Spend 2 days in Hanoi, and see the main highlights of this fascinating city. If you're looking what to do in Hanoi for 2 days, this Hanoi itinerary has you covered!
Hanoi Itinerary 2 Days
This Hanoi travel guide features a full 2 day itinerary. The Hanoi must do list includes:
Day 1 of 2 days in Hanoi
- Braving the traffic
- How to cross the road in Hanoi
- Dong Xuan Market
- First coffee in Vietnam
- Hoa Lo Prison Memorial
- Hanoi Hilton Prisoners of War
- Lunch at Om Hanoi Yoga and Cafe
- Vietnamese Women's Museum in Hanoi
- Vietnamese Warrior Women
- Hoan Kiem Lake
- Hanoi Night Market and Pho
- Exploring the Old Quarter of Hanoi at night
- Hanoi Night Market
- Street Food in Hanoi
Day 2 of 2 days in Hanoi
My Hanoi Travel Blog
I recently spent two days in Hanoi, Vietnam as part of my 5 month trip around South-East Asia. Whilst I know that 2 days is very little time to appreciate a city like Hanoi, I feel I got a good taste of things. And to be honest, 2 days in Hanoi was enough for me!
Hanoi is crazy busy. I mean CRAZY busy! There's mopeds going everywhere, ceaseless movement, and the constant sound of ‘beep beep', as drivers go by.
This of course is the attraction of Hanoi for some people. To get right into the insanity of it all, and see what happens.
For me, it was fun for a while, but it's not really my scene. I'm more of a mountains and wilderness type person (hence all the bike touring around the world!).
So the plan was to experience the city, see the main Hanoi points of interest, but then get right out of there!
Hanoi Itinerary 2 Days
As such, I wanted to squeeze as many of the top things to do in Hanoi as possible into 2 days. I'm definitely not claiming I saw it all. No way! I almost certainly left out some of the places to see in Hanoi other people might feel are essential.
With that said, I think I included some pretty cool things to do in Hanoi, combining the obvious main attractions and some lesser thought of alternatives.
If you plan to visit Hanoi in Vietnam and only have a couple of days to see the city, I hope this Hanoi travel itinerary will help.
Hanoi Itinerary Day 1
We had breakfast at the Rising Dragon Palace hotel, in the Hanoi Old Quarter neighbourhood where we were staying, and then we set off to explore Hanoi on foot.
As we had arrived late the previous night and had checked straight into the hotel, we hadn’t had much time to check out anything beyond our street, so we had no idea if the famous Hanoi motorbike traffic is as bad as they say.
1. Braving the traffic in Hanoi
We didn’t need to walk far – even walking a couple of blocks was enough to agree that yes, Hanoi is a crazy city when it comes to motorbikes!
There were motorbikes everywhere – on the pavements, on the streets, between the cars, parked around literally everywhere.
Pedestrians have no right of way, and you need to be careful. At the same time, motorcyclists seem to be aware of pedestrians and they generally take care to not bump into them – but they can pass really, really close.
2. How to cross the road in Hanoi
So, how do you get across the road in Hanoi then?
The only way to go, is to just ignore the traffic, and walk across the road as you normally would as if the motorbikes don't exist. Which is what we did, and survived. Just!
Note that zebra crossings and traffic lights are only indicative, so a green pedestrian traffic light means that you can cross with caution, but you absolutely need to look around first. Not much change to being back home in Athens in that regard!
3. Dong Xuan Market, Hanoi
We made at quick stop at Dong Xuan market, which was a couple of blocks away from our hotel. This big, indoors market seemed to have cheap handbags and random clothes and fabrics. We didn’t find it too interesting.
After Dong Xuan market, we started walking towards St. Joseph’s cathedral. We were hoping to check the inside of the temple, but it was closed, so we just took a photo from the outside, and then decided to stop for a quick coffee, Vietnamese way!
4. Coffee in Vietnam
It’s worth making a special mention about the several types of Vietnamese coffee in Hanoi. Apart from various types of hot and iced coffee, there are two types of Vietnamese coffee that seem to be very popular: coconut coffee, and egg coffee.
The coconut coffee was essentially a couple of scoops of coconut ice cream with an espresso shot. Yum!
As for the Vietnamese egg coffee, it’s a coffee with some sort of custard cream made out of egg yolk. Unfortunately we ran out of time and didn’t try it in Hanoi, but as we still have 3 weeks in Vietnam, I am sure we will come across it again.
5. Hoa Lo Prison Memorial
Our first official stop of the day was Hoa Lo Prison Memorial, also known as the Hanoi Hilton. This interesting museum stands on the grounds of what used to be a prison, originally built by the French to accommodate Vietnamese prisoners in the late 1800s.
According to Wikipedia, the words “Hoa Lo” mean “furnace” or “stove” in Vietnamese… so you can imagine what the conditions were like.
6. Hanoi Hilton Prisoners of War
In the 1960s and 1970s, Hoa Lo Prison was used by the Vietnamese to keep American air force pilots and other soldiers that were captured during the American War. After their release, many of them went in pursuit of several public roles, more notably into politics. Arguably, the most famous of them is Senator John McCain.
Like all establishments that used to be prisons, Hoa Lo Prison Memorial was a very sad place to visit. According to the information presented in the museum, the conditions under which the Vietnamese were kept by the French were really horrible.
In contrast, according to photos and articles published in US newspapers at the time and selectively displayed, American prisoners were treated respectfully, hence the name “Hanoi Hilton”. I'm pretty sure there is a completely different American version of this! But of course, the victors get to write history, and in this case, it was the Vietnamese.
7. Om Hanoi – Yoga and Cafe
Our next stop was, amusingly, a vegan restaurant, called Om Hanoi – Yoga and Café.
It wasn’t really our intention to go to a vegan restaurant in Hanoi. However, given that the country’s cuisine seems to be based on pork or beef, we thought we’d give it a go.
8. Vietnamese Women’s Museum in Hanoi
Our next stop, a few minutes’ walk from Hoa Lo Prison, was the Vietnamese Women’s Museum. We found this to be very informative and pretty unique.
There are four floors, each of them dedicated to a different aspect of Vietnamese women’s lives.
There was information relating to marriage and family, everyday life, and tribal customs, that seem to vary a lot from one tribe to the next.
9. Vietnamese Warrior Women
One of the most fascinating sections of the museum was the section highlighting the role of Vietnamese women during the several wars this country has gone through.
There were women who joined the guerrilla forces at the ages of 14 or 16, and others who were accomplished revolutionaries before their 20s.
Many of these women were exiled for months or years, some of them died way too young, and others eventually went into politics or other areas of the public sector.
If we had to go back to just one of the two museums, we would marginally prefer the Women’s Museum, but I highly recommend visiting both, as they are very close and offer a unique perspective on Vietnam’s history.
10. Hoan Kiem Lake
We left the Women’s Museum at around closing time (17.00), and decided to walk back to our hotel, and catch a glimpse of the popular Lake Hoan Kiem.
11. Hanoi Night Market and Pho
When we got back to the hotel, it was still a little early for the famous Hanoi night market, but it wasn’t too early for dinner.
Literally half a block away from the Rising Dragon Hotel where we were staying, there is a place to try Pho, Vietnam’s most famous noodle soup and possibly the best known Vietnamese dish.
Unlike many other people out there, we really didn’t really see the excitement – I think that as we had spent 3 weeks in Thailand, we were quite spoilt with food options. Regardless, it was a cheap and filling meal.
12. Exploring the Old Quarter of Hanoi at night
As we continued walking around the Old Quarter Hanoi area, we came across another street food option that many Westerners wouldn’t go near. Dog on the spit, ladies and gentlemen. Not for the faint-hearted. We decided to give that one a miss.
13. Hanoi Night Market
And then it was on to the Hanoi Night Market. Like other Asian night markets, this is a place where you can find pretty much everything you were looking for, and things you weren’t.
In most night markets in SE Asia that we had visited so far, there were no cars or motorbikes, so we thought this would be the same. Right?
14. Street Food in Hanoi
Now as for the food stalls, they didn’t seem to be confined to a specific area like in other night markets in SE Asia, but they were interspersed through the market.
There were many foods that we couldn’t immediately recognize, but were probably pork or fish snacks. Remember that the Vietnamese tend to use a lot of meat in their cuisine, including animal parts that are not used in the West, like chicken feet.
Among the various stalls, there were several large groups of local people eating and having beers, sitting on tiny plastic stools. This is quite common around SE Asia, but you wouldn’t dream of it in the West!
There were also numerous shops selling candy, liquor, souvenirs and cheap clothes. Last but not least, there was a specific area seemingly dedicated to backpackers, which was really busy and bustling, mostly with tourists.
And that was the end of our first day in Hanoi. Back at the hotel, the motorbike noise seemed to die out just after 11pm. Time for some well-deserved rest!
Hanoi Itinerary Day 2
On our second day in Hanoi, we set off to visit the Vietnam National Fine Arts Museum, the Temple of Literature, and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and museum. We were also thinking to catch a Vietnamese water puppet show.
15. Vietnam National Fine Arts Museum
Walking from our hotel to the Vietnam National Fine Arts Museum wasn’t super pleasant – there were times we wished we had taken a Grab, though it was actually quite close.
We were rather disappointed by the Vietnam National Fine Arts museum – there were a few pieces of art worth checking out, but the majority were rather boring paintings.
16. Temple of Literature – Van Mieu Quoc Tu Giam
After a quick snack and a coconut coffee, we walked to the Temple of Literature, which we expected to be one of the highlights of our day.
However, upon arrival we saw several tourist buses outside. This, combined with the fact that we were still templed-out after Bagan and Chiang Mai, made us reconsider our priorities.
So eventually we didn’t visit the temple, but crossed the street and checked out Ho Van Lake instead. This quiet little area is full of souvenir stalls and small shops selling art items, probably mostly relevant to Chinese tourists.
17. Ho Chi Minh mausoleum and museum
We arrived at the area just after 15.00, and it took us a while to find the entrance, as several sections were cordoned off and there was a lot of police.
Later on, we found out that the next day, Sunday 3rd February, was the anniversary of the Communist Party’s foundation, so they were preparing for celebrations.
We still had some time to walk through the area and visit the Ho Chi Minh Museum in Hanoi which closed at 16.30. It vaguely reminded us of other museums in ex-communist countries, like the museums in Skopje and Tirana. It gave us an idea about Ho Chi Minh’s life and accomplishments and why the Vietnamese are so fond of him.
18. Water Puppet Theater
Before exiting the complex, we headed straight for the Water Puppet theatre performance, which was conveniently scheduled to begin at 16.45.
The way puppet shows go, this one was very different, as there is a shallow pond, and the puppets float in and out of the water. Hence the name water puppet show! Occasionally, the puppeteers are walking in and out of the pond.
19. Batavia for Indonesian Food in Hanoi
On our way out, we were about to get a Grab back to the hotel, but then we decided we were hungry. A quick search on Googlemaps revealed a very highly rated Indonesian restaurant around the corner, Batavia.
We promptly walked there, and were so happy we did – this was definitely our best meal in Hanoi, and the owner was terrific.
The Grab back to the hotel didn’t take longer than 15 minutes, and we were glad we didn’t have to walk around the motorbikes again.
Note – Use this code to get money off your first Grab ride in Hanoi – GRABNOYEV5EF
Places we didn't see in Hanoi but would next time
As we were leaving Hanoi on the next day, we inevitably had to skip a few things that we would otherwise liked to have done.
The Vietnam Museum of Ethnology came highly recommended, though we are sure that the Women’s Museum gave us a good insight to Vietnamese culture.
Another museum that seemed promising, and shouldn’t be missed if you have a special interest in the Vietnam War, was the Military History museum.
Visiting the Tran Quoc Pagoda, combined with a walk or bike ride around Ho Tay Lake might have also been interesting, but they are there for next time.
Other places include the One Pillar Pagoda, and the Hanoi Opera House.
Where to stay in Hanoi
If you only have limited time, the best place to stay in Hanoi is the Old Quarter. This is the centre of all the lively action, and most of the main attractions are within walking distance if you are active. You can always take a Grab taxi if you feel it's too far.
There are numerous places to stay in the Hanoi Old Quarter. As we had done with all of our trip through Asia, we chose value for money over cheapness when it came to choosing hotels in Hanoi.
After a bit of searching we ended up in the Rising Dragon Palace Hotel in Hanoi. The room we chose was nice and roomy, and breakfast was included. You can check out the hotel here on Booking – Rising Dragon Palace Hotel Hanoi.
You can find more Hanoi hotels below:
Day Trips from Hanoi
If you're staying longer in the city, you may want to take one or more day trips from Hanoi. One of the most popular is of course the Halong Bay day trip from Hanoi.
Visiting Halong Bay in Vietnam from Hanoi has several options. You can visit as a day tour from Hanoi, or extend your stay in Halong Bay to 2 day 1 night, and 3 day 2 night options. I've included a few examples of this popular day trip from Hanoi below.
A Trang An – Ninh Binh day trip (85 km from Hanoi) might have also been on the cards if we had one more day in Hanoi.