Ninh Binh 1 Day Itinerary: Top Sights and Activities
Known as “Halong Bay on land,” Ninh Binh is one of the most stunning places that I visited in Vietnam. Limestone mountains, rivers, and rice fields come together to create a serene landscape.
Many of Ninh Binh’s attractions center around its amazing nature, but there’s also several cultural and historical attractions. To see them all, it takes at least two to three days. But if you’re only staying for one night or visiting on a day trip from Hanoi, this one-day Ninh Binh itinerary has everything you need to see its top sights.
- Can Ninh Binh be a day trip?
- More resources for traveling Vietnam
❕ Note About Ninh Binh
Can Ninh Binh be a day trip?
You can absolutely visit Ninh Binh in a day trip from Hanoi. It only takes two to three hours by bus or train or 1.5 hours by taxi to get to Ninh Binh. There’s a lot to see in Ninh Binh. While you won’t get to all of it on a day trip, you’ll be able to see the highlights.
Get a Vietnamese or Western breakfast
Discovering the best of Ninh Binh in 24 hours or less requires some fuel first. There are many places for breakfast in Ninh Binh, and many offer both Vietnamese and Western options. This itinerary assumes you’ll either be staying or dropped off in Tam Coc, so here are several restaurants in Tam Coc that serve a delicious breakfast.
Lang’s Salad Tam Coc is a gorgeous restaurant that serves Western breakfast classics, like avocado toast and smoothie bowls. Their dishes are full of color and the freshest ingredients.
Minh Khoi Restaurant is a no-frills restaurant that’s always busy. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner and have a large menu. You can get a Western breakfast, such as pancakes and eggs, or do as the Vietnamese do and get pho or a banh mi. Minh Khoi won’t blow you away, but their food is solid and comes out fast.
If you’re not much of a breakfast person and want something small, take a short walk out of the center of Tam Coc to Brick Coffee Shop. While you can get coffee at every restaurant, there’s a noticeable lack of dedicated coffee shops and cafés in Tam Coc. Brick Coffee Shop is one of the very few. They offer a complete coffee menu, including Vietnamese specialties like egg coffee and coconut coffee, and some pastries in an airy two-story brick building.
Rent a bicycle or motorbike
You need some wheels to get to each site – whether they’re motorized is up to you. If you’re in Ninh Binh on a day trip, getting a motorbike will save you a lot of time. But if you don’t know how to ride a motorbike or feel more comfortable on a regular bicycle, you’ll still be able to hit all of the attractions on this itinerary. There’s not a lot of traffic in and around Tam Coc or Trang An. If you’re on a bike, ride safe by sticking to the side of the road.
There are plenty of places in Tam Coc that rent bikes and motorbikes, but not many of them are listed on Google Maps. You can simply walk around to find a shop. Look for bikes or motorbikes that seem new or are well maintained, and be sure to inspect the vehicle before you pay. Otherwise, if you prefer to rely on reviews, Ninh Binh Motorbike is a highly-rated place for motorbike rentals. For bicycle rentals, check out the very accurately named Ninh Binh Bicycle Rental.
Take a short ride to Bich Dong Pagoda
Your first stop is Bich Dong Pagoda – 2.9 km from Tam Coc. In fact, you could walk there if you wanted. To park your bike under the shack at the entrance of the pagoda, you’ll need to pay a small fee. (When I visited in January 2023, it was 10,000 VND. As of October 2023 though, the fee may have increased to 20,000 VND.) Entrance to the pagoda is free.
Bich Dong Pagoda is a small but beautiful pagoda that’s actually made up of three pagodas, with each pagoda built higher up into the mountain. Aside from the pagoda, you can climb the stairs up and over to the other side of the mountain for more scenic views.
Float through the rivers and caves of Trang An
One of the most popular things to do in Ninh Binh is to take a boat tour in Trang An. Ride over to the ticket office – you can park across the road. When you buy a ticket (it costs 250,000 VND), you’ll need to decide between three routes. All of them sail through caves and stop at temples along the way, but the specific caves and sights you’ll see vary.
Boats seat up to four people. You’ll need to share a boat with others if you don’t have four people, or you can pay for the empty seats in order to have a boat to yourself.
Lunch on local dishes
There are plenty of restaurants in Trang An. After your boat ride, one of the most convenient places to get lunch is Nhà Hàng Xuân Thắng – it’s steps away from the Trang An boat ride. You can continue enjoying river views during lunch by going a bit further down the road to Nhà Hàng Ngọc Thức or Trang An Riverside Garden Restaurant.
This is a perfect opportunity to try some of Ninh Binh’s specialties. Two that are very easy to find are goat meat and rice crust.
Explore the sprawling grounds of Bai Dinh Pagoda
Bai Dinh Pagoda is 12.8 km from Trang An, and it’s the farthest you’ll venture today. Based on its name, you probably expect a quick visit to one structure, but Bai Dinh is actually a huge religious complex that spans 700 hectares. It contains many temples and pagodas, as well as impressively large and ornate Buddhist figures and 500 Arhat (a Buddhist who’s reached enlightenment) statues.
Be prepared for a lot of walking. Admission is 60,000 VND, which includes two rides on their electric cars. If you’d like to go up to the top of the stupa Tháp Báo Thiên, it’s an additional 50,000 VND. I recommend paying more to go up the stupa. The interior is decked out in gold, and you get sweeping views of Ninh Binh at the top.
There’s a lot to see in Bai Dinh, but don’t feel like you need to get to everything.
Watch the sunset from Hang Mua viewpoint
From Bai Dinh, you’re going to make your way back toward Trang An. Your last stop is Hang Mua, the site of an ecolodge, the Mua Caves, and the must-visit Hang Mua viewpoint.
As you get closer to Hang Mua, you may be approached by people saying that you can park your bike at their shop or restaurant for free. While you can park for free with them, you’ll be asked to purchase something from them when you return. Ignore all of them and ride straight to the entrance of Hang Mua, where there’s an official parking area inside the ecolodge that’s free.
As one of the most popular and closest attractions to Tam Coc and Trang An, Hang Mua gets quite busy. By visiting in the late afternoon, you’ll run into fewer tourists. If it’s hot, you’ll also avoid the hottest time of the day, which is important when there’s no shade on the way up to the viewpoint.
End your day with drinks and dinner
After Hang Mua, you can either get dinner in Trang An or head back to Tam Coc and have dinner there. If you want to stay in Trang An, Monalisa Bar & Restaurant is right outside of Hang Mua. They serve both Vietnamese and Western dishes. Although I’d typically recommend going with local food, Monalisa serves some pretty good pizza.
If you’re going back to Tam Coc, stop by Goatalic Cocktail Bar & Spa for the best (and perhaps only) craft cocktails in town. As you sip on your drink, figure out where to go for dinner.
The tofu dishes at Ngọc Linh Restaurant are some of the best tofu I’ve ever had. They’re crispy on the outside and incredibly soft and squishy on the inside. Everything from NGON Vegan Restaurant is excellent, and their brown rice is unique. If you haven’t tried goat meat yet, the goat pho at Father Cooking Restaurant is the cheapest way to try this local meat.
More resources for traveling Vietnam
- 13 Best Restaurants in Tam Coc and Ninh Binh: Where to Eat
- 10 Best Foods in Ninh Binh and Tam Coc You Have to Try
- How to Get to Ninh Binh From Hanoi, Sapa, Hue, and More
- The Best Time to Visit Ninh Binh and Tam Coc
- 5 Complete Itineraries to See North Vietnam in 7 Days
- How to Solo Travel Vietnam