Long beaches, clearer air, delicious food and nearby side trips await on Vietnam’s central coast
Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are Vietnam’s most bustling cities. Areas such as Sapa are known for their photogenic rice paddies. Massive limestone hills and towers jut out of the jade green waters of Halong Bay. Yet on Vietnam’s central coast, a bustling city combines a more relaxed vibe, less traffic, long stretches of beach, delicious food—and above all, a fire-breathing dragon bridge. But is Da Nang worth visiting with kids?
Why we went to Da Nang with our kids
During 2022 and 2023, we visited Vietnam for a month. (At the time, as US citizens we could only get a 30-day visa.) It was our first time visiting Vietnam. From our arrival in Hanoi, we cruised Halong Bay, relaxed amid the fallow rice paddies of Tam Cốc, floated through a massive limestone cave in Phong Nha, celebrated the new year in Hue, and made lanterns in Hội An.
Our initial reason for visiting Da Nang revolved around the Dragon Bridge. Each weekend at 9 p.m., the dragon alternates breathing plumes of fire and breathing misty sprays of water. We knew the dragon would be a hit with our kids. However, the more we learned about Da Nang, the more we were enticed:
- The city prides itself on excellent Vietnamese and international foods
- Accommodation is reasonably priced with good amenities
- The city is bustling, yet has a more relaxed feel than Hanoi
- The air clearer than Hanoi (and we’ve realized that air quality is becoming an increasingly important factor in where we travel)
- Long beaches sway back toward tall rolling hills
- It’s easy to day trip or take excursions to nearby areas, such as river port town of Hội An
- Da Nang’s international airport makes it easy to fly in and out of Vietnam. (In fact, we would in fact be flying out of Da Nang to Singapore and Malaysia)
What we wanted to get out of our time in Da Nang
Da Nang and nearby Hội An would be our last major stops during our first trip to Vietnam with kids. We’d stay 5 nights in Da Nang, 2 nights in Hội An, and then one more night in Da Nang, so we could catch our flight to Singapore.
After caves, cruises, rivers, and a whole lot of tasty meals throughout Vietnam though, what we wanted most out of Da Nang was a chance to catch our breath. We typically prefer to travel slowly, staying in places at least a week, and preferably at least a month. However, for our first trip to Vietnam, we also wanted to get a decent taste of the country. While we didn’t get to southern Vietnam, our time in the northern and central parts of the country had us wanting to return.
In Da Nang, we wanted to savor a few more delights of Vietnam, while taking stock of what we’d done—and talking about what we’d want to do the next time we visited.
Where is Da Nang located?
Da Nang is located on Vietnam’s coast, pretty much right in the middle of the country. Large jutting peninsulas to the north and south enclose a broad, deep bay that also enhances the curve of the coastline. Rolling green hills enclose the city, and give Da Nang a feeling of being nestled between the sea and the hills. The city also has a modern international airport, which we flew out of when we left Vietnam for Singapore and Malaysia.
How does its size compare to Hanoi?
Compared to Hanoi’s population of 5.2 million people (and 17,482,953 motorbikes), Da Nang’s 1.2 million population means the city is smaller and more relaxed, yet easier to get around and still with lots to do.
Is Da Nang safe?
Vietnam is well known for being overall safe, especially for visitors. During our 5 days visiting areas throughout Da Nang, we always felt safe. It was easy to talk with people, through a combination of Google Translate and the overall prevalence of English speaking throughout the city as well.
3 reasons why we went to Da Nang with kids
Da Nang combines the energy and variety of a vibrant city, with a desire to slow down enough to not be in a rush and enjoy life. Here are 3 reasons in particular why we wanted to conclude our month in Vietnam with a few nights in Da Nang:
Dragon Bridge. We considered the weekly fire and water show to be a finale to our family’s month in Vietnam.
Food. To be fair, food was a stand-out feature of everywhere we went in Vietnam. Da Nang, however, takes just as much pride in artisan pizza and craft beer as in traditional Vietnamese dishes. We could dine on delicious breakfast plant-based bowls at Roots Café, right around the corner from our hotel, then later could go around another corner to enjoy a sumptuous bowl of pho soup or nem lụi huế, or lemongrass pork skewers.
Easy access. We’d made our way from Hanoi to Da Nang over some three languorous weeks during the winter holidays. We also could have taken a train or bus from throughout Vietnam, or flown in or out. Since we’d planned to fly out of Da Nang to Singapore, Da Nang made a natural endpoint where we could enjoy the city and then head to our next destination.
Accommodation: Hotels, rentals, and where to stay in Da Nang
Da Nang is full of budget, mid-range, and luxury accommodation. We’d suggest looking at the overall area you want to be in, the activities or amenities you want to be near, and then examining accommodation options accordingly.
Tip for finding affordable accommodation for longer stays
What if you could stay in Da Nang for US$10 a day?
If you are interested in staying in Da Nang for longer, many places offer special rates on longer stays. However, you also might not find these online. In our experience, many places billed themselves as hotels or apartments, but we didn’t see them listed on search engines or online bookers.
A tip we’ve gotten from other travelers that we would put to work on a future visit to Da Nang with kids:
We’d book a place in advance for 5-7 nights. Then we’d spend a couple of days checking out places on foot. Going into a couple of places and chatting with the person at the desk, I learned about one-bedroom rooms being rented for US$300 a month, or about US$10 a day. Obviously, staying as a family of four would take some different legwork. Overall though, on a future visit to Da Nang we would look at spending a couple of days in a neighborhood where we wanted to stay, then going door to door to see what rates were available for longer stays.
Where we stayed in Da Nang
The Raon Danang Beach Hotel was only a few minutes walk to the beach, in the epicenter of many lovely cafes, restaurants, and other services, and was safe, clean, and secure. We especially appreciated the filtered water available for free in the lobby, and we nipped down as needed to fill up our water bottles. A couple of nearby shops helped us stock up on snacks and light meals when we wanted to dine in.
4 other places we would consider staying in Da Nang
Da Nang is full of cool places to stay. On another trip to Vietnam, these are other hotels we’d consider
Attractions: What we did and what we skipped
Da Nang has a range of attractions in town and just outside the city. Our favorite attraction was simply walking around our area and nipping into restaurants or cafes that looked tasty. When we weren’t eating, however, we still found plenty to do—and a few activities we skipped, at least this time around.
5 things we did in Da Nang
Dragon Bridge show
Every Saturday and Sunday at 9 p.m., Da Nang’s 1,864-foot long Dragon Bridge over the Han River breathes out huge plumes of fire, and then misty clouds of water. All the while, the bridge changes color, thanks to 2,500 LED lights throughout the span. We could while away an evening simply watching the bridge’s color changes. The dragon show is free, and you can see it from land, in surrounding buildings, and from the river. Speaking of…
The Han River flows broad through the city, and gives plenty of room for boats to lead tours and dinner cruises along the water. For the Saturday night we were in the city, we booked a tour, which had a few dozen people aboard, to cruise along the river and take in the Dragon Bridge show. In addition to the bridge, many skyscrapers and high-rises near the river have their own light shows, including one building that lit up with giant words that said, “I ❤️ Da Nang.”
The rooms of life-size illusion paintings of Art in Paradise have become a favorite of ours. A rainy afternoon in Da Nang made an ideal time to spend a couple of hours posing against backdrops of underwater treasure, large mushrooms, and treacherous bridges over chasms. The scale and detail of the art is impressive enough as you experience it. But the carefully placed photo points are where you really bring alive Art in Paradise’s magic. Through the lens, your photos and videos give the perspective that you’re there, in a gondola in Venice, feeding watermelon to a giraffe, or fleeing a hungry dinosaur.
Our January visit did not coincide with ideal beach time. However, a ride to the Da Nang Mikazuki Resort and Spa also meant we could spend the day playing at the hotel’s giant, covered, indoor water park. Vietnam’s largest water park offered a wave pool, lazy river, and above all, a giant, spiral water slide decorated as a golden dragon. Plus, adults could also take in the upstairs spa, for a little hot-water soaking of a more relaxed nature.
Side trip to nearby Hội An’s market, wish candles, lantern-making class
About 45 minutes south of Da Nang, multi-colored lanterns light the small city of Hội An. After our few days in Da Nang, we nipped to Hội An for a couple of nights. Staying near the or right on the pedestrian, waterside streets was ideal. During evening markets, we could step right into the fun. Bars and restaurants line the water, along with a broad street full of food and gift vendors. Market stalls dot the city.
But our main attractions? Our first evening in Hội An, we took in a boat ride, where we lit candles and set them on the water, to send off our wishes for the future. And the next day, we spent the morning learning to make traditional Hội An lanterns.
3 things we skipped (and why)
Da Nang is known for its incredible beaches—but not in January. When we were there, the beaches were empty, and warning flags prohibited being in the water due to rough conditions. We hadn’t come to Da Nang with beaches in mind anyway. If visiting at a different time of year though, we definitely would prioritize staying close to the beach and enjoying the surf.
Golden Bridge and Ba Na Hills
A curving bridge cupped in hands made of carved stone is an iconic image. Known as the Golden Bridge, this attraction in the Ba Na Hills outside of Da Nang is one of the sights often declared a must-see (and at the very least, a much-Instagrammed). However, it’s an area that’s often teeming with visitors and sucks up the better part of a day. Visiting didn’t fit in with our trip this time around. On a future visit, we would take a look at booking a day tour to the area, but honestly, this is an attraction that may not be a big deal for us to check out.
Lady Buddha and Marble Mountain
The statue of the Lady Buddha rises above the hills, and it’s a cool sight. We were fine enjoying it from afar. In a similar vein, the Marble Mountain has a lot of sculptures around and throughout this Buddhist Temple. We don’t do a lot of religious site tourism though, so these didn’t rise as priorities during our time in Da Nang. On a future trip, we might take another look.
Visiting Da Nang led our family to a simple conclusion
Da Nang cemented our understanding that our family’s first trip to Vietnam truly was only our first trip. We were glad we started in the north with Hanoi, and we enjoyed our time traveling from Halong Bay to Hue. However, the next time we come to Vietnam, we will fly straight to Da Nang, and stay there as long as we can. There’s so much we enjoyed the first time around—and so much still that we want to do in this city that keeps such a great balance of splendor, chill vibe, natural beauty, and delicious food.