24 Hours in Hanoi

24 Hours in Hanoi

Hanoi is a delight for the senses; a charming cacophony of buzzing scooters, fragrant street food, peeling colonial architecture and colourful culture. If you only have time for one day in Vietnam’s capital, here’s how we’d spend 24 hours in Hanoi – from museum-hopping through the city’s complex history to a culinary tour of the best bun cha in town.



Get your morning exercise Hanoi-style on the shores of West Lake. As the sun rises, locals gather to practice the graceful, meditative movements of tai chi overlooking the city’s largest lake. The 11-mile lake circuit is also popular with walkers, runners and cyclists keen to beat the heat of the day. Set your alarm if you plan to join them, because 5am is the favoured time to enjoy those early-morning endorphins. And starting the day at dawn is certainly one way to make the most of your 24 hours in Hanoi. Work out complete, it’s time to fuel up for sightseeing with some coffee. A fusion of French influence and the distinctively-nutty beans grown in the highlands of Vietnam makes Hanoi a haven for coffee-lovers. For a taste of home-grown flavour, sample an egg coffee or ca phe trung. This Vietnamese speciality was invented by bartender Mr Nguyen Van Giang in the 1940s when milk was scarce; a rationing-inspired take on a cappuccino. Born out of necessity, this strong espresso topped with its egg yolk foam went on to become a national treasure. Today, Giang’s family continue to serve egg coffee at the Giang Café, where it’s been on the menu since 1946. Stop by for a cup to kick-start your day.



Spending the morning in a museum is a great way to escape the humid and hectic streets of Hanoi for an hour or two, and the area around the French Quarter is home to two of the city’s best. The National Museum of History is housed in a building that blends palatial Vietnamese flair with the charm of a French villa; an architectural style known as Neo-Vietnamese. Inside, two floors of exhibits chart the evolution of Vietnam from prehistory to 1945, with a separate building across the street dedicated to events post-1945. Less than a mile away, the excellent Vietnamese Women’s Museum celebrates the role of women in Vietnamese society. The museum covers everything from marriage to motherhood, but most compelling is the exhibit on the ‘Long-Haired Army’; the female-only unit who fought for Vietnamese independence and reunification. The French Quarter itself is a captivating place to wander; grand boulevards and broad pavements leading between time-worn examples of early 20th-century European architecture. One of the finest is the Hanoi Opera House. Inspired by the neo-Baroque Paris Opéra, it was the cultural centrepiece of French Hanoi. Now carefully restored to its former glory, the only way to peek inside at its sweeping marble staircases and glittering chandeliers is to buy tickets for a performance. But it’s just as impressive from the outside if you don’t have time to take in a show.



No 24 hours in Hanoi would be complete without a little time spent in the Old Quarter. This crowded, congested and often-chaotic hot spot is both the city’s main business hub and a popular tourist area. One of the best ways to get your bearings (and satisfy your hunger for Hanoi’s famous street food) is to join a walking food tour. Your guide will introduce you to Vietnamese cuisine via food stalls and off-the-beaten-path eateries, with opportunities to sample culinary classics like goi cuon (spring rolls) and pho (noodle soup). Not only is a food tour perfect for when you’re feeling peckish, but you’re less likely to get lost in the tangle of narrow and winding streets with a local leading the way.



It’s afternoon already, so time to tick off a few more must-sees as the clock ticks on your 24 hours in Hanoi. Built in 1070 to honour the Chinese philosopher Confucius, the Temple of Literature is a serene spot for a spell of peaceful reflection. The complex was once the location of Vietnam’s first university and today students crowd the altars to pray for success in their studies. The five manicured gardens also provide a picturesque backdrop for graduation photos, as well as a tranquil place for a pitstop. To seek out more serenity in the busy city, head to the Hanoi Botanical Garden to wander among the colourful orchids and swaying palms. Or see a unique local artform in action at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. Vietnamese water puppetry has its roots in the 11th century, when it was born in the paddy fields of the Red River Delta. Watch as the talented puppeteers bring their wooden figurines to life over a pool of water; a reflective and splashable stage for sharing classic stories. Equal parts traditional and touristy, getting seats for one of the five daily performances is a popular way to spend an hour in Hanoi, especially if you’re on a family trip.



As darkness begins to fall, head to the 65th-floor observation deck of the Lotte Center. From this lofty spot above the hustle and bustle of the city, you can admire 360-degree views of Hanoi, complete with a cocktail from the rooftop bar. If you have a head for heights, there’s also a glass-floored sky walk to leave you feeling like you’re floating above the illuminated maze of streets below. Back on solid ground, it’s time to eat. The late, great chef and traveller Anthony Bourdain famously shared a meal of bun cha with Barack Obama in Hanoi. This bowl of grilled pork and noodles in an aromatic broth is a speciality of the city and a delicious way to draw your 24 hours in Hanoi to a close. You can find bun cha at street stalls and restaurants across the city – including at Bun Cha Huong Lien, the spot that found stardom when Bourdain and Obama dined there in 2016.