Hanoi is a fascinating place to visit and a must for those exploring the country. Many stay for 2 days in Hanoi before heading off to Sapa or Halong Bay, so we decided to share things to do in Hanoi during your time in the capital.
Day 1 in Hanoi
Start the day with a good Vietnamese breakfast. Many hotels include breakfast but if not, head to a local vendor for a Banh Mi – a local favorite of meat, sauce, and salad in a fresh baguette.
Tran Quoc Pagoda
Get an early start and head to the Tran Quoc Pagoda. This is the famous pagoda in the city and worth a visit, especially for first-timers in Vietnam and Asia.
The temple brings you back to the 6th century during the time of Emperor Ly Nam De Dynasty (544 – 548) and a visit early morning allows you to take in the temple and surrounding lake without the crowds and tour groups.
The pagoda opens at 7.30 am but arriving anytime before 10.30 am will still be a fairly quiet experience. Entrance is free all year round and is around a 30-minute walk from the Old Quarter.
Alternatively, you can download the GRAB app (Asia’s Uber) and be dropped off at the entrance of the temple; prices in Asia are a lot cheaper than western taxi services so make sure you check it out, especially if you are short on time.
We were traveling with family so stopping at a local coffee shop was a must. Paris Baguette is actually a chain we recognized from China but prices were reasonable, the Vietnamese Coffee was great and there were some recognizable food items in the cafe; ideal for the less adventurous eaters in our group.
St Josephs Cathedral
After a quick coffee, we headed back into the Old Quarter to visit St Josephs’s Cathedral.
We visited just before Christmas so there was an impressive tree outside the cathedral and lots of decorations and fairy lights dotted around the square.
It has a touch of Paris and is worth a visit whilst in Hanoi. You can go inside but only at the opening times of the ceremonial services (5.30 am and 6.16 pm on weekdays, 6 pm Saturdays).
Lunch in Hanoi
From St Josephs’s Cathedral, you will find lots of restaurants and cafes to have lunch. La Chapelle Ha Noi is a cute cafe with a rooftop bar that overlooks the square – great for people-watching. Bánh Cuốn Bà Hanh is also near, with high-quality food at reasonable prices.
There are also some cute boutique shops in the area; we enjoyed browsing the handicraft stores and art and craft places.
We finished our sightseeing and lunch around 2pm but it was the first stop on our trip and we were all pretty tired. We headed back for a few hours of blog work then headed back out to the Hanoi Night Market which runs on the weekends – would highly recommend it!
However, if you have more energy than us, check out a Vietnamese cooking class! Apron Up Cooking Class is a highly rated option, which runs throughout the day and costs around $32 per person. Chef Duyen’s Home Cooking Classes & Tours is also a great choice with market visits and local village tours available too.
Dinner in Hanoi
There are some great choices for restaurants in Hanoi, depending on what you are looking for.
Over the past few visits to the city, we have loved eating at:
- New York Sports Bar (formly known as O’Learys) – we enjoyed watching the Chelsea game over a tower of cider and a plate of nachos. More expensive than the local food but good prices for alcohol and tasty food.
- Duong’s Restaurant – With high rating on tripadvisor, we checked out this popular restuarant. This was perhaps the most delicious meal we had with fresh ingredients and lots of Vietnamese dishes to choose from. It is worth reserving a table via their facebook page if you are coming as a big group.
- Essence Restaurant – A more expensive choice but fantastic food, attentive staff and perfect for a special occasion.
- Chops Old Quarter – A small bar with a decent burger and chips. This is a great place to visit if you are missing a bit of western food and want to avoid the chains.
Breakfast in Hanoi
For breakfast places in Hanoi, you can check out:
- 3 spoons – For a more upmarket experience, head to the 62nd floor of the Keangham Hanoi Landmark Tower and enjoy a breakfast buffet at 3 spoons. Not only can you try authentic Vietnamese dishes but you can also check out their Chinese, Japanese, and even Italian breakfast options.
- Pho Bat Dan Restaurant – For hot delicious Pho for just 45k VND, head to Pho Bat Dan. Here you will find the traditional Pho recipe with a clear, fragrant broth.
- Lifted Coffe + Brunch – Popular with locals and ex-pats, this is a great place to people watch from the balcony and enjoy a hearty breakfast.
Jade Mountain temple
The Jade Mountain temple opens at 8 am and is a popular place to visit whilst you are in Hanoi for two days. Similar to the Pagoda, I would recommend getting here early to avoid the crowds.
Also known as Ngoc Son Temple, the temple is found on Hoan Kiem Lake and is VND 30,000 to enter.
Evening in Hanoi
Hanoi comes to life in the evening, especially on the weekend.
Head to the Hanoi Night Market to eat your way around the Vietnamese local dishes and shop for cheap, fun souvenirs and lifestyle products. Hoan Kiem Lake is a picturesque area to walk around, especially as the sun sets and the lights come on.
For couples, head to the Binh Minh Jazz Club for a romantic evening of drinks and music or watch the Thang Long Water Puppet Show; a tourist favorite. For a more lively evening, head to HERO nightclub or head to our favorite bar, Legend Beer in the Old Quarter.
Once you are finished with Hanoi, make sure to visit the gorgeous terraces in Sapa or the breathtaking beauty of Halong Bay. The best part is, that there are plenty of Halong Bay cruises for backpackers and budget travelers, so you can still experience the gorgeous karsts on any budget.
- We LOVE this camera for our travel photography.
- For a cheap, easy and compact camera, we use this to vlog and take photographs.
- We use this travel drone (but make sure to check drone laws in your chosen destination first).
- This is our favourite travel Insurance because it covers so many activities and travel situations that could arise on longer trips but also offers year coverage.
What to pack
- No matter where we travel to, I always take these trusty hand sanitizer’s and a mini first aid kit.
- We love these toiletry bags (especially great for smaller bathrooms) and choose a laptop bag like this as our hand luggage.
- We keep our devices charged on long travel days with these lightweight battery packs and bring these worldwide travel adaptors on all our trips.
- I still struggle not to overpack so stick to using an expandable suitcase like these, over backpack and always take my trusty luggage scales to avoid being charged at the airport.