Things to do in Hanoi: The 72-Hour Guide to the City

As chaotic as it is quaint, Hanoi is rising in the ranks of must-see destinations around the world. Founded over 1,000 years ago, the nation’s capital is a city of contrasts. Dodge motorbikes, slurp street-side noodles, admire ancient architecture and sip cà phê sữa đá. Here is everything you need to know for your 72 hours in Hanoi.

things to do in hanoi

72-Hours in Hanoi

Things to see

Things to do

Getting to Hanoi

Hanoi weather

You could easily spend a week in the capital city — but if time is short, you can’t go wrong with filling your days as outlined here. Note that the names and locations in bold are further explained in the things to see and do sections below the itinerary.  

things to do in hanoi

72 Hours in Hanoi

Day one:

Start your visit with a morning at Hoan Kiem lake. At the heart of the city, it comes alive in the early hours with locals exercising, playing badminton, and catching up. While you are there check out the Ngoc Son temple and photograph the famous Turtle Tower in the centre of the lake. Pick up a banh khuc (sticky rice with pork and mung bean) for breakfast and/or a cup of the famed Hanoian egg coffee at Cafe Giang, then continue through the old quarter taking in all the sights and sounds.

You can explore the Old Quarter on foot or meander through the streets on a traditional cyclo tour. Make sure to check out Hang Ma for fun colourful decorations (excellent photo op), Hang Dao (shoe street), and Ma May for knock off shopping needs.

When your legs start to tire or you’ve had enough of crossing the roads, get a Grab taxi over to the Temple of Literature. Admire the peaceful grounds and take a break from the hectic Old Quarter. Buzz over to Bun Bo Nam Bo on Hang Dieu for a tasty bowl of this southern dish of stir-fried garlic beef with herbs and rice noodles. 

St. Joseph’s Cathedral

From there you can walk to St. Joseph’s cathedral and if you fancy it — a happy hour gin and tonic at The Mad Botanist which has a balcony overlooking the cathedral. Depending on the time you may witness an outdoor Mass. 

 

Make reservations at Ngon Villa for dinner and feast on all the Vietnamese favourites. It’s around 15 dollars per person but you can order all you can eat from their extensive menu of high-quality local dishes. 

Old Quarter in Hanoi Things to do in Hanoi

Day two:

Start your second day in the capital with a peaceful brunch at Ma Xo on Truc Bach island. This earthy cafe is just a short distance from the Tran Quoc pagoda which is the oldest in the city and positioned with an excellent view of West Lake. All along the lake, bicycle vendors are selling Bo Bia. This is a sweet crepe type snack filled with dried coconut, sugar floss, and honeycomb. Perfect little treat! 

 

From the Tran Quoc Pagoda, you are positioned perfectly to walk over to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and pay respects to the ‘Father of the Nation’. While you’re there take a look at the One Pillar Pagoda just behind the mausoleum. This pagoda is one of the most important in the city and was built in 1042!

 

Things to do in Hanoi
Tran Quoc Pagoda

Meander down Phan Dinh Phung street to get a glimpse of some of the grand French mansions which line this tree-filled boulevard. Grab a fresh juice at one of the many cafes or nip into Tired City for some unique Hanoian souvenirs. 

Get a taxi back down into the Old Quarter and get lunch at Bun Cha Huong Lien. Not only is Bun Cha a Hanoian speciality, this is also the location where Obama and Anthony Bourdain ate at. It is my absolute favourite Bun Cha in the whole city!

From there, learn more about the strong Vietnamese women who shaped the nation and the unique customs and culture of the females here at the Vietnamese Women’s Museum. The top floor showcases the different styles of clothing throughout the last 1000 years. If you’re up for it, close by is the Hoa Lo prison, another important museum to check out while you’re here. 

End your day with dinner Nha Hang Ngon – make sure to get the Banh Xeo and fresh spring rolls. For a stylish nightcap head over to Tadioto for a cocktail. 

Phan Dinh Phung St.

Day three:

For your final day wake up early for a sunrise viewing from Long Bien Bridge or get a coffee at Serein Cafe for an alternative ariel view of the tracks. Snag a breakfast Banh Mi from Banh Mi 25 to keep you fueled. Explore the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long and swing back to the Hoan Kiem area for and get lunch at Bun Dau Trang Tien located just across the road from the Hanoi Opera House or cool off with with a coconut by the lake. Grab happy hour or just post-lunch beers (you’re on holiday right!) at any of the cities buzzing beer hoi’s. Round out your 72 hours in Hanoi with a lantern-lit dinner at HOME.  

*Note* Normally Train Street would be apart of these itineraries but it has recently been closed down by the government until further notice.

Things to do in Hanoi

Things to see

One Pillar Pagoda

One of the oldest and most revered temples in the city is a close stroll to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.

Temple of Literature

The first university in Vietnam turned Confuscious temple is a must-see in the city.

Vietnamese Women’s Museum

Learn about the culture, customs and fashions in this well laid out museum

Hoan Kiem Lake

The heart of Hanoi is here, wake up early to experience a Hanoian morning. 

Imperial Citadel 

Once home to the rulers of Vietnam the citadel is full of ancient architecture.

Tran Quoc Pagoda

The oldest pagoda in Hanoi can be walked through quite quickly but it’s worth a visit.

Lotte Tower

Witness Hanoi from above at the viewing deck on the top of the Lotte Tower. Grab a drink and watch the sunset for an epic evening. 

Hanoi Opera House

A nod to the French, this Opera house is an iconic landmark of the city.

St. Joseph’s Cathedral

Get there around 5 PM to see the outdoor mass in action. 

Hoa Lo Prison

Also known as the Hanoi Hilton, gain insight into what prisons experienced there during the war. 

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum 

This Mausoleum holds the remains of Ho Chi Minh. Changing of the guard happens every day around mid-morning. 

Things to do in Hanoi
Hanoi Opera House

Things to do

 

Wander around the Old Quarter

One of the most recommended things to do in Hanoi is to explore the Old Quarter. Just by wandering around is an experience in itself. Don’t forget your camera!

 

TIP: When crossing the road throw your hand up above your head and move at a constant pace. 

 

Feast on street food with Sens Asia’s Street Food Tour

Curious about the street food scene in Hanoi but sceptical to take it on yourself? Sens Asia’s Hanoi Street Food Tour will satisfy your need for a foodie adventure. I took this tour and all the foods were tasty, spots were clean and no upset tummies occurred after! 

 

Explore the city with Bon Bon’s hop on hop off bus

Bon Bon, an up and coming tour company in Hanoi, ferries patrons around the city in their nostalgic yellow vintage bus. Decked out with early 1920’s designs this tour is quirky, fun and oh so Hanoian. 

 

Capture Hanoi on film with Vietnam Rewind

Hanoi looks great on film and with Vietnam Rewind’s film tour, you can explore the city with an expert guide and camera in hand. Take home special memories of your time in the city with a vintage feel.

 

Hunt for clues with Urban Tales

Follow clues hidden all around Hanoi to solve a murder mystery! Urban Tales combines adventure and mystery with sightseeing in the capital.

 

Witness Northern Culture with Lune Productions

In a mix of acrobatics, dance and storytelling gain insight into Vietnamese culture in this innovative act. 

 

Shop for artisan goods at Collective Memory

The best spot in town for unique high-quality souvenirs is Collective Memory. Locally sourced products are on display along with Vietnamese inspired art and one of a kind collections. Whether you are looking to take home locally infused honey, artisan coffee or quirky coasters, this is the spot for you. 

Things to do in Hanoi
A perfect Hanoi pair — sunflower seeds and a ca phe sua da

 

Where to eat and drink

 

Must-visit bars:

Tadioto

Mad Botanist

Bia Hoi

Standing Bar

 

For in-depth descriptions of these bars and more, read by 20 Must-Try Bars in Hanoi article here.

 

Perfect brunch locations when you want western foods:

Maison De Tet

Ma Xo

Salt and Pepper

 

Needing more bunch inspo? Check out my Top Brunch Spots article here.

 

Vietnamese restaurants with tasty food and stylish interiors:

Home

Ngon Villa

Nha Hang Ngon

 

These restaurants and more showcased on my Resturant Guide article here.

 

Things to do in Hanoi
Bia Hoi in Hanoi

Best street food spots:

Bun Bo Nam Bo

Location: 67 Hàng Điếu, Cửa Đông, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội

Bún Dậu Mắm Tôm

Location: 2 Ngõ Tràng Tiền, Tràng Tiền, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội

Com Binh Dan Trang Tien

Location: Near – 43 Tràng Tiền, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội 100000, Vietnam (in a small alley)

Bun Cha Huong Lien

Location: 24 Lê Văn Hưu, Phan Chu Trinh, Hai Bà Trưng, Hà Nội, Vietnam

Banh Mi 25

Location: 25 Hàng Cá, P, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam

Pho Thin

Location: 61 Đinh Tiên Hoàng, Lý Thái Tổ, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam

 

Not sure what these foods are? Read more on my street food guide here.

 

Things to do in Hanoi
Banh Khuc – a perfect breakfast meal

Cafe’s you’ll love:

 

Loading T

Well known for its take on the Vietnamese coconut coffee, this eclectic space set in a crumbling French mansion is just about as Hanoian as it gets. 

TIP: just across from Loading T is Pho Ly Quoc Su which serves excellent bowls of Pho. 

 

NOLA

Though the name suggests this cafe may be themed in a New Orleans style — it isn’t really. Name aside, this art space and cafe is an absolute gem. Vintage furniture, mismatched art and small plant-covered patios make this a must-see in the city.  

 

Tranquil

Hanoi is hectic — chill out at Tranquil Books and Coffee to escape the chaos. With noise enforcement, you are sure to have a peaceful moment here along with a great americano. 

Giang Cafe

When milk was scarce innovative Hanoians turned to egg as a substitute in coffee. This creamy treat may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it is worth a taste for sure — and Cafe Giang is the place to do it. 

 

These are my favourite but there are tons more, check out more Hanoi cafes here. 

 

The recently closed ‘Train Street’

 

Getting to Hanoi

 

Upon arriving in Hanoi’s Noi Bai International airport you will be bombarded with many different options for travel into the city. The 45-minute car journey can be taken via taxi hire or bus. Taxis will cost around 250K VND (10 USD) and the public buses around 60K.VND (3 USD). Your hotel will be able to arrange a pick-up or use Hoang Tu Transport (this is what I always use). Hoang is delightful and can speak excellent English. I asked if I could put his info on here and he agreed. Text him to arrange transport at 0943038688

 

TIP: Download the app GRAB it is essentially Uber of Vietnam. Book a car using that for a seamless pick-up process. 

 

Things to do in Hanoi
Temple of Literature

Hanoi weather

Differing from the rest of the country, in Hanoi, there are distinct seasons. Expect pleasant weather in the spring (March – June) and fall (September-November), with hot summers starting in June and chilly winters lasting through March. 

 

Things to do in Hanoi
View of the Old Quarter from Legend Beer
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