Hanoi is the ancient capital of Vietnam. It’s a city that can trace its long lineage back thousands of years; a city that has seen many different people and cultures come and go and leave their marks on the land through the ages.
From the Chinese to the French, there are influences in the food, architecture, and language of Hanoi from across the world.
In recent years, the northern Vietnamese city has slowly begun to open itself up to tourism, as the locals shrug off repression and open their doors.
It’s an interesting city to visit, and Hanoi’s prime location and position as the capital makes it an excellent place from which to explore the rest of the north of the country.
The iconic Halong Bay, with its floating villages and towering limestone karst rocks, is found on the nearby coastline, while ancient temples and traditional villages can be found across the spectacular, verdant countryside.
There are plenty of day trip opportunities from Hanoi, and here are the best of them.
1. Halong Bay
A trip to Halong Bay is top of any travelers list when visiting the north of Vietnam.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most world-renowned natural wonders in Southeast Asia – to miss seeing it in person would be a travesty.
Yes, it can be busy and touristy, but this attraction far exceeds its reputation and will leave you reeling from shock when you see the beauty.
Tall, limestone karsts are arrayed across the water for miles and there are many hidden caves and coves waiting to be explored.
There are almost 2000 individual islands in the area – it would be impossible to explore every single one.
The best way to see Halong Bay on a day trip, is, of course, to take a cruise through the spectacular scenery.
Recommended tour: Halong Day Tour: Islands, Caves, Kayak with Dragonfly Cruise
Haiphong is a sprawling, industrial city on the coast, used by some as a gateway to Halong Bay but not truly really visited by many for long.
Give the city a chance though – look past the urban, steely gaze and explore the unique, French styled, colonial architecture that’s found in the old center and the hidden but surprisingly green, tree-filled parks.
There is an intriguing museum where you can learn more about this overlooked Vietnamese city, while you can visit the Du Hang Pagoda to see more of the Buddhist influence too.
3. Cat Ba Island
Cat Ba is the largest of the many islands off the coast of Vietnam.
It’s found at the southern edge of Halong Bay; from the seafront, you see the thousands of other islands sprawled across the horizon.
As well as being an entrance point to the famous bay, it’s also an interesting destination in its own right, offering visitors a vast, green national park to explore.
The scenery here is wild and untouched, and the island is only sparsely populated, meaning there is a lot of that wild scenery to go around.
Explore the national park and make sure to visit the intriguing Cave Hospital, which was hidden away in the forests and used during the Vietnam War.
Available 2 day cruise: Mon Chéri Cruise 5 Star: Unique 2 Days Halong Bay & Cat Ba
4. Ninh Binh
As far as northern Vietnamese cities go, Ninh Binh is very much an unknown and unexplored destination.
Found just 100 kilometers to the south of Hanoi, it makes for an excellent, off the beaten track day trip.
Ninh Binh can’t remain hidden for long though, because it is utterly spectacular.
The area is a maze of rivers and waterways, as this is the Red River Delta.
There are beautifully green rice paddies and grazing pastures, while the Phat Diem Cathedral is an iconic piece of Christian history to be seen.
5. Hoa Lu
Hoa Lu is one of Vietnam’s historical capital cities, an ancient place that was once the center of life and politics during the middle ages.
Although it was superseded by Hanoi, it remains an important tourist destination.
It’s found close to Ninh Binh – but certainly worth a day trip by itself – and is in a beautiful location, surrounded by rivers and high limestone rocks.
The setting is as dramatic as it gets anywhere in Vietnam, but add to this the culture and immense history of Hoa Lu and you have one of the best sights in the country to see.
Top rated tour: Full Day Hoa Lu & Tam Coc: Small Group Tour & Buffet Lunch
6. Trang An
Trang An is one of the most incredible areas in the Ninh Binh district.
It’s not far from Hanoi, so this area of immense natural beauty is fast becoming a popular trip for those looking to escape the city and immerse themselves in greenery rather than concrete.
There is a vast network of rivers and deltas to explore, but the highlight is taking a boat to an enormous cave complex that’s hidden away in the mountains.
Available tour: Full-Day Trang An, Hoa Lu, Mua Cave – Group Tour with Lunch
7. Van Long
Van Long Nature Reserve is also found near Ninh Binh, and this scenic area of protected wilderness tends to be much quieter than the other points of interest in the region.
It’s the best place south of Hanoi to simply lose yourself in the vast beauty of Vietnam.
This is a haven for unique animals and wildlife too, and it’s becoming a favorite for bird watchers looking to spot many of the rare species found here, living along the river and amongst the limestone karsts that create such a domineering landscape.
8. Cuc Phuong
Cuc Phuong National Park is located to the south of Hanoi and it’s the largest national park in Vietnam.
It’s a huge area of protected land and offers visitors some of the best outdoor experiences in the country.
The scenery is magnificent, and there are many hikes through the park which allow you to enjoy that scenery at its best.
There’s also a fascinating primate rescue center to visit, where you can find out more about the rare and, in many cases, endangered species of monkey that are found in the wild here.
9. Ba Vi
Ba Vi is a national park that’s found just 60 kilometers to the west of Hanoi’s city center.
It makes for an excellent outdoor day trip from the capital and is known for the many temples that are found in the forests here – some sit in striking position atop the various hills in the area.
There are waterfalls – even a water park nearby – and plenty of hikes to undertake amongst the beautiful scenery.
10. Mai Chau Valley
The Mai Chau Valley is the quintessential picture of Vietnam.
This breathtaking, green valley is exactly what you will imagine if you picture the Vietnamese countryside.
In fact, if you see a picture of the Vietnamese countryside, it might well be of the valley.
Extensive rice fields are surrounded by high hills and mountains, and life in the valley has changed little in hundreds of years.
It’s a refreshing escape from Hanoi, to the south-west of the city.
You can easily visit in a day, but many travelers will find themselves staying in this peaceful valley for much longer.
Suggested tour: 2-Day Mai Chau Valley Tour from Hanoi: Homestay, Bike & Trek
11. Perfume Pagoda
The Huong Pagoda, otherwise known as the Perfume Pagoda to tourists, is the centerpiece of a dramatic complex of temples and pagodas that are found in the spectacular mountains of Huong Tich, a place of limestone rocks and endless caves.
The Perfume Pagoda is incredibly popular with tourists, of course, because it’s close to Hanoi and is absolutely stunning.
But it’s also incredibly popular with Buddhist pilgrims; any day of the week you can expect the gates and steps to the temples to be very busy.
Get here as early as you can to enjoy any serenity.
Available tour: Full-Day Perfume Pagoda Small-Group Tour
12. Tam Dao Hill Station
Found in the cool hills to the north of Hanoi, the Tam Dao Hill Station makes for a spectacular – and at times cold – escape from Hanoi.
The hill station was originally built by the French, as the Europeans wanted to escape the heat of Hanoi in summer.
Now, it’s still used as a hilltop resort, but the French architecture is gone.
Views of the surrounding area are wonderful and there are many hiking opportunities to be had amongst the hills.
13. Ho Citadel
The Ho Citadel is another of Vietnam’s historic UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The citadel was constructed in the 14th Century, by the Ho Dynasty, and for years it was the ruler’s base of power in Vietnam.
Today, the walls have crumbled and the citadel was abandoned long ago, but it’s still well preserved, unique and very interesting for those who have a love of local history.
It takes about three hours to reach the Ho Citadel from Hanoi, but you can pass through the beautiful Ninh Binh province on the way, to make the journey seem to fly past as you admire the wonderful countryside.
14. Van Phuc
Van Phuc is just a few kilometers away from Hanoi, so this traditional Vietnamese village makes for an easy day trip from the city.
Van Phuc is the center of the ancient and very much refined craft of silk weaving.
Here, you can acquire some of the highest quality silk garments found anywhere in Asia, and of course, you can get them at a bargain price in comparison to many other countries.
15. Duong Lam
Duong Lam is known as the Ancient Village because this is an incredibly traditional and cultural place, found along the banks of the Red River.
It’s an old place and can trace its origins back thousands of years.
There are many traditional pagodas and houses, and it’s an excellent demonstration of Vietnamese history and tradition.