7 Days in Hanoi: The Complete One Week Itinerary

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After spending seven days in Hanoi, it’s become one of my favorite Asian cities. The organized chaos, French colonial architecture, and beautiful greenery create so much visual interest everywhere you turn. Hidden homes, restaurants, and cafés are tucked away in small streets and alleys. Hanoi is a dream for street photographers, urban explorers, and foodies. But even if you don’t identify as any of those, you have to visit Hanoi to see some of Vietnam’s best cultural and historical sites.

Here’s your complete 7-day Hanoi itinerary. You can follow the guide as I’ve written it, use it to get ideas on the best things to do and put together your own plan, or adapt the itinerary if you’ll be spending fewer days in Hanoi.

Is 7 days enough for Hanoi?

Spending seven days in Hanoi is more than enough to fully explore Vietnam’s capital. You’ll be able to see all the important sights, learn to embrace the city’s chaos, and even take two day trips.

Most of the things to do in Hanoi are historical and cultural attractions. If you’re not interested in all of them, you can spend just four or five days in Hanoi, which is the perfect amount of time to experience the highlights. And if you’re in a rush, you can see some quite a few of the most important sites in 24 hours or less by following my Hanoi one-day itinerary.

Day 1: Discover the Old Quarter

Explore the Old Quarter

There’s no better introduction to Hanoi than the Old Quarter, which is also known as the 36 Streets. There are indeed 36 streets that make up the Old Quarter – one for each guild that occupied this commercial area in the 15th century. Today, the Old Quarter is still bustling with shops, but it’s also a tourist area filled with restaurants, cafés, and hotels.

The best way to experience the Old Quarter is by walking around and taking in all the sights, sounds, and smells. Although the most interesting parts of the Old Quarter are the streets themselves, there are a few places you should check out. Make a stop at the oldest temple in the city – Bach Ma Temple (White Horse Temple). Then visit the city’s largest covered market, Dong Xuan Market, where you’ll find vendors selling everything from clothing to food.

Walk around Hoan Kiem Lake

South of the Old Quarter is Hoan Kiem Lake, which is a popular area where locals and tourists hang out and exercise. The best time to walk around the lake is on the weekends, when the road around it is closed to vehicles. In the northern end of the lake sits Ngoc Son Temple, with its beautiful red bridge and colorful lights at night. Admission is 30,000 VND ($1.25 USD) for adults.

In the evening, return to the Old Quarter to experience Beer Street (Ta Hien). The Old Quarter is still lively at night, but nightlife centers around Beer Street. The street is packed with restaurants and bars serving cheap beer and local and Western food. Tables and chairs spill out onto the street, and you’ll find live music at some places. Workers stand outside with menus, trying to convince you to stop for food and drinks at their place. Even if Beer Street isn’t your scene, you should at least walk through it.

Day 2: The history of Hanoi

Sunflowers in front of Imperial Citadel of Thanh Long

Visit Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum

After a meandering first day in Hanoi, your second day is packed with history. Start at Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, where admission is free. Note that to enter the mausoleum, you must cover your shoulders and knees. Besides seeing the resting place of Vietnam’s famous president, walk around the rest of the complex to see Ho Chi Minh’s vintage cars, the stilt house he lived in, and the One Pillar Pagoda.

Step back in time at the Imperial Citadel of Thanh Long

From Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, it’s a short walk to the Imperial Citadel of Thanh Long. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is an important piece of Vietnamese history. It “was the centre of regional political power for almost 13 centuries” and many cultural artifacts have been found here. An adult ticket is 30,000 VND ($1.25 USD) – an incredibly cheap price to pay for the hours that you can spend walking around the citadel grounds.

See the sights around Ho Tay Lake

The last place you’ll visit in this area today is Ho Tay Lake. It’s much larger than Hoan Kiem Lake, so you won’t be able to walk all the way around. Instead, you’re here to see two temples – Quan Thanh Temple and Tran Quoc Pagoda.

Quan Thanh Temple is one of the four temples that were built to protect the city from invaders and ward off demons. One of the highlights of the temple is its large black-bronze statue of the god Huyen Thien Tran Vu. There’s a very small entrance fee of 10,000 VND ($0.42 USD). As with all temples, you should cover your shoulders and knees when visiting.

Tran Quoc Pagoda is the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi and sits in Ho Tay Lake. Unlike other attractions, it’s free to enter.

Day 3: Picturesque places

Enter the Temple of Literature

There are many picturesque places in Hanoi that make a great photo opp. Your first stop is the Temple of Literature. Enter through the tall white gate, into what was once Vietnam’s first university. The neatly organized courtyard is lined with greenery and laid with orange brick paths. Despite the busy street right in front of the temple, it’s easy to forget about all of that when you’re inside.

Stop at Hanoi Opera House

The Hanoi Opera House is a beautiful example of Neoclassical architecture. Its bright yellow and white exterior makes it a popular photo spot, so don’t expect to have it all to yourself unless you go early in the morning.

See Train Street

Train Street is a residential street and active railway. It’s just wide enough for a train to pass through and sandwiched between colorful houses, which has made it a unique attraction and photo opp. Tourists gather to take photos in the middle of the track and to see if they can catch the train that passes through twice a day. If you want to wait for the train, you’ll need to order something at one of the cafés and restaurants along the street. But you can avoid spending a few bucks by walking away from the touristy stretch of Train Street.

Day 4: Day trip to Halong Bay

It’s finally time to see what else Vietnam has to offer outside of Hanoi. Northern Vietnam has the most beautiful scenery in the entire country, and Hanoi isn’t far from a few of those places. Halong Bay, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its limestone cliffs, is one of the most popular day trips. There are many tour operators to choose from, and it’s about $50 USD per person.

Be prepared for a long 12-hour day. You’ll typically get picked up in Hanoi between 8 and 9 AM and return around 8 or 9 PM. Everything is usually taken care of for you, including transportation, lunch, snacks, and water. However, it’s always a good idea to check the details of your tour to understand what will be provided and what you’ll need to bring.

Day 5: Learn about the atrocities of war

Audioguide brochure for Hoa Lo Prison

Tour Hoa Loa Prison

If you’re exhausted from your long day in Halong Bay, I recommend doing nothing else on this day except visiting Hoa Lo Prison. Referred to as “Hanoi Hilton” by American prisoners of war, this important historical site is the last must-see in Hanoi. It was originally built by the French to house Vietnamese prisoners, and it was later used to contain American soldiers during the Vietnam War.

When visiting, make sure to pay extra for the audio guide. It strangely costs more than your ticket, but it provides a lot of information and storytelling that makes it worth it.

Hit up the Hanoi Police Museum or Vietnam Military History Museum

Hanoi actually has quite a few museums, even though they typically aren’t the focus of people’s trips. When you’ve done all the highlights though, the museums are a great way to continue learning about Hanoi and Vietnamese history.

The Hanoi Police Museum is free and across the street from Hoa Lo Museum, which makes it a natural next stop. It’s a small museum that chronicles the history of the police, and it even shows some of the criminals they caught and cases they solved.

History and war buffs should check out the Vietnam Military History Museum. You’ll learn all about Vietnamese military history and see plenty of military equipment and artifacts, including helicopters, tanks, and missiles.

See a water puppet show

End your day with a Vietnamese cultural tradition at the Thanh Long Water Puppet Theatre. As far back as the 11th century, water puppetry was a form of entertainment and storytelling in farming communities. “When the rice fields would flood, the villagers would entertain each other using this form of puppet play. Vietnamese culture carries the roots and identity of an agricultural production, mainly wet rice cultivation.”

Note that shows are only performed in Vietnamese, but that doesn’t necessarily make it less enjoyable.

Day 6: Day trip to Ninh Binh

Strap in for your second day trip today. You’re headed about two hours south of Hanoi to Ninh Binh – the province that some call “Halong Bay on land.” The limestone cliffs you saw in Halong Bay rise up from the ground here. Besides those iconic cliffs, Ninh Binh is also known for its beautiful rivers, caves, rice fields, and temples.

You don’t need to book a tour to experience Ninh Binh. It’s easy to get to Ninh Binh – just book a bus on 12Go.Asia. When you book, make sure you put “Tam Coc” as your destination – not “Ninh Binh,” which refers to Ninh Binh city. Tam Coc is centrally located to all the tourist attractions, while Ninh Binh city is not.

Rent a bicycle or motorbike

Once you arrive in Tam Coc, rent a bicycle or motorbike for the day. Either will do, since you won’t be traveling very far.

Take the Trang An boat tour

Taking a boat tour is a must in Ninh Binh. There are two to choose from – the Trang An boat tour and the Tam Coc boat tour. Go for the Trang An boat tour. Although you’ll pay a bit more, it’s better organized and the boat ride lasts longer. Along the way, you’ll float through caves, stop at temples, and even try paddling the boat.

Visit Bich Dong Pagoda

Bich Dong Pagoda is a three-tier pagoda built into a mountain. A narrow stone path lays across the pond in front of the pagoda, making it your only way in and out. There is a 10,000 VND ($0.42 USD) fee to park your bike, and entrance to the pagoda is free.

Although Bich Dong Pagoda isn’t the most impressive temple, its location and surrounding area makes it beautifully unique.

Climb up to Hang Mua viewpoint

The best viewpoint in Ninh Binh is Hang Mua, but you’ll have to climb up 500 steps in order to get there. Take your time, and don’t be afraid to take rests along the way. When you reach the top, make your way to the dragon statue and the pagoda for photos.

There are also other things to explore at Hang Mua Ecolodge. The grounds are beautifully decorated, you can walk out onto their lotus pond, and you can go inside Mua Cave.

For a more thorough day trip plan, get my one-day Ninh Binh itinerary.

Day 7: Choose from some of the best museums

Your last day in Hanoi is for visiting some of the remaining museums that interest you. The Vietnamese Women’s Museum provides a fascinating look at the role women have played throughout history. You’ll learn about their contributions during the war, life in the villages, and marriage traditions.

Did you know Vietnam has 54 ethnic groups? Located outside of the city center, the Vietnam Musem of Ethnology contains three exhibits on the many ethnic groups that make up Vietnam, as well as some groups across southeast Asia.

Art lovers should spend an hour or two at the Vietnam National Museum of Fine Arts. Its collection spans from ancient to modern art, with pieces displayed chronologically. You’ll find all types of artwork, including pottery, paintings, sculptures, and engravings.

If museums aren’t your thing, take your final day to simply wander around without an agenda or revisit some of the favorite places you’ve discovered.

More resources for traveling Vietnam

Best 7 Day Itinerary for Hanoi, Vietnam