So, you’ve arrived in Hanoi and you only have a few days to explore? It’s true that tourist attractions are popular for good reason, but Hanoi has so much more to offer than what you’ll find on the typical old quarter backpacker route. Last weekend a friend came to visit me and it got me thinking about the ultimate itinerary to get the most out of this city. Giving attention to the fantastic places I wished I’d known about sooner that would of made my first few months easier to settle into. Having lived here for almost a year now, I’ve used my experience to put together a full throttled 3 day itinerary suited for anyone of any age thinking about visiting Vietnam and stopping in the cultured capital of Hanoi!
The first day, it’s best to get all the tourist spots done so you can move onto the more special places after (in my opinion).
After settling into your accommodation, grabbing a traditional Vietnamese coffee with (Coffee and condensed milk) is your first port of call. Head to the infamous and adorable ‘Note Cafe’ in Old quarter, where you’ll be greeted by the friendliest staff serving an array of Vietnamese coffee’s in the cutest 3 story space, completely covered in notes left by visitors. It’s customary here for the staff to take photos of their ‘Note cafe virgins’ for their archives and to leave personal uplifting notes with your coffee. A great place to start off your adventure!
Coffee done, it’s time to walk off that sugar and caffeine by taking a lovely stroll around Hoan Kiem lake, taking snaps as you go. When you complete the full circle, continue your walk into the heart of old quarter, exploring the many streets dedicated to selling one type of merchandise. ‘Fashion’ street adjacent to the roundabout is my favourite street to explore, so many crazy looking clothes and designer knock offs. Just behind that street is ‘Buddha trinket’ street, great for souvenirs.
Lunchtime, grab yourself a Vietnamese Bahn Mi sandwich for around $1, they’re dotted everywhere but my favourite spot for them is on Ban Dat street very close to the Downtown backpackers hostel. Theres a good 3 or 4 places on that road, close to all the action too. If you’re after something a little fancier head to ‘Lifted’ a very cool brunch spot serving refreshing smoothies and wholesome brunches for less than $10.
From here, time to tick off some attractions. If you’re heading to Saigon on your trip, you can skip any of the war related museums because Saigon’s War Museum is far superior and 100% worth going to. However, the Hanoi prison, around a 15 minute walk from Old Quarter is worth checking out as well as the Women’s museum.
On the way back into Old Quarter stop by on train street, hopefully you’ll catch the train but no worries if not because you can follow the track and study the quaint houses and coffee shops lining the tracks. It’s also a great photo spot, very Insta worthy.
As evening sets in, dinner will be on the agenda. For something filling after all that walking, I recommend ‘Aubergine cafe’ to get yourself a hearty Vietnamese curry and spring rolls. From here, you can make your way to the reputable weekend only night markets by Hoan Kiem to have a browse, buy souvenirs and try street food. During this time the centre is shut off from moving vehicles so you can roam around freely without worry.
For drinks after, you can’t not come to Vietnam and not try one of the local Bia Hoi’s (translated to mean fresh beer). Bia Hoi beverages will cost you 5000-10000 vnd which equates to around 12-20p for a beer, it’s a cheap pre drinks ‘go to’ but is a must do experience for everyone. Depending on whether you want a night out or not, a great bar to visit in Old Quarter is 1984. It has a top floor terrace to enjoy cheap mixers and beers, whilst in a chilled environment. Old Quarter isn’t my favourite place for going heavier (best clubs are elsewhere), I find the renowned “Bia stret” a little ‘strip like’ but if you’re hell bent on staying out later than 12 then there are clubs to easily find, although most bars stay open late anyway. Another bar, I recently went to was called ‘Corner pub’, they do double mixers for 60,000 vnd ($3) which is very reasonable, spirit based drinks are generally in line with Western prices in Vietnam. Just walking around you’ll see so many options you’ll be spoilt for choice. For something more ‘boujee’ check out what events are on at ‘The Toilet’ club. The clubs interior is weirdly based on the plumbing of a toilet, featuring bar table dancers wearing pink afros and we saw Deadmau5 there last year, so it’s worth taking a peak at if your feeling more frivolous with your ‘Dong’ (vnd).
Grab breakfast, a yummy street food option is Bún riêu cua, a tomato broth soup with Vermicelli noodles and crab meat. It’s my favourite Vietnamese street food option by far!
First attraction of the day should be the Vietnam museum of Ethnology, a fascinating museum dedicated to all the practises and traditions of the many tribes residing in Vietnam. It’s a 20 minute cheap Grab Taxi ride out of Old Quarter but definitely worth it, especially if you want to learn more about Vietnamese culture. It also has a large outdoor area to explore with life size model lodges and huts the tribes would have built and lived in.
After this head to ‘Emm’s bistro’ for a non vietnamese but very nice French pasta lunch or salad. I find there can be a snobbish attitude to what kind of food you ‘should’ eat when visiting a different culture, but personally, I just love good food and if a restaurant has outstanding reviews, I’m not going to avoid it just because it’s owned by a Westerner.
After lunch, head to the area of Tay Ho to visit a very hidden, but huge botanical garden. Tay Ho is where most Western residents tend to live, it’s generally more up market than Old Quarter with snazzy wine bars and eateries. I only recently discovered this botanical garden called ‘Bai Da Song Hong’ and I can’t get enough of it. Hanoi is a very polluted city so after a while of living here, you crave fresh air and luscious greenery. It has adventure garden vibes about it, another photo spot more unique than the stereotypical Old Quarter tourist traps. Stay here for the sunset.
From here you can either grab a taxi or walk back to the main road where you’ll come across the flower markets selling not only flowers but also more cheap Bia Hoi’s to make a pit stop at before making your way to West Lake, a picturesque lake lined with restaurants to settle at for dinner. For a Saturday night, explore the many bars and clubs Tay Ho has to offer, some suggestions; Soul bar for live Jazz music. If you’re game for a heavy night of dancing follow the usual pattern we tend to of Sidewalk, followed by Birdcage at about 12.30. There’s a lot of late night/ early morning clubs to choose from but Birdcage is a safe bet and an eclectic place to visit. Located in a quiet area, inappropriately opposite a grave site.
It’s your final day and night in Hanoi, and you’re most likely to be a little hungover, am I right? Never fear, after grabbing yourself a hydrating Pho breakfast make a bee line for Trill roof top pool in Hei Tower. Even if it’s winter, you can take a book and just enjoy the peaceful setting and view. For lunch get a taxi or walk 15 minutes to Trung Hoa for some of the tastiest street food around, the Bun Ca on Ngõ 34 Nguyễn Thị Định street located under the orange umbrellas is by far the best I’ve tasted in Hanoi. Alternatively, there are many good restaurants in this area also.
After lunch head to Lotte Tower in Ba Dinh district close by to enjoy a casual drink and enjoy the best view of Hanoi from the observation deck. Your final day should be more relaxing as you’ve packed so much into the first 2 days. I find travelling in general a little rushed sometimes and you miss out on just enjoying the city for what it is.
On the way back into Old Quarter, a stop at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum shouldn’t be missed in your itinerary. It was the first attraction I saw when visiting Hanoi and although going inside is only permitted on certain days, it’s nice to view and walk around the surrounding gardens.
For your last night, although not traditional, you simply can’t leave Hanoi without visiting 4 P’s Pizza in Old Quarter. “But Nicole, you can get pizza anywhere” I’m aware, but hear me out. It’s amazing, inspired with Asian fusion recipes you won’t find this anywhere else. This is where I would take you, if you were my guest. Alternatively, seafood Hot Pot is another very filling option, these can be found pretty much everywhere and it’s a great experience to cook your own food with friends. Spend your final night starting off at Giang cafe to get yourself an Egg coffee (cà phê trứng) then take to the busy streets for a night of bar hopping to conclude your weekend in Hanoi. If you can, try and make it for the Hanoi water puppet show, book your ticket in the morning to avoid disappointment, it’s a very tongue in cheek show and very unique to Vietnamese culture.
Of course there is so much more that could of been added to this itinerary, such as one of the great Hanoi Street food tours or one of the evening cooking classes hosted by restaurants. Hanoi really does spoil you for choice in such a short amount of time, and that’s just the city. Surrounding Hanoi is a whole bunch of destinations worth visiting. Ninh Binh, perhaps my favourite of them all, but I’ll save that for a week long itinerary.
I hope you’ve found this useful if you are thinking of paying a visit, and if you’ve already been please let me know your favourite parts of Hanoi in the comments below?
Useful safety and food tips
- Only go to busy joints, if it’s busy it means it’s decent.
- Do not eat the fried donuts the ladies sell on the streets of Old Quarter, simply say “không cám ơn” to say “no thank you”. Unless you want to risk a dodgy stomach.
- Please only rely on the Grab App for taxi’s and bike taxi’s, unless you know the company street taxis will rip you off terribly and can be very unsafe.
- Basic city common sense, but keep your bag close to you, especially in Old Quarter during the night markets.