Hanoi in 3 Days: a guidebook for getting the most out of your visit

Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and one of the most important cities in the country, especially for its multiculturalism and the number of attractions it offers. Here is a suggested travel plan if you plan to visit the city for 3 days.

Matías Rodríguez

Matías Rodríguez

12 min read

Hanoi in 3 Days: a guidebook for getting the most out of your visit

Pagoda Ngoc Son |©Hanoivn Localtravelidea

Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and the second largest city in the country, only behind Ho Chi Minh City, but it is also a multicultural epicenter that combines Chinese, French and Southeast Asian influences. If you are planning a short stay in this destination, it would be best to organize an itinerary based on proximity to attractions, otherwise you will find it impossible to discover its architectural and cultural richness.

Some of the best things to do in Hanoi in a 3-day tour include visiting the Old Quarter, visiting the Hoa Lo Prison museum, walking through the Dong Xuan market, visiting the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, attending a water puppet show, discovering the city's pagodas and contemplating the panoramic views from the observation deck of a skyscraper.

Day 1: Walk around Old Quarter, tour Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Pagoda, visit Hoa Lo Prison, marvel at the Hanoi train and dine at Dong Xuan

Hanoi Old Quarter|©Paul Beresford
Hanoi Old Quarter|©Paul Beresford

Hanoi, with its frenetic pace, can be overwhelming for visitors, so for the first day I suggest a tour of the central circuit of the city, including the Old Quarter and also some of the main attractions that can not be missed in any tour of this destination.

Walk around Old Quarter, the most traditional district of Hanoi

Old Quarter is the zero kilometer of Hanoi, a millenary labyrinth where you can enter a history book, where each alley tells its own anecdotes. This neighborhood, with its narrow cobblestone streets and picturesque colonial architecture, has been the heart of the Vietnamese capital for more than a thousand years, since it was founded in the 11th century and witnessed how Hanoi grew from a small village to the bustling city it is today.

A walk through this site will take you past the commercial houses with narrow facades and sloping roofs where trade guilds and artisans gave life to this urban labyrinth. In addition, there you can find countless stalls of street vendors offering local delicacies such as pho or bun cha, so it is also the meeting point for gastronomic tours of Hanoi.

Old Quarter, however, is not only a showcase of Hanoi's rich history, but also a testament to the vitality and resilience of the Vietnamese people. Despite the changes and challenges over the years, this neighborhood has retained its unique essence, so strolling through its streets will transport you to everyday Vietnamese life, where bustling streets, hidden temples and backyards take center stage.

The Old Quarter can be reached by bus lines 13, 33, 41, 55A, and 146 and Hanoi's hop on-hop off tour buses that include stops in the area.

Join a street food tour

Tour Hoan Kiem Lake and see Ngoc Son Pagoda

The next step of the tour will take you to Hoam Kiem Lake, located about five blocks away from the Old Quarter, so the best alternative is to take a walk of about 10 minutes. In this lake you will find an oasis of calm in the midst of urban chaos and an emblematic site of the city surrounded by trees and ornate bridges.

In the heart of the lake, connected by a traditional red bridge, stands the Ngoc Son Pagoda. This architectural jewel, built on an artificial island, captivates with its elegance and spirituality. The temple is a tribute to the scholarship and courage that Buddhism promotes and includes ancient statues and colorful decorations.

From the pagoda's terrace you can also enjoy panoramic views of the lake and the city, which creates a visually stunning landscape with its labyrinthine streets. It is also one of the best places to take pictures in Hanoi.

Join an Instagram-worthy tour

Visit Hoa Lo Prison Museum

After touring the tranquil Hoam Kiem Lake, I suggest you visit the Hoa Lo Prison Museum in Hanoi, which will allow you to discover a shocking chapter of Vietnamese history. This former prison, which dates back to the French colonial era, has been converted into a moving museum that recounts the experiences of the prisoners who passed through its cells.

During your visit you can explore the rooms and exhibits that reveal the darker aspects of the prison, as well as the resilience and determination of those who suffered in its confines. In addition, among the exhibits you will discover the subhuman living conditions faced by political prisoners as they lived in cramped cells and were tortured.

The history of Hoa Loa Prison dates back to the 19th century, when French colonizers built it to incarcerate political prisoners and revolutionaries. During the Vietnam War, the prison was also used to detain captured American pilots.

From Hoam Kiem you can reach the prison by bus lines 24, 36, 42 and 44 or by Hanoi hop on-hop off buses.

Book a cultural and sightseeing tour of Hanoi by Jeep

Be amazed by the intercity Hanoi train tour

If you want to see one of the most famous sites in Hanoi, which is usually included in the best tours of the city, you can't miss the intercity train tracks, which runs through the heart of the Vietnamese capital and is part of local life. Passing through bustling markets and picturesque neighborhoods, this train respects the original layout, which was laid out in the early 20th century and later integrated into the urban fabric of Hanoi, becoming a daily spectacle.

The intercity train tracks run between narrow streets and hawker stalls. From the chaotic Long Bien market to the picturesque cityscapes that unfold along the route, the train offers an unparalleled insight into local daily life. The experience of witnessing the passing train from the bridges that cross the tracks has become iconic, allowing you to capture the dynamic and energetic essence of the Vietnamese capital.

It is from the elevated bridges, such as the Long Bien Bridge, that you can watch the train slowly move forward as street vendors raise their tablecloths to clear the way. Also, the best place to watch the train pass by from the height of the tracks is at 224 Le Duan Street. The train passes by there every day at 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

From Hoa Lo Prison you can reach Le Duan Street by bus lines 30, 40, 43, 52A and 52B.

End your first day in the city with dinner at Dong Xuan Market

Dong Xuan Market, located in Old Quarter, is known for being one of the largest and oldest in the city, and although initially recognized for its varied clothing and textile stalls, this place transforms as night falls, revealing a gastronomic side that will allow you to discover the local cuisine and also bid farewell to your first day in the city with an authentic experience.

While the flea market has its roots in fashion, many travelers discover that the real gem of Dong Xuan lies in its culinary offerings. From delicious noodle dishes to traditional snacks such as banh mi, the street stalls allow you to savor authentic local cuisine in a traditional setting. You can reach this site from Le Duan Street by bus lines 1, 3, 8, 9 and 11.

The diversity of options in the food stalls of Dong Xuan Market will allow you to find dishes for all tastes. In addition, the dining experience in this cultural enclave will give you the opportunity to interact with locals, taste authentic Vietnamese delicacies and capture the unique energy of nightlife in Hanoi.

Day 2: Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, tour Chua Mua Cot and attend a popular show at the Water Puppet Theater

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Hanoi (Vietnam).|©Luis Ramón Pizarro Barcenilla
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Hanoi (Vietnam).|©Luis Ramón Pizarro Barcenilla

After having toured the heart of Hanoi during the first day, for the second day I propose a cultural tour that includes a visit to one of the most famous mausoleums in the world, a picturesque pagoda and a traditional Vietnamese show.

Visit Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum

Visiting the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi will not only allow you to soak in Vietnam's history, but also pay tribute to one of the country's most influential leaders. This Soviet-inspired memorial, built to house the mortal remains of President Ho Chi Minh, has become an iconic and revered site in the Vietnamese capital.

The history of the mausoleum dates back to the 1970s, when construction began to house the revolutionary leader's remains. Since then, the mausoleum has been a place of pilgrimage for Vietnamese and visitors from around the world. A visit to the mausoleum is a solemn and respectful experience, where you will have the opportunity to pay tribute to Ho Chi Minh, who played a crucial role in the struggle for Vietnam's independence.

Despite the mausoleum's sober purpose, it is one of the most visited sites in Hanoi. The constant influx of visitors reflects the historical and cultural importance of Ho Chi Minh in Vietnamese national identity. In addition to viewing the mausoleum itself, visitors can also explore the surrounding gardens and other nearby sites, such as the Ho Chi Minh House and the One Pillar Pagoda, which is just a few streets away.

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum can be reached by buses on lines 14, 18, 23, 143 and 146, or on the city's hop-on-hop-off buses, as all services include stops in this area. In addition, if you opt for the historical and cultural tours of the tourist jeep you will also be able to get to know this site during the itinerary.

Join a historical and cultural jeep tour

Tour Chua Mua Cot, the famous one-pillar pagoda

A few streets away from the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, also within the Hanoi Botanical Garden, you can visit Chua Mua Cot, the famous one-pillar pagoda, a construction that will allow you to know the historical and spiritual richness of the Vietnamese capital. This iconic structure is considered an architectural marvel that rises above the waters of a pond.

The history of this pagoda dates back to the 11th century, when it was built by Emperor Ly Thai Tong as an act of gratitude after dreaming of the arrival of fatherhood. The uniqueness of this site lies in its design, in which a single stone column supports the entire structure, appearing to float above the pond.

Surrounded by centuries-old trees and carefully landscaped gardens that match the style of the building, the pagoda offers a serene and tranquil atmosphere away from the bustling Old Quarter.

Discover the shows of the Water Puppet Theater

One of the best ways to end your second day in Hanoi is to attend a water puppet show at a theater located near the Old Quarter. This tradition, one of the most popular and captivating in Vietnam, refers to an ancient art that combines the skill of puppeteers with the movement of water, creating a staging that has captivated audiences for centuries and is often included in the itineraries of the best tours in Hanoi.

The history of water puppet theater is not documented, but it is believed to have begun in the Middle Ages in the flooded rice paddies of the Red River delta, eventually becoming a form of entertainment appreciated by the royal court, despite having sprung up in the streets of what was then a small village. Therefore, these shows are not only an artistic manifestation, but also a window into Vietnamese culture and mythology.

The performances often include folk stories, scenes of rural life and mythical figures, all accompanied by live traditional music. The theater has evolved to integrate modern elements such as lighting and amplified sound, but retains the essence of tradition, with skilled puppeteers bringing their characters to life on a watery stage.

From Chua Mua Cot you can reach the theater on buses 14, 22A, 23, 34 and 146.

Buy tickets for an aquatic puppet show

Day 3: Tour the Temple of Literature, see the city skyline from the Lotte Center Hanoi observation deck, discover Tran Quoc Pagoda and bid farewell to Hanoi by discovering Hang Buom

Lotte Center Hanoi|©德仁 陳
Lotte Center Hanoi|©德仁 陳

For the third and last day of your itinerary I propose a tour that combines the tradition of the Vietnamese capital with the modernity that characterizes the city as a global financial center. In this way, you will not only discover the country's first university, but also one of the tallest buildings in Vietnam and admire the city's skyline from its observation deck.

Tour the Temple of Literature, Vietnam's first university

The Temple of Literature is a historical site because it houses the country's first university. Founded in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong, this building, also known as Van Mieu, was designed as a center of learning dedicated to honoring Confucius and the scholars of the time, so the temple has played a pivotal role in Vietnam's educational and cultural history for more than a millennium.

The architecture of the Temple of Literature reflects the influence of traditional Vietnamese aesthetics, with fine details and symbolic elements that enhance the beauty of the structure. Touring its various sections, such as the Pavilion of Constancy, will give you a deep insight into the history and educational philosophy that have shaped Vietnam's cultural identity.

Located next to the train station that will take you to visit Sa Pa from Hanoi, you can reach this site on bus lines 2 and 41.

Take in the sweeping views of the city from Lotte Center Hanoi

After visiting one of the oldest buildings in Hanoi, you can visit one of the most modern. The Lotte Center Hanoi skyscraper, opened in 2014 and standing 267 meters tall, is one of the best places in the city to take in the sweeping views. From the observation deck of this structure you can discover a unique perspective that fuses modernity with the rich history of the Vietnamese capital.

Strategically located in Hanoi's financial and commercial district, Lotte Center offers views ranging from ancient temples and pagodas to modern markets and skyscrapers. From its observation deck you can enjoy a bird's-eye view of the city and also distinguish the Red River along which the best Hanoi cruises take you to Halong Bay from the Vientiane capital.

Lotte Center Hanoi's avant-garde architecture is combined with luxury amenities, shopping malls and entertainment spaces, making it a multifaceted destination for locals and tourists alike. The tower, moreover, stands as a testament to Vietnam's rapid economic development, providing a fascinating contrast to the traditional architecture that characterizes the city.

From the Temple of Literature you can reach Lotte Center Hanoi by bus lines 25, 32, 34, 38, 142 and 159.

Book a Halong Bay cruise

Visit Tran Quoc Pagoda

Located on the shores of West Lake, Tran Quoc Pagoda is the oldest pagoda in Hanoi, with its roots dating back to the 6th century during the reign of Emperor Ly Nam De. Over the centuries, this pagoda, which is considered the spiritual center of Vietnam, has been rebuilt and renovated, becoming a symbol of the local Buddhist tradition. From Lotte Center Hanoi you can reach it by bus lines 32, 34, 38, 50 and 142.

The history of Tran Quoc Pagoda is intertwined with the evolution of spirituality in the region. Originally built on the banks of the Red River, the pagoda was moved to its present location during the 17th century. This move was part of a series of changes that sought to preserve the pagoda and its spiritual significance, turning it into a site of peace and contemplation away from what were considered to be the vices of modernity.

Tran Quoc's architecture reflects the fusion of styles over the centuries, ranging from Ly dynasty elements to Indian architectural influences. Often included in the itineraries of the best tours of Hanoi, explore the gardens, stone bridges and ornate towers that capture the essence of Buddhist philosophy in every detail.

Discover Hanoi's nightlife in the Hang Buom district.

The closing of the tour of Hanoi could not be anywhere else but in the Hang Buom district. There you can find bars, pubs, restaurants and nightclubs offering live music and DJs. The area is also famous for its beer bars, where locals and tourists gather to enjoy craft drinks and share the epicenter of the Vietnamese capital's social life.

In addition, Hang Buom is a culinary hotspot, with street stalls offering Vietnamese delicacies such as pho and bánh xèo. This is why the district is also a popular place for food tours in Hanoi.

Among the activities you can do in Hang Buom are night walks to explore the city's illuminated architecture, as well as the opportunity to participate in traditional Vietnamese games that some locals organize in the streets.

Join a gastronomic tour

3-day Hanoi tour itinerary

hoa lo prison|©arcibald
hoa lo prison|©arcibald
  • Day 1
  • Tour Old Quarter
  • Visit Hoam Kiem Lake
  • Visit Hoa Lo Prison
  • Dinner at Dong Xuan Market
  • Day 2
  • Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
  • Visit Chua Mua Cot
  • Attend a puppet show
  • Dinner in the city center
  • Day 3
  • Visit the Temple of Literature
  • Take in the panoramic views
  • Discover Tran Quoc Pagoda
  • Bid farewell to Hanoi at Hang Buom