3 days traveling around Hanoi – a DIY travel guide
Where to go, What to do for your best experience
Hanoi, the 1,000-years-old capital of Vietnam, remains itself one of the best destinations of the Southeast Asia region, where home to countless tourist attractions and famous landscapes of which some have been listed in the UNESCO World Heritage.
The wealth of Hanoi history is rich, epic and full of legends as what tourists acclaim. This French-colonial used-to-be city is a cultural mix of Eastern and Western influences which are mirrored in the style of many architectural gems, from remarkably preserved colonial buildings, unique museums to the world’s heritage mosaic and ancient pagodas. Make yourself a chance to get there, you will absolutely regret nothing. Let’s follow our DIY guide of the best things to do to survive, and handily navigate through your stay in 3 days traveling around, for your best experience in amazing Hanoi.
The best time to visit Hanoi
Hanoi has four seasons, and as the city’s in the Northern hemisphere, that means the chilly winter starts in December and steaming summer hovers around early June. Also, the climate of Hanoi is quite typical for the Northern environment with the characteristics of a humid tropical monsoon climate, i.e. hot summer with a lot of rain whereas cold winter comes with less.
More interestingly, the nuance of Hanoi alters each season’s crossover, impressing tourists with eye-pleasing scenes and unmistakable feeling of what makes Hanoi, all year round. So, answering the question of what is the best time to visit Hanoi may be very personal, depending on your own taste and expectation. In fact, there really is no bad time to visit Hanoi. Just be warned that the cold months can be a bit depressing, and if you hate the heat, don’t come in June through to August. Other than that, pack and plan appropriately and don’t let the weather spoil your visit. Friendly local people are always available to welcome you to have an awesome experience during your trip.
The DIY-3D2N itinerary to Hanoi
- Best places to visit in Hanoi – Day 1:
Hoan Kiem Lake & Ngoc Son Temple
As one of the landmarks of Hanoi, Hoan Kiem Lake impresses tourists by tranquility and peacefulness, privately away from the bustling urban life. This is the only lake in Vietnam that is home to an iconic tortoise, that has a preserved specimen of a giant turtle weighing 250kg in Ngoc Son Temple, which sits in the center on a small island. The temple was built to commemorate the 13th-century military leader Tran Hung Dao, famous for his bravery in the battle against the Nguyen dynasty. The lake and the temple are probably the most famous places in Hanoi to rest and admire great views.
Hoan Kiem lake is also very popular among Hanoians as a gathering place for families, nature lovers, sport practitioners and hang outs. If you want to spend time like the local residents do, show up at 6 am and do exercise, practice Tai Chi or Yoga with them.
Hanoi Old Quarter
As being considered the city’s business hub and main tourist destination, Hanoi Old Quarter offers the French-colonial architecture, rich food culture, and a long history. In the past, all the tradesmen of a single craft would gather together in one street and many of the Old Quarter’s streets were dedicated to a single trade or guild. This practice has survived over the years and it can be fun to walk down each new street to see what wares are sold there. While having a stroll around the Old Quarter, you’ll spot temples, gates, and halls dating back centuries. Two sights that show you wildly different sides of Hanoi are the grey, Gothic Saint Joseph Cathedral and the well-preserved, traditional Ancient House.
You may also notice that the streets are packed with scooters, bicycles, and cars swarming around pedestrians like a school of fish. Visitors have no choice but to face the traffic, however the experience of exploring the historical area is a must-do and truly well worth it.
Hanoi Train Street
One of the most curious and picturesque spots in Hanoi is the city’s so-called “train street”. In the Old Quarter train tracks squeeze through some of the city’s more narrow streets, with the doors of people’s homes opening out onto them. Twice a day a large train makes its way through this residential area, with residents squeezing into doorways to keep clear. Even if you visit when the train isn’t there, the neighborhood offers an interesting insight into what life is like for some residents of Hanoi.
Dong Xuan Market
Established in 1889, Dong Xuan Market is housed within a four-story Soviet-style building on the northern edge of Hanoi Old Quarter. It’s also known as Hanoi’s largest indoor market, offering a wide range of goods such as fresh produce, souvenirs, accessories, and clothing, as well as electronic and household appliances.
Surrounding Dong Xuan Market are many more shops where you can purchase traditional Dong Ho drawings, Bat Trang ceramics, Binh Da embroideries and laces, and sand paintings. Within walking distance of Hoan Kiem Lake, Dong Xuan Market is a must-visit if you’re looking to experience the local lifestyle (you might even end up leaving with a pair of cheap sunglasses and a Vietnamese conical hat).
Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square
Hanoi can be a lively and hectic city at times, so a nice way to end your first day is by taking a step back from it all. To do so, head for the ever-busy roundabout in Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square, find a bar or restaurant overlooking the chaos and simply watch the world go by. If you’re feeling peckish, you should have no problem finding street vendors close-by serving up fresh food at bargain basement prices.
Water Puppet Theatre
The world-famous Thang Long water puppet theater in Hanoi originates from an art form that dates back to the 11th century. Water puppet dancing has become a traditional art, a special creation of Vietnamese people. The tradition of the water puppet theater originates from the time when the rice fields were flooded and the villagers would entertain by standing underwater to the waist with puppets performing on the water. Using large sticks to support puppets, it appears as if they are moving on the water with puppets hidden behind the screen.
Currently, this type has been famous on stages around the world. The performance was accompanied by a Vietnamese orchestra playing traditional music using drums, wooden bells, horns, bamboo flutes, and cymbals. There are also authentic Vietnamese songs that tell the story of the puppets taking place. Most programs recount Vietnamese folklore stories and legends with topics including a humorous rice harvest celebration described in a humorous way.
Most programs have the Legend of the famous King Le’s restored sword telling the story of Hoan Kiem Lake and the giant turtle. Live music is indispensable in the show and singers often shout encouraging words to puppets.
- Best places to visit in Hanoi – Day 2:
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum at Ba Dinh Square is one of the most attractive attractions in Hanoi. It was Ho Chi Minh’s last resting place, Vietnam’s most famous leader, called “Uncle Ho” by his people. His body was preserved in a glass case at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in central Hanoi (though contrary to his wishes). For travelers, a trip to Uncle Ho’s final resting place can be an extraordinary experience because it is not just an average attraction. It is part of a unique history.
The One Pillar Pagoda
According to the tale an heirless Emperor had a dream in which he met a goddess of sorts named Avalokiteshvara which gifted him with a baby boy that was resting on a lotus flower. The Emperor Ly Thai wanted the pagoda to be built as the lotus blossom and that’s why it was built on a single pillar. The lotus blossom also symbolizes enlightenment in Buddhism.
Present day, the wooden pagoda is supported by a concrete pillar as replacement for the original one. The original wooden pillar was destroyed by the French. Another folk’s tale claims that the bo tree behind the pagoda is the same tree underneath Buddha became enlightened.
Hanoi Botanical Garden
Sprawling out behind both the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the One Pillar Pagoda lies the Hanoi Botanical Garden, a stop well worth a look since you’re already there. This lovely park centers on several small lakes, with walking trails taking you past all sorts of trees and plants. At times you may find lanterns strung up around the place, but more often than not you’ll spot locals making use of this recreational green space.
Hoa Lo Prison
Originally named Maison Centrale, the prison was built by the French in 1896, on the site of what is now Hanoi’s downtown section. Among the items on display are various instruments of torture, including whips, shackles, and a guillotine. Also still preserved in their original condition are the French-period solitary confinement cells and the narrow tunnel through which more than a hundred Vietnamese prisoners escaped to freedom in August 1945.
Vietnam Military History Museum
For more history on the wars in Vietnam and weapons used in the conflicts, head over to the giant Vietnamese flag flying over the Vietnam Military History Museum. Sitting under the Flag Tower of Hanoi, a large collection of military vehicles and weapons sit in the central courtyard of this museum.
This includes several fighter planes, a helicopter, and even the tank that rolled through the gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon to signal the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. Inside the museum exhibits, you can see art from past wars and read accounts by those who fought against the French and the US in the 20th century.
The Vietnam Women’s Museum delivers a beautifully presented tribute to the women of Vietnam across the ages. There are plenty of historical contexts alongside a wealth of information on today’s more modern Vietnamese woman.
Inside the museum there is lots of narrative as women of the rice paddy fields, service workers, street vendors, female business leaders, academics and mothers are all well represented. Additionally there is plenty of information on everyday life including marriage, family life, fashion and life changing rituals. Interestingly, there are also exhibits on the part women played in Vietnam’s wars.
Hanoi Opera House
Built in 1911, the Hanoi Opera House is the biggest theatre in Vietnam and speaks volumes as historical and cultural evidence of Vietnam under French rule. It’s a phenomenal piece of neo-classical French architecture featuring Gothic themes on the doors and domes with pillars, shuttered windows, balconies and a glass room. The interior is even more magnificent than the exterior with many arguing it is aesthetically even more appealing than the Paris Opera House. Visitors today will be entertained at this architectural landmark which features a range of events including local Vietnamese opera, traditional folk music, ballet, and many international concerts.
- Best places to visit in Hanoi – Day 3:
Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
Thang Long Citadel is an attractive monument of Vietnamese history and was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2010. Also known as Hanoi Old Citadel, many antiques and items are from the middle. The 6th and 20th centuries were excavated in 2004, including the foundations of old castles, ancient roads, ponds, and wells. If you visit on holidays, you can also enjoy special art programs such as water puppet theater, exhibitions, folk games.
The Temple of Literature
The Temple of Literature is often cited as one of Hanoi’s most picturesque tourist attractions. Originally built as a university in 1070 dedicated to Confucius, scholars, and sages, the building is extremely well preserved and is a superb example of traditional-style Vietnamese architecture. This ancient site offers a lake of literature, the Well of Heavenly Clarity, turtle steles, pavilions, courtyards and passageways that were once used by royalty. Visiting the Temple of Literature, you will discover historic buildings from the Ly and Tran dynasties in a revered place that has seen thousands of doctors graduate in what has now become a memorial to education and literature.
West Lake, or Ho Tay, Hanoi’s largest lake, is 15 km in circumference and is surrounded by upper-class suburbs as well as the Tay Ho expat district. It is also a very popular destination as it makes for a nice change from the hectic pace of the Old Quarter.
The lake offers an opportunity to visit temples off the beaten path or to enjoy a cup of coffee or a refreshing beer whilst admiring the lake. You can navigate around the lake by bicycle and rest at one of the street side restaurants.
Tran Quoc Pagoda
Sitting out by West Lake, this is the oldest Buddhist shrine in Hanoi with a history that stretches back to the 6th century. The temple moved away from its original spot along the Red River and now sits across several islands by West Lake.
To reach the shrine, you must first cross a causeway which links the islands with the shores of the lake. Due to its advanced age, some pagodas, like the shrine’s tallest, have had to be reconstructed, but many are still originals from the 17th century. As you go around, take special note of the carvings in the shrines, as well as the various symbols used. Be sure to also respect the local and religious customs when you visit, as this is still very much an active shrine, with monks who live there.
The best dishes to try while you are visiting Hanoi
1. Cha ca La Vong
Address: 14 Cha Ca Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
Favored by veteran gourmets, has been lasting for over decades, Cha ca La Vong leaves its mark over Hanoians and tourists as the must-try. The main ingredient is a type of catfish called hemibagrus, which needs lots of time and attention when it is cooked. This dish is full of flavor thanks to the marinated grilled fish, fragrant herbs, fresh Bun and crunchy nuts. Cooking it on the table and eating it straight away only adds to the experience. If there was a UNESCO book for foods, Cha ca ought to be listed on the first pages.
2. Bun Cha Huong Lien
Address: 24 Le Van Huu, Phan Chu Trinh, Hai Ba Trung, Hanoi
Already popular, this restaurant gained worldwide acclaim when President Obama and Anthony Bourdain came and ate Bun Cha together.
The pork balls are slightly fatty, incredibly juicy and tasty. Fresh herbs, noodles dipped into the special sauce, makes for an incredible harmony of flavors. The look of the restaurant may not be as luxurious as a high graded one, but the cuisine stays at its best – local, authentic and delicious. This is a must-eat delicacy in Hanoi.
3. Pho Thin
Address: 13 Lo Duc, Ngo Thi Nham, Hai Ba Trung, Hanoi
Pho is arguably Vietnam’s most iconic dish. It’s a Vietnamese noodle soup made with four ingredients – clear stock, rice, meat (beef or chicken), and a few herbs. From humble sidewalk stalls to upscale restaurants, you can find it everywhere in Hanoi, though many people believe that the city’s best Pho is served here at Pho Thin.
Opened in 1979, the restaurant’s owner Nguyen Trong Thin found a novel way to add flavor to classic Pho bo (Pho with beef). Instead of simply boiling the beef, he decided to stir-fry it with garlic before adding it to the soup. This minute innovation added new flavor components to the dish, turning a traditionally gentle stock into a more richly layered broth.
(For your reference, in the south, they use bean sprouts and a wider variety of fresh herbs. The broth in southern Pho is typically sweeter and with narrower noodles as well.)
4. Banh cuon Thanh Van
Address: 12 Hang Ga, Hang Bo, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
This restaurant is known for a dish called Banh Cuon. When we were there, it was obvious how popular this place is by all the tourists looking for it. There were even a couple of tour groups that stopped here for a bite to eat.
Banh cuon is made from a thin sheet of steamed fermented rice batter filled with seasoned ground pork and wood ear mushrooms. In fact, Banh cuon is typically made with pork but this restaurant offers other varieties as well, including rolls made with shrimp, as they’re topped with herbs and fried shallots and served with a bowl of fish sauce. The rice sheets were soft, slippery, and a little gummy. Both varieties of Banh cuon were delicious. They may remind you of those rice noodle rolls called Chee cheong fun served at Chinese dim sum restaurants.
5. Mien luon Dong Thinh
Address: 87 Hang Dieu, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
This restaurant is known for being one of the best places in Hanoi to have Luon (eel). Unlike Japanese unagi where the eel is grilled, most eel in Vietnam is dried then deep-fried so it’s crispy like dried anchovies. They were very crunchy but still had that signature sweetness. The eel was served with glass noodles (Mien), fried garlic and shallots, cucumber slices, chopped peanuts, and fresh herbs and greens with just a shallow layer of broth made from eel bones and ginger. Delicious!
6. Banh duc Thuy Khue
Address: 1 Alley 29, Thuy Khue, Tay Ho, Hanoi
Banh duc is a series of steamed cakes made of rice flour and molded into different shapes, usually a circle, rectangle, or triangle. You will eat this delicious type of rice cake with dipping sauces and it often has peanuts inside. Banh duc has two common varieties in Hanoi: savory Banh duc and plain Banh duc with peanut.
The savory Banh duc is placed in a bowl and meat sauce is poured directly on top. The plain cake with peanut is cut into small pieces and it will be dipped into an accompanying sauce. Each dish brings different tastes; while the plain Banh duc with peanut has a simple taste of rich rice flour, a bit brittle and slightly sweet of peanut, the savory one brings much more sophisticated flavors and appearance.
They say eating Banh duc is tasting the flavor of the authentic “rural” Vietnam.
7. Bun thang Ba Duc
Address: 48 Cau Go, Dong Da, Hanoi
Bun thang consists of many nutritious ingredients mixed together, just like the method used in Eastern medicine to mix herbs. This dish is made primarily of noodles and chicken soup; in addition, people can eat it with duck eggs, shrimp, squid, onions, garlic, or shiitake mushrooms. This combination makes Bun thang not only delicious food but also a very nutritious one.
Bun thang is a special dish both in its name and in how it’s made. In the past, the Hanoian women cleverly used the remaining food from Tet (Vietnamese New Year) and combined the leftovers to make a new dish which was tasty and economical. The dish’s name is derived from this phrase: “Thang thuoc bo,” which means a package of rejuvenation.
8. Xoi xeo Yen
Address: 35B Nguyen Huu Huan, Ly Thai To, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Xoi xeo is a typical fast food of Hanoians. It’s made of steamed glutinous rice and other delicious ingredients. During the steaming process, the rice is mixed with chicken fat. This steamed rice is then paired with mung bean, which is steamed and ground, and topped with crispy fried shallot. This fresh yellow xoi xeo is packaged in lotus leaf. The smells of chicken fat, crispy fried shallot, and lotus leaf combine to make a nondescript yet delectable scent of xoi xeo.
Though Xoi xeo seems to be typical for breakfast, you still can have it anytime of the day. It delivers the true taste of a street food that has been with Hanoians for generations.
Throughout this article, we wish you to have an idea of how to travel to Ho Chi Minh for your best experience. In case you are looking for your own travel agent, who can offer a wonderful and hassle-free trip to Hanoi, please feel free to let us know. We always commit our best to make it your once-in-a-lifetime journey.