One of the greatest things about Vietnam is it’s easy on the wallet. Vietnam is a great country to visit as a budget traveler because there are so many cool things to do that can be enjoyed for absolutely free! This is certainly true for Hanoi, a city that can be fully appreciated at no extra cost other than just getting yourself there!
Read on to find out the 5 best free things to do while visiting Hanoi:
1. Hit the streets with Hanoi Free Walking Tours
This should be the first thing you do in Hanoi for several reasons. One, it’s a great introduction to the city with a local guide sharing all sorts of interesting history and points of interest. And two, it’s a great way to get your bearings and to understand the basic layout of the city. These tours were started by a group of university students in 2012 who wanted to share their city’s incredible history and attractions to tourists visiting from all over the world.
It shouldn’t be hard to find a starting point for one of these tours. The best bet is to check at your hostel/hotel reception as they may have tours leaving right from their premises. Stops along the way likely include a wander round the Old Quarter, Bat Trang Handicraft Village, Temple of Literature, Ho Chi Minh Complex, and Hoàn Kiếm Lake.
* Remember, your guide is a volunteer university student – feel free to tip afterwards if you had a great experience.
2. Spend a tranquil morning strolling around Hoan Kiem Lake
You will likely see the city’s iconic lakeside park during a free walking tour, however it deserves more than just a quick introduction.
Even though it’s located in the middle of the city with busy roads all around it, Hoàn Kiếm Lake exudes a peacefulness that locals and tourists can both appreciate. It’s a lovely place to escape the madness and heat of the city. Spend a few hours relaxing in the shade of the many trees, admiring the various points of interests, and people watching. If you visit in the morning you may get to see the elderly practicing Tai Chi and line dancing!
The focal point of the lake is the Ngoc Son Temple, a small pagoda that sits on Jade Island, a small piece of land in the middle of the lake. The wooden, cherry-red Huc Bridge, which is a charming sight in itself, offers access to the pagoda for less than $1.
3. Get lost in the buzzing local markets
You may literally get lost – Hanoi’s street markets are huge, busy places with a structure that makes no sense to first-time tourists. The best plan is to just meander around somewhat aimlessly and go with the flow!
The morning markets mostly consist of locals selling fresh produce, seafood, and dried goods. This is a great place to sample some of the local fruits and snacks! Usually these markets wrap up by mid to late-morning. Night markets are a little bit different. While they also offer food, there’s also usually many stalls selling handicrafts and quality local textiles.
The Hanoi Weekend Night Market is a must if you’re in the city on a Saturday or Sunday. Conveniently located in the Old Quarter, this massive market offers endless shopping, super cheap street eats, and live musical performances. Dong Xuan is Hanoi’s largest indoor market, also located in the far corner of the Old Quarter. It’s a four-story market boasting wholesale prices on everything from seafood, meat, clothing, fabrics, luggage – you name it. You can find nearly anything here.
If you want to keep it free, then browsing is perfectly acceptable. However, these markets are a super place to shop for souvenirs and any sort of authentic memorabilia you may want to take home. Get your bargaining shoes on!
4. Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Completed in 1975, this site of the renowned leader’s preserved remains is one of the most visited sites in all of Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh (or Uncle Ho, as the people came to call him) was an important part of the country’s history and one of its most revered political figures. As the revolutionary leader of Northern Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh is a symbol of Vietnam’s struggle for unification. Within the monument, Ho Chi Minh’s carefully embalmed body is displayed in a glass casket.
It’s important to be respectful when visiting the Mausoleum. There are a few rules visitors should be aware of: no cameras, no talking/laughing, and no inappropriate dress. It’s also important to note than his remains are sent to Russia every year in October for around three months to undergo a special embalming process. Be sure to check if the Mausoleum is open before you go.
5. Discover Hanoi’s largest freshwater lake
In the Tay Ho District, West Lake is another body of water that deserves a visit while in Hanoi. Although the natural haven provides welcome relief from the city (just like Hoàn Kiếm Lake), there’s more to West Lake than just its lush greenery and botanical gardens.
Many posh restaurants, 5-star hotels, stylish cafes and shops, and many significant historical sites can be found around its 17-kilometer circumference. There are even floating restaurants and boats available for hire if you want to get out on the water. If you don’t want to spend any money, check out the 11th century Quan Thanh Temple. It’s a major (free) attraction in West Lake and is one of Vietnam’s Four Sacred Temples.
There are plenty of fun ways to discover Hanoi’s culture and history without spending a thing. Luckily, the city of Hanoi caters to budget travelers with many of its biggest and best attractions being free of charge. So, if you’re on a tight budget, don’t despair. Hanoi is about to become your wallet’s new best friend.