It’s no secret that there are many rich historical places in Vietnam, but not all tourists are aware of these gems. No matter which part of the country is up for discussion, something of significance is nearby and has stood the test of time.
After enduring so many years of conflicts, it’s incredible how some of these locations have survived the years and still stand today, even if they have some damage. Whether you’re interested in the ancient dynasties, religious structures, French colonial years, or the war with the Americans, this list touches on historical attractions that cover all those topics.
Imperial City, Hue
The Imperial City in Hue is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that served as the country’s capital from 1802 through 1945. This complex of many buildings is located along the Perfume River and welcomes visitors every day to view its ancient grounds and cultural performances.
The “Complex of Hue Monuments” on the property comprises the Forbidden Purple City, royal quarters, temples, pagodas, a museum, tombs, and a library. The entire complex is well preserved and has a calm, relaxed atmosphere with lots to look at on every corner.
There are ten entry gates to the Imperial City, and an entry fee is required to go inside the grounds. Many former visitors recommend anywhere from two hours to an entire day to explore the area.
Cu Chi Tunnels, Ho Chi Minh City
Located near Ho Chi Minh City, the Cu Chi Tunnels are a historical site where several military actions occurred. Spreading over 121 km/75 miles in its entirety, the area is preserved and serves as a tourist attraction and educational facility.
The tunnels are most famously known for being used by the Viet Cong as a hiding place during the conflict with the United States. Formally known as “Black Echo,” these underground pathways were unlit and infested areas that many lived inside for long periods of time.
Tourists visiting the tunnels can do an organized tour or self-guided tour. Only a portion of the tunnels is open to crawl through. The areas with visitor traffic now have low-powdered lights installed, and underground conference rooms have been renovated.
Hanoi Old Quarter
Hanoi’s Old Quarter is an ancient area of the city with an eclectic assortment of shops, restaurants, arts, and cultures. At the beginning of the Ly Dynasty, guilds surrounding the citadel were formed by people who specialized in specific crafts, forming the Old Quarter.
Throughout the years, some of the traditions of this unique area have been maintained, while other aspects of it have gotten more modern with the times. Nowadays, it’s a popular place for locals and tourists to shop and look for specific goods, flowers, or handicrafts.
Old Quarter’s Most Prominent Landmarks
There are several tourist attractions near the Old Quarter, many within walking distance of the area.
Hoan Kiem Lake & Ngoc Son Temple – A beautiful natural retreat located in the heart of the city, this lake and temple attract many visitors for recreational activities, casual walks, or admiring the gorgeous water.
Long Bien Bridge – Built in 1903 with lots of French influence in its design, this is Hanoi’s oldest bridge.
Bach Ma Temple – Thought to be the oldest temple in Hanoi, Bach Ma Temple translates to “White Horse Temple” and features terrific artwork and an intricate shrine to Confucious.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum – The location of the former leader’s body, Ho Chi Minh, is embalmed and on display at this mausoleum. Visitors can come to pay respects during certain hours.
Hoa Lo Prison – Also known as the “Hanoi Hilton,” this prison-turned-museum appeals to anyone who wants to learn more about wars and conflict in Vietnam, especially the years fighting the Americans.
Old Town Hoi An
Based about 30 km south of Da Nang, Hoi An is a rustic town that packs a lot of punch for its age. Set on the Thu Bon River banks, Hoi An’s Ancient Town was part of what used to be a bustling, small trading port from the 15th to 19th centuries. It’s evident that the town has been brushed with many cultures over the years, as it’s easy to see the French influence in the architecture and Chinese and Japanese design accents throughout other structures.
Tourists and history buffs love visiting this part of Vietnam to learn more about its past and enjoy some of the traditions carried on through the years.
Notable Landmarks in Ancient Town
Even though strolling through Hoi An is enough to give anyone a fantastic experience, there are a few places that shouldn’t be left out.
Japanese Covered Bridge – This beautiful bridge is a significant structure as it is pleasing to look at, as it literally stands for “bridging the gap” between the Chinese and Japanese communities 400 years ago. People are still able to walk on it for a fee.
Address: Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, Phường Minh An, Hoi An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam
Old House of Tan Ky – Located very close to the Japanese covered bridge, the Old House of Tan Ky is a seventh-generation home kept in impeccable condition over the years. Tourists enjoy peeking into what life in Old Town Hoi An was like so many years ago.
My Son Sanctuary
Located in the Quang Nam Province of Central Vietnam, about 64 km/40 miles from Danang, the My Son Sanctuary is a complex of ruins belonging to the Hindu religion and dedicated to Shiva. The Kings of Champa built it during the 4th and 14th centuries and at one point housed more than 70 temples.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, many of the original structures were heavily damaged by bombs during the conflict with the USA. This attraction is a great place to stop for history lovers.
Independence Palace, Ho Chi Minh City
Also known as the “Reunification Convention Hall,” the Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh City is a well-known landmark completed in 1966. It was also the location of the finale to the Vietnam War when events concluded in April 1975.
The palace is open daily and offers free tours of the grounds with the purchase of an entry fee, but there are many rooms to explore and relics to see. Some of the featured areas include the presidential office, command bunker, and courtyard.
Khai Dinh Tomb, Hue
The Khai Dinh Tomb is located in Chua Chac village just south of Hue and is one of the royal tombs in the region. Construction on the tomb began in 1920, and it took 11 years to complete, but it is much smaller than other ones in the area. However, it is now a popular tourist attraction and complex made up of several concrete buildings and structures.
Solo and organized tours are possible at Khai Dinh Tomb, featuring a forecourt, imperial audience court, Thien Dinh Palace, a crypt, and more.
Vinh Moc Tunnels, Quang Tri
Located in Quang Tri, the Vinh Moc Tunnels are an intricate complex of tunnels that served as a bomb shelter and underground living quarters during the war with the Americans. The town of Vinh Moc felt increasingly in danger, so they moved their lives beneath the soil, where they constructed three levels over 2 km of living area. About sixty families resided in the tunnels, and their plan to live underground was successful in keeping everyone in the village alive.
Today it is a popular tourist attraction with guided and solo tours, featuring this impressive complex with exit points on the beach of the South China Sea.
Temple of Literature, Hanoi
Built in 1070 under Ly Thanh Tong Dynasty, the Temple of Literature is a renowned temple dedicated to honor Confucious. Over the years, it has suffered damage and been rebuilt a few times, the significant instances being in 1920, 1954, and 2000. The temple is also the site of the first “Imperial Academy” in Vietnam, where nobles, bureaucrats, royalty, and other upper-class people were educated.
Visiting the site is a popular tourist attraction in Hanoi and also the site of an annual poetry festival that happens during the full moon in January.
Marble Mountains, Da Nang
Situated about 8 km/5 miles south of Da Nang, the Marble Mountains are a group of hills made of limestone and marble. Locals call these natural wonders the “five elements mountains,” each one named for the elements earth, fire, water, wood, and metal.
Outdoors enthusiasts enjoy hiking up the mountains as there are many caves to explore and pagodas to look at on the way up. There are also grottos that are decorated to be Hindu and Buddhist sanctuaries with several relics and artifacts inside.
Vinh Trang Pagoda, My Tho
The Vinh Trang Pagoda in My Tho was constructed sometime in the mid-19th century and is one of the most famous Buddhist temples in the Mekong region. Showcasing various styles from Chinese, Cambodian, and Vietnamese designs, the pagoda nestled among fruit trees on 2 hectares/4.9 acres of land.
Despite all its changes in history, the Vinh Trang Padoga remains one of the most popular attractions in southern Vietnam, with its five significant buildings and 178 pillars. Getting to the temple is also enjoyable, as there are unspoiled rice paddies and endless beauty along the route to it.
Po Nagar Cham Towers, Nha Trang
The Po Nagar Cham Towns are located just north of Nha Trang on the mouth of the Cai River. These impressive and detailed structures were constructed between the 7th and 12 centuries and were part of a more extensive religious complex.
The Cham people who used these towers were a part of the Hindu faith and left behind many artifacts on the grounds. This is a popular tourist destination for people to the Nha Trang area, and it is open daily.
Con Dao Prison, Vung Tau
Constructed by French colonists in 1862, the Con Dao Prison located in Vung Tau is one of the oldest prisons in the country. Famous for its “tiger cages” built in 1940 designed to house inmates, the prison was used to incarcerate political threats before and during the Vietnam War.
These days the prison system is preserved and used as a museum or exhibit, allowing visitors to come in and learn about how it functioned during less peaceful times. Showcasing the life and treatment of the prisoners at this building is an educational yet sobering experience.
Saigon Central Post Office
Located in downtown Ho Chi Minh City near the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Saigon Central Post Office is one of the most unique and impressive post office buildings in this part of Asia. The architect, Marie-Alfred Foulhoux, designed many structures in Ho Chi Minh City, but this post office was his last masterpiece.
The stunning yellow color on the outside is just the beginning of its unique characteristics, as the inside is decorated with many old European-style accents and attributes. Tourists love coming to this one-of-a-kind post office just to look, but it is a fully operational establishment where people can buy stamps, receive or send mail, exchange currency, and make international phone calls.
Notre Dame Cathedral, Ho Chi Minh City
Built between 1863 and 1880, the Notre Dame Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City is one of the most impressive cathedrals in the country and serves the community of Catholics in the city. The materials used to construct this church were imported from France, as French colonists initiated the project.
Architect Jules Bourard, a religious expert, was the designer of the church and intended it to be a down-scaled yet mirrored version of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. The building is set right in the heart of the city, and it also has daily services in Vietnamese and English.
When creating your historical places to visit in Vietnam bucket list, these are the ones that surely shouldn’t be missed. With so many attractions spread out throughout the country, finding something in nearly every major city wouldn’t be challenging.