The capital of the land of the Dragon- Hanoi, has movement, energy, culture and a certain restlessness you can’t get enough off. Its a city with hundreds of years of history, culture and food so delicious you probably shouldn’t be surprised if you find yourself eating constantly throughout your stay. 4 days is the perfect amount of time to really explore and get to know this wonderful city and learn about it’s past and present. This 4 days Hanoi itinerary covers all the well-known sites and the lesser known ones too from the famous Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum to all the small temples, lakes, parks and markets that make this city what it is today.
WHEN TO GO
Hanoi and Northern Vietnam have four distinct seasons. The best time to visit is Spring (February-April) and Autumn (October-November). Due to its subtropical climate, summers in Hanoi are very hot, humid and wet with temperatures often exceeding 35°C/95°F. Winters can be fairly cool and are generally less wet. I visited in January and found the weather to be pretty cold and grey after having just visited southern Vietnam. If you prefer the heat of tropical Asian countries then try to avoid the winter.
To start your 4 days in Hanoi itinerary you’ll need to get in first. From Hanoi International Airport (Noi Bai) there are three main options for travelling the 30km into the city centre. You can take a shuttle bus ($2), public bus ($0.50) or a taxi ($13) with travel time taking between 1 and 1.5 hours.
Shuttle bus – Several different shuttle buses depart every 30-45 minutes from just outside the terminal building costing 40,000VND ($1.80). Vietjet Air, Vietnam Airlines and Jetstar all have their own shuttle but make sure you enquire about taking the Jetstar one if you didn’t fly with them. They make several convenient stops with one being very close to Hoan Kiem Lake and the Old Quarter (Jetstar). From the final stop, you can continue your journey by taxi (Grab) or on foot.
Public Bus – For a truly local experience as soon as you arrive taking the local bus will give you a glimpse into local life. It costs just $10,000 VND ($0.50) with two public buses leaving the airport every 20 minutes. Bus 7 will drop you off at Kim Ma bus Station and Bus 17 terminates at Long Bien bus station. From either of these, it’s about a 30/20 minute walk to the Old Quarter or you can continue by Grab (taxi).
Taxi– Taxis cost 200,000 VND – 350,000 VND ($9 – $15.50) when flagged down outside of the arrivals building. It is possible to also take a Grab taxi to the city centre to save yourself about $4, but you’ll need an internet connection via a local SIM card for this. SIM cards can be purchase at the airport.
In Hanoi, most places of interest to travellers are fairly close to Hoan Kiem Lake and the Old Quarter which is where most travellers base themselves. Due to this, central Hanoi is fairly walkable and I’d definitely take advantage of the short distances to stroll around and get to know the streets when getting from place to place. If you’re heading to somewhere a little further, I’d recommend using Grab, the Uber-equivalent app used in many Asian counties. It’s cheap, safe and the prices are fixed meaning no funny surprises at your destination. Xe om (motorbike taxis) are also easy to find in Hanoi with a journey around the city centre costing about 20,000 VND. For two or more people a metered taxi is often cheaper than a couple of xe om.
WHERE TO STAY
The best place to base yourself during your 4 day Hanoi itinerary is in the Old Quarter or around Hoan Kiem Lake where most of the sights, markets and points of interest are located. In general, accommodation in Hanoi is great value for money.
Budget– Hanoi 3B Premier Hotel – This lovely little hotel, located at the north end of the Old Quarter is simple and comfortable. The tastefully decorated rooms are spacious and equipped with wifi and air conditioning. What really stands out here is the extremely friendly staff which go out of their way each time and the super comfy beds. It’s a great option for the budget traveller who wants to get away from hostels for a while.
Mid-range– Hanoi Paradise Center Hotel & Spa– located just two blocks from Hoan Kiem Lake, this gorgeous hotel is another fabulous option for your Hanoi itinerary. It’s beautifully designed and decorated with an elegant, modern feel and black and grey concept. Each room comes with all the mod-cons including coffee making facilities and fast wifi. After a long day of exploring you can head to the spa for a massage or treatment of choice before heading out to sample the best of Hanoi’s nightlife.
Splurge– Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi– There’s nothing quite like this infamous, palace-like, 5-star option in the middle of Hanoi. This hotel makes you feel like absolute royalty, with the finely decorated rooms, free-standing tubs in the bathroom, a beautiful garden to enjoy and some of the best views of Hoan Kiem Lake. There’s also a large outdoor pool, spa and gym to help you stay healthy throughout your trip. This hotel pulls out all the stops in terms of both service and facilities.
There are also many great Airbnbs in Hanoi. If you haven’t yet signed up for Airbnb, do so here and get up to $63 off on your first stay.
WHERE TO EAT
Vietnam has an extremely rich culture which also extends to the food. The food in Hanoi and Vietnam for that matter is absolutely delicious and everywhere you turn you’ll find steaming bowls of pho, crunchy banh mi, flavoursome bun cha and coconut coffees. Luckily it’s also super plant-based and health-friendly too. Many of the vegan restaurants are a little out of the way but there are still plenty of vegetarian and vegan options around the Old Quarter.
Veggie Castle– At the north end of the Old Quarter which has a delicious and varied lunch and dinner all-you-can-eat buffet for 70,000VND.
Vegan Home– A lunchtime only buffet with a large variety of dishes including plant-based pho, spring rolls and noodle salads. Located on the south side of Hoan Kiem Lake.
Vegan Banh Mi– For a taste of Vietnamese street food without the meat, head to this food cart on alley 66B Tran Hung Dao, which sells fried spring rolls and it’s speciality, vegan banh mi. Three blocks south of Hoan Kiem Lake.
An Lac Chay – Another great buffet restaurant choice with simply delicious food located by Hanoi Station. The food here is mostly vegan with the exception of some drinks. Open for both lunch and dinner.
Ha Thanh– If you’re in need of a vegetable fix this is the place. The food here is healthy with many different Chinese style stir-fried dishes to order.
Lovegan– located around the back of the Presidential Palace Historic Sight, this lunch-only restaurant is hands-down one of the best in Hanoi. Look out for their stir-fried dishes, banh mi and western-style dishes like pizza and smoothie bowls.
OUR 4 DAYS HANOI ITINERARY
Day One– Old Quarter Walk / Hang Gai silk street/ St. Joseph’s Cathedral / Train Street
Day Two– Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum / One Pillar pagoda / Presidential Palace Historical Site / Night Market (only on weekends)
Day Three – Thăng Long Imperial Citadel / Phùng Hưng Mural Street / Go Shopping at Dong Xuan Market
Day Four- Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple / Hoa Lo Prison / Water Puppet Show
HANOI ITINERARY FOR 4 DAYS
The highlight of Hanoi is definitely the Old Quarter and the little streets and alleyways that compose it. Start your first day in the city exploring the Old Quarter and all it’s little corners to get your bearings. You’ll notice the fast pace of the city, the noise, traffic and bikes as well as all the shops selling everything you could possibly imagine from silk dresses to metal bird cages. Notice the sellers on the streets balancing fruit over their bicycles and the carts selling ice-cold drinks and coffee. These old streets are full of magical temples to explore as well as cafes, restaurants and gift shops all competing for your attention.
Hang Gai Silk Street
Once you’ve had a bit of a wander, head over to Hang Gai, Hanoi’s old silk street where you’ll find a large variety of shops selling nothing but silk. The silk industry played a big part in the culture and economic development of Vietnam and it was even used as a type of currency throughout history. Hang Gai is the place to go for silk shopping and even if you’re not interested in buying, it’s still a lovely glimpse into the culture. Many stores offer quality tailoring where you can have a T-shirt or suit tailor-made at a very reasonable price. Alternatively choose items like shirts, trousers, pyjamas, scarves, sarongs, tablecloths, napkins and wall hangings from their inventory, all of which make great souvenirs of gifts to take home.
St. Joseph’s Cathedral
After lunch, head south to St. Joseph’s Church, a Roman Catholic Cathedral that might seem a little out of place here in the middle of Hanoi. This Cathedral was built in the 19th Century by the French colonial government and does remind you of a mini-version of Notre Dame. If a mass isn’t being conducted inside, you’ll be able to walk around and have a look at the adornments inside which include French-made stain glass windows and a rib vaulted ceiling just like those found on Gothic Cathedrals in Europe.
In the afternoon head over to train street, the Instagram famous location, where, twice a day a train used to pass by nerve-wrackingly close to residents’ houses and stores. I say used to, that’s because as of 2019 authorities shut down the street and rerouted the train due to tourist numbers and mounting safety concerns. There are however a number of cafes that still flank the now disused train line, and while you won’t get a glimpse of a passing train you are able to visit the cafes, grab a typical Vietnamese coffee and check out the now almost empty train street.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Start day two of your 4 days Hanoi itinerary with a bit of Vietnamese culture and history by heading to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. Ho Chi Minh was the revered Communist revolutionary and leader who had a significant role in 20th Century Vietnamese history and politics. At the mausoleum, you’ll be able to see his embalmed body peacefully at rest. To visit the mausoleum you’ll have to leave all your belongings at the designated area so make sure you only take the essentials with you that morning. Try to also visit early as the mausoleum can get very crowded with especially keen groups of Vietnamese.
One Pillar Pagoda
Located just next to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum is one of the most iconic temples in Vietnam, the One Pillar Pagoda. This might just be the smallest temple you’ll ever see with the wooden structure standing upon just one thick stone pillar. It dates back to the 11th Century and while there isn’t much to explore, you can climb the stone staircase around the back and peer inside at the small shrine devoted to Avalokitesvara Boddhisatva inside the pagoda.
Right around the corner you’ll find Lovegan restaurant so make sure not to miss out on one of the best vegan restaurants in Hanoi.
Presidential Palace Historical Site
Behind the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, you find a vast green space called the Presidential Palace Historical Site. Here, you’ll be able to see quite a few interesting buildings scattered around including a French Colonial Mansion from the 1900s and the house where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked. You’ll be able to explore the beautiful, traditional, two-story wooden house where he lived, as well as a pond and various other government buildings. Don’t miss his rather cool classic car collection too. If you have a bit more time and energy I’d recommend exploring these parks and green areas a little more- it’s a delightful little oasis in the middle of the bustling city.
If you’re in Hanoi over the weekend, which I highly recommend, spend this evening wandering the streets of the night market in the centre of the Old Quarter. You’ll be able to find an array of modern and traditional street food, souvenirs, local decor items, clothes and accessories at really great prices. One of the best things to do is simply wander around, grab a street-side table and enjoy a cold drink while watching the locals go about their evening.
Thăng Long Imperial Citadel
This UNESCO World Heritage site is a complex of historic imperial buildings dating back the 11th Century. Unfortunately, much of it was destroyed throughout history, especially during the 19th Century. You can still, however, see the Hanoi Flag Tower, the North Gate entrance, the rather destroyed Kính Thiên Palace and the D67 Tunnel and House, a secret excavation tunnel carved out by the People’s Army of Vietnam during the war. While not much it left compared to what would have existed in the past, it’s still a great place to walk around, explore and dream about how it would have looked like long ago.
Phùng Hưng Mural Street
Coming back into the Old Quarter, follow the train line over to Phùng Hung Mural Street, a long stretch of murals depicting local Vietnamese life and memories. The murals are painted on the wall that encompasses the train tracks, each one within its own arch under the tracks. Local artists have depicted Vietnamese history or local Hanoi memories and scenes from daily life rather skillfully all along this beautiful street which attracts both local and foreign visitors. The murals provide excellent glimpses into the past and what life was like during the last century and beyond and can teach us a lot about Vietnamese life and culture during this time.
Dong Xuan Market
No Hanoi itinerary is complete without a bit of shopping so if you haven’t yet got your shopping fix then head to Dong Xuan Market, this afternoon. Not only does this vibrant market allow you to buy pretty much everything under the sun for very little it’s also a great insight into local life and culture. Many local people come to this market daily to buy fresh produce and other items they need so it’s a unique opportunity to experience life through their eyes. It’s also a great place to discover some new local fruits and vegetables, much of it you can buy and eat back at your hotel.
Hoan Kiem Lake
Start the morning really exploring Hoan Kiem Lake, the streets around it and Ngoc Son Temple, the beautiful temple located in the middle of the lake. You’ll have probably already seen the lake by now or even walked or run around it. The lake looks beautiful both on a clear, sunny day but also on a grey and foggy morning so try to visit early when it’s shrouded in the morning mist. Cross the red bridge onto the little island on the lake and explore Ngoc Son temple and the little shrines and pagodas found here. The views of the lake are lovely from here and its a really peaceful place to walk around and even meditate in. If you’re a runner then Hoan Kiem Lake is also a great place to go for a run in the evening or early morning with the locals who are also out exercising.
Hoa Lo Prison
After a long and leisurely lunch head over to Hoa Lo Prison. While this isn’t going to be the most uplifting experiences on this Hanoi itinerary, in fact, it’s rather grim, the prison tells an important story of what happened during the last centuries. The prison was originally used by the French Colonists and later by North Vietnam for American prisoners of the Vietnam War. As you enter you’ll see the words Maison Centrale above the gate- the original French name designated for long-term sentences or dangerous prisoners. Inside you’ll learn about the brutal and inhumane treatment of prisoners here with life-size reconstructions of where prisoners sat all day long shackled at the feet under French rule and later how the North Vietnamese treated POW. The experience is saddening but it’s an insightful place to visit if you’d like to know more about the history of Vietnam or perhaps it’s more barbaric side.
Use the rest of the afternoon to rest, grab some last-minute gifts, Bahn mi and coconut coffees before heading to a puppet show.
Water Puppet Show
Another thing Hanoi is famous for is the water puppet show, a colourful and unique display of this traditional art form which dates back to the 11th Century. Water puppetry originated from the rice fields of Vietnam where villagers would stand knee-deep in the flooded rice paddies moving puppets across the water. Even though puppetry can now be seen all over the world, it originated from North Vietnam so seeing a show at the renowned Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre is a must. Most of the shows tell stories based on Vietnamese folk tales about the rice harvest in a humorous way. Tickets to the theatre sell out pretty quickly so it’s wise to book them as soon as you arrive in Hanoi. It’s also a good idea to pay a little more to sit towards the front of the theatre as the puppets are fairly small. It’s a fun evening out and a great way to end your 4 day Hanoi itinerary.
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