Hue Vietnam highlights things to do in Vietnam

What to do and see in Vietnam: A Guide for First-Timers

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Welcome to the land of pho, lanterns, rich cultures and varied, breathtaking landscapes. Get ready to embark on an adventure like no other as we dive into what awaits you, with these Vietnam highlights.

From bustling cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, where ancient traditions are packed in alongside hustle, bustle and modern chaos. To the serene countryside where time seems to stand still among the emerald terraces, every corner of Vietnam offers a unique glimpse into its fascinating past.

Hoi An Vietnam highlights

But it’s not just about immersing yourself in Vietnamese culture – Mother Nature has really blessed this country on the natural wonders front. From the towering limestone cliffs of Ha Long Bay to the winding waterways of the Mekong Delta, you’ll find yourself surrounded by jaw-dropping landscapes that will leave you speechless (or maybe just uttering “wow” repeatedly).

First things first though, below we dive into our favourite Vietnam highlights, things we feel you simply can’t miss on your first visit to the country. It follows our Best of Vietnam holiday itinerary, perfect for first-timers. So, grab your passport, pack your sense of adventure, and let’s go! Here are the bits you can’t miss.


1. Hanoi: Immerse Yourself in the Bustling Capital City (2 days)

One of the must-visit attractions in Hanoi is the famous Old Quarter. Here, you’ll find narrow streets filled with shops, markets, and vendors selling everything from traditional crafts to mouth-watering street food. It’s like stepping into a maze of excitement and deliciousness.

No visit to Hanoi is complete without a stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake. This picturesque lake is not only a scenic spot but also holds historical significance. Legend has it that a giant golden turtle once surfaced here, giving birth to the name “Lake of the Returned Sword.” Keep an eye out for turtles while enjoying a leisurely walk or sipping on some refreshing coconut water.

Hoan Kiem Lake Vietnam Highlights

For those seeking a dose of history and tranquility, the Temple of Literature is a must-see. Built in 1070, this ancient temple served as Vietnam’s first university and remains an important symbol of education and knowledge. Take a moment to soak in the serene atmosphere amidst beautiful courtyards and pavilions.

Now onto everyone’s favorite topic: food! Hanoi is renowned for its street food scene that will make your taste buds giddy. From delectable pho (noodle soup) to crispy banh mi (baguette sandwiches), there’s something for every palate. Don’t be afraid to venture into tiny alleyways or follow your nose – that’s where you’ll find some of the most authentic culinary treasures!

Read our 48 hours in Hanoi post to find out more about what awaits you in Vietnam’s capital.

2. A cruise around Ha Long Bay (2 days, 1 night)

Next up on your Vietnam adventure is one for the bucket list, a junk boat cruise on Ha Long Bay. It’s almost impossible to not be mesmerised by this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Picture this: limestone karsts rising majestically from turquoise waters, creating a landscape straight out of a fantasy novel.

Ha Long Bay Vietnam highlights

Legend has it that, in the mist of ancient times, a celestial dragon crashed into earth, and sprayed jewels and jade to create a natural fortress, protecting Vietnam from invaders. When the dragon left, it left behind the breathtaking karst formations and islets that define the awe-inspiring beauty of Ha Long Bay.

Ha Long Bay isn’t just about scenic views though; it’s also an explorer’s paradise. Dive into the depths of ancient caves and uncover hidden wonders that have been waiting for centuries to be discovered. And if you’re feeling adventurous, hop into a kayak and paddle your way through the mystical waters, discovering hidden caves and beaches.

3. Step back in time in the Imperial City of Hue (2 nights)

The ancient capital of Hue is a city with so much history that you’ll feel like you’ve flown back in time.

Hue, an Imperial City and UNESCO World Heritage site, has no end of majestic palaces, temples, and gardens to explore. As you wander through the intricate architecture and vibrant courtyards, history buffs will be in their element, don’t be surprised if you feel like a character straight out of a historical drama.

Hue Vietnam highlights things to do in Vietnam

Venture off the beaten path and discover Hue’s lesser-known treasures. From cruising along the Perfume River to exploring ancient pagodas nestled amidst lush greenery, there’s plenty if you’re seeking a touch of serenity and tranquility. And if you’re feeling adventurous (or just really hungry), don’t miss out on trying some authentic Hue cuisine. Dishes like bun bo Hue, a spicy beef noodle soup, and banh khoai, crispy pancakes, are must-tries!

4. The drive of your life over the Hai Van Pass

Next up, the journey is a huge part of the adventure. Drive along the famous Hai Van Pass (featured on Top Gear for fans!). It’s a drive that’s as thrilling as it is beautiful – you could even brave it on a bike if that’s your thing. Winding along the Annamite Range, make sure you stop frequently. You won’t want to miss snapping the panoramic views of the South China Sea and lush green hills. The exhilarating twists and turns provide an unforgettable adventure, This isn’t just a drive, it’s a must for any road trip enthusiast on a Vietnam holiday.

Hai Van Pass Vietnam highlights


5. Yellow-washed walls and lantern-lit nights in Hoi An (3 nights)

With its charming streets and historical landmarks, this ancient town is so charming. It’s like stepping into a postcard from the past. No list of Vietnam highlights would be complete without Hoi An.

Hoi An highlights of Vietnam

Join locals at the nearby Tra Que Vegetable Village to help them with their farming before learning how to cook delicious local food. Then spend the rest of your afternoon ambling around the beautiful streets and soaking up the atmosphere. This is one of our most-loved spots in Vietnam, and it won’t take you long to see why.

Hoi An Vietnam Highlights

As night falls, the magic really happens. The whole town is illuminated by the glow of colourful lanterns, hanging along the streets, floating on the river. It’s such a magical atmosphere, it almost feels like it’s right out of a fairytale.

Explore further afield with a jeep safari day trip to the My Son temples, or even a beach day packed full of watersports at the Cham Islands.

My Son temples Vietnam highlights

6. Get Lost in the Vibrant Culture and Bustling Markets of Ho Chi Minh City (2 nights)

Ho Chi Minh City, or as the locals lovingly call it, Saigon, is a bustling metropolis that will can’t not love.

Ho Chi Minh Highlights of Vietnam

There are so many chances to uncover more about Vietnam’s rich and peppered history here. Take an eye-opening trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels for starters. These underground tunnels were used by Viet Cong soldiers during the Vietnam War and offer a fascinating glimpse into the country’s history. Just be prepared to channel your inner contortionist as you navigate through these narrow passageways!

Cu Chi Tunnels Vietnam Highlights

If you’re keen to delve deeper into Vietnam’s war history, a visit to the War Remnants Museum is a must. It’s home to thought-provoking exhibits that shed light on the brutal realities of war. You’ll learn about its impact on both soldiers and civilians alike.

There’s more to Ho Chi Minh than history though. Get off the beaten track with this Secret Saigon Walking Tour. Haggle your way through the buzzing markets like Ben Thanh Market. Hunt for bargains, shop like a local and sample delicious street food as you go. Visit picturesque pagodas like Jade Emperor Pagoda, where you can soak up some tranquility amidst the chaos. Head to the iconic Cafe Apartment Building after dark, to see it all lit up. And try your hand at a Vietnamese Cooking Class. 

Vietnam highlights Ho Chi Minh Apartment Building

7. A day on the Mekong Delta

Get away from it all with a day floating along the Mekong Delta. In the southern of Vietnam you’ll find the Mekong Delta, often referred to as “the green lungs of the Mekong.” This flat, fertile expanse, crisscrossed by canals and rivers, is a prolific producer of rice, fruits, and vegetables. Life here revolves around the waterways. Cruising through this labyrinthine of waterways is the perfect, relaxing escape from urban life in Saigon. Immerse yourself in local culture as you navigate aboard traditional sampans or cycle through hidden pathways. Explore floating markets, engage with local villages, and savor the delights of tropical discoveries along this enriching journey. It’s a great addition to any first-time Vietnam holiday.

Vietnam holiday highlights - the Mekong Delta

So there we have it, a glimpse into what awaits you on a Vietnam holiday. Just a reminder, these are just the highlights – there are countless other adventures, sights and experiences waiting for you here. We understand that it can be tricky to know what to prioritise when the options are so vast though. So, that’s where we come in! Our experts have travelled around Vietnam extensively, trying out the experiences, staying in the boutique hotels and seeking out all of the very best bits to make your Vietnam holiday one to remember. So, get in touch to start planning your adventure today.