20 Best Things to do in Vietnam for an Unforgettable Trip

Vietnam is one of the most stunning countries you could ever visit – there is so much variety to be explored and the country could not feel any more different from North to South, both in terms of its food and culture and its weather and geological features.

Vietnam is extremely tourist friendly, with a long-standing tradition of welcoming backpackers and those wanting to experience the warm hospitality, the incredible food, tropical beaches and vibrant, buzzing cities.

Quite simply put, there are so many things to do in Vietnam that you could never run out of options. This list of 20 of the best will give you some good inspiration and starting points for a bucket list adventure you’ll never forget!

There is something for everyone in this list from adventurous treks in the mountains, to cruising through UNESCO World Heritage sites and hunting for the best street food.

things to do in Vietnam

Whilst Vietnam is well known as being a backpacking friendly destination, that isn’t the only way to see the country. There are plenty of options to explore the things to do in Vietnam on various trips or focusing on certain areas at a time. We’ve compiled our list of the top things we think everyone should do when visiting.

1. Visit Ha Long Bay

You’ve likely seen or heard of Ha Long Bay – the famous towering limestone structures set out as little islands off the coast are extremely iconic. You’ll find its on many people’s lists when visiting around Hanoi as it is easy to plan a day or overnight visit with just over a 3 hour drive to get there from the city.

There are plenty of tours available at Ha Long Bay, and you must visit this way (it is not possible otherwise). You can take either a mini cruise with others or something a little more private, which is a relatively affordable option for a truly remote and magical experience.

We’d recommend Origin Vietnam Travel who provide tours both privately and in small groups, responsibly and sustainably using local guides. You can also look to take a trip to Bai Tu Long Bay, Ha Long’s quieter neighbor and enjoy taking in a smaller boat tour as part of this to see the floating fishing village – a truly incredible experience.

Ha Long Bay Vietnam

2. Indulge in the foodie scene of Hanoi

Amongst the other unforgettable things to do in Hanoi, it is well known for its foodie scene and offers some of the best and most vibrant food options in the world. You can experience everything here from fine dining to street food in the truest form. The combination of fresh and vibrant flavors, with flashes of chili and comforting bowls of soup, banh mi and so much more just beg to be explored. Naturally, eating and experiencing as much as possible is by far one of the best things to do in Vietnam!

Be sure to check out Banh Mi 25 for some of the best in the city, as well as Katze in the old town near Hoan Kiem Lake for some family style home cooking you won’t forget!

Foodie scene in Hanoi, Vietnam

3. Take a boat tour at Ba Bae National Park, North Vietnam

Ba Bae National Park is a relatively quiet area in the North of Vietnam that doesn’t seem to get a huge amount of tourists. However, we think this hidden gem warrants exploring as it is truly a once in a lifetime experience.

Getting to Ba Bae National Park and Ba Bae lake likely needs a tour guide – but it is something that could easily be added if already looking at a tour at Ban Gioc Waterfall. Bae Bae is truly mesmerizing and will give you a true mountain experience of rural Vietnam like no other. Be sure to pick up some Ba Bae tea in a huge bag from the stalls after your boat trip to bring back with you.

Ba Bae Lake National Park, Vietnam

4. Take part in a traditional art class

Vietnam is well known for the cultural identity that has been carved for its arts scene and many Vietnamese artists are taking traditional techniques, such as silk painting, and modernizing them to create their own narrative.

It is extremely common to find arts classes to learn traditional techniques run weekly or monthly (depending on what season you visit). In Hanoi, the Temple of Literature often offers traditional classes with local artists in a relaxed setting with no experience necessary.

5. Visit an incense village

Incense is a very big part of the Buddhist population of Vietnam’s tradition, and one of the best things to do in Vietnam to see how much dedication is put into the creation of incense is to visit a village specializing in the product.

There are various you can visit in Vietnam, depending on your travels, Quang Phu Cau is reachable about an hour from Hanoi. If you’re visiting North Vietnam, we’d also recommend visiting Phia Tap Incense Village, which has a long history. Phia Tap is very close to Cao Bang, an essential stop off on any trip to North Vietnam.

Phia Tap Incense Village, Vietnam

6. Try locally grown green tea

Whether you love green tea or not, it is synonymous with Vietnam – and you’ll get some of the most fragrant, balanced and deep tasting green tea you could possibly imagine here.

It’s possible to visit green tea plantations to see this well-loved infusion being grown in plentiful amounts and it is quite a sight with the rich luscious green all around you. It’s easy to see green tea being grown very close to Hanoi – Long Coc is considered one of the most picturesque areas just 120km from Hanoi.

Green Tea plantation in Vietnam

7. See the spectacle that is Ban Gioc Waterfall

If you’re visiting North Vietnam, then you have to add a visit to Ban Gioc Waterfall to your list. It’s one of the most iconic sites in the whole country and what makes it even more impressive is that one half of the waterfall is in Vietnam, and the other half in neighboring China. When standing on the Vietnamese side you are literally looking across at China – pretty incredible!

If you’re visiting one of the most iconic cities in Vietnam, Cao Bang, then you should take a trip – it is possible to book local guides very easily, and it’s also possible to book tours from Hanoi – though this is a long trip and you should prepare to stay in the area for a day or two to really soak things in. This would also be a good opportunity to tie in a visit to Angel Eye Mountain and Phia Tap, too.

The weather in the North isn’t suitable to visit all year round, so if you plan to visit, we’d recommend looking at the best time to visit Vietnam for your trip and itinerary.

Ban Gioc Waterfall

8. Get lost in Old Town Hanoi

If you want to have a truly authentic experience in Hanoi, wandering around and experiencing the Old Town is one of the best things to do in Vietnam. You’ll experience street sellers selling everything from food to cleaning products, mopeds and people almost colliding frequently but not quite and small street food sellers setting up their craved dishes as well as so much more.

You’ll find some great opportunities to pick up items to bring back with you too – from teas and traditional herbs and spices to clothing, art and ceramics. There is something special and enticing about the old town and the Hoan Kiem Lake area.

Old town Hanoi

9. Eat family style

You surely know what family style means at home, but eating family style in Vietnam isn’t much different – except a range of dishes are served for you and you alone (or to share, depending on how you feel about who you’re traveling with).

When eating family style, you can expect traditional dishes – its popular to eat from smaller bowls where mixing different items for each portion is welcomed. You can expect rice, salads, soup stock, stir fries, spring rolls and other items doused in chili and soy sauce. You can mix and match to your hearts content and it’s a truly wonderful way to eat to really appreciate food.

One of the best places to try family style cooking is Katze in Hanoi – an unassuming yet warm and welcoming place that serves dishes with love and unashamedly huge portions!

family style food in Vietnam

10. Lodge in a traditional homestay

A really popular way to experience Vietnamese culture properly is to stay in a homestay. They are generally like a cross between a bed and breakfast, hostel and boutique hotel, depending on where you stay, and the idea is you stay with a local family and are fed very well!

You can typically expect to find these more commonly in rural areas and in the mountains, but some do exist in towns and cities – though often much more hidden away than hotels and hostels.

You can expect to be fed extremely well – typically a vegetarian meal consisting of tofu, various dishes of vegetables, rice and sometimes spring rolls. If visiting Northern Vietnam and Ban Gioc Waterfall, we would really recommend Lan’s Homestay for their extremely warm hospitality and comfortable rooms.

Lans Homestay Vietnam

11. Cruise the Mekong Delta

If you want to see a way of life that has been going strong for centuries relatively unchanged, a cruise on the Mekong Delta is a must. Sitting South of Ho Chi Minh City, the Mekong Delta takes over a large part of South West Vietnam and is culturally extremely important.

You can take a cruise to experience it in all its glory by starting in Cai Be and traveling to Can Tho which can be taken as an overnight option. The cruises on offer provide a great way to see the various areas of waterside stilt houses, islands, rice paddles and floating markets.

12. Go Trekking in Sapa

Not only is the scenery truly breathtaking in and around Sapa, but it is also one of those areas you must visit and is one of the best things to do in Vietnam.

It’s a great opportunity to immerse yourself in local culture – visiting local markets is a must where you’ll be greeted warmly by locals and treated like family. You’ll see many things on sale from food and ingredients to herbal medicines, teas and artisanal goods.

There’s also plenty of trekking to be done in Sapa, and it’s well worth taking a tour – there is something for everyone to enjoy. You can even summit the highest peak in Vietnam – Fan Si Peak which can be visited by trekking or via the cable car now on offer.

The area has become subject to over tourism in recent years, it’s really important to book guiding with a reputable company. We’d recommend ETHOS as they focus on local guides who not only provide a much better experience, but also helps the local economy and take the environment and sustainability at the forefront.

There are so many things you can do in Sapa other than trekking alone – and ETHOS offer a wonderful motorbike touring experience too, which takes you to some truly breathtaking views with traditional homestays in-between for the full, authentic experience.

Trekking Sapa

13. Visit Cao Bang and North Vietnam for a different experience of life in the mountains

Cao Bang and province does things differently. If you’ve just traveled here from Hanoi, you will see how different it feels – sure there is the same hustle and bustle, but the scenery is much different, the people remember your face and life feels that little bit slower.

Cao Bang is also a great base to enjoy the mountains of Northern Vietnam, visit Phia Tap Incense Village and also visit Ban Gioc Waterfall.

Expect lots of foodie delights here – especially street sellers providing some of the best produce and artisanal goods around – don’t be scared to try things for unusual flavor combinations you’ll likely never have experienced before. Allow yourself to be guided.

14. Indulge in historical Hue

If you’re into history, then Hue is a great place to visit. It is easy to feel like you’ve taken a journey back in time with its traditional theatre scene and opportunities to explore and learn more about the early stages of Buddhism in Vietnam.

What’s also fantastic about this inspiring area is it feels less busy and a lot less heavy on pollution than some of the other big cities. The food is also significantly different to other areas you may already have visited with a focus on richer flavors. If you want something that feels different to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh on your trip, Hue presents one of the best things to do in Vietnam.

15. Experience Hoi An

If you’ve visited Ha Long Bay already, then you’ll know what incredible UNESCO sites Vietnam has to offer – Hoi An is no different. Again, like Hue, Hoi An is incredibly rich in history and has often been described as ornamentally preserved in the past.

You can expect visits to quant tea houses, temples and artisanal shopping when visiting Hoi An.  A tip is to also check out Cam Chau which is between the old town and beaches and is a lot more off the beaten track and less busy with tourists. 

16. Tour Ho Chi Minh City

If you’re visiting South Vietnam, then a trip to Ho Chi Minh City should be at the top of your list. In fact, there’s a good chance that if starting in the south, you’ll be flying into there anyway, so why not take advantage of a few days in the city.

We’d recommend about 4-5 days for exploring the city at a comfortable pace without rushing and being able to take stops where you want to. However, if you are in more of a rush, you could do Ho Chi Minh City in 2-3 days.

Street food plentiful in Ho Chi Minh City – and you’ll want to spend some time exploring all of the food markets and street sellers. If you’ve already visited Hanoi, you may see just how different the feel of Vietnamese food is in Ho Chi Minh City and just the general different buzz the city has.

17. Light a Lantern in Hoi An

It’s a magical experience to take part in lighting a lantern in Hoi An. At around 6pm, thousands of lanterns are lit and float across the river Hoai. This continues until 10pm usually. This festival happens on one night per month – the 16th. The lights in the city are turned off or dimmed to allow the lanterns to take center stage.

These colorful lanterns will stay in your memory, and they are meant to signify good fortune and love. If you want to see the lanterns rather than getting involved, a good place to see them is around Nguyen Phuc Chu which is near the night market. You can also alternatively visit ‘Hoi An Lantern Street’.

18. Visit Tropical Beaches

Think gold sand and paradise – visiting the beaches that are on offer is by far one of the best things to do in Vietnam. If you want something with a fun atmosphere, check out Cua Dai, Hoi An. If you’re into snorkeling, check out My Khe in Danang.

If you want to visit a beach that is truly iconic, head to Dinh Cau in the South – it is well known for its turquoise waters that are sure to relax even the most pent up of visitors!

The weather in Vietnam changes dramatically through the year, and the best time to visit the South and North vary massively too. It’s worth checking out the best time to visit Vietnam for the areas you plan to stay in, especially if you want to include a partly beach holiday – to allow you to get the best weather possible.

19. Go shopping at the markets

There is nothing that screams Vietnam more than fresh produce markets. There is a really big culture around taking pride in ingredients so you can expect to get the best, the freshest and the most interesting ingredients at the markets that will surround the places you stay.

You will also find many street sellers on roadsides who will have the most incredible goods, from arrowroot noodles to tea infusions and sweet treats. If you visit any of the big markets, you can expect to find herbs and spices – a big win if you’re staying somewhere self-catered and want to try your hand at cooking Vietnamese cuisine.

You can spend hours just walking around the different markets you’ll see – and it’s not just food. Many cities will have night markets at various times in the month, usually on Friday or Saturday nights which are full of everything you can imagine, from artisanal pottery and homemade goods through to clothing and ornaments as well as street food vendors. 

markets in Vietnam

20. Take a cooking course

What better way to take the memories of all the street food you’ve tried in Vietnam home with you than a cooking course? There are so many cooking courses on offer – from major cities to smaller towns and mountain villages and there is something for everyone. It is also a great opportunity to book a private session to learn exactly what you want, and focus on more complex dishes too.

What’s also great about cookery classes in Vietnam is that they often start with a trip to the market to buy the ingredients you need – a great way to find out and be introduced to things that you maybe wouldn’t even have known about before.

You can book cooking courses on many of the major places like AirBnb and Tripadvisor by searching for your location.

Enjoy Vietnam

Vietnam has so much to offer – and these suggestions just scratch the surface of what there is to do when you visit. There is one thing for sure, regardless of how much time you decide to spend in Vietnam, you’ll wish you had more!

There is something for everyone here, and we’d really recommend adding a range of different activities into your Vietnam itinerary or plans to allow you to get a true sense of Vietnam’s identity, its people, its culture and its warmth.