May 31, 2020

City Guide: Explore the Best of Hanoi in 3 Days

More and more people are visiting Hanoi for many reasons—diverse culture, great people, vast and colourful history, great street food scene, and iconic sites. It beautifully blends French flair and traditional Vietnamese touch in its Gothic churches, opera houses, and French colonial buildings. Being the capital of Vietnam, it is the gateway to most Vietnamese cities with numerous airlines travelling from all parts of the world. In this northern part of the country alone, you’ll find beautiful tourist destinations like Sapa, Ninh Binh, and Halong Bay.

You can most definitely visit Hanoi any time of the year given its tropical climate with four seasons consisting of winter from November to January, spring from February to April, summer from May to August, and autumn from September to October. However, the best time to visit here would be in springtime when the weather is mild and cool with fewer rainfalls.

So, before booking that plane ticket, make sure to have a good plan on how to spend your excursion in Hanoi. We offer this exciting 3-day excursion that will show you the best sites around the city. Three days may not seem much, but it is the perfect amount of time you need with budget and time constraints.

Check out our itinerary below.

Day 1 Lake Ho Hoan Kiem, Hanoi Old Quarter, Temple of Literature, Hoa Lo Prison Memorial, Hanoi Train Street, and French Quarter

Hanoi: Stunning Hoan Kiem Lake at night

Feel Hanoi’s welcoming atmosphere by spending your first day here exploring the central neighbourhoods of the city.

Your first stop should be Lake Ho Hoan Kiem, a large and unmissable lake situated in the centre of Hanoi. Aside from being an iconic sight with beautiful views of nature and a calm atmosphere, the lake offers a general hive of activity and a popular meeting spot near the Old Quarter of the city. Enjoy walking around and spotting locals practicing tai chi and exercising. In fact, you can even meet students who love speaking with tourists to practice their English.

You can spot the lake’s signature sight, the Turtle Tower, as well as the red Huc Bridge and the Temple of the Jade Mountain.

Then, move to the Hanoi Old Quarter, which is the historical centre of the city with a large network of streets where the city’s trade guilds used to be seen. You can enjoy walking down these streets and seeing the wares being sold while spotting halls, gates, and temples. Make sure you see the contrast between the traditional Ancient House and the Gothic St. Joseph Cathedral.

Hanoi: The Old Quarter from the water

Next up, visit the 1000-year-old Temple of Literature, which is actually a place of study more than a religious structure. The temple was constructed in 1070 and was originally designed for the students of Confucius. If you come at the right time of the year, you’ll be able to see graduates getting their photos taken outside the temple. Of course, it’s a must to wander around it and spot its ponds, walking paths, and courtyards.

The Hoa Lo Prison Memorial tells you more about Vietnam’s history as it used to be a prison for holding US prisoners of war; earning it the nickname, the ‘Hanoi Hilton’. Today, walking through the prison lets you have an insight into the prisoners’ lives there.

Then, it’s time to explore what is famously and intriguingly called the Hanoi Train Street in the Old Quarter. You’ll see old train tracks squeezing tightly through some of the narrowest streets where doors and windows of houses literally open out to them. The train passes this residential area twice a day, and people scramble inside their houses to make way for it. It’s a sight you shouldn’t miss, but remember to stay out of the train’s way!

Hanoi: a Train in the train street

The French Quarter seems to bring you to another place and time with its load of buildings and architecture from the days of French colonialism. It’s a totally different side of Hanoi with humble homes and merchant streets where grand government buildings, nightlife spots, and high-end hotels and restaurants abound.

Hanoi: a house in the French Quarter

After a day of exploration, go for a nice dinner at any of the posh restaurants in the heart of the city.

Day 2 Tran Quoc Pagoda, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum, One Pillar Pagoda, Hanoi Botanical Garden, Vietnam Military History Museum, and Hanoi Street Food

a beautiful shot of Tran Quoc

Continue your exciting exploration of Hanoi on your second day, visiting first the famous Tran Quoc Pagoda that sits out by the west lake. Be amazed to see the oldest Buddhist shrine in the city that goes back to the 6th century. You can walk around the pagoda and notice the special carvings in the shrine. Of course, since this is an active shrine with monks living there, you should take note and observe their local and religious customs while visiting.

Discover the great Uncle Ho, as he is fondly called by the Vietnamese people. Ho Chi Minh was the revolutionary leader and President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. When you visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, you can see the preserved body of the late leader inside a glass enclosure protected by a full-honour guard. From here, you can also visit the Ho Chi Minh Museum to see the exhibits on the life of Uncle Ho.

Hanoi: Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum at night

Then, not far from the museum is the must-see One Pillar Pagoda. By the name itself, you will be intrigued to see this small yet fascinating landmark that resembles a lotus flower. It got its name from the fact that it stands on a single pillar in the middle of a pond. The pagoda dates back to the 11th century and is one of the most important temples in Hanoi and Vietnam that is tied to many legends of Buddha and ancient emperors.

Hanoi: daytime shot of One Pillar Pagoda

After lunch in the area, you don’t have to go far to see the Hanoi Botanical Garden sprawled at the back of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the One Pillar Pagoda. Inside the vast garden, you’ll be mesmerised by its small lakes and walking trails that lead you past trees and plants of all sorts. In fact, you can be lucky enough to find lanterns hung up around the place.

Hanoi: lilies in the botanical garden

You may already be aware of the many wars Vietnam had been involved in throughout its history. Make sure to stop by the Vietnam Military History Museum where you can see a huge collection of military weapons and vehicles that sit in the museum’s central courtyard. Be up close real helicopters, fighting planes, and even the actual tank that rolled into the President’s Palace’s gates in Saigon that ended the two-decade war.

Hanoi: statues in the war museum

No Hanoian excursion will ever be complete without exploring Hanoi’s street food, especially at night. It’s a great way to end your second day in Hanoi tasting the delectable flavours of the city, which has made it popular. Forget fine dining for now and scour for a restaurant that has small chairs and tables by the side of the road. Make sure to try famous Vietnamese dishes like Pho, bun cha, and Com Ga. It’s also a great chance to mingle with the locals who will be more than happy to chat with you and accompany you on your gastronomic journey.

Hanoi street food

Day 3 Tam Coc, Trang An, Hang Mua, Bich Dong Pagoda, Ba Dinh Temple, and Hoa Lu

Hanoi: a nice view of Tam Coc

After two days exploring the offerings of Hanoi, it’s time to break the limits and explore the closest region to the city, and that is Ninh Binh. Spend your third day exploring the province that lies in the south of Hanoi where landmarks of hundreds of year’s worth of history and religious significance wait to be explored.

Tam Coc, also called ‘Halong Bay but on land’, is defined by a river that snakes its way through jagged limestone mountains with views of lush, green rice terraces surrounding it. The river leads to three separate flooded caves, and you can hop aboard a boat or a traditional sampan to enjoy the scenery and fine experience.

Your boating journey continues with your visit to Trang An, which at first look is similar to Tam Coc. However, it takes you on a boat ride along the river that leads through caves within karst mountains and through eight flooded caves. If you prefer a less crowded and touristy place, Trang An is the perfect alternative to Tam Coc.

Hanoi: Aerial view of Trang An

Among Ninh Binh’s most spectacular limestone mountains, the Hang Mua Peak is the most spectacular. It’s a wonderful experience to climb its peak and see as much of Ninh Binh as possible. Get ready to climb 500 steps to reach the temple from where you can take in the breathtaking, panoramic views of Tam Coc.

There is a reason why you need to spend an entire day in Ninh Binh, and that is because it has no shortage of temples. One of those is Bich Dong Pagoda, characterised by three pagodas that are carved into the side of a limestone mountain. Then, see another unique temple by visiting the Bai Dinh Temple, famously known for its religious importance and for being Vietnam’s largest Buddhist temple. Without a doubt, the Bai Dinh Temple is the largest temple in all of Vietnam. As you visit, don’t be surprised to see many Buddhist pilgrims from all over the world coming to pay their respects here.

Hanoi: day time view of Bich Dong Pagoda

Hanoi: beautiful shot of Hang Mua temple

For your last stop, explore the once-capital city of the Vietnamese Empire located in the Ninh Binh province—Hoa Lu. Though it was a city back in the 10th and 11th centuries, you won’t find a city anymore today but just the remains of what was once the empire’s centre. Hoa Lu shows you temples, gateways, and fortifications.

Hoa Lu entrance

There are definitely more attractions and destinations to visit in Hanoi but these 72 hours of exploring the city are more than enough to see its most iconic and important sites. If you have more time, then, don’t hesitate to extend your excursion and see the best of Hanoi.

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