What To Visit Hanoi In 4 Days? Ultimate First-Timer Guide

Feature Page For What To Visit Hanoi in 4 days. Regulus, his wife and Tommy grabbing a egg coffee watching Hanoi Train at Hanoi Train Street

Wondering what to visit Hanoi in 4 days? According to the Hanoi Tourism Department, there were more than 18 million visitors in 2023. As the capital city of Vietnam, Hanoi is a vibrant and captivating destination that offers a rich tapestry of history, culture, and natural beauty.

Starting from the most remarkable icon – Hoan Kiem Lake, there are a lot of places to visit in Hanoi. In this blog post, I will show you my cultural itinerary for what to visit Hanoi in 4 days. All the recommendations are within walking distance of Hanoi city center, except for the transport from/to the airport.

If you are a first-time visitor to Hanor or visitor and want to ensure you do not miss any major historically important icons. This is exactly what you need.

What to Visit Hanoi In 4 Days – Day 1

Arriving at the Noi Bai International Airport, as a first-time visitor, I would recommend you to take the Hanoi Airport Bus 86 to the City Center. Bus 86 takes around 50 minutes to reach its final stop Hanoi railway station where you will get off. In the 50-minute bus journey, you would have a pre-view of attractions like Hoan Kiem Lake, Opera House, and Hanoi Old Quarter.

After settling down at your hotel / hostel, you can start with the most representing attraction in Hanoi – Hoan Kiem Lake.

Tourists taking photo and drawing near the Hoan Kiem Lake
Tourists taking pictures and drawing near the Hoan Kiem Lake

Icon 1: Hoan Kiem Lake

Hoan Kiem Lake, which translates to “Returning Sword Lake” in English with a history dating back centuries. According to legend, during the 15th century, Vietnam faced the hardships of oppression and exploitation at the hands of Northern invaders. In this challenging time, the Sea God granted a magical sword to King Le Loi. With that, King Le Loi repelled the invaders and brought victory to the Country. Subsequently, during a boat ride on the lake, a turtle emerged and asked for the return of the sword. Since then, the lake has carried the name of Hoan Kiem Lake throughout the centuries.

Turtle tower in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake
Turtle tower in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake

Icon 2: Turtle Tower

Located on a small islet in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake, you will find the Turtle Tower. The tower was built in 1886 during the French occupation in memoriam of King Le Loi. King Le Loi as mentioned in icon 1 above is the famous Vietnamese King who fended off the invaders in the 15th Century.

The tower itself is a stone structure with a tall, slender design resembling a pagoda. Given its history, it bears the marks of both French and Vietnamese architectural styles. The multi-story structure reflects French architectural design, while the gracefully curved roof embodies the Vietnamese aesthetic. With its dedicated design, Turtle Tower has since become an integral part of Hanoi’s skyline. Additionally, It also symbolizes the legend of Hoan Kiem Lake and the mysterious turtle. For visitors, there is no boat reaching the Turtle Tower, so you can only take pictures from the lake.

Front door of Ngoc Son Temple Hanoi Hoan Kiem Lake
Front door of Ngoc Son

Icon 3 : Ngoc Son Temple

Around the Hoan Kiem Lake, you will also notice a red bridge connection to the temple. This is where you will find the Ngoc Son Temple another what to visit Hanoi near the Hoan Kiem Lake. The Pagodas are places for Buddhist practices, but the Ngoc Son temple is open to visitors.

The ticket price is VND 30,000 (~ USD 1.2) for adults, VND 15,000 (~ USD 0.6) for students and free for children under 15 years old. Remember, the payment is cash only. The opening hours are 7 AM to 6 PM during the weekdays and 7 AM to 9 PM during the weekends. You also need to be aware of the dress code which should cover your knees and shoulders. Additionally, you should also remove your hat if any.

Built in 1865, the temple contains multiple artifacts featuring the history of Hanoi. By going there, you will also encounter other icons such as the Huc Bridge (the red bridge mentioned earlier), the Pen Tower, and the Ink Slab.

If you have time before dinner, you should then check out the water puppetry show theatre nearby.

Water Puppet Show at Thang Long Water Puppet Theater
Water Puppet Show

Icon 4: Thang Long Water Puppet Theater

After visiting the previous Hanoi icons on foot, I bet you would start feeling tired. Then it is the exact perfect moment the water puppet show. As a first-time visitor to Hanoi, you must at least have one water puppet show.  Why? Because it is an UNESCO-recognized cultural heritage in Vietnam.

The theater for the show is not far. It is just near the Hoan Kiem Lake. Just try to google “Thang Long Water Puppet Theater” and you shall find it.  The water puppet show is a traditional Vietnamese entertainment depicting scenes from folklore, history, and daily local life. It usually has live music and narratives with it. Unfortunately, the narrative is in Vietnamese, but watching the show alone is already entertaining enough.

The skilled puppeteers manipulate wooden puppets in waist-deep water behind a bamboo screen. The puppets, designed as animals, mythical creatures, and human figures, are beautifully crafted and waterproofed. They would use them to tell traditional Vietnamese stories with visual effects like fireworks, smoke, and water splashes. Most of the stories would be unknown to first time Hanoi visitor like us. However, I bet you would at least recognize the story which displays returning sword to a golden turtle.

On top of the show, the theater itself also has a rich history dating back to the 11th century during the Ly Dynasty. Despite the prestigious status, the ticket price is actually very affordable ranging from 100,000 VND (~4.1 USD)  to 400,000 VND (~16.5 USD).  Typically, a show would last for around an hour.

The theater usually has 4 shows each day starting at 4:10, 5:20, 6:30, and 8 PM. The ticket is available on the official website and other online travel agencies. I booked the ticket online via Klook for around USD 4.

Picture of Hoan Kiem Lake at Night
Picture of Hoan Kiem Lake At Night

Ending the Day 1

So far, we have visited 3 cultural items near Hoan Kiem Lake and watched a water puppet show. Given the flight to Hanoi, you would feel a bit exhausted. In that, I would recommend you end the day with a hearty dinner at Hanoi and have a nice sleep at the hotel.

There are plenty of food options in Hanoi from street food and local restaurants to fine dining. To experience the local culture, I would try Hanoi Street food. Especially, the area near Hona Kiem Lake will start to get busy with local vendors at night.

What to Visit Hanoi In 4 Days – Day 2

On day two for what to visit Hanoi in 4 days, we focus more on the attracts with cultural value at the heart of Hanoi Old Quarter. In particular, I recommend you to begin your morning with the famous train street and have a try on the Vietnamese egg coffee. At noon, you can visit multiple attractions near the Old Quarter and enjoy the hustle and bustle at night.

Regulus and his wife holding hands at Hanoi Train Street
Hanoi Train Street

Icon 5: Train Street

Around a 15-minute walking distance from Hoan Kiem Lake, you will find the Hanoi Train Street. It is a popular and thrilling tourist attraction in Hanoi.  Each year there will be thousands of visitors around the world visiting this narrow street taking pictures of the passing trains. It was crowded enough that in 2022 – 2023 the government had to shut down the street to prevent any accident.

Luckily, it was once again open in 2023. There, you can enjoy the incredibly close proximity of the train to the houses. Due to its popularity, there are a bunch of local coffee shops there. The best way to indulge in this attraction is to grab a Vietnamese egg coffee while waiting for the trains to pass by. The best timing for the photo would be the trains scheduled at 8:30, 9:30, or 11:30 am in the morning.

I would recommend you to go there earlier to ensure you have the best spots for the amazing moment. Please note that the schedule may be subject to change but the local coffee shops would usually have the latest schedule available.

Regulus and his wife taking photo at the front of Hao Lo Prison Hanoi
Hao Lo Prison Hanoi

Icon 6: Hoa Lo Prison

After the train street in the morning, we can head to the next what to visit Hanoi near the Old Quarter. Again it is around 10 minutes walking distance from the train street, where you will find the Hao Lo Prison. Hao Lo Prison means prison in oven, it was originally built by the French colonists in 1896 to house and torture revolutionary Vietnamese rebels.

During the Vietnam War, the prison also held the American prisoners of war (POWs). Nowadays, it has become a museum showcasing its history. The structure of Hao Lo Prison featured high stone walls, watchtowers, and various buildings for different purposes.

The museum is open every day from 8 AM to 5 PM and the entrance fee is 30,000 (~ USD 1.2) per person. It is a very convenient location for some recent Vietnam history learning .

Regulus and Charmaine at St. Joseph's Cathedral, Hanoi Big Church
St. Joseph’s Cathedral

Icon 7 : St. Joseph’s Cathedral (aka Hanoi Big Church)

Around 9-minute walk from Hoa Lo prison, you will find the Hanoi Big Church. The name of the church is St. Joseph’s Cathedral. It is the oldest church in Hanoi opened in 1886 during the French colonial time.  

Despite the long history of Buddhism in Vietnam, Catholicism gained its prominence during the colony time and the church became a vocal point in North Vietnam. An interesting fact is that the church was also built upon the grounds of the Bao Thien Pagoda which used to be the most sacred pagoda during the Ly-Tran Dynasty.

For us as a visitor of Hanoi, we would be more impressed by the exterior of the Cathedral. The architecture follows that of Notre Dame de Paris. The big church measures around 64 meters in length and 20 meters in width with two square bell towers reaching a height of around 31 meters.

Given its convenience, this is one of the must what to visit Hanoi items for you. A picture with the church from any angle is just super amazing.

Hanoi Opera House
Hanoi Opera House

Icon 8: Hanoi Opera House

Apart from the Hanoi big church, the Hanoi Opera House is another fascinating place for photo. Completed in 1911, the opera house was another historical building during the Vietnamese colonial time. Its design incorporated elements of ancient Greek architecture, the Tuileries Castle, and the Paris Opera House.

Inside the theater, there is a large stage and a main auditorium measuring 24×24 meters with 870 seats covered in leather and velvet. You can buy tickets for a performance in the ticket room inside. The shows would usually be classical arts such as opera and drama. The ticket is available for sale on the official website. However, you may need to google translate the content during the booking.

Night Market at Hanoi Old Quarter
Night Market at Hanoi Old Quarter

Ending the Day 2

In day 2, we have completed most of the main what to visits in the inner-city center of Hanoi. Most of the items for day 3 and 4 will start opening at 8 AM and closing at 4 / 5 PM. In that , I would recommend you to spend some time for the night market on day 2 early after the Hanoi Opera House.  

The Night Market in the Old Quarter is a feast for the senses. As the sun sets, the streets come alive with colorful lights, vibrant displays, and the enticing aroma of street food such as skewers and other local dishes. Vendors set up their stalls, showcasing a wide variety of products, including clothing, accessories, handicrafts, electronics, and souvenirs. Bargaining and haggling are common practices here, remember to at least ask for 50% off.

Front Door Of Hanoi Citadel
Hanoi Citdadel Front Door

What to Visit Hanoi In 4 Days – Day 3

In day 3, I will take you to one of the largest UNESCO world heritages in Hanoi – the Hoang Thanh Thang Long. After that, you shall have some spare time to also cover another two traditional sites of Hanoi like The Temple of Literature and Tran Quoc Pagoda.

Hanoi Citadel With Flag Tower
Hanoi Citadel With Flag Tower

Icon 9: “ “Hanoi Citadel” or “Hoàng Thành Thăng Long”

Around 23-minute walk from the Hanoi Old Quarter you will find the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long Hanoi (aka Hanoi Citadel). Hanoi Citadel is one of the UNESCO world heritage sites in Vietnam. Its history dates back to the 7th century going through multiple dynasties. Despite some major destructions during the French colonial era, several sites survived.

To explore there, you would probably need to spend some hours given its size and richness in history. Some attractions include the Flag Tower built in 1812, a 33-meter-tall tower with a flagpole; the Kinh Thien Palace built in 1428 with a palace for royal ceremonies and meetings for national affairs; the South Gate & North Gate and the Princess Pagoda.

The heritage is open to visitors from 8 AM to 5 PM each day except for Monday. The ticket price for adult is 30,000 VND (~1.2 USD) ; half price for student and no cost for children under 15. There is no particular dress-code inside.

Local Vietnamese Students praying for good academic results at The Temple Of Literature Hanoi
Local Vietnamese Students Praying For Good Academic Results At The Temple Of Literature Hanoi

Icon 10: The Temple of Literature

Around 15 minutes’ walk from the Citadel, you will arrive at The Temple of Literature. Similar to other Vietnamese historical sites, this too has a long history being founded in 1070. Attractions inside include the Great Middle Gate, the Pavilion of Constellation, the Well of Heavenly Clarity, the Gate to Great Success, and The Grounds of the Imperial Academy.

There is an interesting fact that the Pavilion of Constellation is also the symbol chosen to be printed on the 100,000-bank note. So, please ensure you have a 100,000 bank bote for taking the photo with the real symbol during your visit.

Photo Of Pavilion of Constellation & VND 100,000 bank note
Photo Of Pavilion of Constellation & VND 100,000 Bank Note

Another interesting fact is this is probably the only temple in Hanoi where you will find most of the young locals. During the examination seasons in Vietnam, most of the local students will visit the temple praying for good academic results. Sometimes, you would even see a teacher doing that on his or her student’s behalf. The traditional practice is to write your academic wishes on the red board and it shall come true.

A teacher writing on the red board at The Temple Of Literature Hanoi Wishing good academic results for her students
A Teacher Writing On The Red Board, Wishing Good Academic Results For Her Students

The entrance fee is also 30,000 (~ 1.2 USD) for adults and half price for students with no particular requirement for dress code. The opening hour is 8 AM to 5:30 PM daily.  

Tran Quoc Pagoda Near Hanoi West Lake
Tran Quoc Pagoda

Icon 11: Tran Quoc Pagoda

Within a walking distance of around 15 minutes, you will see Hanoi’s West Lake. From there, you will find the Tran Quoc Pagoda, located on a small peninsula on the eastern side. The pagoda has over 1,500 years of history and is probably the oldest one in Hanoi.

It is open to the public without any entrance fee required from 8 AM to 4 PM every day.  There is no strict dress code but you should cover your shoulder and knees without wearing any hat. Visiting there you must take a photo of the tall stupa. The stupa is the most notable feature of the pagoda with 11 floors and a height of 15 meters.

If you are looking for nice pictures only, 30 minutes would be enough for the attractions. After a long day’s walk, I would recommend you take a rest near the coffee shop of West Lake before ending the day.

Regulus, his wife & Tommy happily taking the photo at Citadel Hanoi, Ending Day 3 What to Visit Hanoi Itinerary
Ending Day 3 Itinerary

Ending the Day 3

By 4 PM or 5 PM, you will be completing the visits to the three historical sites on day 3. Like yesterday, street food, beers, and shopping at the Hanoi night market would be a great idea. On top of that, I would recommend you give a try to Vietnamese massage. After all, we have walked quite a lot these days.

What to Visit Hanoi In 4 Days – Final Day

If you are looking for a final rush on your last day in Hanoi, you should go for the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. After visiting that, you should have covered the majority of what to visit Hanoi in 4 days.

Regulus & his wife at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Icon 12: Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is the final resting place and tomb for President Ho Chi Minh the most iconic leader of Vietnam in recent history. It is also the site where major national events are held for the Country such as Independence Day and Ho Chi Minh’s Birthday.  

The mausoleum does not require any entrance fee. Furthermore, the location is also within 30 30-minute’ walk from the Hanoi city center. However, there will be a security check station before entering. You should not bring any sharp objects inside but water is okay.

Inside the mausoleum, you will see a box-shaped structure with a 300-meter square side. Within that, there is a marble-stoned room where the embalmed body of President Ho Chi Minh is preserved in a glass casket. Visitors can see the body of President Ho Chi Ming through the transparent glass.

The opening hours is 7:30 – 10:30 AM every day except for Monday and Friday. For more information and contact details, you can visit the official website of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.

Apart from the mausoleum, there are other attractions such as the stilt house where President Ho Chi Ming used to live and worked and also the Ho Chi Ming Museum. Please note that although there is no entrance fee for the mausoleum, Ho Chi Ming Museum does have an entrance fee. It costs VND 30,000 (~ USD 1.2) for adults and half for students.

Ending the Final Day

We have had a very fruitful 4 days in Hanoi, covering all the major what to do Hanoi items. You would have spent all the morning visiting the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Depending on your flight itinerary, let’s have a final grab of Hanoi street food and some souvenirs before departing for Noi Bai International Airport. Similar to how to get from the airport to Hanoi Old Quarter, I recommend you to either take the airport bus or grab going there.

Regulus K

A budget travel blogger passionate about exploring different destinations worldwide, while balancing a regular 9-to-5 job.

1 Comment

  1. […] Imperial Citadel of Thang Long and etc. For details of each what to visit Hanoi, you may visit here. In general, 3 full days would be more than enough for Hanoi city center for all necessary […]

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