Planning a trip to Vietnam? 2 days in Hanoi is just about the right amount to time to experience the charm of the beautiful city.
Hanoi is the capital city of Vietnam, located in the northern part of the country on the banks of the Red River. With a rich history that dates back over a thousand years, Hanoi is one of the oldest capitals in the world.
Hanoi is known for its distinct blend of ancient traditions and modern influences. The city features a mix of French colonial architecture, traditional Vietnamese structures, and contemporary high-rise buildings. Its streets are lined with tree-shaded boulevards, narrow alleyways, and bustling markets, creating a unique and vibrant atmosphere.
Our goal at Wander Smartly is to make your travels smarter and help you have the best experience on your trips. From my own experience of visiting Vietnam and spending two amazing days in Hanoi, I spill the beans on the best way to enjoy this city.
Best Things to Do in 2 Days in Hanoi
Day 1 – Explore Hoàn Kiếm Lake, Visit Ngoc Son Temple, Temple of Literature, and Train Street
Step out to explore the Old Quarter area on foot. Stroll along the Hoàn Kiếm Lake, meaning ‘Lake of the Returned Sword’. One of the most iconic landmarks in the city, this is a picturesque lake that holds significant cultural and historical importance.
According to the legend, during the 15th century, a magical sword was bestowed upon Emperor Lê Lợi by a sacred turtle in the lake. The sword helped the emperor in his battle against Chinese invaders, leading to victory and the independence of Vietnam. Later, the emperor was boating on the lake when a golden turtle surfaced and asked for the sword to return it to its divine owners. The emperor returned the sword, and the turtle took it down to the depths of the lake. Hence, the lake was named Hoàn Kiếm, symbolizing the returned sword.
The lake has a 1.8-kilometer walking path that makes for a lovely stroll. Savor a cup of Vietnamese Coffee at any of the lakeside cafes and enjoy the view of lush gardens, ancient trees, and historic buildings surrounding the lake.
Wander Smartly Tip: While you’re in Hanoi, devour the decadent Vietnamese Coffee in both the hot and iced form, from any AHA Cafe outlets. These serve the best Vietnamese coffee compared to any other place in all of the city.
Continue walking along the lake to reach the Ngoc Son Temple located on a tiny island on the lake. To reach the temple, walk across The Huc Bridge, a picturesque wooden bridge with Buddhist Architecture painted in a lovely scarlet color, creating a beautiful landscape.
The Ngoc Son Temple is a prominent and revered temple, one of the most visited and significant religious sites in the city. The temple’s name, Ngoc Son, translates to “Jade Mountain,” referring to the scenic beauty and tranquility of the location. The temple is open from 8 am to 6 pm every day and requires a minimal entrance fee of 30,000 VND.
Spend time walking around the streets of Old Quarter. You can choose to shop here, but remember to bargain hard starting by slashing the quoted price by 50%. I’d recommend Ho Chi Minh as the better city for shopping, but you can always pick up something if it catches your eye.
Hanoi is a great place to shop for bags – both crossbody and hand bags. Dried and slightly flavoured fruits from Hong Lam stores in Hanoi make for great souvenirs. I quite liked their ginger flavoured apricots (Mo Hong Lam 1).
Wander Smartly Tip: If you’re looking for vegan food in Hanoi, then Chayfood in the Hoàn Kiếm district should be destination for some mouth-watering vegan delicacies.
Your next destination is The Temple of Literature. Also known as Văn Miếu in Vietnamese, this is one of Vietnam’s most significant cultural and educational sites and holds a special place in Vietnamese history and tradition.
The Temple of Literature was established in 1070 during the reign of Emperor Lý Thánh Tông of the Ly Dynasty. Initially, it served as Vietnam’s first national university, dedicated to Confucian teachings and the education of scholars, particularly those aspiring to enter the civil service.
The complex is designed in a traditional Vietnamese architectural style and is centered around five courtyards. The architecture, serene atmosphere, and cultural significance of the Temple of Literature makes it a captivating destination.
It is open from 8 am to 5 pm. Wear modest clothing when you visit this temple (ditch short skirts and tank tops). The temple is about 3 kms away from the lake, you can take a taxi to reach there.
Next, visit the iconic and interesting Train Street in the Old Quarter area. This is a very narrow street in Hanoi famous for its petite width, where trains pass through inches away from houses and shops on either side of the tracks. Sit in any of the cafes/restaurants along the Street. It is an exciting experience to feel the force of the train as it rumbles through the street, just a few inches away from where you are sitting!
Plan your visit here in accordance with the schedule of the trains. They run intermittently between 7:30 pm to 10 pm on weekdays and throughout the day on weekends, but I’d recommend you to check with your hotel reception on the latest schedule to plan better.
Walking to Train Street and back may seem a bit tedious, so enjoy a ride in the local two-seater rickshaw which will seat you in the front. A unique experience in the Old Quarter, I recommend you try it at least once during your stay in Hanoi.
You must gorge on the exquisite Vietnamese cuisine while you’re in Hanoi. There are many good restaurants in the Old Quarter area, Tung’s Kitchen in particular is a highly rated option. Try to get a seat in their balcony which faces the street and offers a unique dining experience.
Wander Smartly Tip: See our detailed 10 Day Vietnam Itinerary to know about other must-see places in Vietnam.
Day 2 – Visit Maison Centrale, National Museum of History, watch the water puppet show and take a food walking tour
Vietnam has had a long and complicated history to its independence. French colonialism in Vietnam lasted more than six decades and was brutal in its core. Thus, you must visit two iconic historical and cultural sites in Hanoi.
The Maison Centrale, also known as Hoa Lo Prison, is a former prison complex that played a significant role in the country’s history during the French colonial period and the Vietnam War. The prison held Vietnamese revolutionaries and independence fighters who opposed French rule.
Take the audio guided tour to learn about the history of the prison and the stories of its inmates. You will learn about the harsh conditions within the prison where inmates were subjected to torture, mistreatment, and overcrowded cells.
You can buy tickets at the entrance of the museum and plan to spend about 3 hours here to complete the audio guided tour.
Next, visit the Vietnam National Museum of History. This is one of the largest and most important museums in Vietnam, dedicated to preserving and showcasing the rich cultural heritage and history of the Vietnamese people. The museum’s collection includes artifacts from various periods of Vietnamese history, from the prehistoric era to the modern day, organized chronologically and thematically, with each section highlighting different aspects of Vietnamese culture and history.
Next, experience one of Vietnam’s most distinctive art forms live on stage at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. The tradition of water puppetry originated from flooded paddy fields which were used as a form of entertainment by the villagers who would stand in the waist-deep water with the puppets performing. This is a 50-minute show held at regular intervals. Book your tickets in advance for the show.
End your day with a 3-hour food walking tour in the Old Quarter area. This starts at 6 pm and takes you to the local markets, where you can sample the authentic Vietnamese dishes and desserts, and sip the local beer, at quaint cafes and bars. Enjoy some insightful commentary on Hanoi’s vibrant culinary culture in this highly rated guided tour.
Best Time to Travel
The best time to visit Vietnam is between the months of October to December and February to April. Hanoi would be a bit cold compared to the rest of the country during these months owing to its location in the north, making it easy for you to be outside in the day time.
How to Reach
The International Airport in Hanoi is well connected to major cities in the world.
Where to Stay
When looking for a place to stay, you must pick one in the Old Quarter area of Hanoi as it holds the most interesting cultural and historical attractions of the city. Staying here will immensely ease your sight-seeing in the city.
The Old Quarter, known as “36 Streets” or “Phố Cổ” in Vietnamese, is a historic and vibrant neighborhood located in the heart of the city. It is one of the most popular areas for both tourists and locals alike, offering a glimpse into the city’s rich history and traditional way of life.
The Old Quarter dates back to the 13th century when it was established as a commercial hub during the time of the Ly Dynasty. It was originally divided into guilds, with each street dedicated to a specific trade or craft. Today, many of the streets still retain their original names, reflecting the trades or goods that were traditionally associated with them.
The streets of the Old Quarter are bustling with activity day and night. During the day, the area is filled with vendors selling goods, street food stalls offering local delicacies, and shops bustling with shoppers. At night, the atmosphere transforms as the streets come alive with vibrant nightlife. You can find lively bars, traditional music venues, and night markets where you can indulge in street food and shop for souvenirs.
There are many hotels in the Old Quarter area, and Imperial Hotel and Spa is an excellent choice to stay at, with many attractions in Hanoi just a short walk away. They offer great hospitality, have all the modern amenities of a hotel and will provide great value for your money.
Hanoi is a captivating city that seamlessly blends tradition and modernity. Its rich history, cultural heritage, and culinary delights make it a must-visit destination for anyone seeking an authentic Vietnamese experience.
Check our detailed 10 Day Vietnam Itinerary to know about other must-see places in Vietnam.
Drop a comment below to let us know your thoughts! Visit our destinations page for more such detailed travel guides on places worth visiting.
Are 2 days enough for Hanoi?
2 days is just about the right amount of time to visit all the best places in Hanoi. Add an additional day to visit Ha Long Bay.
How many days do you need to explore Hanoi?
You need just 2 days to see all the best places in Hanoi.
What places should you visit in Hanoi?
Explore Hoàn Kiếm Lake, Visit Ngoc Son Temple, Temple of Literature, and Train Street on Day 1 and visit Maison Centrale, National Museum of History, watch the water puppet show and take a food walking tour on Day 2.
Where should you stay in Hanoi?
When looking for a place to stay, you must pick one in the Old Quarter area of Hanoi as it holds the most interesting cultural and historical attractions of the city. There are many hotels in the Old Quarter area, and Imperial Hotel and Spa is an excellent choice to stay, with many attractions in Hanoi just a short walk away. They offer great hospitality, have all the modern amenities of a hotel and will provide great value for your money.