The city of a million motorbikes. Of deliciously toasted bahn mi baguettes bursting with flavour. And of a lake reflecting thousands of multi-coloured lights of every shade. Hanoi is the heartbeat of Vietnam, and a capital city that you just can’t miss. But with so much to see and do, where should you start? We’ve broken it all down for you based on our own experience in the city, to creating what we hope is the best 4 days in Hanoi itinerary.
Why choose Hanoi?
If you’re going to visit Vietnam, Hanoi has to make your travel itinerary. Even if you’re already made up your mind (and you really should), here are a few good reasons to add Hanoi to your list:
- It’s Vietnam at its finest. Buzzing streets, incredible food markets, easy to access attractions and so much to do that you’re almost spoiled for choice.
- The food. Oh, the food. Whether it’s snacking on bun cha, slurping icy coconut coffee or burning your fingers on steaming hot spring rolls, Vietnam offers some of the best fare in South East Asia, if not the globe.
- It’s connected. Some of the fastest wifi speeds in the region alongside the sheer convenience of ride-hailing apps like Grab make Hanoi an attractive choice for digital nomads and savvy travellers alike.
- It’s cheap as chips. After travelling in South East Asia for 6 months solid, we were surprised that Vietnam ended up being one of the most affordable countries we visited.
Our 4 days in Hanoi itinerary
What should 4 days in Hanoi look like? Our tried and tested itinerary for exploring Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city:
- Day 1: Old Quarter / Drink Coconut Coffee / St Joseph’s Cathedral / Eat Bahn Mi / Go shopping
- Day 2: Street food tour / Phung Hung Mural Street / Dong Xuan Market
- Day 3: Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum / Note Café / Water Puppet Show
- Day 4: Cooking Class / Hoa Lo Prison / Hoan Kiem Lake
Getting in from the airport
Chances are you’re landing into Hanoi by air, since there aren’t too many border crossings into the city. So make sure you check out the best deals for your flights with Skyscanner. Based on that, there are a few ways to get into the city centre:
By shuttle: Definitely the most affordable way to get from the airport is to use the shuttle bus, that goes to the Hanoi Old Quarter. When you leave the airport you’ll find a kiosk advertising tickets which costs 40,000 VND (about 1.35 GBP / 1.75 USD per person). It drops you near to Hoan Kiem Lake which is near the Old Quarter, taking about 45 mins (maybe longer if there is bad traffic). The buses depart every 30 to 45 minutes.
By taxi: The simplest way to get from Noi Bai International Airport to the city centre is by taxi. Instead of taking a traditional taxi, we highly recommend you download Grab, the ride-hailing app similar to Uber, which is usually cheaper than metered cabs. The ride will still be pricey – probably around 400,000 VND (approx. 13.50 GBP/ 17.25 USD). If you are taking a normal taxi, make sure they use the meter or at worst agree the fee upfront!
Getting around Hanoi
Hanoi’s city centre is pretty walkable for most – we spent our days mostly on foot but we’re relatively fit 30-something travellers. We’d recommend walking most places so that you get a feel for the city. However, there are other options for getting around:
Motorbike Taxis (Xe Om): We just sang the praises of Grab for the airport transfer and we’ll continue here. You can hail motorbike taxis on Grab which should cost about 20, 000 VND (0.66 GBP/ 0.90 USD) for a short trip. There are also the traditional motorcycle taxis that lurk around most city corners – remember to agree the cost before departing.
Taxis: Hail these off the street and use the meter – you’re looking at about a base price of 10,000 VND (0.33 GBP / 0.45 USD) and about 5,000 VND (0.15 GBP / 0.20 USD) per km. As above, use the Grab app to book a cheaper ride, with a guaranteed fare.
Bus: Liveried in bright red, yellow and white, the busses cover the bigger routes in the city, like the Old Quarter, Hoan Kiem Lake and the Mausoleum. Only payable with cash, tickets are VND 5,000 – 10,000 (0.15 – 0.33 GBP/ 0.20 – 0.45 USD)
Cyclo: Want a more authentic Vietnamese experience? You could get into a cyclo but – to be honest – we wouldn’t recommend it. It’s not expensive (about 20, 000 VND / 0.66 GBP / 0.90 USD for an hour) but it’s a tight squeeze. You could use a cyclo to do an Old Quarter tour though, but not really for getting around.
Where to Stay
Hanoi is crammed with great places to stay, to suit every budget. One word of advice – only trust Hanoi hotel reviews from platforms like Agoda, rather than Tripadvisor reviews. The latter are known to be ‘bought’ in Vietnam and therefore not reflective of the property’s value. Here are some of our preferred Hanoi hotels:
Budget: Centrally-located Little Charm Hanoi Hostel is great for backpackers as it has good, clean rooms, convenient lockers and friendly staff.
Mid-range: In a great location in the Old Quarter, we like Hanoi Trendy Hotel and Spa. You get good bang for your buck here: well-sized, air-conditioned, nicely decorated rooms but at a bargain price.
Luxury: Top of the pile is undoubtedly the Intercontinental Hotel Hanoi West lake. This hotel provides a welcome break from the manic streets of Hanoi and they even have ‘over-water rooms’ on the lake. Their sunset bar is set on its own island on the lake, really an incredible experience.
Day 1: Wandering the Old Quarter, visiting churches, shopping and eating
Explore the Old Quarter
What better way to explore Hanoi than on foot? Get your sneakers on and traipse the streets of the Old Quarter. You’ll find yourself lost in a warren of stores, cute little cafes and local Hanoi people going about their daily business.
It’s a great mix of colonial architecture and more modern stores; showing Hanoi history throughout the ages.
Drink a Coconut Coffee
Vietnam is pretty famous for its egg coffee. But, for us, the real star of the Vietnamese caffeine line-up is the coconut coffee. This icy dream fuses condensed milk, coconut milk, smooth coffee and ice to create a lip-smackingly delicious drink. The best place to get one is Cong Caphe, a chain of coffee shops dotted throughout the city. Luckily, there is one across from your next location: St Joseph’s Cathedral.
St Joseph’s Cathedral
Built in the late 1800’s, this towering cathedral is meant to resemble Paris’ Notre Dame and, to be frank, this Vietnamese landmark feels almost out of place in crazy Hanoi. An oasis of calm, you’ll love this Gothic Revival cathedral and can even enter it for free. Just go to the right-hand side for the entrance.
Insider Instagram tip: Want to get the below shot for your Instagram feed? Take the street to the right of the cathedral, walk 200m and you’ll find two gorgeous little wall murals that make a great shot. Sometimes there are cars parked in front of them, but perhaps you’ll be lucky like us!
Eat a Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwich)
So it’s probably lunch time by now. And you HAVE to try the famous Vietnamese sandwich, the banh mi. Essentially think of the most delicious French baguette and marry it with Vietnam’s unique flavours and you’ve got a gastronomic match made in heaven. Plus, they are cheap as anything in Hanoi. Our favourite place to eat them is at An Cafe along with one of their signature milkshakes.
Shopping – Made in Vietnam
Belly full of bahn mi? Head over to the old town and snag yourself a bargain. You might know that many international brands like North Face are made in Vietnam; and you’ll find them at rock bottom prices in little stores around the town. Wanting to go a bit more upmarket? Head to ‘Silk Street’ or Hang Gai street for gorgeous dresses, scarves and shirts.
Day 2: Eating street food, admiring street art and visiting a local market
Do a Street Food Tour
By now you’ve tasted the coffee and the sandwiches but there is so much more to explore when it comes to Vietnam’s amazing street food. The best way to taste it all (well, a lot of it)? A street food tour.
Generally a food tour in Hanoi takes you round the fresh markets and a host of the best street food stalls and vendors in the city. Main attractions include bun cha, a favourite of former US President, Barack Obama! If it’s good enough for Obama, it’s good enough for you, right?
These tasty pork patties are served in a slightly spicy soup alongside rice noodles and fresh lettuce, and you put them together yourself.
You’ll probably also taste delicacies like banh cuon, steaming rice rolls full of minced pork, wood ear mushrooms and shallots or slurp the best pho in Hanoi, another Vietnamese soupy dish. Looking for something a little sweeter? Usually desserts include things like jackfruit and yoghurt or fresh fruit with condensed milk and crushed ice.
There are quite a few options for food tours in Hanoi but we always revert to trusty Get your Guide – we know their Hanoi street food tour is a winner!
Phung Hung – Mural Street
You’ve tasted the best food, why not take in a bit of art? Hanoi has a Mural Street called Phung Hung Street. It was once famous for selling motorbikes (there’s an old motorbike as part of the art), but it is now is a great location to get some street art photos. So, if you are keen on street art, this is a good place to go.
Dong Xuan Market
Maybe you got your shopping fix in yesterday. But why not try a more authentic market today and do more shopping in Hanoi? A ten-minute walk from Phung Hung street is the Dong Xuan market. This is Hanoi’s largest indoor market and here you can get everything from fresh fruit to souvenirs, clothing to electronics. Generally at very low prices, but just make sure you bargain anyway. Keep in mind – like many markets in South East Asia, this market is a little grubby. But it’s all part of the experience, right?
Open: Friday, Saturday and Sunday – 7.00am to midnight, Monday to Thursday – 7.00am to 6.00pm
Train Street *partly closed*
At time of writing, the Train Street had just closed to tourists, hopefully soon to reopen. We believe it’s still worth a visit to look at this renowned street, as parts of it are still accessible even though the train doesn’t go through it. It does have police guard now so you might not be in luck when you arrive.
If you aren’t aware, the Hanoi Train Street is a working railway line which you are able to walk along, with residents selling everything from fruit to souvenirs. We loved heading there and taking a seat in one of the railway side cafes, slurping our mango shakes and waiting for the train.
We’re all awaiting its re-opening.
Day 3: Visit the Mausoleum, post notes at the Note Coffee and see a water puppet show
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
This morning get on down to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the resting place of former Vietnam leader Ho Chi Minh. Make sure you get there early – the place can get particularly busy which makes sense as it’s an important place for the Vietnamese people.
You’ll be able to see Ho’s body embalmed and encased in a glass sarcophagus. More than this, if you arrive early, you might see the changing of the guards at the mausoleum.
Insider Tip: You will have to hand over bags and cameras before entering the mausoleum, so best to leave as much behind as you can. Also, the mausoleum is closed for maintenance each year – make sure you check beforehand. Lastly, there is a strict dress code so cover up if you want to enter.
Open: Tuesday to Sunday – 8.00am to 5.00pm, Monday – 8.00am to 11.15am
We’re in love with this gorgeous little eatery, located near the Old Quarter and the lake. Why? The coffee shop is papered in post-it notes – they cover every available surface in the café; whether chairs, walls or even the ceiling! The notes are written by patrons and you’ll be encouraged to write your own snappy sonnets and stick them up.
We could spend many an hour here reading the funny, sad and generally interesting notes around the place. More than that, they turn out a mean iced tea and a flaky, warm, chocolatey croissant that has this writer salivating as she pens this…
Open: Daily 6.30am to 11.00pm
See a Water Puppet Show
It’s a must-do on any Hanoi itinerary – checking out a water puppet show. This ancient show dates back to the 11th century when villagers would put puppets on their fishing rods, to distract themselves from the flooding of their rice paddies.
Nowadays you’re not seeing the show in a rice field but rather in a theatre which has a central water pool. Set to rousing music, you’ll see short little plays based on Vietnamese legends that will have you captivated.
This is a popular activity so make sure to get tickets in advance. You can buy your tickets here.
Day 4: Taking a cooking class, visiting the Hoa Lo prison and watching the sun set at Hoan Kiem Lake
Learn the art of Vietnamese cuisine in a cooking class
It’s your final day in Hanoi and – like us – you probably don’t want to leave. So let’s make your last day in the capital one to remember and one that you can take home with you.
What better way to do that than to learn how to recreate some of the fabulous dishes you ate in Hanoi? We’re recommending you do a cooking class and learn the intricacies of Vietnamese cuisine for your own kitchen.
We recommend this cooking class, which fills up quickly so make sure you book in advance.
Visit the Hoa Lo Prison Museum (Hanoi Hilton)
This museum, known by some by it’s slightly tongue-in-cheek nickname, the Hanoi Hilton, showcases the terrible suffering of the Vietnamese under the colonial French government.
The prison itself was bulldozed in the 1990’s but the museum still showcases some of the relics from the previous complex including a gruesome guillotine. This is a more sobering side of Vietnamese history so be prepared for a more sombre visit.
Hoàn Kiếm Lake
If you haven’t been there already, we suggest you take a stroll from the Note Coffee to this lake, as the sun starts to set. Around 6.00pm every night you’ll see Hanoi locals winding down from their day at points alongside the water’s edge.
Whether it’s groups of ladies doing dance or aerobics classes, elderly gents practising their Tai Chi or a cross-section of cultures taking a jog around its perimeter, it’s a fascinating place to spend the evening.
You’ll also be rewarded with some great shots. The bright, multi-coloured lights bounce off the water to create some incredible reflections. Make sure you have your camera handy! The Hoan Kiem area also boasts some of the best bars in Hanoi, including Skyline and Bar +84.
More things to do in Hanoi
Don’t like our itinerary above? We couldn’t cover everything in just 4 days in Hanoi, so have a long list of other fun things to do in Hanoi. Swap out some of our suggestions with these:
Want to see more of the city? Do a free Hanoi city tour, run by local students.
Looking for a bit more culture? You could visit the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, the Temple of Literature or check out the Opera House.
Interested in museums? Wander the halls of the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum or the Museum of Ethnology.
Want to admire temples? You could visit the One Pillar Pagoda, Ngoc Son Pagoda or the Tran Quoc Pagoda.
Enjoy being on 2 wheels? One of the lesser-known ways to explore Hanoi is via bicycle! Check out this great Hanoi Highlights tour.
Got a weekend in Hanoi? Every weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) Hanoi’s Old Quarter turns into a buzzing night market full of roadside stalls and food hawkers.
Interactive 4 days in Hanoi itinerary Map
Bonus: Day trips from Hanoi Vietnam
Whether you’re trying to find out where to travel from Hanoi or just looking for a few ideas for day trips, here are some places you could add onto your itinerary, within easy distance of the city.
If you love trekking and quieter hillside towns, Sapa is for you. Set over the rice fields of the Muong Hoa Valley, Sapa (or Sa Pa) has loads of hikes and guided tours. You can take a boat trip on Lake Sapa, travel the Tram Ton Pass, check out the Silver Waterfalls and walk the Valley, the gem of Sapa and the Tonkinese Alps.
If you want to head there from Hanoi, you can take a private transfer or do a 2 day bus tour.
Just need to book a bus to Sapa? Check out the handy tool below.
Halong Bay or Bai Tu Long Bay
The limestone karsts of Halong Bay are world famous but, if it was up to us, we’d suggest you head to Bai Tu Long Bay instead. The quieter cousin to Halong Bay, you’ll only find yourself with a handful of other cruises, in a more serene atmosphere.
We’ve written an entire rundown of what you can expect in our Bai Tu Long Bay guide but, in short, you could book a berth with a company like Paloma Cruises, who offer pick up and drop off between Hanoi to Halong Bay.
Ninh Binh (or Tam Coc)
Arguably our favourite place in all of Vietnam, Ninh Binh is a very special location. Called the ‘Halong Bay on land’, Ninh Binh (or rather the small nearby town of Tam Coc), has some spectacular landscapes. Cruise down the Trang An river and explore the caves, get a local boatsman to row you with their feet down the Tam Coc river or hike up Hang Mua to see the epic viewpoint, or the cave below.
We’ve actually got more information on all of the above bonus towns in both our 10 days in Vietnam itinerary as well as our extended 3 weeks in Vietnam travel guide, if you’re like some further reading.
What camera equipment and other gear do we use?
We’re living proof that you don’t need the most expensive gear to travel the world and take good photos. Here are some of our must have items that make it into the packing list for all our travels.
- Main Camera: Panasonic Lumix FZ1000
- Drone: DJI Mavic Air – Fly More Combo
- GoPro: Hero 7 Black
- GoPro Dive Case: Go Pro Housing
- GoPro Case: Smatree GoPro Carry Case – Small
- Packing Cubes: Eagle Creek Packing case
- Backpack: Osprey Farpoint 70
- Powerbank: Anker Powercore
- Phone: Xiaomi Mi 9
- Hard drive: Transcend Slim Storejet 2TB
- Laptop: Lenovo IdeaPad 720s
- Headphones: Bose Quiet Comfort 35
- Wifi Hotspot: GlocalMe G4
Frequently Asked Questions
When is the best time to go to Hanoi?
Definitely spring, which runs from February to April and autumn/fall which is October and November. Expect humid weather most of the year, or very high rainfall in summer and winter.
Is Hanoi safe to travel?
Absolutely – it’s generally rare to see serious crimes against travellers. That said, exercise caution after dark and watch out for pickpockets in busier streets.
Is 4 days in Hanoi enough?
In our opinion, yes. There are so many incredible places to explore in Vietnam so if you spend 4 days in Hanoi, hopefully you have a few more days to allocate to another amazing town.
We hope you enjoyed our 4 days in Hanoi Vietnam itinerary? Did we miss anything? Let us know what to do in Hanoi in the comments or get in touch!
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