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2 days in Hanoi – the best things to see and do in Vietnam’s capital city

2 days in Hanoi itinerary. If you only have two days in Hanoi this itinerary is packed with expert tips and all the best things to see and do in Vietnam’s capital city…

Cyclos in Hanoi
Cyclos in Hanoi

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Our 2-week Vietnam itinerary starts in Vietnam’s Capital. We’ve got two days in Hanoi and arrive just before dawn. As we drive from Noi Bai airport on the main road to Hanoi, we are surrounded by a stream of vibrating traffic – it’s like being in the middle of a swarm of bees – and it’s where the Hanoi buzz begins.

Scooters and bicycles piled to toppling with wares to sell in town; baskets stuffed to bursting with chickens, exotic fruits and vegetables stacked high. A dead pig lashed to the back of a scooter overtakes us, trotters flailing either side of the number plate.

People on push-bikes wearing traditional nón lá hats glide serenely along. All have one destination in mind. We’ve arrived in Hanoi. Read on for my Hanoi intinerary and how to spend 2 days in Hanoi.

Cyclo tour in a busy Hanoi street
Photo of Hanoi Street Scene

How to get to Hanoi

International flights arrive into NoiBai International Airport including direct flights from the UK with Vietnam Airlines. Flights are also available from nearby travel hubs ling Singapore and Hong Kong.

If you’re already in another part of Vietnam then options for getting to Hanoi include internal flights, train or bus travel.

To book your internal flight, bus or train ticket on-line Bookaway is an excellent resource. It also includes timetables, routes and other useful information for travel around Vietnam.

2 days in Hanoi Itinerary

Is Hanoi like Saigon? Well sort of the same but different. Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City) is more built up, commercial, has more tower blocks, more people and, I think, more traffic. Hanoi has a more colonial, leafy, French feel to it. 

The buildings aren’t so overpowering and there seems to be more space. Hanoi is small and gentler, but still very full-on. Here’s how to spend two days in Hanoi taking in the best sights, attractions and things to do.

Scooters in Hanoi with Hoan Kiem Lake Pagoda in the background
Thap Rua aka Turtle tower

These are some of the most popular tours, daytrips and activities you can enjoy in Hanoi:

2 day Hanoi Itinerary – Day 1

Explore the Old Quarter

To start your 2 days in Hanoi get a feel for the city start in my favourite part, the Old Quarter which you’ll find north of Hoan Kiem Lake. The Old Quarter is an elaborate maze of streets with life, colour and atmosphere spilling out onto the pavements. You’ll get lost but you’ll always find your way out again.

The streets in the Old Quarter are named after the goods that are sold in the shops there; Silk Street, Silver Street and Pickled-Fish Street to name a few. I was surprised to see one shop just selling memorial plaques for headstones. The activity doesn’t stop when it gets dark – it’s just as busy in the evenings.

Visit Ma May House, a late nineteenth century house is a tube house. These very narrow and very long houses were built in an attempt to reduce taxes. People built very narrow houses in an attempt to minimize taxes. Some are only two metres wide but go back up to 70 metres. Be sure to visit some Hanoi cafes and try the delicious Vietnamese coffee.

Crossing the road in Hanoi

Hanoi is incredibly walkable with each sight within easy walking distance of the next. That said, the pavements are taken up by parked scooters, chickens, dogs, street sellers. We were forced to walk in the road at times as the pavements were such a hive of activity.

But the chaos is fun and vibrant although that first time you cross the road in Hanoi might be a bit hairy. You’ll soon master it… just step into the traffic, walk slowly and don’t stop, change course or step backwards. The traffic will weave its way around you as if you’re encased in an invisible force field.

Crazy Scooter Traffic Hanoi

Lunch – Bún chả

Look for one of the city’s charcoal grills – you’ll probably smell the charred pork before you see it. It’s served in broth with white-rice noodles, herbs, nam pla and a dipping sauce. Bun Cha Ta in the Old Quarter is one of the best if you want to sit down for your street food dish.

Or, you could go for pho. Pho stalls (selling noodle snacks) are carried around with the cook and placed on the pavement as and when a customer gives the nod. Gas burner, tiny tables, stools and all – tasty and cheap and worth trying out for the flavour and the fun factor.

Food in Vietnam is some of the best I’ve tasted. There’s aren’t so many stalls nowadays as the authorities have recently set up ‘sidewalk bans’ so you might have to go into a cafe for your pho. If you do try the Hanoian egg coffee – out of this world.

The French Quarter

In the afternoon head to the French Quarter – it adjoins the old quarter. Check out the beautiful colonial buildings like Hanoi Opera House and some of the embassy buildings and hotels on the wide leafy streets. The French Quarter feels very European.

Hanoi Opera House with scooter in front
Hanoi Opera House

Cho Hom market is fun to explore. The Vietnamese have got banter down to a fine art and love to have a laugh and a joke while you haggle for your shopping.

There are also two museums in the French Quarter that are worth visiting. The National Museum of Vietnamese History and the Vietnamese Womens’ Museum will give you an insight into life in Vietnam.


In the evening head back to the lively Old Quarter. I recommend this  guided street food tour to sample many of Hanoi’s food institutions. Or you could drop into one of the many restaurants in the old quarter for tasty authentic Vietnamese food.

Choose a few small dishes to get a range of flavours. I always start with Vietnamese spring rolls. Be sure to have a Bia Hơi, the local draught beer, with your meal. Bia Hoi beer has to be one of the world’s cheapest beers. It’s a refreshing, light draught beer and we were more than happy to drink it during our 2 days in Hanoi.

To finish the evening find yourself a spot on Beer Corner. You’ll find the famous Beer Corner or Bia Hoi Corner at the crossroads of Pho Ta Hien and Pho Luong Ngoc Quyen. I guarantee you’ll be back to this fabulous little spot more that once on your visit to Hanoi.

Full of tourists, locals and fun there’s epic people-watching potention so pull up a plastic chair and drink your fill of atmosphere and Bia Hoi.

Update: A recent sidewalk ban means that beer corner is now a hazy memory. You’ll have to go find yourself an outdoor bar or beer hall now.

Beer Corner, Hanoi, Vietnam
Beer Corner, Hanoi

Best Places to Stay in Hanoi

LuxurySofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi – Beautiful historic 5 star Hotel in the French Quarter

Mid rangeMelia Hanoi –   Located in Hanoi’s City Centre, within walking distance Hoan Kiem Lake and Thang Long Water Puppet theatre. Outdoor pool and spa.

BoutiqueAcoustic Hotel and Spa – Beautiful French boutique style hotel with jacuzzi and bar on the rooftop

Budget: Old Quarter View Hanoi Hostel – Adults-only accommodation with a restaurant, a bar and a shared lounge.

Or find your own perfect accommodation 

Hanoi Itinerary – Day 2

Day two of our Hanoi itinerary starts at Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. It can get busy so the earlier you get there the better. The imposing building is watched over by stern guards wearing crisp white uniforms and inscrutable expressions.

Inside the mausoleum lies the body of the former leader, encased in glass and protected by guards. Opening days and times vary and the mausoleum is closed two months a year for embalming maintenance and on Fridays. Check the mausoleum website before you go. Dress code is ‘respectful’.

This guided half-day city highlights tour with transfers takes in Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, the One Pillar Pagoda, Temple of Literature, Tran Quoc Pagoda and the old quarter.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Hanoi Itinerary
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi

A short walk from Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum is Uncle Ho’s stilted house where he worked and lived. The One-Pillar Pagoda is also nearby so there are a few things to see in one small area.

One pillar pagoda Hanoi
One pillar pagoda, Hanoi

At the Intersection of Van Mieu & Pho Quoc Tu Giam is the Temple of Literature, a tranquil oasis in the midst of the city and said to be the first university in Vietnam.

This serene walled garden complex with pagodas and lily ponds is dedicated to the ancient scholar Confucius and makes for a peaceful wander and time out from the city.

This guided half-day city highlights tour with transfers takes in Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, the One Pillar Pagoda, Temple of Literature, Tran Quoc Pagoda and the old quarter.

Temple of Literature, Hanoi

From the Temple of Literature head back towards the old quarter, stopping off to see the Hanoi Train Street. The dwellings sit as near to the the track as you can get. As the train comes trundling through it brushes against laundry handing from the balconies and people and pets stand back to let it roll through.

In September 2022 Hanoi authorities announced the closure of the famous Hanoi Train Street. There is no access and the street is now guarded.

However, although the famous part of the train track has now closed, the train still runs through a large part of Hanoi and there are guided tours you can take which will let you see this epic attraction safely and in line with the rules. This Hanoi food tour includes coffee at a cafe on Train Street where you can see the train pass through up close and personal.

Train track in a narrow Hanoi street
Hanoi Street Train


Hoan Kiem Lake, just south of the Old Quarter, is popular with locals and visitors alike. Visit in the morning and you’ll see joggers, Tai Chi and ballroom dancing being practised on its banks.

Towards the bottom of the lake you can see Thap Rua Tortoise tower. It’s prettier at night when lit up and reflecting on the water. The lake makes a good point of reference for finding your way round the city.

Jade Island is connected by the bright red Húc bridge. Cross it and you’ll arrive at the Temple of the Jade Mountain. Jade Island in the lake is home to Ngoc Son Temple, a good place to escape the frenzy of the city with miniature trees, a shrine and a huge preserved turtle.

The turtle is the subject of a Hanoi legend which you can learn about at the temple.


2 days in Hanoi, Red Húc bridge.
Húc bridge, Hanoi, Vietnam


Any Hanoi itinerary should include a Hanoi Water Puppet Show at Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. It’s near Hoan Kiem Lake and is a big Hanoi attraction so it’s wise to book in advance. Book premium seats if you need extra leg-room – this theatre was built for little people.

The show is all in Vietnamese and the brightly painted wooden puppets depicting folklore scenes with live traditional music is utterly mesmerising.

A nice way to see the puppet theatre is to book a private cyclo tour and water puppet show. This tour will pick you up from your hotel and take you around the sights of the French Quarter followed by the water puppet show and a walk through the old quarter, stopping for chicken noodles en route.

Finish your evening by finding a rooftop bar with a good viewing point overlooking Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square. Grab a beer or two and watch as the traffic below weaves within a hair’s breadth of each other on this iconic Hanoi roundabout.

Hanoi Traffic
Traffic in Hanoi, Vietnam

More things to see in Hanoi

There are more things to see and do in Hanoi but I couldn’t squeeze them into just two days. If you have longer you might want to consider visiting:

  • Presidential Palace
  • St Joseph’s Cathedral
  • Vietnam Military History Museum
  • Thăng Long Imperial Citadel
  • Hoa Lo Prison Memorial
  • Hanoi Flag Tower
  • Take a cooking class

Travel a little outside the city on these day trips and tours:

The colour and vibrancy of Hanoi makes it a truly memorable place to visit with heaps to see, feel and experience. The Hanoi itinerary includes culture, history, architecture, food and everyday Vietnamese city life. Hanoi’s energy is infectious and invigorating. I hope you enjoy my recommendations for 2 days in Hanoi.

Next stop is Halong Bay and a mystical landscape of limestone karsts, traditional junk boats and floating villages.

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2-day Hanoi Itinerary



Friday 1st of January 2021

You can fly into the cheapest place in Vietnam, usually HCMC, and then anywhere is dirt cheap under $50

Suzanne Jones

Friday 1st of January 2021

You can find out more in my 2 week Vietnam itinerary about travelling around the country.

Ryan @Treksplorer

Thursday 3rd of January 2013

Hanoi is right near the top of my travel wishlist but the high flight prices from Canada have always sent me looking for alternatives in the past. From everything I've read or seen, Hanoi seems like an incredibly fascinating place and I really look forward to getting over there sooner rather than later. Thanks for the virtual tour!


Thursday 3rd of January 2013

Hanoi is a fabulous city and very different from HCMC - I hope you get the chance to go there some time. Thanks for dropping by :)

Travelbunny Trips in 2012 | the travelbunny

Thursday 27th of December 2012

[...] I’ll never forget and Vietnam was an amazing way to start my travel year.  We also spent time in Hanoi and Halong Bay but Hoi An is the place that stole a piece of my [...]

The Blond Jo

Friday 5th of October 2012

Looks amazing! I'm going there in January. Do you have any hostels you could recommend?


Friday 5th of October 2012

I can't recommend any hostels as I haven't stayed in on there. Accommodation is relatively inexpensive though. January is a great time to go. I hope you love ias much as I did :)

My Travel Affairs (@MyTravelAffairs)

Saturday 23rd of June 2012

Love the pictures, I always wanted to go to Vietnam! Im infected :)


Monday 25th of June 2012

Thank you :D

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