Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and is known for its traditional architecture and temples, delicious food, chaotic traffic as well as rich culture with Southeast Asian, Chinese and French influences. It is the gateway to Vietnam’s stunning Halong Bay, and is a fascinating city escape in Asia if you’re looking for a mix of culinary, culture and sightseeing experiences. Only have 24 hours in Hanoi? Read on for your express guide to making the most of your time in the city!
Hanoi is a perfect place to spend a night or two before sailing in Halong Bay. Click here to read my guide to choosing the best Halong Bay luxury cruise!
Important things to know before visiting Hanoi, Vietnam
- You can apply for a 30 day Vietnam e-visa if you hold a passport from one of these 46 countries. The official Vietnam e-visa website is here, and though the design is horrific it works fine. There are many websites purporting to be the “official” visa website and some even have a “.gov.vn” domain, so be careful when you apply for a Vietnam visa online!
- To get into Hanoi you’ll need to fly into Noi Bai International Airport, located on the outskirts of the city.
- The currency in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong. The exchange rate is approximately US$1 to 23,000 Dong. Yes – THOUSAND. Cash is king in Vietnam so exchange some money when you arrive at the airport.
- Get around Hanoi on foot or by Uber. We never had to wait any longer than a few minutes for an Uber. If you hop in a rickshaw / 3-wheeler make sure you negotiate on a price before the trip.
- Stay connected and buy a local SIM card at the airport. You’ll get 7 GB of data for just US$10! You’ll never get lost in the city if you have access to Google Maps.
- Crossing the road in Hanoi can be a real debacle – there always seems to be an endless stream of scooters, motorcycles and cars. Your best bet is to try to follow a local as they cross the road, or hold out one hand and open/close your hands like you’ve got a hand puppet on and your fingers are its mouth.
Where to stay in Hanoi, Vietnam
The Old Quarter is one of the best areas to stay in Hanoi and your best option for a quick city break – it is easily explored on foot and is famous for its many narrow and bustling streets and alleyways as well as the majority of tourist landmarks & attractions. From Noi Bai International Airport, the drive into the Old Quarter will take you approximately 40 minutes. We stayed at the Hanoi Brilliant Hotel, one of the best boutique hotels in the heart of the Old Quarter and just a 10 minute stroll away from Hoan Kiem Lake.
Hanoi Brilliant Hotel is a boutique hotel in the Old Quarter and the rooms are a decent size, the furnishings are brand new and spotless, and the staff are incredibly friendly and helpful. Try to book a room with a view overlooking the street as the interior rooms have no windows. The reviews are consistently high and the best part of Hanoi Brilliant Hotel is its proximity to the best places to visit in Hanoi. The Hanoi Brilliant Hotel can organize airport pick up and drop off for US$20 each way for a sedan car. Click here to book your stay at Hanoi Brilliant Hotel or click here to see current rates and availability at other highly rated hotels in Hanoi’s Old Quarter!
What to see in Hanoi in 24 hours
There are a handful of places you should add to your Hanoi itinerary. You’ll find that you can easily visit the different sights within 1 day, or you could also spread them over 2 days if you are not short on time. While I would have loved to stay for a few more nights, we were moving onto Halong Bay for a cruise around the UNESCO-listed karst islands, so had to make the most of our 24 hours in Hanoi.
First time in Hanoi? Read on for some of the best places to visit in Hanoi and what you can’t leave off of your Hanoi itinerary.
1. Temple of Literature
The Temple of Literature, or Van Mieu Mon, is a temple of Confucius and also hosted Vietnam’s first national university. The temple features traditional Vietnamese architectural design and was first built in 1070 but underwent major restoration work in the 20th century. The Temple of Literature is one of the best places to visit in Hanoi and for this reason it can often get very crowded. The complex leads you from the main gate through courtyards, gardens and temple buildings. A ticket into the complex will cost 30,000 VND per person (just over US$1).
2. Ba Dinh Square and One Pillar Pagoda
10 minutes away from the Temple of Literature is Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum in Ba Dinh Square and the neighbouring One Pillar Pagoda, a small Buddhist temple that appears to be support by one beam. It was originally erected in 1049 and is designed to resemble a lotus blossom. There is a strict code of conduct for entering the complex – you have to keep your voice down and dress appropriately. I had long pants on but was asked to cover my shoulders before even entering the area by a Vietnamese soldier.
3. Thang Long Citadel
Thang Long Citadel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was the seat of the Vietnamese court from the 11th century to 1810. The sStanding monuments in the citadel include the Flag Tower (Ky Dai), the South Gate (Doan Mon), the Kinh Thien Palace Foundation, the Princess’s Pagoda (Hau Lau), and the North Gate (Bac Mon). The entrance fee is 30,000 VND per person and the complex is closed on Mondays.
4. West Lake and the Tran Quoc Pagoda
West Lake is a 20 minute walk from the citadel and is the biggest freshwater lake in Hanoi. Take a stroll along the lake and stop at Tran Quoc Pagoda, a small 6th century multi-storey Buddhist temple on an island in West Lake.
5. Train Street
There are actually several streets in Hanoi where daily trains pass through narrow residential blocks. This one is located just steps away from the Temple of Literature, and we chose to visit it because it was easier to get to than the train street that runs through Kham Thien and Le Duan. Be mindful that people live here and are trying to carry on with their every day lives.
6. Hanoi Opera House
The Opera House is a wonderful example of preserved colonial architecture and is just south of the Hoan Kiem Lake. It is surrounded by luxury brand shops and was built over a 10-year period from 1901 to 1911. The designers building were inspired by ancient Greek architectural styles as well as the Paris Opera House.
7. Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple
Hoan Kiem Lake is in a busy tourist area within the Old Quarter of Hanoi and wandering around the lake is one of the best things to do in Hanoi. This smaller lake has plenty of restaurants and shops nearby, and you’ll see many locals and tourists hanging out here in the afternoon and early evenings. The Ngoc Son Temple, or Temple of the Jade Mountain, is a small Confucian temple that can be reached by bridge. It is dedicated to a Vietnamese imperial prince who also served as a military commander and fought against Mongol invaders.
Ready to book your trip to Hanoi? I recommend staying at Hanoi Brilliant Hotel – this intimate boutique property only has a few rooms so you’ll want to book early! The Old Quarter is the best area to stay in Hanoni. Click here to book your stay at Hanoi Brilliant Hotel or click here to see current rates and availability at other highly rated hotels in Hanoi’s Old Quarter!
Where to eat and drink in Hanoi
One of the best things to do in Hanoi is to stuff your face with amazing Vietnamese food and drink.
Hanoi Garden Restaurant: Hanoi Garden Restaurant serves up delicious local Vietnamese food and has a beautiful interior courtyard area for a quiet and romantic dinner. Book your table online here.
Banh Mi 25: There are so many banh mi eateries in Hanoi, which one do you visit? Check out this small and authentic banh mi joint in the old quarter, the flavor is out of this world!
Hanoi Food Culture: Hanoi Food Culture is a hidden gem of a restaurant down a quiet side street in Hanoi. On a nice evening, sit outdoors and definitely try their deep fried spring rolls.
Skyline Bar: Can’t go to a new city without visiting a rooftop bar! Skyline bar is a fantastic rooftop bar in Hanoi just next to Hoan Kiem Lake. Come here for an easy sunset cocktail – this bar serves up a delicious mojito.
I hope this quick guide to Hanoi gives you a better sense of how to plan your Hanoi itinerary! Whether you only have 24 hours or 48 hours in Hanoi, the city is a great place to get a taste of Vietnam’s sights, sounds and food.
Moving onto Halong Bay after your stay in Hanoi? Click here for my guide to choosing the best luxury cruise in Halong Bay!
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