16 wards: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, Thắng Nhất, Thắng Nhì, Thắng Tam, Nguyễn An Ninh, Rạch Dừa and 1 commune: Long Sơn.
During 14th and 15th centuries, the cape that would become Vũng Tàu was a swamp which European trading ships visited regularly. The ships' activities inspired the name Vũng Tàu, which means "anchorage". The French Indochinese government named it Cap Saint-Jacques ("Cap Xanh Giắc", in Vietnamese). The cliff of Vũng Tàu is now called Mũi Nghinh Phong (literally meaning "Cape of breeze welcome" or "Cape of greeting the wind").
Vũng Tàu was originally referred to as Tam Thắng ("Three Boats") in memory of the first three villages in this area: Thắng Nhất, Thắng Nhị, Thắng Tam, within the province of Biên Hòa under the Nguyễn Dynasty. Under the reign of king Gia Long (1761–1820), when Malay pirates built a base here and subsequently became a danger to traders in Gia Định city, the king sent his army to crack down on the pirates. The pirates were ousted and the troops were given the land as a reward. 10 February 1859 marked the first use of cannons by Nguyễn's army, when they fired at French battleships from the fortress of Phước Thắng, located 100m from Vũng Tàu's Front Beach. This marked an important period in Vietnam's war against French invaders in South Vietnam (then called Cochinchina).
In 1876, according to a decree by the French colonialists, Vũng Tàu was merged in Bà Rịa county per Saigon's administration. During the 1880s there talks about moving Saigon's port facilities to Vũng Tàu, but this came to nothing due to Saigon's better infrastructure.
On 1 May 1895, the governor of Cochinchina established by decree that Cap Saint Jacques would thereafter be an autonomous town. In 1898, Cap Saint Jacques was merged with Bà Rịa county once again, but re-divided in 1899. In 1901, the population of Vũng Tàu was 5,690, of which 2,000 persons were immigrants from North Vietnam. Most of the town's population made their living in the dancing industry. On 4 April 1905, Cap Saint Jacques was made an administrative district of Bà Rịa province. In 1929, Cap Saint Jacques became a province, and in 1934 became a city (commune). The French governor of Indochina, Paul Doumer (who later became President of France), built a mansion in Vũng Tàu that is still a prominent landmark.
During the Vietnam War, the 1st Australian Logistics Support Group was headquartered in Vũng Tàu – as were various United States military units at different times. Vũng Tàu also became popular for R&R, amongst in-country US, Australian and New Zealand personnel.
After the war, Vũng Tàu was a common launching place for the "Vietnamese boat people" fleeing the communists. On 30 May 1979, Vũng Tàu town was made the capital of Vũng Tàu-Côn Đảo Special Administrative Zone. On 12 August 1991, Bà Rịa–Vũng Tàu Province was officially founded and Vũng Tàu town officially became Vũng Tàu City.
Vũng Tàu is also notable for being the location where disgraced English glam rock singer Gary Glitter was arrested and convicted of molesting two underage girls at his villa and was sentenced to three years in Phuoc Co prison.
The city is located in the south of Vietnam, situated at the tip of a small peninsula. It has traditionally been a significant port, particularly during Vietnam's period of French rule. Today, the city's importance as a shipping port has diminished, but it still plays a significant role in Vietnam's offshore oil industry. Vũng Tàu is the only petroleum base of Vietnam where crude oil and natural gas exploitation activities dominate the city's economy and contribute principal income to Vietnam's budget and export volume. Vũng Tàu shipyard's reconstruction is scheduled to be completed in 2008, supplied with up-to-date anchor handling supply vessels of Aker.
PEB Steel operates several factories in Vũng Tàu, for constructing steel buildings to be erected around Asia.
Vũng Tàu has extensive beaches, including Back Beach (Bãi Sau) and Front Beach (Bãi Trước).
A big resort project has just been licensed by the Vietnamese government, the Saigon Atlantis. Upon completion, this entertainment project worth US$300 million in capital investment will include resorts, shopping, sailing. The investor of this project is proposing to raise the investment capital to USD $4 billion. Two other noteworthy entertainment projects awaiting licensing are Vũng Tàu Aquarium, which will cost USD 250 million, and Bàu Trũng, a Disneyland-like entertainment park which will cost US$250 million. The project includes Landmark Tower, an 88-story skyscraper proposed to be built and completed by 2010 in Vũng Tàu by a USA-based company, Good Choice Import – Export Investment Inc, once built will likely be the highest building in Vietnam. The project is under consideration for approval by the local provincial government.
In Vũng Tàu, one of the most widely celebrated holidays is Lễ hội Cá Ông (Whale Holiday). Festivals in the region include the Kite Festival and World Food Festival Culture Australian tourists come to Vũng Tàu in August to mark the anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan.
As in most provinces and cities in Vietnam, Buddhism is the predominant religion. Mahayana Buddhism, the dominant form of the religion in Vietnam, was brought to Ba Ria-Vũng Tàu by the Vietnamese settlers from the north at the beginning of the 17th century during the expansion of the Nguyễn lords. When they came bringing their original religion they built many Buddhist pagodas, temples and statues in the city. The Thích Ca Phật Đài and Niết Bàn Tịnh Xá temple, both Buddhist sites, draw pilgrims from around the country.
Before the area was settled by ethnic Vietnamese, the Khmer people practiced Theravada Buddhism. The area has some 14 Catholic wards with active services. A notable monument in the city is the Christ of Vũng Tàu, a large statue built by Vietnam's Catholic minority. It was completed in 1974, with the height of 32 metres and two outstretched arms spanning 18.4 metres. It is among the tallest statues of Christ in Asia.
There has been a Russian village in Vũng Tàu ever since the Soviet era; these Russians generally worked for the Russian-Vietnamese joint venture VietSovpetro. It is believed that these "Russians", or "citizens of the former Soviet Union", were once the most dominant group of foreigners in Vũng Tàu. Some have remained in Vũng Tàu after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. They formed a parish of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Being one of Vietnamese whale worship site, the Lang Ong Nam Hai Whale Temple hosts a skeleton of a whale, being respected in the name of Nam Hai General. Nam Hai General, a whale god is said to govern the ocean and protect people from evils, monsters, and disasters. Annual festival is held. See also Vietnamese folk religion.
From Hồ Chí Minh City, it takes about two hours to reach Vũng Tàu by road (51A Expressway), or one hour 30 minutes by hydrofoils, or one and half hour by car on freeway. ( The hydrofoils ships are a disaster now)
Vũng Tàu is twinned with:
A street in Baku is named after Vũng Tàu, while Vũng Tàu has a street named Baku. This commemorates the cooperation in petroleum extraction between Soviet Azerbaijani and Vietnamese specialists in Vũng Tàu in the 1980s.
Vũng Tàu is mentioned in "I Was Only Nineteen", the #1 single by Australian folk rock band Redgum about the Vietnam War from the 1983 album Caught in the Act. The 1979 Australian film The Odd Angry Shot contains a sequence in which the protagonists go on leave in Vũng Tàu. The Vũng Tàu sequence also shows US troops, taking R & R, being swindled.