy about this place is that Ho Chi Minh’s body is actually on display here, and it has been since the mausoleum was built in 1975. Although he clearly desired to be cremated, this wish was ignored, and instead, his body remained here for public view.

Ho Chi Minh’s body is encased in a glass casket and his remains seem to be perfectly preserved considering the time in which he died! You’ll only have a short time to see the body before your shuffled on, but it’s quite an eerie experience. Bags and cameras aren’t allowed inside so just keep that in mind!

Hanoi Vietnam itinerary

5. Wander around Hoa Lo Prison

Before we dive into this one, I’m going to warn you that visiting Hoa Lo Prison isn’t for the faint of heart. This prison was used to house American Prisoners of War, and it’s a difficult place to visit.

Hoa Lo Prison used to be nicknamed the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ ironically, but ‘Hoa Lo’ means’ ‘stove’ or ‘furnace’. As you might have guessed by the name, there are records of American pilots being incinerated at this prison during the war.

The prison was originally built to hold around 450 inmates. However, during the war, it’s thought that around 2000 prisoners were kept there – many of which were POWs. Conditions were notoriously bad during this time, and upon your visit, you’ll get to see a variety of photos, artifacts, and of course – the cell blocks.

You don’t need to be part of a tour to explore the prison as it’s entirely self-guided. This means you can take your time and learn about everything that happened here.

Best places to visit in Hanoi

Day 3 Hanoi Itinerary: A relaxing day to end your trip full of culture, sights, and food

On the last day of your Hanoi itinerary, why not have more of a relaxed day? Head to the Museum of Ethnology to learn more about the city, and then take the lift up to the Lotte Center Observation Deck to admire the epic views of Hanoi.

You’ve then got the option to visit one of the city’s famous railway bridges before ending your time in Hanoi with plenty of delicious food!

1. Visit the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology

The Vietnam Museum of Ethnology is one of the best places to visit in Hanoi. It’s the place to go if you’re looking to learn about the country’s history and ethnic groups; of which there are many!

The museum covers an impressive area of around 4 hectares and there are three main exhibition areas to explore. As you wander through you’ll get to learn about over 50 ethnic groups through a variety of displays, tribal art, and artifacts. You’ll even get to see examples of traditional houses that can be found in the villages.

Not only will you get to learn so much, but the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology is extremely cheap. Prices for an adult are around 40,000 VND ($1.70) but this will increase if you’d prefer to pay for a guide. The displays are well-presented in three different languages (Vietnamese, English & French), so it’s up to you whether you wish to pay extra for the guide.

2. Admire the views from Lotte Center Hanoi

Hanoi is an impressive city and to get the best views, you’ll want to head to Lotte Center. Here, you’ll find the Lotte Observation Deck which is located on the 65th floor of the tower. Standing at around 250m high, you’ll be treated to amazing views of the city from every angle!

Once you’ve taken the elevator up to the observation deck, there are two main areas. One section has a glass floor which is quite unnerving to stand on, but it’s definitely worth the experience.

The key thing to note with this attraction is that you’ll have to time your visit well. Hanoi is often referred to as the most polluted city in Vietnam, so naturally, you’ll encounter a lot of smog during your time here. If you head up to the observation deck when the city is covered in this fog, you’re unlikely to see anything at all.

3. Visit Long Bien Train Bridge

Next up on this Hanoi itinerary is Long Bien Train Bridge! It was the first steel bridge to be constructed in the city and was built between 1899-1902 by the French. Originally the bridge was named after a governor-general in Indochina, but it was renamed after Vietnam gained its independence.

During the war with the United States, Long Bien Bridge was bombed fourteen times so it took on considerable damage. This was due to its position as it connected the two largest cities in North Vietnam. For this reason, most of its spans have been destroyed but you can still admire the ones that remain.

Trains still run over Long Bien Train Bridge but you can walk onto the bridge from the railway line. Many people choose to walk onto the tracks to explore. However, if you’re doing this you’ll need to be aware of the upcoming train times.

Hanoi itinerary

4. End your time in Hanoi with some delicious food

Last but certainly not least, to end your trip to Hanoi you’ll want to spend some time tasting the delicious food. This chaotic city is famous for its food, and there are a couple of dishes that you need to try! Here are a couple of my recommendations:

  • Banh Mi – a Vietnamese Baguette where you can often choose the fillings yourself
  • Pho Bo – beef noodle soup
  • Bun Cha – noodles with grilled pork
  • Banh Cuon – rice noodle bowls
  • Don’t forget about Caphetrung either – egg coffee!

There’s a lot of delicious food on offer and plenty of fantastic restaurants in the city. Some of the best options include Hong Hoai’s Restaurant, Bun Cha Ta Hanoi, Bách Phương Restaurant – Bún Bò Nam Bộ, and Essence Restaurant.

If you’d prefer a guided tour rather than enjoying the delicacies yourself then why not check out this food lovers’ walking tour or this small-group food tour? Both will take you to some of the best foodie spots in the city!

Planning Your Trip to Hanoi

Arriving in Hanoi

If you’re arriving in Hanoi by air then you’ll fly into Noi Bai International Airport. This is the largest airport in Northern Vietnam. It’s around 27 km from the city, and the journey takes around 35-40 minutes by car.

The cheapest way to reach the city center is by catching the Hanoi Airport public bus. Numbers 7 and 17 connect the airport and the city center, and the bus stop is on the right side of the exit terminal. The services tend to run every 15-20 minutes but they only run between 5 am – 10 pm.

You can also grab a taxi from the airport but just be cautious of the prices!

If you’d prefer to have your transport organized in advance then you can book a private transfer. This way, you won’t have the hassle of finding a way to the city – especially if you’ve had a long flight!

Where to Stay in Hanoi

There are plenty of great areas in Hanoi but if you’re looking to stay central and be close to the main attractions, then you’ll want to find somewhere in the Old Quarter.

Not only will you find plenty of food options nearby, but you can reach many of the popular spots on foot. This will save you money on transport, and time so you can fit more in during your stay! Here are a couple of recommendations:

Best place to stay in Hanoi

TOP OVERALL PICK: Bendecir Hotel & Spa

Rated: 9.2 Superb

Bendecir Hotel & Spa is one of the most beautiful hotels in Hanoi and yet its rooms are very reasonably priced! Not only that, but you’ll have access to endless facilities including a shared lounge, restaurant, bar, and concierge service.

Best place to stay in Hanoi

BUDGET: Hanoi City Backpackers Hostel

Rated: 8.5 Very Good

If you’re looking for a cheap stay in Hanoi then you need to check out Hanoi City Backpackers Hostel. Here, you can choose between dorm beds and private rooms so there’s something for every budget. You’ll also get your breakfast included!

Hanoi Vietnam hotel

MID-RANGE: Golden Sun Hotel

Rated: 9.2 Superb

Golden Sun Hotel is just a short walk from St. Joseph Cathedral so it’s in a great location for exploring the city. Boasting a shared lounge, a terrace area, an on-site spa, and a restaurant, this place has so much to offer.

Where to stay in Hanoi

LUXURY: Peridot Grand Luxury Boutique Hotel

Rated: 9.5 Exceptional

For a luxury getaway, you’ll want to check out Peridot Grand Luxury Boutique Hotel. If you decide to stay here, you’ll benefit from a rooftop terrace and pool, two on-site restaurants, three bars, and a spa!

Best Tours in Hanoi

There are plenty of fantastic things to do in Hanoi and many of them you can reach simply by walking around. Of them, you can book the tickets in advance, which you may want to do if you’re visiting the city during peak season.

To see the best of the city, you’ve also got the choice of taking a city tour. This means you won’t have to organize the transport yourself and you can simply enjoy your day. Here are some of the best options:

Estimated Price for this Hanoi Itinerary

Although Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam it’s still extremely affordable. Everything from accommodation to food in this city is very cheap, so you won’t have to worry about being on a tight budget.

You also won’t need to cook your own meals whilst visiting Hanoi as you can get hearty meals for $1-2!

An estimated cost for this Hanoi itinerary including food and drink, accommodation, entrance fees, and transport would be around $310 for two people. That’s great value for money if you ask me!

TYPE OF EXPENSESPRICE (for 2 people/ 3 days)
Food and DrinkUS$80
Entrance Fee and Day ToursUS$120
Taxi (from and to the airport)US$15

Best time to Visit Hanoi

Generally, the best time to visit Hanoi is between October – April although Autumn and Spring tend to be the most popular. Autumn falls between September to November while March to April is considered Spring.

This is when the weather is at its best but you’ll want to consider where else you’re visiting in Vietnam. The seasons differ depending on whether you’re in the North or South so if you’re planning a cross-country trip you’ll need to compromise!

The rainy season hits Hanoi between May and September, and during this time you’re likely to encounter a lot of rain! This means that technically, Northern Vietnam encounters its rainy season during the summer.

That means you’ll experience lots of rainfall paired with extremely humid and hot temperatures (sometimes up to 104°F/40°C). Unfortunately, that often leads to thunderstorms and tropical storms so just keep that in mind.

Hanoi Vietnam itinerary

What to pack for your Hanoi itinerary

  • A travel backpack bag for a change of clothes
  • Dry-fit clothes and layers are also a great idea
  • Some warm clothing is needed as the mornings and nights can be quite cool
  • Comfortable shoes
  • Summer dress
  • A pair of jeans
  • A rain jacket is a must any time of the year
  • Hiking pants
  • Extra socks, hat, underwear, and swimsuit if you plan to swim in the waterfall
  • Toiletry, toilet paper, and mirror
  • Personal items such as medication, flashlight, sunscreen, insect repellent, and wipes
  • Some snacks and a water purifier bottle

More Tips to Visit Hanoi

  • The traffic in Hanoi can get pretty crazy and scooters will often jump on the pavement to avoid the traffic. Just watch where you’re walking, and keep an eye out for any rogue drivers!
  • When trying some street food in Hanoi, just be cautious about where you choose to eat. Have a look at the stall and see if there are lots of locals already there – this will let you know whether the food is good! If you’re eating meat then I’d recommend choosing somewhere that will cook your food in front of you.
  • Although this is a general rule in Southeast Asia in general, I’m going to reiterate it here. Whatever you do, make sure you don’t drink tap water. If you do, there’s a very high chance that you’ll get sick and that will ruin your trip.
  • Like in Ho Chi Minh, haggling is a common practice here in Hanoi. Just make sure you check around for prices before you buy, and bargain the price down to something that you’re willing to pay!
  • Although Vietnam is generally a very safe country, pickpocketing is known to occur in the big cities including Hanoi. Keep your belongings close to you, especially in popular and crowded tourist areas, and don’t flash your valuables.
  • If Hanoi is your first stop in Vietnam (which it is for many people) then getting your head around the cash can be overwhelming. Exchange rates fluctuate but $1 equates to around 23,000 Vietnamese Dong (VND) so you’ll have a lot of notes! Take a bit of time to just work out what’s what and you’ll feel much better when it comes to haggling and paying for food/transport.
Hanoi Vietnam Itinerary

Hanoi Itinerary Conclusion

As you’ve probably guessed by now, you won’t run out of places and activities to include on your 3-day Hanoi itinerary! Whether you’re looking to take a cooking class, visit a military museum, or wander around the markets, there’s something for every type of traveler.

Hanoi offers a mismatch of cultures due to its unique history, and this comes across in the food, architecture, and attractions. It’s a truly wonderful city, and to experience the best of it, I’d recommend spending at least three days here!

Just to mention, many people ever love or hate Hanoi (or, equally a bit of both) but in my opinion, no trip to Vietnam is complete without visiting this amazing city.

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