The Ultimate Three Days in Hanoi Itinerary

by madelineraeaway
Busy Hanoi Street

Before we went to Vietnam, Hanoi was arguably the place I was least excited about on our itinerary. I’m not totally sure why… Maybe because it was the place I knew the least about. Or maybe it was the fact that I thought Hanoi was just a big, overwhelming city.

And I wasn’t wrong about that. Hanoi is a VERY big, VERY overwhelming city. But what surprised me most was that it was arguably my favourite stop on our Vietnam trip.

Why? Well, that’s a loaded question. And one that a blog post like this one could never totally answer. It’s a place you have to experience to understand. And should be treated as much more than an entry or exit point to Vietnam. In my opinion, you should spend at least three days in Hanoi (but if you ask me, the more the better). 

okay, now that i have your attention...
read about how to spend three days in hanoi with this itinerary.

THINGS TO DO IN HANOI

visit the temple of literature

I absolutely loved The Temple of Literature. The sprawling grounds are scattered with beautiful gardens, lakes and pagodas. The temple was built in 1070 and was home to Vietnam’s first national university. We visited before Tet (The Vietnamese Lunar New Year) and it was so cool to see the holiday decorations and preparations being made for the biggest Vietnamese holiday of the year.

Ticket price: 30,000 VND or just over $1 USD a person.

The Temple of Literature in Hanoi
The Temple of Literature in Hanoi
The Temple of Literature in Hanoi
The Temple of Literature in Hanoi

walk around hoan kiam lake

Hoan Kiem is a cultural landmark of Hanoi and a major city attraction. The best time to visit Hoan Kiam Lake in the early morning before fellow tourists are out, and you can observe the locals enjoying the scenery and partaking in their morning exercise routines. We loved witnessing how the locals treasured this lake.

If you’re visiting early, pay a visit to Ngoc Son Temple, located across the bright red bridge in the centre of the lake. When we were there during midday, we didn’t dare to visit because the red bridge was piled with tourists. However, during our 8am lake walk one morning, we noticed it was quiet and decided to visit. The ticket price was cheap (30,000 VND or just over $1 USD a person). And we felt like we had the whole little island to ourselves.

Ngoc Son Temple Hanoi
Ngoc Son Temple Hanoi

wander around hanoi old quarter

The Old Quarter of Hanoi is like nothing I have ever seen before. It is buzzing with people – and scooters. People are everywhere, and the sidewalks are covered with scooters and makeshift street food joints, so you can forget walking on the sidewalk. It is easy to get lost for hours in the streets of the Old Quarter… and it was absolutely a highlight of my time in Hanoi.

Fun Fact: There are 79 streets in the Old Quarter and each corresponds with a specific type of merchandize or service, and most shops on the street correspond. For example, you can find the shoe street, the textiles street, the silver street, the coffee street, or an entire street dedicated to fixing scooters.

We loved wandering around the Old Quarter and eating ALL the Hanoi street food. We found some of the best food we had in Hanoi here. Many tourists are too afraid to eat the Hanoi street food, and too be honest, I don’t blame them – it looks like a food poisoning disaster waiting to happen. If you’re too scared to dabble in the street food scene, or don’t know where to start, check out my next suggestion…

Hanoi Old Quarter at Night
Old Quarter Hanoi
Woman bike with fruit Hanoi Old Quarter
Visiting Hanoi Old Quarter
On the note of scooters, you've probably heard about the madness of trying to cross the street in Hanoi. I was nervous too. I even googled "how to cross the street in Hanoi" before I arrived. But I promise, it isn't as scary as it seems to cross. Just walk across the street at a steady pace. Don't increase or decrease speed, and definitely don't stop. The scooters will gauge your pace and go around you. However, this is not the case for cars and buses. So, if you see a car or bus, stop on the side of the street and wait to cross.

take a food tour

I am a huge fan of the company With Locals that pairs you with a local who guides you on a private tour throughout the city. You can take one of their standard tours, or request a custom tour (which we did because Sebastian is allergic to nuts). On our first day in Vietnam, we took a tour with Hoa from With Locals who navigated us through Hanoi’s street food scene. We tried all kinds of local foods (often while sitting on tiny step stools on the side of the street). I couldn’t recommend this tour enough! It is and easy and fun way to find all the best street food in Hanoi. You can a Street Food tour with With Locals here (look for Hoa N).

As a side note, did you know that that the reason everyone sit street-side on buckets and step stools in Vietnam eating street food is because eating on the street is technically illegal? So, locals buy cheap “chairs and tables” and scatter the streets with them. If the authorities come and take them away, it’s a minor loss (although it doesn’t seem like this happens very often). Also, these tiny pieces of furniture are easy to gather and quickly bring inside if authorities are close by.

Vegan or Vegetarian? Backstreet Academy offers a great Vegan/Vegetarian food tour that you can check out here. 

enjoy the vietnamese coffee scene

Hanoi has one of my favourite coffee scenes of any city I have ever been to. I loved it so much that I wrote a detailed post about all my favourite coffee shops in Hanoi, and what you need to try at each.

If you’re a coffee lover like me, I highly recommend Backstreet Academy’s “Coffee Lovers Walking Tour.” We did this tour in Hanoi and it was an easy highlight of my time there. You can find out more or book the tour here.

visit hanoi's famous train street

Okay, I know what you’re thinking… Is the Hanoi train street still open? Both yes and no. The “street” is closed but the restaurants that line the tracks are still open. Here’s a bit of backstory if you haven’t heard about this popular Hanoi landmark.

Hanoi’s train street is a set of tracks that goes right through central Hanoi. Over the years, many coffee shops and restaurants have opened up shops along the tracks, serving mainly tourists. Visitors would walk up and down the tracks and visit the restaurants. The catch – the train is still operating. So, as this tourist spot became more and more popular, it became a safety concern with thousands of tourists standing alongside the tight tracks as the train passed by. So, the government of Hanoi stepped in and has barricaded entrances to the tracks, closing it to tourists. 

While this is a necessary move for safety reasons, many local businesses have been massively affected since last October by this closure. Therefore, the owners often stand along the entrance to the tracks and ask you to come to their restaurant. If you go with a restaurant owner, with the purpose of buying something from the restaurant, the guards will let you in. This initiative has cut back on crowds in a massive way. When we visited the landmark, there were very few others there.

We unfortunately were not able to visit when the train went by because we were only in Hanoi on weekdays (the train only operates in the evening on weekdays and it was too dark by then during the winter months… so if you’re spending three days in Hanoi in the winter, try to make sure one of the days you visit is a Saturday or Sunday). 

Here’s the Hanoi Train Street Schedule. However, like many things in Vietnam, it is subject to change. The restaurants lining the tracks will be able to provide you with a schedule in case there is a change, but this is the Hanoi train schedule currently:

  • Monday to Friday: 7 pm, 7:45 pm, 8:30 pm, 10 pm
  • Saturday and Sunday: 6 am, 9 am, 11:20 am, 3:20 pm, 5:30 pm, 6 pm, 7 pm, 7:45 pm, 8:30 pm, 9 pm, 11 pm

If you’re looking for the best location to enter the train street, I have marked it on the map below.

Hanoi Train Street
Hanoi Train Street

visit a spa

There are spas on every corner in Hanoi, but many of them are not paying fair wages and may be using unethical practices, so do your research before blindly wandering into one. If it is insanely cheap, it is probably a red flag. While moderate in price, the best spa in Hanoi that I found was at La ÉnMay Spa in the La Sinfonia Del Rey Hotel and Spa. And if you book between 10-12 am, you receive 30% off services. You can find out more here. 

La ÉnMay Spa Hanoi

see a water puppet show

I’ll admit, I was skeptical to visit this. I questioned if the famous Hanoi water puppet show was worth it or a gimmick. I thought it would be touristy and just not my thing. But, I went because everyone says it is something you’re “supposed” to do in Hanoi. And I am so glad I went.

The show was beautiful and so impressive. The whole play is done in Vietnamese, but it doesn’t matter. Can you pretty easily follow along with the simple storyline. And even without understanding every detail it is such a cool cultural experience.

I recommend visiting the most popular water puppet show in Hanoi at Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. If you’re interested in skip the line tickets, you can find them here. Alternatively, you can visit the onsite kiosk to grab tickets, but I have been told that during peak season, tickets can sell out well in advance, so this is an easy online way to secure your seats.

Tickets start as low as 100,000 VND per person (or about $4.30 USD) and the price increases depending on how close to the stage you are. We opted for the tickets priced at 150,000 VND and found it was close enough to the stage, but it might be difficult to see the details of the show if you were seated near the back.

take a cooking class

I didn’t personally have time to take a cooking class during my three days in Hanoi, but I am really disappointed I didn’t. We did a cooking class in Hoi An and it was a highlight of our time in Vietnam. If I could go back, I would have made it a priority.

If you’re interested in cooking, this is a must do. I’ve heard VERY GOOD things about this particular cooking class where you get a hands-on cooking experience in the home of a local!

have more than three days in hanoi? here's some other things you can do.

visit the west lake (the biggest lake in hanoi)
visit hoa lo prison (this is another thing I really wish we made time for)
walk across long bien bridge
visit the museum of ethnology
visit the ho chi minh mausoleum (best to visit at end of day before it closes to avoid morning crowds)

Where to stay in Hanoi

luxury: la sinfonia del rey hotel & spa

Because we were in-and-out of Hanoi as a “home base” for our trip, we decided to “splurge” one night at La Sinfonia del Rey Hotel & Spa. A big splurge at this hotel will set you back about 1,700,000 VND or $75 USD per night, and I can confirm that this brand new hotel was easily one of the nicest hotels I have ever stayed in. The entire hotel was covered in black marble, the rooms were premium comfort, the bathrooms luxurious, and the breakfast was just WOW. Not to mention the location could not be better, located right across the street from Hoan Kiem Lake.

La Sinfonia del Rey Hotel & Spa
La Sinfonia del Rey Hotel & Spa Hanoi

Mid-range: centraltique downtown

Looking for a mid-range hotel Old Quarter Hanoi hotel? Centraltique was beautiful. It is located in a historic French Colonial building in the middle of the hustle-and-bustle. The rooms were large and clean, and we had a front street-facing balcony with great views. Keep in mind, it is located in the middle of all the chaos and therefore can be loud all hours of the night. For me, this was part of the charm. But if you’re looking for a quiet nights sleep during your three days in Hanoi, I would look outside of the Old Quarter.

Centraltique Hotel Hanoi

Where to Eat in Hanoi

Where do I even start? Hanoi was home to easily the best food I had in Vietnam, and has officially positioned itself as one of my top favourite food cities in the world. I ate at so many places I loved, including some amazing street food gems. And I wrote a Hanoi food guide all about my favourite spots!

MUST TRY dishes IN HANOI:

Bún Thang (local vietnamese noodle soup)
Bún chả (grilled fatty pork and noodles + dipping dauce)
Bánh Cuốn (vietnamese steamed rice rolls with pork)
Cháo sườn (porridge with pork ribs that is said to cure you if you have a cold)
Nem Nướng (grilled pork sausage)
phở bò (beef noodle soup)
coffee: traditional vietnamese drip coffee, coconut coffee, egg coffee
Iced lime tea with sunflower seeds

Hanoi Vietnam flowers

find all my favourite spots for the perfect three days in hanoi.
check out the map below.

pro Tip: Google Maps does not pin locations in Vietnam with 100% accuracy.
Therefore, you should note the exact address of the location. Use Google Maps to Help you find the street, and then follow the street numbers until you find the exact address. also, google maps will often "auto-correct" the street name and lead you in the wrong direction. before you start walking, make sure you double check that you have the right street name (or else you might end up 15 minutes late for a food tour like us, lol).

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Things to Do in Hanoi
Three days in Hanoi City Guide
Three days in Hanoi Itinerary
The Best Hotel in Hanoi
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. When you make a purchase using an affiliate link, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. As a reminder, I only recommend products and companies that I stand behind 100%. Thanks for supporting Madeline Rae Away.

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28 comments

Vicky April 20, 2020 - 3:11 pm

Wow fantastic read, when this is all over I really hope to go there 🙂

Reply
madelineraeaway April 21, 2020 - 7:35 pm

You must! One of my favourite cities ever 🙂

Reply
Audrey April 20, 2020 - 11:18 pm

My husband doesn’t want to travel to Asia, but the more I read about Vietnam, Bali and Indonesia, the more I want to take a 3 weeks vacation over there!

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madelineraeaway April 21, 2020 - 7:36 pm

You can totally do it! I think Bali is a bit of an “easier” first step, but both are very tourist friendly.

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Alexandra Booze April 21, 2020 - 12:12 am

That is such a good deal for the hotel room. It looks so luxurious and relaxing. Also, that street!! I am dreamed of going there.

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madelineraeaway April 21, 2020 - 7:36 pm

Vietnam is the perfect place to splurge 🙂 Your money goes such a long way! Hope you can visit one day!

Reply
Lekha April 22, 2020 - 2:31 pm

Loved this post. The list of food suggestions, map with locations pinned and how to find addresses is a great add on!

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madelineraeaway April 23, 2020 - 10:20 am

Aw thanks! I always find these things helpful when I am reading other posts so I wanted to include. Glad you liked it 🙂

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Yara May 16, 2020 - 8:20 am

I just came back from 10 days in Vietnam and only wish I could have spent more time in Hanoi! It’s such a beautiful city with so much to offer. How did you like the egg coffee? I thought it was fascinating and delicious haha

Reply
madelineraeaway May 16, 2020 - 12:20 pm

It wasn’t really in our plan to spend as much time here as we did. And honestly, I think it ended up being my favourite part of the trip! And I loved the egg coffee!

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Vanessa Shields May 16, 2020 - 9:00 am

What a great post on Hanoi! I’ve been wanting to visit Vietnam for awhile and would love to explore the markets, temples and the coffee! It’s crazy how the train goes right through so close to the shops and restaurants!

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madelineraeaway May 16, 2020 - 12:19 pm

It is such a great city! You would love it 🙂

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Holidays from Hels May 16, 2020 - 10:02 am

I have always wanted to visit Vietnam. Having been to Thailand twice, I am not sure why I have not yet made it over the border. The markets, temples and train street look so full of character. Thank you for sharing. One day I will stroll down those streets and this post can be my guide!

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madelineraeaway May 16, 2020 - 12:19 pm

I hope you can make it here one day! It really is such a fantastic city.

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Kriszti May 16, 2020 - 10:24 am

Such a comprehensive and amazing guide! I was supposed to visit Hanoi in March but we were not allowed to enter the country unfortunately. So I still need to visit Vietnam, I just saved your post for later!

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madelineraeaway May 16, 2020 - 12:17 pm

Thank you! I hope you can refer back to it one day soon 🙂 It is such a great city!

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Alex May 16, 2020 - 10:25 am

Your pictures are beautiful and this post is packed full of info, Thankyou. Also- WATER PUPPET SHOW!? Brilliant. I can’t wait to go to Hanoi

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madelineraeaway May 16, 2020 - 12:16 pm

IT WAS SO FUN. You must go!

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Fiona Mai May 16, 2020 - 10:42 am

I’m living in Hanoi right now and it’s so nice to read about your experiences in this special city 🙂 This is quite a detailed guide for first-time visitors to Hanoi, as you’ve covered everything from what to do and see to where to stay and what to eat. Oh and I love your photos as well!

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madelineraeaway May 16, 2020 - 12:16 pm

I loved hearing this from a local! We spent quite a bit of time there and I felt like I really was able to get a good grasp of the city. You live in such a special city 🙂

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Amy Aed May 16, 2020 - 11:35 am

Hanoi looks like such a beautiful place, I can’t wait to visit when everything is safe again! These photographs are gorgeous.

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madelineraeaway May 16, 2020 - 12:15 pm

Thank you! It was honestly one of my fav parts of Vietnam. You will love it!

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Val May 16, 2020 - 11:55 am

I loved Hanoi so much, great article! I didn’t take any food tour, but sounds like you had a great time doing it – one for my next trip there 🙂

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Ophelie May 16, 2020 - 12:02 pm

I would love to visit this city and the country of Vietnam! There are very high on my to-do list for when we can travel again! Thank you for all the info!

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Mal May 16, 2020 - 3:27 pm

Vietnam is one of the places I’d love to go back to! And I can’t believe I missed the train street. Thanks for sharing some great ideas on what to do there! 🙂

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Tyra seguin May 16, 2020 - 5:28 pm

Such a great post! Would love to visit Vietnam when this all passes!

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Clazz - An Orcadian Abroad May 17, 2020 - 1:50 am

I ADORE Hanoi, this is a great guide! Love your photos of the train street especially, and all the street photos.

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madelineraeaway May 17, 2020 - 3:15 pm

Thank you!! The streets of Hanoi are amazing!

Reply

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