A dear friend recently moved to Hanoi for six months and I am thrilled for her as this Northern Vietnamese city is as historically, culturally and gastronomically vibrant as it can get. Not many of us will have the chance to explore Hanoi over a leisurely pace of several months, so I thought why not do a post on how to visit Hanoi in one day for those who are really pressed for time. Just to be clear, trying to visit a city in just one day does great injustice to it, but you can just about catch the essence of it if not discover its soul.

Hanoi in One Day: 10 Must-Visit Locations. Like it? Pin it!

Our ‘Hanoi in One Day’ walking tour starts at the historical Old Quarter of Hanoi. This is because if you are a backpacker, chances are very high that you will be staying here. However, before I jump into the list of things to do to have one fabulous day in Hanoi, here are some important points that may help you plan out your day better:

  1. Try to have an early start, say by 7.30am-ish. Hanoi is humid for most part of the year, so you may want to consider optimising your time during the mornings when it is still cool out.
  2. My list includes visits to temples and a mausoleum. Hence, I urge you to dress respectfully; meaning no bare shoulders and knees.
  3. Most touristy sites in Hanoi are either closed or have limited hours on Mondays and a few are closed on Fridays. Therefore, do try and avoid doing this walking tour on a Monday or a Friday.

Important: If you are going to have a late start and definitely plan on visiting the Hồ Chí Minh Mausoleum, head straight to Stop 3. You can get there from the Old Quarter in 30 minutes on foot or 10-15 minutes by cab/bike.

Hanoi in One Day:: Stop 1. Trấn Quốc Pagoda 

Distance Travelled from Old Quarter to Trấn Quốc Pagoda: 2.7km approx./32 – 40 minutes. Alternatively, you can take a really cheap GRAB ride if you are not up for walking this bit. It isn’t exactly a scenic walk, and Hanoi traffic can be a bit intimidating, so you may be given a pass for not wanting to walk a walk that would seriously involve some ninja moves every now and then in order to swerve out of the way of an oncoming scooter. Okay, I exaggerate, but caution is advised.
And hey, if you do find yourself in the middle of the road, do not panic, everyone will just go around you and no one will scream at you. In fact, they will act likes it’s perfectly normal for a clueless tourist to be standing randomly in the middle of the road.

Admission Fee: FREE

Opening Hours: 7.30am – 11.30am, 1pm – 6pm.

Time Allocated: 30 – 45 minutes.

First on the list of ‘Hanoi in One Day Tour’ is the Trấn Quốc Pagoda. This oldest temple in Hanoi is on a quaint little island between the West lake and the Trúc Bạch Lake. To reach the pagoda, you will have to walk down the Thanh Niên street, which cuts across the two lakes. Thanh Niên offers spectacular vistas of the lakes and the pagoda itself.

Hanoi in a Day Tip: There are several cafes and bistros lined up around the waterfront, which makes it a lovely place to stop for a cup of coffee and/or snacks while admiring the views after your 30 minute walk.

Hanoi in One Day:: STOP 2: Quán Thánh Temple

Distance from Trấn Quốc Pagoda to Quán Thánh Temple: 850m/10 mins

Admission Fee: 10,000 VND (Vietnamese Dong), ~USD 0.50

Opening Hours: 7am – 5pm.

Time Allocated:15 – 20minutes.

Next on your Hanoi in One Day Tour is Quán Thánh Taoist temple. So, make your way here to marvel at the gigantic statue of the Taoist deity Xuan Wu. This isn’t your biggest or the most ornate temple out there. Notwithstanding, it holds tremendous historical significance and I would urge you to stop here as it falls on your way to other main attractions in any case.

Hanoi in One Day:: STOP 3: Ba Đình Square and Hồ Chí Minh Mausoleum 

Distance  from Quán Thánh Temple to Ba Đình Square and Hồ Chí Minh Mausoleum : 600m/7 mins

Admission Fee: Free

Opening Hours: April to September; Weekdays: 7.30am – 10.30am; Weekends: 7.30am – 11am. December to March; Weekdays: 8am – 11am; Weekends: 8 am – 11.30am. Friday closed.

Time Allocated: 1 hour (excluding the time you may have to spent in the queue).  The Mausoleum also remains closed for October and November.

This is undoubtedly the most visited spot in Hanoi and for good reason: Ba Đình Square is the place where Hồ Chí Minh (Vietnam’s first president and their most revered revolutionary leader – one would expect you to know this if you are visiting Vietnam) read the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence on September 2, 1945. Therefore, it finds itself on the  Hanoi in One Day walking tour. The mausoleum, as the word suggests, displays the embalmed body of Hồ Chí Minh, thereby making it a sight of tremendous importance and respect for the Vietnamese.

Note: Right next to the mausoleum is the canary yellow coloured Presidential Palace, which was built for Hồ Chí Minh. You cannot really enter the palace, but don’t let that upset you because the president never really lived here but instead chose to live in a tradition Vietnamese house known as the Slilt House, which you can and should visit.

Hanoi in One Day:: STOP 4: Hồ Chí Minh’s Stilt House 

Distance from the Hồ Chí Minh Mausoleum to Hồ Chí Minh’s Stilt House: 400m/5 mins

Admission Fee: 25,000 VND ~ USD 1.10

Opening Hours: 7.30am – 11am, 1.30-4pm. On Mondays, it is open only from 7.30 – 11am.

Time Allocated: 1 hour.

The minimalistic Stilt House looks straight out of a picture standing on a fish pond (seriously, there are like hundreds of fish in there). Apart from the house, you can also check out Hồ Chí Minh’s gifted vintage cars on display along with his office. This area is essentially a part of the aforementioned Presidential Palace grounds, so you get to see plenty of beautifully manicured gardens as well.

Tip: If you find yourself at the Stilt House, during their lunch break (11am – 1.30pm). Head over to STOP 5, and make your way back here later. If you happen to be one of those who started at Stop 3, this is a perfect time to make your way to Stop 2 and Stop 1. Moreover, the huge array of eateries located by the riverfront of Stop 1 make for a great option for lunch. And yes, they fit all kinds of budget.

Hanoi in One Day:: STOP 5: One Pillar Pagoda

Distance from Hồ Chí Minh’s Stilt House to One Pillar Pagoda: 400m/5 mins

Admission Fee: Free

Opening Hours: 8am – 5pm.

Time Allocated: 10 – 15 minutes.

Midway through your Hanoi in One Day Tour is the One Pillar Pagoda. It may not look like much, but it happens to be one of the most important religious and historic sites in the country. However, despite reading up on all its super awesome history, I was still left pretty underwhelmed. Nonetheless, I have added it on the list because you don’t really have to go out of your way to visit this place, and it will take you like 5 minutes to take a look at one of the most iconic sites in Vietnam.

Furthermore, there are loads of fresh fruit and street food venders here. Though the prices are a bit inflated as one can expect at any touristy site,  I totally recommend you try the dragon fruit especially if it isn’t readily and/or cheaply available in your country. Alternatively, if you want to have a proper lunch, walk around the area, and you will find loads of restaurants.

Hanoi in One Day:: STOP 6: Hồ Chí Minh Museum (Option A)

Distance from One Pillar Pagoda to Hồ Chí Minh Museum: 150m/2 mins

Admission Fee: 10,000 VND, ~ USD 0.50

Opening Hours: 8am – 12pm, 2pm – 4.20pm (closed in the afternoon on Mondays and Fridays).

Time Allocated: 1.5 hour.

If you are deeply interested in learning more about Hồ Chí Minh’s life from his youth till death, this might just be the place for you. The museum is indeed insightful, and makes for a good option if you wish to step out of the sun post lunch, and plan to do something that is physically low key.

Tip: If you have two days in Hanoi, my suggestion would be to skip the museum for this day, and let your second day be a museum visit day. Since, Hanoi has its fair share of some remarkable museums, you can easily spend a full day exploring 2 to 4 of them, depending on how much time you give to each one you visit.

Hanoi in One Day:: STOP 6: Thang Long Imperial Citadel (Option B, my preference)

Distance from One Pillar Pagoda to Thang Long Imperial Citadel: 1km/12 mins

Admission Fee: 30,000 VND, ~ USD 1.30

Opening Hours: 8am – 5pm (Mondays closed)

Time Allocated: 1 – 1.5 hour.

The citadel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has a lot to offer for those who are interested in medieval architecture and history from the Ly and Nguyen Dynasty. It isn’t a massive citadel but there is plenty to see if you have a keen eye for detail.

Hanoi in One Day:: STOP 7: The Temple of Literature

Distance  from Stop 6 (Option A): 1.4km/16mins

Distance from Stop 6 (Option B): 1.5km/18mins

Admission Fee: 30,000 VND, ~ USD 1.30, if you have a valid student ID on you, you pay half. However, at most places in Vietnam, they do not accept IDs issued from foreign universities.

Opening Hours: April to October: 7.30am – 5.30pm; November to March: 8pm – 5pm. Mondays might be closed, I would advise checking up first before visiting.

Time Allocated: 1 hour.

This is a Confucian temple (i.e., dedicated to Confucius, who was this genius Chinese scholar/politician/philosopher guy around 500BC. If you haven’t heard of him, it’s time to read up and prepare to be amazed). As an academic myself, this place was a must visit for me. The Temple of Literature has multiple (five) courtyards where each has its own distinct significance. However, the information available onsite is somewhat rudimentary. So, it might be useful to invest in a guidebook that explains this place in detail that you can bring along with you and refer during your visit.

Even if you don’t care about its historical/literary significance and its temples with their majestic altars to Confucius, it is definitely worth a visit because just the courtyards offer a very aesthetically pleasing experience. Lastly, I must add that this is my favourite among the list of places to visit on the Hanoi in One Day Tour.

Hanoi in One Day::  Stop 8: St. Joseph’s Cathedral 

Distance from the Temple of Literature to St. Joseph’s Cathedral: 2km/25minutes.

Admission Fee: Free

Opening Hours: You can only enter at the time of service. Mass schedules are updated regularly. Your hostel/hotel will be able to give you the information, or at least, find out the same for you.

Time Allocated: I did not attend the mass and spend around 10 minutes to see it from the outside.

I love cathedrals of all kinds, shapes and sizes. So, I had to include the most popular one in Hanoi in One Day Tour. This is a gothic cathedral that looks straight out of a spooky movie (but in a cool way!). The area around the cathedral plays host to several quirky restaurants and cafes and this is definitely the place to take a breather or have an early dinner. The prices are very competitive and you get way more your money’s worth here than dining at a prime location such as Stop 9.

Hanoi in a Day Tip: While I chose to walk this distance, in hindsight, I wish hadn’t. I was fairly tired by then and it was hot and humid. Similarly, taking the public bus will need some figuring out and will still involve a fair bit of walking. Hence, if do not care to walk or are running low on stamina, your best option is to take a cab/Grab.

Hanoi in One Day:: Stop 9: Hoàn Kiếm Lake and Ngọc Sơn Temple 

Distance from St. Joseph’s Cathedral to Hoàn Kiếm Lake and Ngọc Sơn Temple: 900m/11 minutes.

Admission Fee (for the temple): 20,000 VND ~ USD 0.90; 10,000 VND for students with valid ID.

Opening Hours: 8am to 6pm

Time Allocated: 30 – 45 minutes

The adorable little ‘The Note Coffee’

Much like the Temple of Literature, Hoàn Kiếm lake has an interesting myth behind it that boosts it reputation as a popular site involving turtle gods and celestial swords. Ngọc Sơn temple is located on a tiny islet on the lake. It is small and to be honest, isn’t crazy impressive. I found the walk around the lake and the red bridge leading to the temple much more interesting. Dotted with various cafes and chic shops, this is definitely the most social (and expensive) area of Old Town Hanoi teeming with locals and tourists alike.

Hanoi in a Day Tip: Covering Hanoi in one day can be pretty exhausting! So, why not stop by the Note Coffee on your way from the cathedral to the lake? The café is super cute and unique; the entire place (tables/walls/windows, you name it) is covered with millions of colourful post-it notes. The staff is wonderful and their coconut milkshake is to die for. They give you a little note with your order and you can leave one too!

Hanoi in One Day:: Stop 10. Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre

Distance from Ngọc Sơn Temple to Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre: 180m/2minutes.

Admission fee: My ticket was 100,000VND, ~ 4.40USD, brought from the ticket counter. They apparently have cheaper tickets for 60,000VND as well.

Opening Hours: Daily shows at 3pm, 4.10pm, 5.20pm, 6.30pm, 8pm and 9.15pm.

Time Allocated: 1.10 hour.

To round up your Hanoi in One Day Tour, head over to Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. The puppet show is for an hour, consisting of various short acts (ranging from 5-10 minutes each). The show portrays various myths and histories of Vietnam (including one about the turtle god from the Hoàn Kiếm lake) with live music. However, the show is in Vietnamese. Furthermore, the brochure given to you simply lists the names of the acts but offer no explanation. Therefore, it is somewhat hard to follow if, like me, you don’t speak Vietnamese. Nonetheless, despite it being juvenile in parts, it is still great fun and an excellent way to round off your day in Hanoi.

Hanoi in a Day Tip: I advise you to buy the tickets in advance. You can ask your accommodation to do it for you a day before or in the morning. Alternatively, you can buy them straight at the counter too before the show but they do tend to sell out, especially the later shows.
If you have followed my itinerary to the dot, you will likely catch the 8pm or 9.15pm puppet show. After this, depending on what you are up for, you can head into depths of the Old Quarter to enjoy a night out, or have a few laid back drinks. I decided to have a second dinner (because I was starving after all that walking and Vietnamese food is healthy, delish and cheap), and dived right in for a well-deserved rest.

Hanoi in One Day: 10 Must-Visit Locations. Like it? Pin it!

So there you go; this is my ‘Self-Guided Hanoi in One Day Walking Tour Itinerary.’ Yes, I know that it is crazy rushed. I know some of you are judging me real hard right now for squeezing in so much in so little time. So, if you are really interested in a particular place or feel that you must explore a spot in its entirety when you visit, this itinerary is not for you. However, if you intend on checking out the essentials in each of these locations, this itinerary is very doable. Moreover, it also bodes well to remember that most touristy spots in Hanoi are small and can be visited easily without rushing it or skipping anything noteworthy. So, it is going to be a really long day but it’s going to be a memorable one.

A friend’s message to me after I convinced her that she ‘absolutely must visit the Note Coffee!’

For more posts on South East Asia, click on ‘Place To Go

{{All photographs are mine, if you use them, please give credit. Thank you!}}

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