How To Spend One Day in Hanoi

Through 1000 years of being the political and economic centre of Vietnam, Hanoi has accumulated a history that many other cities around the world would envy. Its proud traditions are still worn very much on its sleeves, through its pagodas, temples and ancient universities. Even the influences of the French colonials who lived here remain an important part of Hanoi; their grand buildings flank the sides of wide boulevards lined with overarching trees, as a constant reminder of from what this modern Hanoi has emerged.

Though the prestige of the capital requires a few days to soak up, many tourists fly into Hanoi just to visit its outer attractions like Sapa, Halong Bay and Ninh Binh. For those pushed for time, we hope that this guide on how to spend one day in Hanoi will prove useful. This is not an itinerary, but a suggestion of how to travel, what to eat, and things to do in Hanoi, that we at Incredible Asia Journeys hope will prove useful for your trip to the beating heart of Vietnam.

Hoan Kiem Lake


If you’re looking to just spend one day in Hanoi, then you’re going to want to start early. Life in Hanoi begins before sunrise, with elderly ladies rolling outside in their invariably flowery pajamas and beginning their morning exercises, either performed solo along the pavements or through group classes in parks.

Start with breakfast at about 6:00 am by finding any of the buzzing masses of locals, sitting on plastic chairs and shoveling hot phở into their mouths. 25,000 – 30,000 VND should see you full with a delicious bowl of Vietnam’s national dish. If beef-stock soup doesn’t sound like your idea of a good breakfast, you can start instead with bún riêu, a tomato-based soup with tofu – the perfect way to begin your one day in Hanoi.

Starting this early gives you a great chance to watch the sunrise from Long Bien Bridge. Following breakfast, either walk or take a motorbike taxi to Long Bien Bridge, a favourite spot for photographers because of the colourful train that passes regularly through the rustic iron girders along the bridge. On either side of the train tracks, you will experience the continuous whirring of motorbikes, as commuters cross the Red River, illuminated by a vivid red sun that rises from the east. Buy some fresh bananas from any of the vendors on the bridge who collect them from the verdant plantations running underneath, along the banks of the Red River.

Long Bien Bridge

Head back out into the Old Quarter and follow the activities of the locals over a Vietnamese coffee, one of the most unmissable Vietnam experiences. For 20,000 VND, you can sit in a street-side café and watch the organised chaos of Hanoi’s roads. Tread the paths of the Old Quarter’s 36 ancient roads, where people of the same trade have settled alongside each other, creating close-knit communities and a very outward-living atmosphere. Explore the various winding alleyways, where smoke from both cooking and incense combine and seep upwards through the tangled mass of electricity cables. Getting lost in the Old Quarter is not only inevitable, it’s one of the quintessential things to do in Hanoi, as so many small and personable treasures can be located down its side streets.

Continue your Hanoi one-day itinerary with a visit to Hoa Lo Prison, the infamous POW camp where former senator John McCain spent many long and excruciatingly difficult years, along with Everett Alvarez Jr., the first POW of the American War. A tour around the prison will reveal some of the horrors (if a touch biased) that the captured Americans went through, along with a full account of the French torturing of Vietnamese prisoners during their colonial occupation.

Money SpentDistance Travelled
Breakfast: 50,000 VND
Hoan Kiem Lake to Long Bien Bridge: 1.5km
Bananas (0.5kg): 20,000 VND
Long Bien Bridge to Old Quarter: 1km
Vietnamese coffee: 30,000 VND
Old Quarter to Hoa Lo Prison: 1km
Hoa Lo Prison entrance fee: 30,000 VND

Motorbike taxi: ~35,000 VND

Total: ~165,000 VND
Total: 3.5km


Rest and refuel for the rest of the day’s activities at 12:00 pm with a classic Hanoian dish, bún chả. This meal has been a firm lunch favourite of the northern Vietnamese for years, but a visit to Bun Cha Huong Lien by then-president Barack Obama in 2016 pushed this dish of noodles, leafy greens, pork rind and meatballs into the international limelight. For 30,000 VND, you can be following in the footsteps of America’s widely loved president, and kicking off the afternoon of your one day in Hanoi with one of the city’s most delicious meals.

Jump into a taxi or onto the back of a Grab bike after lunch to check out Hanoi’s attractions that lie outside the Old Quarter. Around Ba Dinh Square, you will find a whole host of history-soaked sites, as well as the large open square itself where Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam an independent country, following over 60 years of rule by the French. Ho Chi Minh’s stilt house is located just behind here, and his body lies in the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in the middle of the square (closed in the afternoons). Take the time to check out the One-Pillar Pagoda before taking a cursory look at the bright yellow building used by the French Governor-General of Indochina, the Presidential Palace.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Ba Dinh Square

Walking north from here for about 5 minutes, you will reach Thanh Nien, the beautiful tree-lined road that snakes in between the twin lakes of Tay Ho and Truc Bach. Grab a cheap bò bía (coconut roll) as a belated dessert from one of the roadside vendors and take a stroll around the quiet shores of Truc Bach Lake, where John McCain crash landed and was captured after being shot out of the sky.  The views across Tay Ho Lake are of the city’s skyline, and this makes the perfect westerly-facing platform to enjoy sunset, which is one of the most naturally beautiful things to see in Hanoi. Explore the lakeside outcrop of the beautiful Tran Quoc Pagoda to learn more about the city’s Buddhist history.

In the last daytime hours of your Hanoi one-day itinerary, take a motorbike taxi to the Temple of Literature, just south of Ba Dinh Square. Van Mieu, as it is known in Vietnamese, is the country’s oldest university, specialising in the teaching of Confucian principles for the incredibly small collection of gifted students who passed the entry tests. The names of successful graduates are engraved on steles atop statues of tortoises, surrounded by beautiful gardens, temples and areas of study.

Money SpentDistance Travelled
Lunch: 50,000 VND
Old Quarter to Ba Dinh Square: 3km
Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House: 40,000 VND
Ba Dinh Square to Truc Bach: 1km
Temple of Literature entrance fee: 10,000 VND
Truc Bach to the Temple of Literature: 2.5km
Motorbike taxi: ~70,000 VND
Temple of Literature to Old Quarter: 2.5km
Total: ~170,000 VND
Total: 9km


Return to the Old Quarter to enjoy an evening of either relaxation or nightlife. Start the whole thing with some mỳ xào bò (fried instant noodles with beef) or, if you’re slightly bored of noodles by this point, cơm rang dưa bò (fried rice with beef and pickled vegetables) for around 40,000 VND. If you’re looking for what to do in one day in Hanoi during the weekend, then head to the city’s night market, which runs the length of Hang Dao street from Hoan Kiem Lake to Dong Xuan Market. You can find great deals on clothes, electronics and food here, as well as having the opportunity to practice your haggling skills with the vendors.

You may want to return to your hotel or retire to a café for some relaxation, but if you’re feeling more social, you can head to Hanoi’s famous Bia Hoi Corner to drink some of the cheapest beer in the world. Bia Hoi is brewed daily and is a very light, but refreshing beer, and the swarms of people that crowd the blue plastic stools of the Bia Hoi Corner can attest to this. This is one of the best spots in the city for cultural exchange; you can learn a lot more about Vietnam from the friendly locals here.

Have "Bia Hoi" in the Old Quarter

If, afterwards, you don’t feel like drawing your one day in Hanoi to a close, walk up one of the adjacent roads of the Bia Hoi Corner to find a plethora of nightclubs, most famously amongst the twinkling lights of Ta Hien Street. This narrow alleyway is flanked by bars and clubs, where patrons spill out onto the pavement – a nightly communal atmosphere is a given. Just around the corner lies Hang Buom and Ma May, two streets where the party continues until the police shut it down (or try to, at least).

Money SpentDistance Travelled
Dinner: 700,000 VND
Night Market to Bia Hoi Corner: 400m
Night Market
Bia Hoi Corner to Ta Hien Street: 5m
Bia Hoi: 7000 – 10000 VND per glass


Total: Depends on your shopping and drinking habits!
Total: 405m
Of course, all of the above is just a suggestion, though it guarantees you the best of Vietnam’s capital in a short timeframe. Ideally, you would stay for at least three days to get the most out of the city, but with time or budget pressures, this is a comprehensive suggestion on how to spend one day in Hanoi

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