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What to do in Hanoi in 2 days

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Last updated on January 28, 2024

If you are thinking of how to spend a couple of days in Hanoi, in this post you’ll find the ultimate guide on what to do in Hanoi in 2 days. 

With its rich history and fast-paced vibe, the city of Hanoi is an obliged stop when visiting Vietnam. There’s so much to see that you could easily spend weeks exploring every corner. If you are on a tight schedule, 48 hours should suffice to cover the highlights and get a glimpse of life in the capital. Read on to discover what to do in Hanoi in 2 days.

Hanoi city centre
The buzzing Old Quarter

What to do in Hanoi in 2 days

Join a Tai Chi or laughing yoga session at Hoan Kiem Lake

In the early hours of the morning (around 5 to 6 am), you’ll find locals gathering around Hoan Kiem Lake (also known as Sword Lake) to exercise. From Tai Chi to laughing yoga, you’ll see Hanoi from a very different perspective before the city truly wakes up.

If you are not an early riser, a visit to the Lake in the late afternoon is not to be missed. Filled with families, school children, and local artists, it offers the perfect laid-back atmosphere to see the sun go down as the sky turns to the most beautiful shade of soft orange.

Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam
The Turtle Tower is located in the centre of Hoan Kiem Lake, but unfortunately, it can’t be visited

Visit the Ngoc Son Temple

No visit to Hoan Kiem Lake would be complete without a stop at the Ngoc Son Temple, also known as the Temple of the Jade Mountain. Built over the Jade Islet near the northern shore of the Lake, it is accessible through a charming wooden bridge of classical Vietnamese design.

Dedicated to Confucian, Taoist philosophers, and the national hero, Tran Hung Dao, the Temple makes the perfect oasis away from the chaos of the city.

Entrance fee: 30,000 VND (1,33 USD) at the time of writing
Opening hours: daily from 8 am to 6 pm (double check before your visit)

Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam
The Ngoc Son Temple is accessible through the Welcoming Morning Sunlight Bridge (Cau The Huc)

Recharge with some traditional Vietnamese egg coffee at Cafe Giang

If you have a sweet tooth, you’ll love Vietnamese egg coffee. Prepared with egg yolks, sugar, condensed milk, and coffee, it can be served both hot and cold and it is an absolute treat.

You’ll find countless streets lined with cafés, but the best-kept secret is Cafe Giang. The hidden gem is located down a small alley at 39 Nguyen Huu Huan Street. Among the unique coffee flavours, you’ll find egg with beer and egg with Coke.

Opening hours: daily from 7 am to 10 pm

Egg coffee in Cafe Giảng, Hanoi, Vietnam
Cafe Giang is one of the best kept secrets in Hanoi

Shop in Hanoi’s Old Quarter

Hanoi’s Old Quarter stretches north of Hoan Kiem Lake in a triangular shape and its history spans 1,000 years. The Old Quarter is the commercial centre of Hanoi. It is also known as ‘36 streets’, where each one originally specialised in a specific type of manufacturing or commerce.

The best way to explore the Old Quarter is just by getting lost in the buzzing little streets. Make a stop at the Dong Xuan Market, the biggest wholesale market in Hanoi. Split into three storeys and divided in stalls, you’ll find all sorts of items, from clothes, edibles, and souvenirs to counterfeit goods.

The street in front of Dong Xuan Market is lined up with roadside stalls and street food vendors every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evening, for what is known as Hanoi’s Night Market. Buzzing with people haggling for the best price, it is worth a visit if you are in Hanoi during the weekend.

Don’t forget to visit the French colonial St. Joseph Cathedral on Nha Chung Street, designed to mimic Notre-Dame de Paris, in a Neo-Gothic style.

Old quarter, Hanoi, Vietnam
Old quarter, Hanoi, Vietnam
The Old Quarter is Hanoi’s commercial centre

See the Trompe-l’œil Murals of Hanoi

The joint street art project between Vietnam and South Korea celebrates 25 years of diplomatic relations. It consists of a number of murals covering the railway arches of Phung Hung Street, depicting scenes of life in Hanoi.

Trompe-l’œil is an art technique that creates the optical illusion that the portrayed objects are three-dimensional, through the use of realistic imagery.

Still relatively unknown to tourists, it is a perfect spot for photography.

Entrance fee: free
Opening hours: open 24 hours

Trompe-l'œil Murals of Hanoi
The Trompe-l’œil Murals depict scenes of life in Hanoi

Visit the Insta famous Train Street

Time your visit right to 5 P. Tran Phu to see the train make its way through the narrow street. Once one of the most Instagrammable spots of the city, cafés were shut down and access to the tracks barred to tourists in 2019 due to safety concerns. However, people continued to sneakily evade the ban by pretending to be friends with local café owners.

Following the devastating consequences of the global pandemic on the tourism sector, cafés were unofficially allowed to quietly reopen in 2020. You can once more sit by the tracks sipping a drink as you wait for the train to pass centimetres away from your table. The question remains if future closures could be introduced should visitor numbers sharply rise again, as life slowly goes back to normal.

Entrance fee: free
Time: changes regularly, so check with your accommodation

Train Street, Hanoi, Vietnam
Cafés on Train Street were allowed to quietly reopen in 2020

Explore the French Quarter

Hanoi’s French Quarter is an affluent neighbourhood located east of Hoan Kiem Lake. Characterised for its Colonial buildings, the most popular is the Hanoi Opera House, modelled in a neoclassical style after the Palais Garnier in Paris.

If you are interested in luxury shopping, Trang Tien Street is lined up with high-end shops, as well as hotels, galleries, and restaurants.

Watch a water puppet show

In the proximities of Hoan Kiem Lake stands the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. The tradition of water puppetry dates back to the 11th century. When rice paddies were flooded, villagers would stand in the waist-deep water performing with puppets for fun.

Nowadays, performances are accompanied by a Vietnamese orchestra playing traditional music, as well as vocalists singing the story that is being played by the puppeteers. The show consists of a series of short Vietnamese folk tales and legends. And despite the language barrier, it makes a most entertaining way to spend an afternoon or evening in Hanoi.

Tickets: from 100,000 to 200,000 VND (4,40 to 8,80 USD) depending on the seat at the time of writing
Opening hours: daily 15:00 16:10 17:20 18:30 20:00

Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, Hanoi, Vietnam
Water puppetry dates back to the 11th century

Join a food tour

Some of the best places to eat in Hanoi are truly hidden gems. And by hidden, I mean nameless eateries down dark alleys. Therefore, exploring the Vietnamese food scene with the help of a local is your best bet. Students often offer food tours and are very knowledgeable.

I had a wonderful experience with a girl named Minh, whom I found on Airbnb Experiences. We stopped in eight different places and had a ton of food for a very affordable price. Unfortunately, she is not operating at the moment, but similar alternatives are available across the web.

Explore the West Lake and visit the Tran Quoc Pagoda

The West Lake is the biggest freshwater lake in Hanoi. With surrounding gardens, shops, restaurants, and rooftop bars, it makes the perfect local hang-out.

The oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi, the Tran Quoc Pagoda, is located on a small island near the southeastern shore of the Lake.

Swan pedal boats are available for hire. It is probably the most entertaining way to cover the 17-kilometre length of the Lake.

West Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam
The West Lake and the Tran Quoc Pagoda are located northwest of the city

Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and surrounding sites

Ho Chi Minh’s preserved body lies inside the Mausoleum. Visitors are welcome under the strict rule of no photography. You’ll be expected to observe silence and dress conservatively.

Don’t miss the nearby Presidential Palace, a great example of French Colonial architecture, and the iconic One Pillar Pagoda, which as the name suggests, is a temple built on one pillar.

If you head south, you’ll find the Temple of Literature, featured on the back of the 100,000 VND banknote. Built in 1070, it became Vietnam’s first university in 1076.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Hanoi, Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (top), Presidential Palace (bottom left) and the One Pillar Pagoda (bottom right)

Enjoy a meal and live music at Hanoi Social Club

This friendly place is visited by ex-pats and locals alike. With its quaint atmosphere and charming decor, the tasty menu offers Western fusion cuisine (with many vegetarian dishes!) and delicious smoothies and cocktails. There are three levels to sit in and a rooftop on the top floor. On selected evenings, you can enjoy live music in a very intimate setting.

Opening hours: daily from 9 am to 11 pm (double check before your visit)

With so much to see, deciding what to do in Hanoi in 2 days can be a challenge. I hope you’ve found my tips useful. Let me know if there are any other unmissable sights using the comment box below.

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