Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, is a popular destination for backpackers and tourists who are limited by budgets, thanks to the high exchange rate, tasty and healthy foods, various chances of traveling and sightseeing. Hidden in the tortuous alleys of Hanoi Old Quarter, many pagodas and museums are free of admission charges awaiting you to be discovered.
Strolling around is the best way to visit and enjoy street foods in Hanoi. Visitors can see the alleys having many antique shops that sell handicrafts and pictures. Besides, the street vendors sell fruit juice and Vietnamese traditional street foods such as bread, Pho, and spring roll at attractive rates – a proper snack to have while you are walking or moving. From haggling the souvenirs in wet markets to visiting Vietnam preserved historical relics, please read and follow our instructions about the best free activities and tourist attractions in Hanoi.
1. Enjoy a morning stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake (Turtle Lake/ Sword Lake) is a iconic sight of Hanoi and also a well-known entertainment spot for locals and travelers.
In early mornings and nights, this area becomes especially diverting with joggers, couples who enjoy sightseeing to relax, and senior people who practice Tai Chi with string dance. Hoan Kiem Lake is completely free of charge but some sightseeings around it are not. For example, the entrance fee of Ngoc Son temple, a small island that is the center of the lake, is 20,000 (Vietnam dong) (approximate $1)
+ Location: the Old Quarter, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
2. Visit morning and night markets in Hanoi
Hanoi’s market is where you can find hundreds of stalls selling fresh foods, quality textiles, and appliances from 6 am. The most popular markets are conveniently located in noticeable districts such as Hoan Kiem and Tay Ho, helping easily to walk, transport by cyclo and taxi. Our favorite local market in Hanoi is Weekend Night Market. What you notice here is a plethora of food suppliers that provide quirky Vietnamese street foods. On special occasions such as the Mid-Autumn Festival, you can also catch traditional Vietnamese cultural performances.
+ Opening hours: Friday – Sunday, from 19:00 to 23:00
+ Location, Hang Dao street,Dong Xuan Street, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi
3. Visit Preserved relic of Ho Chi Minh president – Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Located in Ba Dinh Square, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is one of a few attractions in Hanoi that does not charge an entrance fee. People believed that Ho Chi Minh president is the most popular politician in Vietnam, also called “Uncle Ho”.
His body has been preserved in a glass case at the mausoleum (although this against his wishes). Started in 1973, it was modeled after Lenin’s mausoleum in Russia. Please be noted that travelers should dress appropriately to show respect to the deceased Vietnamese leader and do not take photos at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
+ Opening hour: Tuesday – Thursday, from 07:30 to 10:30, Saturday and Sunday, from 07:30 to 11:00.
+ Location: 08 Hung Vuong, Dien Bien, Ba Dinh district, Hanoi
4. Join the free walking tour
Do you know that walking around Hanoi is a great way to discover the history of local attractions, even ones that are outstanding in the eyes of the locals?
Organized by non-governmental organizations and Universities, most tours take place from 08:30 to 14:00 and are led by English-speaking students. Depending on the itinerary that you choose, attractions might include the Hanoi Old Quarter, Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, Bat Trang pottery village market, Temple of literature, and West Lake. At first, the main goal of these tours is helping students to improve their language and society skills, feel free to tip your guides after the end of your tours.
+ Location: Hanoi
5. See real handicrafts in Hanoi Old Quarter
Hidden in the narrow alleys of Hanoi Old Quarter are small shops selling original handicrafts such as paper lanterns, pictures, wood and stone carvings, silk, and arts of local artists.
Even if you don’t intend to buy anything, a window shopping trip to these stores is still an interesting experience in Hanoi. The Old Quarter is also a proper place to see the daily life of local people while the street foods are sold by the vendors at attractive rates.
+ Location: Hanoi Old Quarter
6. Explore religious sites
Buddhist Temples are located scatteredly all over Hanoi, most of them do not require entrance fees. Opening everyday, these religious sites are where you can hide away from the noisy-hurry city into a heavily silent atmosphere.
On annual festivals such as the Lunar new year, Mid-Autumn Festival, and Buddha Day, these temples will be awakened into an exciting atmosphere of ceremonial prayers, traditional song and dance performances as well as fireworks shows. Must-visit pagodas in Hanoi are Perfume Pagoda, Cau Dong Pagoda, Ngoc Son Temple, and Bach Ma Temple.
+ Location: Hanoi Old Quarter
7. Cross through the Red River by a historic bridge
Long Bien Bridge, constructed by the French colonial empire in 1898, is a steel pedestrian bridge crossing the Red River in Hoan Kiem district.
After two wars with France and America, the substructure of this bridge remains relatively unharmed and has become a popular photography spot. It brings a quiet exit to escape through the crowded traffic of central Hanoi and congested lanes or just simply observe the harmony of the green islands of banana trees.
Location: Long Bien Bridge, Phuc Tan, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi
8. A day trip to Hanoi West Lake
West Lake is the largest fresh-water lake in Hanoi. Its circumference is 17 kilometers with many historical attractions around, including Vietnam’s oldest pagoda and one of four sacred pagodas in Vietnam, Tran Quoc Pagoda.
The Lake attracts a lot of local people and tourists seeking to relax time from hustling cities, and also provides a wonderful natural beauty of flourish gardens around the lake. Notable tourist attractions in West Lake are Tran Quoc Pagoda built in the 6th century, which is Vietnam’s oldest pagoda.
+ Location: Tay Ho district, Ha Noi
9. Visit B-52 crash sites
Like a reminder of Vietnam’s victory against the Americans, B-52 crash sites can be found in residential areas in Hanoi.
Situated in the center of Huu Tiep, Ba Dinh district, it takes about 20 minutes to walk from Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum to Huu Tiep Lake. The B-52 plane was shot down in a bombing raid in December 1972 and this success has been appreciated up to now. After seeing the B-52 crash sites, you can stroll through tranquil streets or look at the daily life of people in a coffee shop by the lake.
+ Location: Hoang Hoa Tham, Ngoc Ha, Ba Dinh district, Hanoi
10. Call it a day with a cold beer that costs 0.5 USD
It is said that Beer Old Quarter is a must-visit place for any first-time visitors when arriving in Hanoi. Known as a nightlife spot in Hanoi, the Beer Old Quarter is open during day and night time, the heaven of Beer always is easily found on Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen street in the Old Quarter. It is where you can sit on a stool, enjoy a pint of beer and watch the world go by. The merriment can go around with just 10,000 to 15,000 Vietnam dong per glass, which is about 0,5 USD
+ Opening hours: 11:00 every day – Late
+ Location: Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen Street, Hanoi Old Quarter.
10 Activities are (almost) free in Hanoi
Translator: Nguyen Dieu Linh