In Vietnam there are fewer places more popular with tourists than the nation’s capital of Hanoi. With several days in Hanoi you’ll have plenty of time to visit the city’s best historic landmarks and most picturesque spots. Hanoi is often the starting point for people’s trip through Vietnam before heading south, but there’s value in sticking around Hanoi a day or two longer.
With more time in Hanoi, you have the opportunity to make one or more day trips to stunning attractions around this part of Vietnam. The best day trips from Hanoi showcase the country’s incredible landscapes, beautiful nature and enduring culture. These day trips allow you to explore many of the best places to visit in Vietnam, all from the comfort and convenience of Hanoi.
1. Tam Coc
Often dubbed the “Ha Long Bay but on land”, Tam Coc is one of the most beautiful Hanoi day trips possible. The Ninh Binh region is known for its limestone mountain scenery and Tam Coc is home to some of the best of it. Visitors see this landscape of mountains and rice terraces by floating down a river in small traditional sampan. Along the cruise, you not only have the breathtaking landscape to admire, but also temples and shrines scattered across it. As you float down the river, you pass through three flooded caves with low stone ceilings and are met by the incredible scenery again each time you emerge out on the other side. It’s also possible to explore Tam Coc on bicycles, riding between rice fields and taking in the quiet, rural life.
Getting there: To reach Tam Coc from Hanoi, first take one of the regular buses to the city of Ninh Binh which takes about 2 hours. From Ninh Binh you’ll need a taxi or similar to bring you the last little bit. An easier option is to visit with a guided tour as they will handle the transport and show you more of the region.
2. Ninh Binh
Tam Coc may be the best known spot in the Ninh Binh region, but there are many other places around Ninh Binh to visit. For starters, there’s Trang An, which is a less busy yet equally as wonderful spot where you can take a river boat cruise through caves and jaw-dropping mountain scenery. Hikers will want to look to Hang Mua Peak, where you can climb up 500 steps to a mountain top temple which overlooks Ninh Binh’s iconic landscapes. Here you’ll also find the major religious landmark, Phat Diem Cathedral, which combines Vietnamese designs with Western architecture. Then there’s the nature and wildlife found in the peaceful Van Long Nature Reserve. It’s really the diversity of attractions that puts Ninh Binh among the best places to visit from Hanoi.
Getting there: Getting to the city of Ninh Binh from Hanoi is easy with hourly buses making the 2 hour journey. From there though you’ll probably need taxis to help you reach the different sights, which is why it’s simpler to go with a guided tour which will take you to these spots.
3. Halong Bay
Undoubtedly one of the most famous things to see in Vietnam outside of Hanoi is Halong Bay. Found at the northern end of Vietnam’s coast, this magical bay is made up of thousands of limestone islands and needs to be seen to be believed. Although many people choose to stay overnight in the bay, it’s also one of the most popular day tours from Hanoi. Cruising around on a boat through this UNESCO world heritage site you’ll find a nice mix of scenery and activities. At times you’ll be lounging about on the boat’s deck, watching islands pass you by. Other times you could be out kayaking along the karst formations, visiting floating villages and markets, or climbing up to Sung Sot Cave and the viewpoint on top of Monkey Island.
Getting there: To visit Halong Bay you’ll need first to take a 3 hour bus ride to the city of Halong as that’s where the boats leave from. Since you’ll be taking a boat tour anyway, it’s easier to just book an organized tour with transport directly from Hanoi and have one less thing to worry about.
4. Hoa Lu
To experience more of Vietnam’s history, why not spend the day at the ancient city of Hoa Lu. Once the capital of the Vietnamese Empire during the 10th and 11th centuries, Hoa Lu is no longer a city but there are some pieces that still remain from that time. Begin your visit by passing through the main gateway which leads into the citadel and its fortifications, made up of walls and moats. At the center of the ancient capital lies several temples, each built to commemorate certain emperors, such as Xuân Thủy Temple built for the first emperor. Beyond the walls, rice paddies stretch out to the nearby mountains where you can find the atmospheric Thiên Tôn Cave temple and learn of the legends that surround it.
Getting there: As with other destinations in this region, first take one of the hourly buses to Ninh Binh and then get a taxi the rest of the way. A simpler approach that will also allow you to see other destinations in the region, is to visit with a guided tour.
5. Mai Chau
Northern Vietnam is known for its rural landscapes and traditional ethnic villages. While Sapa is the most popular spot for this, it’s too far to visit on a day trip. Instead, turn your attention to the region of Mai Chau, southwest of Hanoi. Home to villages of bamboo houses and endless rice fields, Mai Chau is perfect for those looking to explore rural Vietnam. Ethnic minorities such as the Tai Dam and Tai Kao live throughout this region in stilt houses, elevated over the ground to avoid flooding. Cycling through the countryside, you’ll see these homes and also the farming communities in the fields here hard at work. Above the rice fields, visitors will find impressive mountain scenery, best viewed from the Thung Khe Pass.
Getting there: Buses to Mai Chau from Hanoi are slow and rare, so it’s best to make other plans. That could mean renting a motorbike or a personal driver, or booking a guided tour.
6. Cuc Phuong National Park
Among Vietnam’s many national parks, Cuc Phuong holds a special spot, being the first established in the country in 1962. As Cuc Phuong National Park is also one of Vietnam’s largest parks and home to incredible biodiversity, it’s little wonder that it’s one of the best side trips from Hanoi. While it’s a great place to experience Vietnam’s nature, don’t be surprised if the hundreds of species of wildlife often prove elusive among the forest, mountains and lakes of the national park. On the western side of the national park you’ll find people from the Muong ethnic minority living in villages there.
Getting there: To reach the national park on your own, first take a bus to the nearby town of Nho Quan and then get a taxi the rest of the way. The trip should take about three hours, if not slightly more. Visiting with your own wheels or on a private tour may be faster, but likely more expensive.
7. Perfume Pagoda
Experiencing Vietnam’s spiritual side is often high on travelers’ agendas, making the Perfume Pagoda a perfect place to visit from Hanoi. This Buddhist complex of temples and shrines not only has great religious significance but the way that temples have been carved into the Huong Tich mountains makes it particularly memorable. Before reaching the temples, first take a trip down the Yen river in a small boat. From there, you can either hike or take the cable car up to the top of Huong Tich mountain to see the aforementioned Perfume Pagoda and Huong Tich Cave. The path up is quite steep, but you’ll pass several altars as you climb up it. Back at the bottom, spend a moment admiring the Thien Tru Pagoda before returning to the river for your trip back.
Getting there: The easiest way to reach the Perfume Pagoda from Hanoi is to visit with a guided tour so that you really understand the significance of this religious complex. Otherwise, you’ll need to catch the bus from Hanoi to Te Tieu and then taxi the rest of the way, but it should only take an hour or so.
8. Ba Vi National Park
To enjoy a nice change of pace from the bustle of Hanoi, head for the cool mountain landscape of Ba Vi National Park. Full of mountains, rivers, and tropical rainforest, Ba Vi is ideal if you’re looking for a soothing outdoor destination. The main focus of the national park are the three mountain peaks of Dinh Vua, Tan Vien, and Ngoc Hoa. Visitors come here to hike through the jungle and rainforest, experience the tropical forest, and see views that can reach as far as Hanoi on a clear day. Hikers often pick Tan Vien to climb as an 11th century sacred shrine rests on the peak. Alternatively, relax in the hot springs and mud baths at one of the many resorts in the area.
Getting there: Hourly buses travel from Hanoi to the nearby town of Xuân Khanh which takes between one and a half and two hours. From there, take a taxi into the park, but know it may be harder to get one back. Alternatively, organize private transport or ride there yourself.
9. Bat Trang Village
If you’re in the mood for just a very short trip from Hanoi, look no further than Bat Trang Village. Sitting by the banks of the Red River downstream from Hanoi, Bat Trang is known for its centuries-old ceramics trade. Since the 14th century, this village has been producing finely-made porcelain and pottery. At the Bat Trang Ceramics Village you can see workshops, markets, and stores full of various ceramic items, a great option if you’re after some souvenirs. It’s also possible to craft your own ceramics in special pottery-making workshops to give that souvenir a personal touch.
Getting there: Local buses can bring you to Bat Trang Village in roughly half an hour, but taxis are also quite reasonable for reaching this spot just outside the city. There are also guided motorbike tours that will show you around the village.
10. Tam Dao
When the heat in Hanoi starts getting too much for you, one place you can go to cool off is the mountain town of Tam Dao. Once a French hill resort, the town lies within the expansive Tam Dao National Park. Start a visit there with the Tam Dao Stone Church, an iconic attraction built in 1906 which is symbolic of the town’s French connection. From the church’s courtyard you can enjoy some nice views across the rest of the town as well. Not far away you’ll come across the silver waterfalls known as Thác Bạc. Other sights found up in the mountains around the town are the Ba Chua Thuong Ngan Temple and the viewpoint at the Tam Dao TV Tower.
Getting there: Travel from Hanoi to Tam Dao by bus takes around two hours, often going via Vinh Yen. If buses aren’t frequent enough for you to make the trip, you may need to consider booking a tour or renting a motorbike.
That just about does it for day trips from Hanoi. There are plenty to choose from to mix up your time in northern Vietnam.