Hanoi is a good destination for weekend warriors because Cebu Pacific flights coincide with weekends, flying to Hanoi on Thursday night and flying back to Manila on early Monday morning. While we stayed in Hanoi for more than a week (and would have stayed even longer), three days should be enough to cover all the must-see places and uncover all the gems (literally and figuratively) Hanoi has to offer. Read on for my sample Hanoi weekend itinerary.
Breakfast — I highly suggest you eat pho on your first day in Hanoi. It’s not just because pho is a traditional Vietnamese breakfast, it is more so because you need that energy after your late-night flight.
Morning — Most guide books would tell you that a visit to Hanoi is not complete without paying respect to Ho Chi Minh, the father of modern Vietnam. That is true. But I get icky when I see dead people in their coffin, so the mausoleum was not for me. Expect the line to mausoleum to be long (because both locals and foreigners want to pay respect to Uncle Ho) and hot (because there are no trees at the Ba Dinh Square. As an alternative, you can get to know the person more by checking the Ho Chi Minh museum at the back. Personally, I enjoyed exploring more the Thang Long Citadel, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and walking along the shady streets where the embassies are located. Expect to 0.50 hour for picture taking at the Ba Dinh Square, 1.0 hours at the Ho Chi Minh museum, and another 1.0 hours at the Thang Long citadel. Walking around will take 0.50-1.0 hour.
Lunch — There are a few restaurants and cafes near Ba Dinh Square but I recommend that small eatery near the Public Safety Office at Le Phong Hong. We made the mistake of having coffee and spring rolls at the restaurant beside the Thang Long citadel and paid 150.000 just for the spring rolls. This small eatery served banh mi and rice dishes at very reasonable prices. Joel ordered the roasted pork banh mi and it had crispy, lechon kawali-like pork inside.
Afternoon — Burn off your lunch by walking down to the Temple of Literature, about four blocks from Le Phong Hong. You can easily cover the temple in 1.0 hour. If you are not so inclined to check out the equivalent of the University of San Carlos in Vietnam, I suggest you walk instead of 85 Nguyen Thai Hoc and take the No. 2 bus to the Hanoi Opera House. If taking the bus is too cumbersome, book a Grab (bike or car) or hail a taxi and ask to be dropped off at the Hanoi Opera House.
You can check out the Vietnam National Museum of History at No. 1 Pham Ngu Lao and spend an hour or two going over important construction and military artifacts of Vietnam from 30,000 B.C. to modern time. If you have had enough of artifacts at the Thang Long citadel, then just have your picture taken in front of the beautiful French-Vietnamese building. If you are tired of walking, you can hire a cyclo, many of which are parked in front of the museum, to tour the French Quarter. The French Quarter though is small and expect to spend just an hour to tour it by walking.
Coffee Break — Indulge in high tea or the luxurious chocolate library at the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel If you think the prices at the hotel are too steep, an alternative would be the Trang Tien ice cream.
Dinner and Evening — For dinner, walk your way up to Hoan Kiem lake and check out local eateries there. Don’t miss to see couples taking their pre-nuptial photos at the beautiful Trang Tien Shopping Plaza when the sun goes down. Alternatively, you can window shop or break your wallets for branded luxury items at the shopping plaza. Also, before Friday ends, if you are planning to go to Ha Long bay the next day, book your tour now. Make sure to return to your hotel early for a full-packed Saturday.
Breakfast — Banh mi and traditional egg coffee. Because I am not a noodle nor a soup person, I prefer this kind of breakfast over pho. Also, banh mi is very convenient, and you can order another one to bring with you to your Saturday’s destination — Ha Long bay!
Morning — Travel time to Ha Long bay will take you 6 hours. The van/bus usually starts moving at 7:30 in the morning and will take an hour touring the Old Quarter and nearby areas fetching all passengers. The van/bus will leave Hanoi at 8:30. By 10:45, you will arrive at the restrooms/souvenir shop/cafe, and make sure you go to the restroom and buy something substantial to eat because you won’t arrive in Ha Long bay until 12:30 and you won’t be able to eat your lunch until you are inside the boat.
Afternoon — Ha Long bay tour and back to Hanoi. Three hours touring the UNESCO World heritage site bay is never enough. The tour usually ends at 3:30 and you will be back in the bus at 4:00 P.M.
Dinner and Evening — Expect to arrive in Hanoi by 9:00 in the evening. Maybe you can eat something convenient for dinner (like Ga Ran Popeye’s or Lotteria) because the ride back to Hanoi could be tiring.
Saturday alternative activity: A day tour to Ha Long bay costs only $25, or even less. But if you are not keen on spending 10 hours on a bus and only 3 hours enjoying the UNESCO-listed karst, I suggest you get up very early in the morning of Saturday and walk around Hoan Kiem lake. Around the lake, you will see locals exercising. One of the curious exercises is “laughing yoga” — when the participants will form a circle or a line and massage each other’s backs and laugh. Another nice activity to watch is fan dancing. After circling Hoan Kiem lake, you can proceed to the Old Quarter, do some window souvenir shopping (to canvass prices) or do the actual souvenir shopping, and spend the afternoon to watch the Thang Long water puppet theatre show. In the evening, the Hoan Kiem lake rotunda is closed for the weekend market.
Breakfast — Egg coffee at Giang Cafe.
Morning — If you did the Ha Long bay tour yesterday, Sunday morning, at 9:30, is your last chance to watch the water puppet show at the Thang Long theatre near Hoan Kiem lake. But if you have done the water puppet show, instead of Ha Long yesterday, then I suggest you take a leisurely stroll to and around the St. Joseph Cathedral, and walk your way up to the Old Quarter for souvenir shopping. Read here for my Hanoi shopping guide.
Lunch — There are many eateries around St. Joseph Cathedral, and if you are already at the Old Quarter, you can find many eateries there as well. My tip in eating out in Hanoi would be: (1) follow those who are doing food tours, or (2) go to the eateries that have no English translation and where all the people eating are locals.
Afternoon — Wrap up your shopping spree and cap it off with some traditional Vietnamese coffee at Cong Ca Phe. Pass the time watching traffic at the cafe’s terrace. If you still want to squeeze your time, book a Grab and head to the West Lake at sunset.
Evening — Pack your things, or buy excess baggage (at least four hours before the flight). Relax your feet, and buy food to bring with you to the airport.
Weather: Torrential rain can pour late in the morning to lunch time in Hanoi but can be sweltering hot in mid afternoons.
How to Get Around Hanoi: Download the Grab app. You can take the taxi. Or Grab bike, or cyclos. But we preferred walking and taking the bus.
Budget: Very affordable including the entrance fees to most museums and attractions. Read here for my extensive budget guide to Hanoi and how much we spent in 11 days.
Scam alert: None. We did not experience any scams while in Hanoi. BUT, you have to know that it’s best to walk or use Grab because addresses can be different, and traffic routes are also different so you may think the driver is purposely driving you around the longest route when your destination is very near when in fact that is the only route.
Basic courtesies: If you do not like what is being offered, say no and walk away.
Photos by Joel Lopez.