A micro-city in Vietnam’s Red River Delta, Ninh Bình City is a gateway to some of the country’s most spectacular and underrated landscapes. Acting as the administrative center for the Ninh Bình Province, the city is a great base for travelers that are exploring nearby areas like Tam Coc or Van Long.
While most of the attractions are outside of the city limits, the perks of Ninh Bình’s hotels and restaurants make overnights in this remote province more enjoyable. Additionally, Ninh Bình City’s proximity to Hanoi makes it a top-rated day or weekend trip destination for city dwellers.
Provincial Capital in the Red River Delta
Sprawled along the local river, Ninh Bình City is a decent-sized community and urban area. While there is plenty of accommodations and dining establishments, most travelers skip over Ninh Bình City because it lacks a central tourist area. Instead, tourists will have the opportunity to explore the city’s quiet streets and mega-mansions.
While that may not be appealing to everyone, the convenience of staying in Ninh Bình City makes it a hard destination to ignore. Located inland, somewhat centrally, Ninh Binh is the province’s most developed area. Outside of the city, there’s a myriad of small towns and tight-knit communities.
When traveling through the province, tourists should expect to go by small two-lane highways. Driving from Hanoi to Ninh Bình City takes less than 2 hours as the two cities are just about 94 km (58 mi) apart. Travelers may also choose to go by public bus or train. More affordable, traveling by buses and trains is slower and the journey can take up to 2 and ½ hours.
In history, Ninh Bình City’s location and nearby karsts have provided strategic advantages to local and foreign forces. Specifically, during the conflict of the Sino-French War, the French counted on the support of Ninh Bình City. This is because the French wanted to mount artillery on a citadel that was constructed on a high-up karst.
The citadel, Nam Dinh, was extremely important because whoever controlled it would also have control over the river passage to the Gulf of Tonkin. Interestingly, the local Vietnamese people had divided feelings about the French occupation. While locals acted hostile towards the French, some people weren’t entirely opposed to French control.
This means that not all locals were willing to fight against foreign invasions. In direct opposition, many locals were very against French occupation and this includes the locals who were defending the Nam Dinh Citadel. In March of 1883, the French arrived in Ninh Bình and they set their sights on capturing the Nam Dinh Citadel.
The decision and battle to capture Nam Dinh lasted until late March. Locals did not want to surrender and while the French were ultimately victorious, reports described the Vietnamese as having “fought with unusual stubbornness”. Since the 1800s, European influence over Ninh Bình City has remained.
While the city also honors its more ancient cultures, a clash of Vietnamese and European architecture is prominent throughout the city. This combination of architectural styles is most obvious in the city’s affluent neighborhood where mega-mansions jut out from the city skyline.
- Estimated in 2014, the population of Ninh Bình City is 160,166 people
- Smaller in size, the city covers just 48 sq km (18.67 sq mi)
- Ninh Bình is classed as a level 2 city
As mentioned, most of the province’s main attractions are located outside of Ninh Bình City. This includes popular destinations like Tam Coc, Trang An, Van Long, and Cuc Phuoc National Park. All of these attractions are less than 16 km (10 mi) from the city and are covered in our Ninh Bình Province guide.
Attractions that are lesser-known but still close to the city include the Mansions, Bich Dong Pagoda, Hang Mua Peak, and Thuy Son Park.
Bich Dong Pagoda
Located outside of Ninh Bình City but still close by is the Bich Dong Pagoda. An ancient place for Buddhist worship, the pagoda is only accessible by boat. At the pagoda, visitors are permitted to enter and explore natural caves that are in the area.
Travelers should be prepared to walk as stairways lead to various levels of the complex. A short excursion, visiting the pagoda takes about 1 hour.
The Mansions of Ninh Binh
Not necessarily an attraction but something that is hard to miss is the mansions in Ninh Bình City. Built to an epic scale and ornately decorated, the mansions almost look like European cathedrals. Not open for tours and owned by the city’s richest families, some mansions are used as private homes and others are under construction.
Thuy Son Park
One attraction that is in Ninh Bình City proper is the Thuy Son Park. At the park, visitors can walk around 8 hectares of beautiful gardens and ponds. Also within the park is a public swimming pool and the city zoo. The best time to visit Thuy Son Park is in the early morning hours when there are fewer crowds and fewer families.
Hang Mua Peak
Only 15 minutes from the Bich Dong Pagoda is the base of Hang Mua Peak. Popular for its views of the Tam Coc Valley, the summit of Hang Mua sits atop a set of 500 stairs. At a lower level, there is a second viewpoint that makes for a great rest stop. There is no tourist infrastructure, so guests will have to pack their own water and snacks as well as remove their trash.
Ninh Bình City is the one place in the province that has an abundance of hotels and hostels. Centered around places like the city’s main street and train station, travelers are guaranteed to find a place to stay that fits their budget. Ninh Bình City’s top accommodations include the Reed Hotel, Friendly Home Hotel, the Vancouver Hotel, and Emeralda Resort.
The Reed Hotel – A newer facility in Ninh Bình, the Reed Hotel is in the heart of the city and just 7 km (4.3 mi) away from Trang An. Rooms at the hotel have a private bathroom, TV, and air conditioning. The hotel also provides free Wi-Fi and on-site parking to all guests. A 24-hour desk ensures that the property is safe and that tourists always have assistance.
Friendly Home Hotel – Family run, the Friendly Home is a boutique hotel with a quiet lakeside location. An escape from the city life, the hotel aims to be a traveler’s “home away from home”. Amenities at the hotel include free breakfast, Wi-Fi, bike rentals, and a restaurant. Additionally, Family Home is child and pet-friendly.
Emeralda Resort & Spa – Located in the Van Long Nature Reserve, the Emeralda Resort & Spa combines luxury with the opulence of nature. Surrounded by lush mountains, this eco-friendly resort is designed to mimic a traditional Vietnamese village. Guests will have access to a heated indoor and four outdoor pools, a bar, three restaurants, a fitness center, and a mini-golf course.
The Vancouver Hotel – Just a few minutes from the city’s main street, the Vancouver Hotel has 15 en suite rooms. Decorated with elegance and comfort in mind, guests at the hotel will enjoy the private bathrooms, comfy beds, AC, and TV that come with all rooms. Services provided by the Vancouver Hotel are free parking, bike rentals, Wi-Fi, and a complimentary breakfast.
Much to the surprise of international tourists, Ninh Bình City actually had a wide range of restaurants. Suited to serve either Vietnamese traditional meals or international favorites, travelers won’t go hungry in Ninh Bình’s capital. Popular dining establishments in Ninh Bình include Chookie’s, Trung Tuyet, the Viet Bamboo, and the Cho Bop Market.
Cho Bop Market – For an authentic dining experience, tourists should head to the food stalls of the Cho Bop Market. Inexpensive but exploding with flavor, the market is a big hit for travelers that are on a budget.
Chookie’s – A hit with international guests, Chookie’s serves a wide range of Western dishes. Some of the restaurant’s best food includes American favorites like burgers, chicken wings, and fresh-baked pizza. Lively and upbeat, Chookie’s is a place where travelers can connect with other world adventurers while also enjoying a meal.
Trung Tuyet – A classy restaurant, Trung Tuyet is more expensive than other local options, however, the higher prices are balanced by the restaurant’s generous portions. Serving traditional Vietnamese dishes, Trung Tuyet is excellent for food lovers who are looking to dive into a new cuisine. For patron’s convenience, the restaurant offers dine-in and take-out.
The Viet Bamboo – The Viet Bamboo is a local restaurant that has become known for its friendly staff, excellent service, and great good. A newer restaurant, travelers can mix and match items on the menu for a little taste of everything.
During different times of the year, the city and its surrounding towns hold festivals to honor their culture. One celebration that is held in the Ninh Bình City is the festival at the Bái Dính Pagoda. Honoring the national heroes of Vietnam, the pagoda comes to life at the start of the New Year. Commonly celebrated figures include Buddha and Ding Bo Linh.
Officially, the festival starts on the 6th day of the first lunar month, but to draw in more tourists, celebrations last for the three months of spring.
Ninh Bình City is just big enough that walking everywhere will take a lot of time and effort. The good news is that many parts of the city that attract tourists are walkable, including the main street and train stations (old and new). Tourists who want to explore more of the city or head to the countryside will need to rent a bike or take a cab.
Bike rentals are common in Ninh Bình City and with quiet roads, it’s safe to cycle your way around the urban streets and country roads. Travelers should check with their accommodation as some hotels offer free bicycle rentals to their guests. Hotels can also help travelers arrange transportation by calling a cab, which is common throughout the city and has affordable rates.
The best time to visit Ninh Bình City is during the spring and fall as the weather during these months is calmer and cooler. This means that travelers won’t be trapped with high humidity and pouring rain, which would ruin anyone’s vacation. However, the drier weather and lower temperatures bring the crowds.
Fall is slightly less crowded than spring since the area becomes very busy due to local festivals. Winter is also a good time to visit Ninh Bình City, but like spring, it can get busy because of the end of the year holidays. Summer is the worst time to plan a trip to Ninh Bình City because temperatures and rainfall will be at their highest.
From June to August, the weather in Ninh Bình City can make it complicated to head out into the countryside. While some tourists do brave monsoons to see Ninh Bình, summer is definitely the city’s off-season for tourists.
Not many people visit Ninh Bình City, but times are changing and the word is spreading. Still a very underrated destination, crowds are likely on the horizon for the city as more and more people hear about the area’s wonderful natural features.
For now, Ninh Bình City remains relatively crowd-free, so travelers who do go can brag all about visiting one of the best low-key destinations in Vietnam before mass tourism changes the game.
Activities near Ninh Binh City
- Bich Dong Pagoda (9km)