Just 100km south of capital Hanoi, Ninh Binh has gained some popularity in recent years as the hidden gem of Northern Vietnam. Known as Halong Bay on land, Ninh Binh is famous for its picturesque natural scenery and beautiful historical and religious sites. This landscape offers similar landscape views as like Halong Bay with limestone karsts, but much less touristy and untouched by human.
There are not many sights in Ninh Binh itself, but this is a great place to visit if you want to get out and about and spend time immersed in nature, relax your mind and breathe in some fresh air. And here are the top things to do in Ninh Binh.
Take a look at our map for 25 things to do in Ninh Binh
Used to be the ancient capital of Vietnam in the 10th century, Hoa Lu today is a national-level cultural center filled with ancient pagodas and citadels. Hoa Lu gives off a mysterious yet nostalgic vibe as it’s surrounded by high arc-shaped rocky mountains, spectacular scenery and numerous calm lakes. This charming and tranquil landscape always leaves a strong appeal for anyone visiting.
In Hoa Lu ancient capital, you can see a lot of antiquities like the "Dragon Bed" - National treasure of Vietnam
Inside the complex, there is an iconic archway in the entrance on the bridge leading into the capital. Because of wars, there are not many remainings except some temples built on the old sites which are King Dinh and King Le Temples.
This place is for everyone want to know to dig deeper into the culture, history and ancient Viet architecture.
As a spiritual complex, Bai Dinh Pagoda offers pleasant sights and gives off a peaceful feeling. Temples, shrines and pagodas are spread out over the hillside with fantastic views over the surrounding countryside.
The lagest bronze statue of Goddess of Merci in Vietnam
Visiting Bich Dong Pagoda is another favorite thing to do in Ninh Binh. Bich Dong pagoda is a beautiful ancient temple built in the 15th century. Not a usual pagoda, Bich Dong Pagoda consists of 3 separate layered pagodas which are Ha, Trung and Thuong Pagoda on different levels and you have to climb up the hillside to explore each of them.3. Bich Dong Pagoda
Climbing up to each pagoda may be tiring but when you reach the top, the views are well worth it.
The Trang An Grottoes consist of a variety of caves, rocks, and temples surrounded by canals, lakes. Take a scenic boat ride through the river networks and you’ll be greeted with amazing sights of the extraordinary natural landforms. It’s simply mesmerizing.
Taking a boat trip is one of the most popular things to do in Ninh Binh for tourists. A boat trip in Trang An takes around 2 hours and you will be carried around by a skillful lady. They not only peddle by hands but also by their legs. How incredible they are!
>>> Book A Bai Dinh Trang An Tour To Discover The Beauty of Nature and The Religious Monument
Tam Coc became popular after Indochine movie won the Oscar in 1993, and word spread that some scenes were shot in Tam Coc. Compared to Trang An, Tam Coc is more popular for tourists and has been known long before Trang An is recognized.
Framed by lush green rice fields and limestone karsts, the area is a stunning, yet peaceful.
This 2-hour boat ride which runs through Ngo Dong river will take you through caves, rice fields, and unique karst rocks. You will feel like you’re in a movie scene cruising down a natural kingdom like this.
The single most fascinating thing about the boats in Tam Coc is the women that row the wooden paddles. They use their feet to ride the boats. This is a special technique that takes months to master.
>>> Hoa Lu Tam Coc Tour is a tremendous chance to explore the ancient beauty of Hoa Lu Ancient Capital and stunning scenery in Tam Coc
Cycling around peaceful villages is among top things to do in Ninh Binh. Ninh Binh is a tranquil, peaceful countryside and tourist-friendly. The roads are mainly flat and not crowded like Hanoi and it’s easy to cycle around.
Many hotels and guesthouses offer free bicycles for tourists or ones to rent for a few dollars. Or there’re some tour operators offer Ninh Binh tour that includes cycling activity in their itinerary.
Cycling arround is a good choice to relaxing
Cuc Phuong National Park is a preserved tropical rainforest and also the largest nature reserve in the country. This is home to over 300 species of rare birds and 2000 species of plants well-protected to maintain the untouched wildlife of Ninh Binh.
If you visit Cuc Phuong from May to July, you will be in time for "Butterfly Season"
For anyone loves nature, this is a suitable place to discover. There are many ways to explore Cuc Phuong National Park via the densely rainforested road.
Biking and hiking are the best choices to slowly stroll through the jungle. Other than the fauna and flora, there is a cave of prehistoric man found in the jungle and worth paying a visit.
>>> Book Cuc Phuong National Park Tour
Located inside Cuc Phuong National Park is the Turtle Conservation Center which houses more than 1000 terrestrial, semiaquatic and aquatic turtles representing 20 of Vietnam’s 25 native species. Not a famous thing to see in Ninh Binh but if you're already in Cuc Phuong National Park, pay a visit to this place.
Big head turtle - One of the endangered species
Many of the residents here were saved from poachers or smugglers who have been driven by demand from the domestic and Chinese markets – eating turtle is thought to aid longevity.
Visitors can see turtles in tanks and incubators, as well as in ponds in near-wild settings.
Baby langurs are embracing the keeper
Located inside Cuc Phuong National Park, the Endangered Primate Rescue Center is taken care by Frankfurt Zoological Society and Cuc Phuong National Park staff.
The animals here were rescued to save them from illegal traders and the focus of the facility is to educate visitors on how to protect wild animals in Vietnam. Today, this is home to around 180 primates representing 15 species.
Come here as you will have a chance to observe rare animal species. You can also visit the Turtle Conservation Center at the same time as the rescue center using the same ticket.
Pangolin - one of the most endangered species in Vietnam and Asian
Without a doubt, Mua Cave is one of the most alluring views in Ninh Binh. Mua Cave is located at the foot of the Mua mountain and you have to climb up to the top in order to admire the panoramic view.
To reach the top of Mua Cave, visitors will cross a small bridge over the stream gently flowing, then a paved way covered with green trees and about 500-steps stair up to the top. Standing on the top of Mua Mountain, visitors will admire the most magnificent scenery. In May and June, the entire landscape of paddy fields is minimized in your view.
Don't miss the spectacular view from the top of Mua Cave
Phat Diem Cathedral is 34 kilometers away from Ninh Binh center and sits in the middle of scenic canals and rice paddies. The cathedral is built of stones is a very beautiful mixture of eastern & western gothic architecture which includes 2 gothic chapels and some massive ironwood columns.
Phat Diem Cathedral is one of the top sights not to miss in Ninh Binh. When visiting Phat Diem Cathedral, you should combine it with a trip to Trang An or Tam Coc.
The blend of architecture between Vietnam and the West in Phat Diem Cathedral
Van Long Nature Reserve is another spot for nature lovers who want to discover the Vietnamese wildlife.
Van Long Nature Reserve is actually the biggest wetland reserve in Northern Vietnam which is home to a number of Vietnamese species like monkeys, reptiles, and especially birds. Some of them are the endangered ones.
Van Long Nature Reserve is a unique complex and charming landscapes with heaving rock islands standing in immense water. As the transition region between the plain and the mountainous region, the reserve retains the diverse and varied terrain, including a tropical forest ecosystem in karst and the vast system of marshes.
You can feel the nature and spot animal and bird here
Having lunch with local cuisine is a thing to consider while you’re in Ninh Binh. If you want to find some cheap local bites, go to Cho Bop market - the central market in town.
Here you will find a number of carts and small cafes serving Vietnamese dishes such as toothsome noodle soups and other fried goodies.
You can also find fresh fruit and vegetables here in Cho Bop Market if you go here in the early morning.
Van Lan is a small village located near the famous Hoa Lu Tam Coc tourist site. In addition to its rich cultural and historical tradition, the village is famous for its traditional embroidery craft.
Wandering around the village, you can find many handicraft products including napkins, pillowcases, tablecloths and even t-shirts.
Go to Van Lan Village and you will find some souvenirs. However, you need a bargaining skill to shop at the best price.
Another choice for tasting the local cuisine in Ninh Binh, especially the snails. Sound interesting, right? Head to the lane next to Luong Van Tuy Street where you will find a wealth of snail restaurants.
These eateries are known for many kinds of dishes made from snails including the famous boiled snail cooked with aromatic lemongrass and hot chilies.
Snails are a delicacy in this area and are well worth trying.
Steamed mountain snails with ginger fish sauce
If snail dishes are not your thing, then you can try goat meat - another special cuisine of Ninh Binh.
Ninh Binh’s goat meat taste better than other regions because the goats are raised by the local here as this area is very suitable to raise goats. And the locals know how to cook the goat meat to produce the best goat meat dishes.
The meat has a gamey flavor and it is usually barbecued to produce a smoky and delicious dish that is a must-try while you are in Ninh Binh.
Finding a place to enjoy some fresh beer in Ninh Binh?
The main "bia hoi" part of Ninh Binh is located along the riverside and you can look out over the water and enjoy the sunset at the same time.
As such, if you want to relax with a cool drink at the end of a long day of sightseeing then this is the place to do it.
Since you’re here, why not trying some local food?
Ninh Binh has many specialties and one of these is called “com chay”. Com chay is burnt rice then scraped off the bottom of a cooking pot. This may not sound like the most appetizing dish, but it produces a nutty and crunchy result.
Com chay is sold everywhere in Ninh Binh especially near a popular tourist site. Look for the big stalls that sell “com chay” so that you won’t be scammed for a higher price than normal.
You can also have "com chay" with pork floss for snack
Chookie’s Beer Garden is a heaven for anyone loves drinking fresh beer.
Chookie’s Beer Garden is known as the prime spot to grab a beer in the evenings. To drink with beer, they also serve some delicious Vietnamese and Western food at cheap prices.
The nightlife scene in Ninh Binh can be a little sparse and boring and this is properly the best spot to spend at night in Ninh Binh.
Chookie's Beer garden also serve vegetarian food
Father Cooking is one of the famous restaurants in the area and another spot to taste the local food with good price.
Father Cooking serves the local specialties such as goat meat and snails and many other Northern Vietnam dishes. So if you want to try a slice of authentic Vietnamese cuisine when you are in town then this is hard to beat.
If you want a glimpse of an authentic fishing village in Vietnam then head to Kenh Ga Floating Village.
Quite similar to Van Long Nature Reserve, Kenh Ga Village is year-round covered with flooded water. Farmers here can only have one rice harvest in a year and they live on fishing in the rest of the year. Visit Kenh Ga Village, you will catch a scene of locals rowing their boats with their feet.
Travel to Kenh Ga, you will take an engine boat tour along the river, viewing the local villages, churches, scenic limestone formations & local farming or fishing activities.
Kenh Ga Village is also the place famous for its hot springs which are very good for health. If you have time, you can have a mineral bath on those hot springs.
With more than 50 species of bird, Thung Nham Bird Garden is the best choice for the nature lovers
Thung Nham Bird Garden is an ecotourism resort with accommodations, restaurants, and activities that you can spend a whole day or an overnight trip.
This place is as picturesque as other places in Ninh Binh that is worth a visit. Thung Nham Bird Garden is located in the mountains and is known as a place where a huge number of indigenous species of birds make their nests.
Top attractions in the area include some caves like But Cave, Vai Gioi Cave, bird sanctuary which you can visit by boat ride or walking nearby to view hundreds of birds, storks & herons flying around.
If hiking is your favorite thing to do, then make your way to Cuc Phuong National Park to enjoy some hiking to Silver Cloud Peak.
To hike up the top, it takes around four hours and you need to be in relatively good shape. The panoramic view at the top will worth it in the end.
You can either hike with a ranger which is recommended or go it alone if you are feeling adventurous.
Dong Huong Pagoda is area's largest Buddhist pagoda. This is an architectural complex scattering in Suoi Yen valley and consists of ancient works with unique appearance and caves formed as a result of the natural movement.
The tourist complex also includes dozens of Buddhist temples, god temples, shrines... worshiping agriculture beliefs. Turn right at the canal at the north of town, and continue alongside the water for 3km.
With all these best things to do in Ninh Binh, ready to pack your back and let's go discover the beauty of this landscape? Trust me, you won’t regret it!