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 travellers, 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 travellers 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 Stroll 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 practising 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 centre of the lake.
Location: Hanoi Old Quarter
2. Visit Hanoi’s Morning And Night Markets
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 as early as 06:00. The most popular markets are conveniently set within prominent districts such as Hoan Kiem and Tay Ho, making them easily accessible on foot, cyclos, and taxis. Our favourite local market in Hanoi is the Hanoi Weekend Night Market, due to its endless rows of food vendors offering exotic Vietnamese street food. During special occasions such as Mid-Autumn Festival, you can also catch traditional Vietnamese music performances.
Opening Hours: Friday – Sunday 20:00 – 23:00
Location: Hang Dao Street, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
3. Visit Ho Chi Minh’s Preserved Remains At Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
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 modelled 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.
Opening Hours: Tuesday – Thursday 07:30 – 10:30, Saturday & Sunday 07:30 – 11:00
Address: 8 Hung Vuong, Dien Bien, Ba Dinh, Hanoi
4. Join A Free Walking Tour
Free walking tours in Hanoi are a great way of getting to know the history of prominent tourist spots in the eyes of a local. Organised by NGOs and universities, most tours take place from 08:30 until 14:00, and are led by students who can speak relatively fluent English. Depending on the itinerary you choose, stops include the Old and French Quarters of Hanoi, Museum of Ethnology, Bat Trang Handicraft Village, Temple of Literature, and West Lake. Although its main goal is to help these students to improve on 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.
Location: Hanoi Old Quarter
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 fireworks display. Prominent temples in Hanoi include The Perfume Pagoda, Cau Dong Pagoda, Ngoc Son Temple, and Bach Ma Temple.
Location: Hanoi Old Quarter
7. Cross The Red River Via A Historic Cantilever Bridge
Long Bien Bridge, built in the 1898 by French colonists, is a pedestrian-friendly steel bridge spanning the Red River in Hoan Kiem District. Despite having survived two wars with the French and American, the bridge’s original foundations remain relatively intact, making a popular spot for photography. There’s nothing much to do while you’re here (other than crossing it, of course), but it offers a quiet escape from central Hanoi’s hectic traffic and congested walking lanes. Location: Cau Long Bien, Phuc Tan, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Location: Cau Long Bien, Phuc Tan, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
8. Take A Daytrip 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.
Location: Tay Ho, Hanoi
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 neighbourhoods. Set in the centre 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 neighbourhood or watch people go about their daily lives at a café next to the lake.
Location: Hoang Hoa Tham, Ngoc Ha, Ba Dinh, Hanoi
10. End The Day With A USD0.50 Beer In Hand
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.
Opening Hours: Daily 11:00 – Late
Location: Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen Streets, Hanoi Old Quarter