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How to Spend a Weekend in Hanoi
Steeped in history, bursting with buzzy restaurants, and soundtracked by the sounds of opera and jazz, Hanoi is truly unforgettable.
From exploring hidden restaurants and ancient shops, to sampling Bún bò and doing lakeside tai chi, it’s easy to have a magical weekend in Hanoi. If you’re wondering what to do in Hanoi, check out this handy guide.
You only have 72 hours in Hanoi, so book a hotel close to all the action. Hotel de l’Opera is a plush boutique hotel with French colonial architecture and bold interiors, and is conveniently situated in buzzy Hoàn Kiếm, making it the perfect place to start your vacation.
After checking in, unwind with a cocktail at Polite & Co, before heading out for a meal at the famous Cha Ca La Vong. This unassuming restaurant has become such a draw for globe-hopping foodies that imitators with the same name have sprouted up like Ban flowers on Bac Son Street, but the one you want is up a creaky staircase at 14 Cha Cha. If you see a menu, you’re in the wrong place: the real Cha Ca La Vong only serves one dish – grilled hemibagrus with dill and chilis. Although Western chefs have tried to import Cha Ca’s act to Park Slope and Denver, the original is still the best.
Vietnam is renowned for its coffee, and you can dive into the deep end with a delectable ca phe trung (egg coffee) at the old-world Giang Café. After kick-starting Saturday morning with some caffeine, explore Hanoi’s Old Quarter on foot. Take in the galleries and exquisite silk shops of Hang Gai Street, stroll down Hang Vai in the bamboo district, and journey through the past on Lan Ong Street, a centuries-old avenue where you can find everything from traditional herbs and medicines, to intuitive healers and monkey paws.
The Old Quarter is home to a number of street-food outlets engaged in battles of one-upmanship – watch out for the labyrinths of bubbling cauldrons on the footpaths – but the king of the scene is Bun Bo Nam Bo. Hidden behind a modest storefront on Hang Dieu Street, the restaurant’s menu is compact and focused, and nearly everyone orders the same thing: Bún bò, a beef dish that will provide the perfect fuel for your evening.
Saturday night presents a prime opportunity to get decadent and take in some local culture. Hit Binh Mah’s Jazz Club, just a 5-minute walk from the Hotel de l’Opera, to catch some sultry live jazz and tip back some imported whiskey. Or, if you prefer sopranos to saxophones, check out a performance at the Hanoi Opera House, a neo-classical venue modeled after the Opéra Garnier de Paris. The opera house is not only an elegant place to catch a concert, it’s also played an important part in the city’s history.
After sampling some whiskey and soaking up some world-class music, head over to the ever-so-romantic Green Tangerine, a tranquil French-influenced restaurant where you can dine al fresco in a charming courtyard. Order the coffee-infused pigeon for an haute taste of the Continent, or dine adventurously with a plate of red grouper tartar. There’s even an award-winning sommelier to pick the perfect glass of Bordeaux.
Sunday morning means you only have 24 hours in Hanoi left, so it’s up and at ‘em with a morning stroll through the cobbled streets of the Old Quarter to Cafe Pho Co, a cozy place with old-school décor, a quaint vibe, and a rooftop with stunning views of Hoan Kiem Lake.
Then shake off the Sunday morning blues by picking up a banh cuon, a thin crepe filled with mushrooms, pork, and fried shallots, and taking your breakfast to Hoan Kiem Lake. The lake is a serene spot where you can jog, practice your tai chi, or join the locals in a game of Da Cau, a traditional Vietnamese sport. Don’t forget your camera, as you’ll definitely want to snap a pic of Turtle Tower and the Temple of the Jade Mountain.
Wind up your morning by grabbing lunch at Bun cha Huong Lien, a laid-back restaurant made famous when President Obama and Anthony Bourdain chowed down on their grilled pork.
After lunch, catch up on the country’s history with a trip to the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, which offers exhibits and artifacts from 54 different ethnic groups. As Sunday night draws in, it’s time to hunt for souvenirs. If you’ve already perused the silks of Hang Gai and the curiosities of Lan Ong Street, then head on over to the Hanoi Weekend Market, a bustling 3-km-long stretch of vendors hawking handicrafts and jewelry. You can catch some street entertainers, as well as pick up a one-of-a-kind gift.
For your last dinner in Hanoi, take a trip to Quan An Ngon, where the owner has assembled an all-star team of street-food chefs under one roof; kind of a Hall of Fame for foodies. Stroll around the stalls until something tickles your fancy, or just dive into the Bánh xèo, a Vietnamese pancake with shrimp and pork.
With its rich history, tempting street food, and lively culture, Hanoi offers something for every traveler. Book your weekend in Hanoi today!
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