These free things to do in Hanoi can make even the tightest of budgets stretch. Vietnam’s capital city is a popular holiday destination amongst backpackers and budget-conscious travelers, thanks to its affordability in terms of currency, food, travel, and sightseeing opportunities. Tucked down the narrow winding alleys of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, you’ll find that many temples and museums are free to enter, but donations are highly welcomed.
Exploring on foot is also the best way of getting around Hanoi, where travelers can stumble across hidden alleyways filled with shops selling antiques, handicrafts, and paintings. Meanwhile, roadside vendors offer fresh juices and authentic Vietnamese street food such as banh mi, pho, and spring rolls at attractive prices – perfect for snacking on the go. From bargaining for souvenirs at a morning market to visiting the preserved remains of Vietnam’s leader, read on for our guide on the best free attractions and activities in Hanoi.
1. Enjoy a morning walk around Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake (Turtle Lake) is a central feature of Hanoi and is a popular hangout spot throughout the day with locals and tourists. In the early morning and late evening, this area becomes especially busy with joggers, couples enjoying the relaxing views across the lake, and the elderly practicing Tai Chi and line dancing.
Hoan Kiem Lake is free of charge, but there’s a fee of VND 20,000 to visit Ngoc Son Temple, which sits on a small island in the center of the lake.
2. Visit Hanoi Night Market
Opening Hours: Friday - Sunday; 20.00 pm - 23.00 pm
Address: Hang Dao Street, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Visiting markets in Hanoi is a great way to experience the local culture, where you can find hundreds of stalls selling fresh produce, quality textiles, and household supplies.
Held every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, Hanoi Weekend Night Market is a busy, bustling gathering of roadside stalls and local food vendors that bring huge crowds of locals and tourists. It runs through the Old Quarter district from 19.00 pm onwards, starting from Hang Dao Street and running north to the edge of Dong Xuan Market.
Pedestrian streets and historical sites within the area are illuminated with decorative lights, making this a popular spot for traveling photographers. Shopping-wise, the fashion items on sale won’t turn much head as you will find the usual array of inexpensive t-shirts, handicrafts, accessories, shoes, sunglasses, and souvenirs at Hanoi Weekend Night Market. However, the overall environment is very lively and bargaining is a way of life here - a good start is to offer about 75 percent off the opening price.
3. Visit Ho Chi Minh’s Preserved Remains at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Opening Hours: Tuesday - Thursday 07.30 am - 10.30 am, Saturday & Sunday 07.30 am - 11.00 am
Address: 8 Hung Vuong, Dien Bien, Ba Dinh, Hanoi
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, located in Ba Dinh Square is one of the few attractions in Hanoi that doesn’t require an entrance fee. Arguably the most popular political figure in Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh is known to his people as ‘Uncle Ho’ and his body is preserved in a glass case at the mausoleum (albeit against his wishes). Started in 1973, it was modeled after Lenin's mausoleum in Russia. Do dress appropriately out of respect for Vietnam's departed leader and photography is not allowed at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
4. Join A Hanoi Walking Tour
Walking tours in Hanoi is a great way of getting to know the history of prominent tourist spots in the eyes of a local. Depending on the itinerary you choose, stops include the Old and French Quarters of Hanoi, Museum of Ethnology, Bat Trang Pottery Village, Temple of Literature, and West Lake. Although its main goal is to help these students to improve their language and social skills, feel free to tip your guide after the end of your walking tour.
5. Check out Authentic Handicrafts at Old Quarter
The narrow alleyways of Hanoi Old Quarter lined with humble-looking shops selling authentic handicrafts such as paper lanterns, paintings, wood and stone carvings, silk, and paintings by local artists. Even if you’re not planning on buying anything, perusing these one-of-a-kind items is still an enjoyable experience in Hanoi. The Old Quarter is also a good place to see locals going about their daily lives, while unique street foods are sold by vendors at attractive prices.
6. Explore Buddhist Temples
Buddhist temples are scattered throughout Hanoi, most of which don’t require an entry fee. Open daily, these shrines are relatively quiet on most days, but during annual festivities such as Tet, Mid-Autumn Festival and Buddha’s Birthday, you’ll get to enjoy a vibrant atmosphere of prayer ceremonies, traditional music, and dance performances, as well as the fireworks display. Prominent temples in Hanoi include The Perfume Pagoda, Cau Dong Pagoda, Ngoc Son Temple, and Bach Ma Temple.
7. Cross The Red River Via A Historic Cantilever Bridge
It is a symbol of architecture, history, and culture of the Vietnamese for a long time ago. Designed by Gustave Eiffel - a French architecture, Long Bien Bridge was built during 1989-1982 to serve for the first colonial exploitation of France in Vietnam. This bridge is made of steel with 1650 meters in length which became the largest bridge in Indo-Chinese at that time.
This bridge crosses over the Red River that French used it as the main path of transporting materials from Vietnam to China. After that, it turned into a traveling attraction because it has an overwhelmingly magnificent beauty. In the past time, Long Bien Bridge is a favorite destination of French to wander. Nowadays, Vietnamese often visit the Long Bien Bridge because of its historical values but also its incredible landscapes. It is really an ideal site to take photos, especially in the morning and in the afternoon.
Apart from the noisy life in Hanoi, Long Bien Bridge always gives visitors a feeling of peace and experience because of its impressive beauty of nature around Red River, lively daily activities of local people and mouthwatering street foods.
8. Take a day trip to Hanoi West Lake
Hanoi’s largest freshwater lake, West Lake has a circumference of 17km and houses many of the city’s historic places of interest around its perimeter – including Vietnam’s oldest pagoda and one of Vietnam’s four sacred temples. The lake attracts many locals and tourists seeking respite from the busy city, providing a sanctuary of great natural beauty with plenty of quiet spots in the sizeable lush gardens surrounding the lake. Notable points of interest at West Lake include Tran Quoc Pagoda which was built in the 6th century making it Vietnam’s oldest temple.
9. Visit a B-52 Bomber Wreckage
Offering a bleak reminder of the Vietnam War, the wreckage of a US B-52 bomber can be found in the middle of one of Hanoi’s residential neighborhoods. Set in the center of Huu Tiep Lake in Ba Dinh District, it was shot down during a bombing raid in December 1972 and is highly regarded as a war trophy amongst the Vietnamese. Huu Tiep Lake is a twenty-minute walk from the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. After visiting the B-52 bomber wreckage, you can enjoy a leisurely stroll through the quiet neighborhood or watch people go about their daily lives at a café next to the lake.
10. End of The Day With Beer in Hanoi Old Quarter
A must-visit for any first-time visitor to Hanoi, Bia Hoi Junction is widely regarded as the quintessential nightlife spot in Hanoi. Open throughout the day and late into the night, the ever-bustling beer haven is located at the corner of Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen streets in the Hanoi Old Quarter, where you can see hundreds of people sitting on plastic stools with a pint of bia hoi in hand. Available at numerous makeshift bars within Bia Hoi Junction, bia hoi is incredibly cheap where you can enjoy a tall glass between VND 5,000 and VND 8,000.