So, think you’re ready for the sights, smells, sounds, and general, frenetic chaos that you’ll encounter during your 2 days in Hanoi?
You go, Glen Coco!
But, on a slightly more serious note, if you’re wondering what to do in Hanoi (and, since you’re here, I’m assuming that you are) then you’ve come to the right place.
Fond though I am of corny jokes, I’m even crazier about helping travelers, such as your fine self, find super cool things to do while they’re away from home.
To help you make the most out your time in this charming capital city, I’ve created this epic, 2 day Hanoi itinerary.
Hanoi is full of museums and temples and yes, you’ve definitely gotta see them while you’re there.
This incredible city is also home to some of the cheapest beer in the world!
You’ll definitely need to get your DRANK on while you’re here and experience the pure joy of drunkenly swaying back and forth atop one of Hanoi’s infamous, red plastic stools (more on that later).
Which is totally fitting since Hanoi is a uniquely wonderful city that is filled with a ton of awesomely unusual things to do.
You don’t want to become a total tourist cliche during your 2 days in Hanoi, do you?
Phew, glad we agree on that.
Without further ado, let’s get down and dirty with this wonderful Hanoi 2 day itinerary and say ‘Xin chao!’ to Hanoi (FYI: Xin Chao means hello in Vietnamese).
Since I am incapable of making it rain money, there’s a high chance that this post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure for more information. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.
***Not sure where to stay while in Hanoi? Then try Silk Path Boutique Hotel (Modern rooms at this boutique hotel in Hanoi’s Old Quarter start at $60 per night and include impeccable service, as well as stunning views from the hotel’s rooftop bar), Essence Hanoi Hotel and Spa (This little boutique hotel in Hanoi’s Old Quarter is close to many of Hanoi’s top attractions and offers quiet, intimate rooms that start at $47 per night. The restaurant here is also REALLY good), and Maison d’Orient Hotel (Nestled away at the end of a quiet alley in the Old Quarter, cozy rooms here start at $29 per night and feature eclectic furniture, funky mosaic tiles, and vintage prints. There is also a communal open-air terrace that serves as a fantastic dining area).***
Day 1 of Your Hanoi Itinerary
Alright, day one, here we go.
Before we get started though, I gotta be honest with ya.
Hanoi is a super walkable city, but man is Vietnamese traffic crazy.
And I mean, CRAZY.
Bikes will literally be flying at you left, right, and center. And no, you’re not safe on the pavement.
Crossing the road in Hanoi can seem downright terrifying.
But, there’s a trick to it.
Just slowly and deliberately walk out into the road, waving your hand a little, and, as if by magic, the bikes will instantly begin to drive around you.
Sounds insane, right?
It kind of is. But you’re just gonna have to trust me on this one.
If you’ve only got 2 days in Hanoi you definitely don’t want to spend them panicked by the side of the road, curled up in the fetal position, silently rocking back and forth.
Yeah, not a good look.
Also, be sure to download Grab before your trip! It’s this awesome ride-hailing app that will make getting around a lot easier.
Okay, now let’s really start Day 1 off right with a big old, Good morning Vietnam!
Sorry. I had to say it.
But, in the immortal words of over a million Pinterest users, “but first, coffee” and BOY are you caffeine lovers in for a treat!
Vietnamese coffee is insanely delicious and it will give you boundless energy for the duration of this Hanoi 2 day itinerary.
They don’t call it ‘rocket fuel’ for nothing!
If you’re looking for your first caffeine fix of the day, then mosey on over to Hanoi Coffee Station near Hoan Kiem Lake for a cheap, vegetarian-friendly (if you’re so inclined) breakfast.
They have a ton of great stuff here but I personally love their avocado toast with poached eggs.
Because yes, I’m all about an uber bougie breakfast.
Feel free to pair this epic breakfast with a delicious cup of ca phe sua da (AKA Vietnamese iced coffee) if you really wanna start your day off right.
And If you’re feeling SUPER adventurous, definitely try their signature peanut butter coffee.
Okay, now that your tummy is feeling fabulously full, walk down to Hoan Kiem Lake.
Known as the cultural epicenter of the city, Hoan Kiem Lake is surrounded by a variety of snack vendors (on the off chance you managed not to overindulge at breakfast), entertainers, and locals enjoying leisurely strolls around the lake.
This is also the spot where Emperor Ly Thai Tho received a magical sword sent from heaven, which he then used to drive Chinese invaders out of Vietnam.
After his victory:
A giant, golden turtle came out of the lake and took the sword back from the Emperor to return it to the big boys upstairs since it was only on loan, as it turns out.
And while your time here probably won’t involve a magical sword from heaven:
Definitely take some time to walk around and enjoy the serene beauty of this beautiful place.
You are not allowed to leave without snapping a few photos of the iconic Thap Rua (AKA the Turtle Tower) for abject Instagram posterity and immortality.
Built in 1886:
This ramshackle tower sits on an island in the center of the lake and is topped with a red star that has now become the symbol of Hanoi.
Feel free to be duly impressed by my vast wealth of knowledge. LOL
Cross over the red bridge and visit the enormous, Nuoc Son Pagoda that is all the way at the other end of the lake.
And yes, we are totally going inside.
Pick up an overcoat along the way, at least if you’re scantily clad, and head into this pagoda/Buddhist Temple.
You’ll experience the ethereal beauty of one of Vietnam’s oldest pagodas.
Sure, the pagoda looks shiny and new and utterly pristine with it’s clean, orange bricks, but looks can be deceiving.
One stela along the interior dates all the way back to 1639 and tells a long and sorted tale about the origins of this historic site.
Take some time to enjoy the relative peace and quiet of this amazing place.
Be sure to say ‘hey’ to the ‘grandfather turtle’ statue inside for me.
Because yeah, that turtle is kind of sort of a big deal.
Now that we have our first Vietnamese temple out of the way, let’s explore Hanoi’s iconic Old Quarter, in all its rustic glory.
When you’re ready:
Head up Hang Dao street, just opposite the pagoda, and marvel at the French colonial architecture and decadently delicious street food all around you.
Hanoi’s Old Quarter just oozes charm at every turn.
And just when you think it can’t get any better…it does.
Without a doubt:
One of the absolute coolest things about this area are the themed streets everywhere.
You have shoe street, underwear street, and even a meat street (spoiler alert: it smells foul and is kind of gross)
Pretty cool right?
Spend an hour or two getting lost in this maze-like web of alleyways and score yourself some bargain goods.
And while you’re shopping:
Don’t forget to break out your wicked awesome haggling skills since that is definitely the norm here.
We’d be here all day if I gave a detailed description of every must-see street here (which is ok by me but I’m sure you have much more important things to do with your time).
Whatever you do, do not leave without visiting Flower street (AKA Hong Hoa Tham).
Commonly known as the prettiest street in Hanoi:
This must-see lane is brimming over with vendors that sell everything from floral bouquets to goldfish to birds to kids’ toys.
A totally eclectic, but truly glorious, multi-colored emporium of goodies!
After taking in all the allergy-inducing sights and sounds of flower street, let’s step back in time and visit some of the heartbreaking vestiges of Vietnam’s not-so-distant past.
Because unless you’ve been living under a rock your entire like, then you’ll know that the Vietnam War was one of the most important events of the entire 20th century.
A visit to the remnants of Hoa Lo Prison is kind of a must, especially for all the history lovers out there.
Constructed in 1896, to house Vietnamese revolutionaries who opposed French rule, this prison was initially designed to hold 450 inmates.
The prison was actually home to nearly 2000 prisoners throughout the duration of the facilities working life.
And while many of the exhibits detail the prison’s use throughout the Vietnamese fight for independence (there’s even a French guillotine on display that was used to behead revolutionaries), this institution is now more commonly known for housing captured American pilots, like John McCain, throughout the Vietnam War.
Because the prison was overcrowded, and the conditions were incredibly grim, the prison earned the sarcastic nickname ‘the Hanoi Hilton’.
Information panels throughout the museum claim that the nickname arose from the fact the prisoners were treated so well here.
But yeah, that’s definitely not accurate.
Clearly, the sarcasm didn’t translate. Therefore, take everything that you read here with a pinch (or a handful) of salt.
It’s a sobering, historically significant site that is well worth a visit.
If you’re feeling a bit ill at ease prior to your visit, that’s okay because we’re about to eat our feelings at Banh Mi Pho Hue.
You can’t really say that you’ve been to Vietnam until you’ve had a banh mi.
It’s just a fact.
Now, for those not in the know about what to eat in Hanoi, the Banh Mi sandwich is a crusty-yet-light baguette that is filled with processed meat, pate, and pickled vegetables.
And it is so GOOD.
Sure, there are plenty of banh mi stands in the Old Quarter, but none can compare to Hanoi’s iconic sandwich vendor, Banh Mi Pho Hue.
Ask anyone in the city where to go for a decent baguette and they’ll send you here.
It’s only a ten-minute walk but you could always hail a Grab bike if you’re feeling super lazy (hey, no judgement here.)
Now that your tummy is full once more:
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This metaphoric living room scene represents those who have worn the masks of happiness to hide their pain and brokenness throughout the years. The broken mirror placed in the middle of the room is a symbol to encourage victims of domestic violence to break the silence and stand up for themselves. . . . . . #BreakthesilenceVN #phaboimlang #domesticviolence #16days #OrangeTheWorld #16daysVietnam #hanoi #vietnam
It’s time to hit our first museum of the day, the Vietnamese Women’s Museum.
Hanoi has a ton of museums that you can visit, but this one is the best, at least in my humble opinion.
It’s a seriously impressive collection of artifacts and costumes that highlight the contributions of women to Vietnamese society.
Divided into three distinct sections:
This museum addresses the topis of Women in Family, Women in History, and Women’s Fashion.
The first area you’ll visit is the Women in Family exhibit,
This part of the museum explores the daily lives of women and the role that they play within the many tribes of Vietnam.
Here you’ll find an assortment of household objects on display, so definitely opt for the audio tour since it helps bring everything to life.
The next section, Women in History, is my personal favorite.
What sassy solo traveler doesn’t love learning about kickass female rebels? We’re talking revolutionary leaders and undercover nuns here, people.
You’ll emerge on the top floor, which is dedicated to women’s fashion, with a special emphasis on traditional jewelry and embroidery from various ethnic groups within Vietnam.
You’ll also find some displays with super snazzy, modern-day creations from Vietnamese designers.
***If you don’t feel like checking this museum out, you can also visit the National Museum of Vietnamese History or the B-52 Victory Museum instead***
I hope you’re not all cultured out yet because we still haven’t completed the culturally enriching part of this 2 day Hanoi itinerary.
Because next up?
Yup, a super cool Cathedral of course!
Not to worry though because there’s beer coming later. I pinkie promise.
From the Women’s Museum:
It’s a quick, ten-minute walk along Bà Triệu and Nhà Chung street to the cathedral.
You can also use the ever-faithful Grab to get you there in five.
You’ll immediately understand why St. Joseph’s is more commonly known as ‘The Big Church” among locals.
This 19th-century cathedral was originally designed to resemble another famous Parisian church, but I’ll let you guess which one. (cough, Notre Dame).
Unfortunately, you can only go inside when the ceremonial practice is being held, which is at 5.30 am (no thanks) and 6.15 pm on weekdays.
The church is only open to visitors at 6 pm on Saturdays.
If you’re lucky enough to visit on a Sunday, then you’ll be able to explore the interior of the church, every two hours, between 5 am and 8 pm (FYI: There is no public admission between 11 am and 4 pm).
Even if you don’t get to visit the inside of the church, fear not because the outside is the most impressive part anyway.
Want an even better view of St. Joesph’s?
Then head over to Hanoi House cafe and get a spectacular shot of the church from their beautiful balcony.
While you’re here:
It’s your duty to grab a delicious cup of thick, sugary, egg coffee so that I can live vicariously through you.
It’s a true Hanoi specialty, although whether it classifies as a beverage or a dessert is anyone’s guess.
So, are you ready for more food? Yes?
Because it’s time to try one of Hanoi’s most famous dishes – bun cha!
Om nom nom.
What, you’ve never heard of bun cha before?
Well, you’re in for a treat because bun cha is a traditional, Vietnamese dish that consists of rice noodles, grilled pork, and a sweet but sour, garlicky, fishy sauce.
Just think of it as Vietnamese soul food.
And I promise it’s way better than it sounds.
For the best bun cha in town, take a quick walk back towards Hanoi’s Old Town, and stop at Bun Cha Hang Quat, for a super tasty and super cheap, Hanoian dinner.
And while this place is known for having the best bun cha in the city, it can also be a bit difficult to find.
If you can’t find it, don’t worry because pretty much any bun cha joint in the area will do (and yes, there are a ton of them).
Word of warning:
You WILL have nasty garlic breath after this.
What If I told you that you could get a beer for under 10 cents, what would you say?
I imagine you’d tell me to shut up.
Well, lo and behold, it’s true!
See, Vietnam is home to Bia hoi, one of the cheapest beers in the entire world.
It’s a light, freshly draught brewed lager that is served in one small glass with one giant chunk of ice in it.
This supersized ice cube could indeed poke your eye out (Kidding…sort of).
While you can easily find this fresh beer almost anywhere in the city, it’ll be way more fun if you drink it at Bia Hoi Corner (junction), which sits at the Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen intersection.
This place is always teeming with locals, and tourists alike, who sit atop these tiny, red and blue, plastic stools.
Later on in the night:
You’ll occasionally have to grab your stool and quickly scurry inside as the police drive past.
Never fear because the drinking resumes only a moment or two later.
And that’s it!
Being the total rockstar that you are, you made it to the end of day one!
Can I get a woot woot?
Get some rest though because day 2 is gonna be even MORE epic than day one (if that’s even possible).
Day 2 of Your Hanoi Itinerary
Hopefully, your head isn’t begging for sweet mercy after last night’s beer-induced debauchery.
If it is:
Then head to the Hanoi Social Club for a breakfast that’ll soothe all of your hangover related woes.
It’s an uber-stylish cafe that is set inside a French colonial villa, aka hipster heaven.
And while there are a ton of great breakfast options, two of my faves are the French toast and, the avocado and ricotta on toast with pepper and lemon.
‘But I’m not hungover!’ I hear you cry.
Excellent! Then breakfast option number two would be to get down with the locals and have a steaming bowl of pho for breakfast.
Now, lest you think I’ve started speaking in tongues:
Pho is actually a traditional Vietnamese soup that consists of broth, rice noodles, a few herbs, and meat.
Nom nom nom.
And while any pho place will do (I mean, they’re literally everywhere in the city), definitely try and stop bu Pho 10, near Hoan Kiem lake, since they serve some of the best Pho in Hanoi.
Hail a quick ride to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, our first stop of the day.
Try and get here nice and early.
Like 7:30 am early since the mausoleum opens at 8 am and you’ll definitely want to beat the crowds here.
Located in Ba Dinh Square:
Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum is a monumental marble edifice that was constructed between 1973 and 1975:
Ho Chi Minh’s frail body rests within a glass sarcophagus that helps protect it from further decay.
What you might not know is that Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a pretty iconic place since Uncle Ho (AKA Ho Chi Minh) has near-mythical status in Vietnam.
Many Vietnamese citizens are only too eager to line up and pay their respects to his entombed remains.
It’s essential that you be respectful and dress appropriately when you visit.
Do not wear shorts, tank tops, or hats when you visit since you will not be allowed inside.
Talking, putting your hands in your pockets, and taking photos are all also strictly prohibited. So yeah, don’t do that.
If you’re lucky:
You might even be able to catch the changing of the guard while you’re here. Trust me, it’s a pretty epic sight to behold.
An embalmed dead body might not be the first thing that you want to see in the morning.
The mausoleum closes at 10.30 am and doesn’t open at all on Fridays. It’s also totally closed between December and March (This is when his body goes to Russia for maintenance), so a visit may not be possible anyway.
Definitely walk around and explore Ba Dinh square when you’re ready since it’s a pretty important place.
It was here that Ho Chi Minh read the declaration of independence in 1945 and liberated the Vietnamese from the French.
V for Victory! You go Ho Chi Minh!
While you’re here:
Also stop by the thousand-year-old One-Pillar pagoda, which was built by Emperor Ly Thai Tong in 1049.
The Emperor was getting a little nervous because he just didn’t have an heir to the throne (Scandalous!).
When he dreamed that he met Quan The Am Bo Tat, the Goddess of Mercy, who handed him a male child, the Emperor immediately went out, married a young peasant girl, and BOOM, had the son that he has always wanted (after the usual nine months of course).
To express his gratitude towards the Goddess of Mercy, for the son he always wanted, he decided to construct a pagoda here.
This pagoda is supposed to represent a lotus emerging from the pond below since, in his dream, he saw the Holy Lady, sitting on a lotus, leading him inside a single pillared pagoda.
We’re gonna keep things historical and head to the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, which is about a ten-minute walk from the square.
Is it just me, or is everything in Hanoi a ten-minute walk?
Anyway, while most of the palaces here were torn down during the 19th century, when the French destroyed them to build a National Assembly Hall, you’ll still find some historic ruins here, that were rediscovered after the National Assembly Hall itself was demolished.
And the buildings that did survive?
Yeah, they’re pretty dang impressive and just an ultra-cool slice of history to check out.
The People’s Army of Vietnam used the citadel as its main headquarters during the Vietnam War and repurposed the secret underground tunnel here as an escape route that they could use, just in case they were ever attacked.
Don’t forget to stop by the flag tower before your leave since it’s one of the most famous places in Hanoi AND a fantastic Instagram photo op too (hashtag winning).
The Temple of Literature, which is one of the most famous things to do in Hanoi and the final stop on our cultural whirlwind of a morning.
A rare example of well-preserved traditional Vietnamese architecture:
The Temple of Literature was the site of Vietnam’s first university in ye olde 1076.
Out of the 116 original stelae created here, which list the names, places of birth, and achievements of exceptional students, 82 still remain and rest atop beautiful turtle statues that reside within the complex.
This former institution of higher learning has become a popular, Confucian temple, and stands in honor of Vietnam’s greatest minds of all time.
Stressed-out students still come here and pray for good grades (and for graduation photos if their prayers are answered).
You might feel yourself growing smarter by the second as you explore these ancient buildings, pagodas, ponds, and enchanting gardens.
This temple is so beautiful that it’s even featured on Vietnam’s 100,000 dong note (cha-ching!)
What’s that? You’re hungry?
Good, because we’re hitting a buffet next.
Now, I know what you’re thinking.
Yeah, buffets can sometimes be kinda… gross. But not this buffet.
Ngon Villa is an exquisite restaurant serving up only the best, and most authentic, food from all over the country.
Each province in Vietnam has its own unique dishes and style of cooking.
And here, you get to sample it all in, in one place, and in an elegant French villa, no less.
Feel free to be amazed.
So, do the buffet and try as many dishes as you possibly can.
And if you leave without sporting an enormous food baby then I’m sorry my friend but you’ve failed (jokingly nods head in disgust).
I bet you’re probably feeling a little tired and sleepy after all that food.
Am I right?
Thought so. Now ask yourself:
Is there anything better than laying down and getting pampered like a total rockstar after a huge meal?
So, if you’re emphatically nodding your head in agreement, then stroll on over to Zennova Spa and get yourself a well-deserved massage.
It’s another ten minutes by foot if you want to walk off that epic meal. Or, you can always just use your ever faithful friend Grab.
Sit back, relax and enjoy a wonderful massage for a crazy low price (we’re talking an hour-long massage for like $10).
Vietnamese spa culture is the bomb, with a capital B.
Once you’re feeling totally relaxed, and are floating on a pink cloud of awesome, then head back towards Hoan Kiem Lake, to the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre (the OG place to catch this kind of show).
‘Water puppetry? What’s that?’ I hear you wonder.
Well, this quirky art form dates all the way back to the 10th century, when villagers would perform shows in flooded rice fields.
Back in the day:
They used long rods to make the puppets seem as though they were gliding across the water.
And while times have certainly changed:
Water puppetry is still very much alive and well in Hanoi today, even though it now takes place in an actual theatre, duh.
Performances here typically depict myths, legends, and tales of rural life, so this is definitely a great way to learn more about Vietnamese culture – and have a little fun in the process too.
Tickets are only like $9 a person and you can catch a show pretty much any day of the week.
So, why not?
However, definitely try and attend either the 4:10 pm or 5:20 pm performance.
This way, you’ll be able to enjoy everything on this Hanoi 2 day itinerary.
Because I pinkie promise:
The next activity is one you’re not gonna want to miss!
In dire need of some hashtag #edgy Instagram shots? Or, just want to see something super cool and unique?
Whatever your motivations are (I’m not here to judge), head straight over to train street.
This is hands down one of the best things to do in Hanoi! Eek!
As you can probably guess:
Trains pass through this street multiple times a day, which in and of itself isn’t too impressive (unless you’re a trainspotter, of course).
What’s really crazy about this street is that it’s a) SUPER NARROW and b) VERY RESIDENTIAL.
One minute, ordinary people are just going about their day-to-day lives and the next – BAM – a speeding train hurtles through.
It’s worth observing life on the tracks at any time of the day (or night), but seeing a train pass through is downright awesome – and really makes you understand how crazy the whole situation is.
From the theatre, hail a taxi or get a Grab bike to the intersection between Kham Thien and Le Duan streets.
Most drivers will know where to go but use 5 Kham Thien, Dong Da, Hanoi as the address if you need one since train street is just a few meters away.
Depending on which water puppet show you catch:
Aim to arrive at either 5.30 pm or 8.30 pm, which is about half an hour before the train is due to pass through.
There are also plenty of little cafes around so you can grab a quick drink, snap a few photos, and wait for the ground to begin to quake.
Don’t mess around on the tracks for too long since you want to leave yourself enough time to grab a seat before the train comes.
For dinner, you have two options. If you’re feeling adventurous and managed to catch the earlier train, then taxi on over to Thanh Cong Market.
You won’t see many tourists here, but that’s half the fun.
It’s a fantastic market that is known for its delicious, fresh produce and its amazing food court.
This is definitely the spot to go if you want to eat like a true Hanoian.
While you’re here:
Make sure to try the Banh bot loc (delicious pork, shrimp and mushroom dumplings), bun bo hue (spicy beef noodle soup), crab soup, and rice congee.
And if you’ve got any room left for dessert, feel free to indulge in some sweet Che Soup for dessert.
Just a heads up:
The Vietnamese like to put sweetcorn in all of their desserts, so don’t get weirded out.
If street food’s not your bag, or you’d rather just hang out in the Old Quarter (which is probably where you’ll be staying), then head to Tam Claypot Rice for your (sob) last meal in Hanoi.
The Bo Luc Lac (steak cubes in a sweet and sour sauce) here is probably the best thing on the menu.
If you’re just really craving western food, you can always stop by Hanoi Taco Company for the best Mexican in town.
Okay, so I lied, that was three dinner options.
Anyway, if you have any energy left by this point – and if you do, kudos to you – then head to the one and only Spy Bar., which is the oldest bar in the entire Old Quarter.
It’s this hole-in-the-wall kinda place where the locals treat you like old friends and where you’ll likely see a few of the cities colorful characters – locals and expats included.
It’s a bit of a hidden gem that most tourists don’t manage to find so… you’re welcome!