Although Hanoi is not as outstanding as Ho Chi Minh City in terms of entertainment, the city still offers a wide range of activities for tourists and most of which don't even cost you a thing. Here are the top free things to do in Hanoi to explore the most worth-visiting city of Vietnam!
Hanoi Old Quarter is located near Hoan Kiem Lake, which is the heart of Hanoi. Therefore, there is no doubt that it is always crowded with tourists and merchants from all different provinces, creating distinctively riotous energy. Hanoi Old Quarter is known to be the place that represents both traditional traits and modern features of the city. Tourists are advised to visit this place in the evenings to have a complete experience. On weekends, the Walking Street is opened free to all people so you can walk along Hoan Kiem Lake and enjoy your night in Hanoi Old Quarter with some activities such as tasting Hanoi specialties, watching live performances or just wandering to explore every corner of the area.
Hanoi Old Quarter is one of the most attractive destinations
On weekends, the walking street is always busy with tourists and street performers
- Since Hanoi Old Quarter is mostly crowded, tourists should pay close attention to your belongings.
Check out more Tips to Avoid Annoying Scams in Vietnam.
West Lake is the biggest freshwater lake in Hanoi and is surrounded by a long row of green trees and numerous villas. Since it is an isolated part of the city center, West Lake has a peaceful and relaxing vibe, compared to the bustling atmosphere around Hoan Kiem Lake. One of the most favorite free things to do in Hanoi is taking exercises along the shore of West Lake, which is a habit of many Hanoians. Jogging around the lake is a golden chance to start the day and rejuvenate like a true Hanoian.
West Lake is rather a place to chill out than a place to entertain
Taking exercises along West Lake is familiar in Hanoians’ lifestyles
- It is suggestible that you should try this experience either in early mornings or when the sun is setting to avoid peak traffic hours and enjoy the fresh air.
- Because West Lake is genuinely big, you should bring along a bottle of water to stay hydrated on your walk.
President Ho Chi Minh is an outstanding leader who led Vietnam to independence and inspired millions of people from colonial countries to fight for freedom. This is the reason why visiting President Ho Chi Minh’s final resting place is an unforgettable experience. A visit to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is not only solemn but also historically and spiritually valuable.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a place that every Vietnamese have been to at least once
Thousands of people coming from many places to visit President Ho Chi Minh’s remains in a day
Location: 2 Hung Vuong, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi
- The security here is tight, so you should wear formal clothes (no shorts, sleeveless shirts or skirts) and no photos are allowed inside the mausoleum.
- Keep silent and patiently stay in your line since there will be a lot of people queueing to visit Ho Chi Minh’s preserved remains.
- You should check with your hotel/tour if the mausoleum is being closed for maintenance before going.
See our full guide to visiting Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum
Saint Joseph Cathedral is one of the most nostalgic and beautiful churches in Vietnam. This is where most major religious activities take place and is a popular spot among pilgrims. Its extraordinary architect is based on the Gothic Revival theme, resembling Notre Dame de Paris. With its history and unique architect, Saint Joseph Cathedral attracts a lot of Hanoians and tourists to visit. Notably, many couples choose this church as the location to take their wedding photos.
Saint Joseph Cathedral has a French colonial-style architecture
Many couples have their wedding photography taken here
- If you go to Hanoi in the winter days, remember to come to Saint Joseph Cathedral and take some photos in front of the decorated Christmas tree and captivating lighting.
Location: 40 Nha Chung, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
Monday - Saturday: 8 AM - 11 AM/ 2 PM - 8 PM
Sunday: 7 AM - 11:30 AM/ 3 PM - 9 PM
Vietnam is known to be a Buddhism country which is why there are a variety of pagodas and temples located all around the country, and Hanoi is not an exception. Through visiting these Buddhism attractions, visitors can gain a profound understanding of the local spiritual life.
Some famous and recommended destinations include One Pillar Pagoda, Tran Quoc Pagoda, Ngoc Son Temple, Tay Ho Temple, etc. On a daily basis, these Buddhism spots are quiet and tranquil, but at Tet, or on the 1st and 15th every month (according to the lunar calendar), there will be many Hanoians and pilgrims come to wish for health and luck.
One Pillar Pagoda is very popular for its unique architecture
In Tet holidays, many people visit pagodas for good fortune
- Try to keep silent as much as you can.
- Wear appropriate clothes (no shorts, sleeveless shirts or skirts).
- Try not to be too curious and point at the statues.
- Ask the pagoda keepers first if you want to take photos.
Hanoi's Train Street is located in the middle of a valley, surrounded by tall yet old buildings, making it an irreplaceably exhilarant mark on your trip. Get your camera ready as this is one of the most beautiful spots in Hanoi for your photoshoot. The railways were built in the 20th century by the French, and the locals have accommodated themselves with the train street ever since.
The train street has a nostalgic vibe but also complemented with a hasty Hanoian lifestyle
Location: 224 Le Duan, Dong Da District, Hanoi
Operating hours: 3:30 PM & 7:30 PM
Tips: Besides being a sightseeing spot, this is also a legit railway with operational trains running through every now and then, so be careful and follow the local's instructions when a train is coming.
Dong Xuan Market is Hanoi’s biggest indoor market, and although it targets locals mainly, exploring this spot is also among top free things to do in Hanoi. The market is situated in a four-floor old building. Tourists can experience a typical wet market on the ground floor, where seafood, meats, and vegetables are sold. On the second floor, there are aisles fully packed with incredibly affordable clothes.
Dong Xuan Market is always in the top for the must-visit spots in Hanoi
- The best time to visit Dong Xuan market is in the early morning or late in the afternoon.
- Be careful with your belongings!
- Like every market in Vietnam, don't hesitate to bargain with the sellers.
Location: Dong Xuan, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
Opening hours: Daily 6 AM - 7 PM
Long Bien Bridge is one of the five bridges crossing Red River, which bears both historic and architectural value. Being built during the French occupation, it has been a symbol of the city’s courageous spirit. Both locals and tourists come here to view sunset or sunrise, take stunning photos of the river and learn about the city's past.
Read more on Best Places to Take Photos of Sunrise in Vietnam.
Long Bien Bridge is known as a spectacular feature of Hanoi’s proud past
Location: Ngoc Thuy, Long Bien District, Hanoi
We cannot finish our list for the top free things to do in Hanoi without suggesting a free walking tour. This does not only meet the demands for the price but also helps you to have better experiences with local professional guides. The passionate and hospitable tour guides will show you every aspect of the city and introduce you to the cultural beauty of Hanoi.
There are many types of free walking tours, from street food to historical sites. There is something for everyone so do not hesitate to reach out and choose your free tour.
You should always find a free walking tour when going to Hanoi
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Sometimes the best things are free, and the free things to do in Hanoi can exceed your expectations about the capital of Vietnam. Don't bother spending top dollar for the best authentic experience in Hanoi.
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© Written by Giang Le for itourvn.com