When we decided on a family vacation to Vietnam, I didn’t know much about its history and culture. I had my impressions about the American Vietnam War largely based on novels, and some experience with Vietnamese food, mostly fried. What a delightful trip it turned out to be! The fun in Vietnam is not limited to the mega cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. In fact, there are so many things to do in and around Da Nang in Central Vietnam that our 4 days felt short. This formed the middle part of our 2 weeks in Vietnam.
We spent 4 days and did some fantastic day trips from Da Nang – explored the cultural city of Hue, indulged in mouth-watering food in Hoi An, lazed around at the private beach of our luxury resort in Da nang, and took a cycling tour to experience the village life beyond the cities. But there are even more things to do in Da nang: Marble mountains, Ba Na Hills, Cham Island to name a few. You would need to select based on your interest during your trip.
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Da nang for a family vacation
You could be based in Hue – the erstwhile capital of the Nguyen emperors that reminds one of the past glory of imperial Vietnam or the historic town of Hoi An, that manages to stay atmospheric despite the hordes of tourists.
But for a family vacation, my recommendation would be to stay at a beach resort in Da nang and explore these nearby areas as day trips. It is quite easy for your hotel to arrange a free (or paid) transfer from Danang to Hoi An, just a 30 -45 minutes ride. It is also easy to do a day trip from Danang to Hue via the Hai Van Pass.
Da Nang is well connected via flights to both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and also to Bangkok, Siam Reap, and other cities internationally.
The best time to visit Da nang is between March to September. We went in June and it was perfect for beach time and sightseeing with warm days and less rain. This is different from northern parts of Vietnam where June gets very hot.
Day trips from Danang: Hoi An for culture and food
One of the definite things to do in Da Nang is a visit to Hoi An. This historic riverside town, with its car-free streets, is a delight to walk around in the evening. Touristy and cliched in parts, it yet manages a dreamy atmosphere. Danang to Hoi An is about a 30-45 minute drive by car or shuttle bus.
Hoi An owes its wonderfully well-preserved state to the silting-up of the Thu Bồn river in the 19th century, which put an end to its importance as a trading post. The town escaped modern development and US bombing.
While ambling around this town, you would come upon Japanese merchant houses, Chinese temples, ancient warehouses and more. You would also come across tailoring shops – too many of them – and boutiques, cafes, and restaurants. Some streets and the main bridge can get very crowded as the evening progresses. So make sure you hold your kids close.
A large number of shops advertise quick and cheap tailoring services, but since that skill is easily available in India, I was more interested in the stylish boutiques with silk dresses hung in their window-shopping area.
Hoi An gave us some of the best food experiences in Vietnam, and that is a lot to say considering there is fresh, delicious food to be had everywhere in this country. We loved the traditional Vietnamese dishes at Morning Glory. It gets really crowded in the evenings, so best to reserve a table in advance.
As an aside note, my daughter only liked eating fried fish, not steamed or poached or even pan-fried. Morning Glory has very different local recipes to enjoy. But there were no deep-fried fish on the menu. Once we explained what was required of the staff, they were more than happy to get us de-boned fried fish with some vegetables and chips.
Another recommended restaurant is Mango Mango; it had some interesting twists to traditional Vietnamese dishes. Their small balcony on the first floor is a nice area to spend an evening and indulge in people-watching.
If you want even more options for a culinary experience, book a food tour in Hoi An. Hoi An has a lot of varied and tasty street food as well, as well as food tours and cooking classes to have to experience fully. And the lovely town can be enjoyed by staying at one of the boutique hotels in Hoi An.
Day trips from Danang: Hai Van Pass and Hue for a history lesson
Hai Van Pass
We had booked a day trip from Danang to Hue the next day. Taking the scenic Hai Van pass to reach Hue would be my recommendation for things to do in Da Nang.
The 3 or 4-hour journey would be more convenient to travel in an air-conditioned car. For some reason, we thought it would be a hoot to travel in an old topless jeep, probably left behind by the US army. This trip was booked with Hue Adventures.
The Hai Van pass – which you cross en route to Hue – is the highlight of the road trip and has some stunning vistas. Overall, it is a beautiful drive, and I was constantly surprised by the quality of the highways. This pass was made hugely popular by the Top Gear show and now there are day tours that you can book a self-ride motorbike ride across the Hai Van Pass.
Our guide suggested a break at the Elephant stream. While a nice stop for the locals to cool in the water and spend the day picnicking, I wished we hadn’t taken this detour – it meant getting into Hue much later than what I had planned for. My daughter thought the opposite though. She loved getting into the cool water and it took quite an effort to get back on the road. We finally reached Hue, had a quick lunch and went to visit the main attraction of the city.
The Citadel in Hue
Huế is a city in central Vietnam that was the seat of Nguyen Dynasty emperors and the national capital from 1802 to 1945.
A major attraction is its vast, 19th-century Citadel, surrounded by a moat and thick stone walls. The Citadel is a large open complex, with beautiful buildings and trees-laden pathways. It was too large for us to explore in half a day, that too with the June sun beating down.
Thein Mu Pagoda
We also visited the Thein Mu Pagoda, also known as Pagoda of the Celestial Lady, on the northern bank of the Perfume River. This is about 3 km from the Citadel. Its iconic seven-story pagoda is regarded as the unofficial symbol of the city.
This would be a long but an interesting day. Make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes or sandals to walk around. And are protected sufficiently against the strong sun. You can book this day tour that includes the spectacular Hai Van Pass, Hue’s Imperial Citadel, Thien Mu Pagoda, and the Khai Dinh Tomb.
Things to do in Danang: A cycling tour to see the natural beauty
While the cultural cities of Hue and Hoi An are a must-visit, do travel beyond them, and enjoy some of central Vietnam’s laid-back scenery. You can explore this by bicycle, motorbike or boat trips.
I was highly recommended a cycling tour while researching what to do in Danang and it turned out to be fab! We had booked a countryside cycling tour with Heaven and Earth Tours, a little shop in Hoi An town. They had our bicycles ready – one for my husband with a seat behind to comfortably seat our daughter and another one for me.
First, the cycles had to be loaded onto a boat and we crossed the river to the other side. In many places, nets were pulled out of the water, seemingly sunning themselves. Our guide explained that the nets are lowered in the water mornings and evenings to catch the fish.
Rural vistas in Vietnam
The cycling trip began once we reached the other side of the river – what a lovely way to experience rural life in Vietnam. It was not strenuous and had sufficient breaks. It gives an insight into the traditional village life, we visited a traditional house in the village, saw a mat being painstakingly woven by an old woman, visited a small shed and saw how rice liquor is made (you may wish to keep your kids outside the room where rice is being fermented!), saw a coracle being painted and readied for water. You can even take a joy ride in a coracle. A bit like a typical Kerala village life, I think.
My husband tried mountain biking on dirt paths (a strenuous off-road 30 – 50 km trip with Heaven and Earth tour), away from any of the sightseeing areas the next morning and had a great time. Highly recommended for serious cycling enthusiasts!
Spend time on the beach
We had the private beach strip of our beach resort and the poolside area to laze around. Da nang is full of beach resorts, each with their own slice of white sandy beach. There are also many beautiful public beaches in Da nang for you to enjoy.
Bac My An beach has smooth white sand and clear blue water. It is located 7 km from the Da nang City Centre. Non Nuoc beach is located near the Marble Mountains. My Khe Beach is one of the nearest to Da nang City Centre and is hugely popular. Then there is Thanh Binh Beach in the heart of Da nang city.
Other Things to Do in Da nang
Like I mentioned earlier, our 4 days in Da nang flew by exploring Hue, Hoi An, doing a cycling tour and enjoying beach time. There are many other things to do in Da nang.
This is a more active day trip from Da Nang. Marble Mountains comprises of 5 limestone peaks situated 7 km from Da Nang. There are Buddhist shrines and caves to explore in this area. It is best to go early in the morning to tour Marble Mountains: you will get cool air and have the pagodas to yourself. You can book a day tour to explore Am Phu Cave, Linh Ung Pagoda, and more.
My Son Sanctuary
This Cham Tower complex is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Each temple has a unique structural style that reflects the history of the Champa kingdoms. My Son is 69 km away from Da nang and needs a day trip to be explored. You can book this early morning half-day guided tour to My Son Sanctuary.
Ba Na Hills
This is a recreational complex in the Trường Sơn Mountains, about 30 km from Danang. Yoou can take the cable car to the top of the hills, enjoy the French Village on top, walk the longest bridge in Vietnam, The Golden Bridge. Kids will have a lot of fun at the Fantasy Park entertainment area. You can book a skip-the-line day trip to Ba Na Hills.
This island cluster is about 45 km from Da nang. You can swim, sunbathe, snorkel and scuba-dive here. Book a ride to Cham Islands on a traditional Vietnamese boat and enjoy a snorkelling tour.
Stay recommendation in Danang
Four Seasons Nam Hai
The best option is to stay at the many international beach resorts in Danang. There are also budget-friendly hotels and guesthouses available.
We were based at the uber-luxurious Nam Hai for this stretch of the family vacation. It boasts of a kilometer-long stretch of one of Forbes “best beaches in the world”.
We had a wonderful stay here. My daughter enjoyed exploring large cottage, with its open shower and garden in the backyard and the patio in the front opening into a white sandy area. We spent one day lazying around at the hotel pool and making sandcastles at the private beach.
[This post was originally published in 2019 and later updated.]
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Have you visited Central Vietnam? Which is your favorite – Hoi An or Hue?
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