So, you’ve decided that you want to explore Vietnam and you’ve chosen to base yourself in the beautiful northern region. You’ve booked your flight to Hanoi and you are already dreaming of steaming bowls of Phở and creamy cà phê sữa đá. But, what are you going to do once you get here? Where should you visit in Northern Vietnam and what should you choose to see and do?
We’ve gathered years of travel planning experience to bring you these 3 Northern Vietnam itineraries for spending a long weekend, a week or 2 weeks travelling in Northern Vietnam.
Northern Vietnam Weekend Itinerary
Many of our travellers visit us from neighbouring Asian destinations and only have a few days to explore the country. So, with just 3 or 4 days, where do we advise they go in Northern Vietnam?
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Arrive at Noi Bai International Airport and take the $2 bus from the airport straight into Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Check into your hotel (have you checked out See You at Lily’s Hostel?), freshen up and hit the streets. It’s time to get some of that delicious Vietnamese street food. Ask for a recommendation at the hotel reception or just follow your nose and find the busiest local spot you can. Top it off with a Vietnamese coffee to prepare yourself for a day of sightseeing.
Our favourite sights are Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the Temple of Literature and Hoan Kiem Lake. The Hanoi Women’s Museum and Museum of Ethnology are also two fantastic museums to check out.
You can see many of these sights, along with the guidance of a knowledgeable local guide, on our Hanoi City Tour.
In the evening, wander through the bustling streets of the Old Quarter in search of more delicious local food and grab a sundowner on beer corner.
Wake up early for your (pre-booked!) trip to magical Halong Bay. Enjoy the drive out of the city, through typical Vietnamese rural towns, and arrive at the dock by lunchtime. There are so many different kinds of one night cruises on Halong Bay that let you take in the best sights in a short space of time. Check all our tours out here.
Spend the night on your traditional junk boat after watching the sunset between the jungle-clad islands in the bay.
Start your day with tai-chi on the sundeck overlooking Halong Bay, followed by a delicious breakfast. You’ll then make your way back to the harbour, meandering through the islands as you go. Soak in the beautiful scenery before heading back to Hanoi.
You’ll arrive back in Hanoi in the late afternoon with plenty of time to enjoy another wander through town. If you want to try some new dishes, why not join our evening food-tour?
If you have time before your flight, this is your chance to stop by any of the attractions you missed on day one. Spending your last hours sipping more soup is also highly recommended!
Other options for a 3/4 day trip include swapping out Halong Bay for an overnight trip to nearby Ninh Binh or Mai Chau. Read more about these options below.
Northern Vietnam 1 Week Itinerary
With a week in Northern Vietnam, we recommend the above itinerary with a couple of other more rural destinations thrown in to get a glimpse of a different side of Vietnam.
Days 1 – 2
Spend your first two days settling into the city and following the advice above with a little more time to relax. Our Hanoi City tour is perfect for those with a bit more time in town as we take an excursion to the Hanoi Pottery Village for lunch – this is a great way to see what life is like in the ‘suburbs’ and to pick up some souvenirs.
Days 3 – 5
Staying in Vietnam for a week gives you the opportunity to head out into some lesser known destinations. We recommend our 3 day, 2 night Northern Vietnam Adventure which takes in not 1 but 4 amazing destinations. With all the logistics taken care of, you’ll get to spend one night in Pu Luong Nature Reserve and one night in Ninh Binh, while also exploring the cultural villages of Mai Chau and Vietnam’s first national park, Cuc Phuong.
If you’d like to spend a little more time relaxing and less time in transit, you can choose just one of these destinations. Ninh Binh and Mai Chau are both firm traveller favourites.
It is also possible to head up to Sapa on this section of the trip and stay with a local family in a mountain homestay.
Days 6 – 7
The next few days are reserved for a little bit more travel and a whole lot of relaxation. While travelling to Halong Bay or Bai Tu Long does require a 3-hour minibus journey to and from Hanoi, once you are on board the boat you can simply settle into a lounge chair and take in the beautiful vistas rolling by.
Northern Vietnam 2 Week Itinerary
If you have more than 10 days in Northern Vietnam, lucky you! This length of time allows you to get off the beaten path and explore more far-flung destinations, as well as spend more time relaxing in each place.
Days 1 – 2
We suggest starting your trip in the same manner as a 1-week trip, with two days settling into Hanoi. It is a great city, but there is so much more to explore in Northern Vietnam.
Days 3 – 6
Most of our clients tell us that Sapa is there favourite place in Vietnam and we recommend it to almost everyone. If you want to learn about local culture, spend close time with people and experience the beauty of the Vietnamese mountains, then a trip to Sapa is perfect for you.
It takes an overnight train journey or half a day to get to Sapa, so if you carve out four days for Sapa, you will have plenty of time. Then, spend 3 days trekking through the mountains, visiting remote villages and enjoying the generous hospitality of the local people.
Days 7 – 9
In between your trips into Vietnam’s beautiful rural lands, take a 2 night Halong Bay cruise! We always recommend people to spend 3 days cruising if they have time as it allows you to reach further, quieter parts of the bay and less time travelling each day. If you are offered the chance to kayak or go squid-fishing, don’t miss out!
Days 10 – 13
Get off-the-beaten-path and into nature in destinations like Mai Chau, Ninh Binh and Pu Luong. All these locations boast beautiful natural scenery, plenty of things to do outside and amazing places to stay. Whether you choose to visit all three on one of our multi-day tours or just one in order to really take it easy, you shouldn’t leave Vietnam without experiencing these smaller destinations.
On your final day in Hanoi, take your time wandering aimlessly, shopping for souvenirs and eating everything you’ll miss when you leave!
We hope these 3 simple itineraries help you to better understand how much you can see in your time in Vietnam and how to put together a realistic trip that is still packed with adventures.
As always, get in touch for help planning an itinerary that suits you, your time and budget and let us know if there is anything else you’d like to experience while in Vietnam.
Read more: Vietnam daily travel: 30 destinations to discovery in one day near Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city (part 2)
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