Traveling isn’t just for those with hefty savings. If you’re the type who is up for experience more than luxury, you can surely save a lot with many free things to do in Hanoi. Flying in a budget is quite a risky move, but if you plan your activities ahead, you’ll not end up empty-handed.
Aside from finding budget inns and cheap but delicious food, here’s some free stuff you can add to your to-do list while on the country’s capital.
1. Night Live Music on Hoan Kiem Lake Walking Street
Recently, Hanoi has decided to completely clear all traffic out Dinh Tien Hoang street by the Hoan Kiem Lake along with other streets in the Old Quarter from Friday night to Sunday night every week. It is a great news for both locals and visitors as everyone will be able to get some fresh air amidst the busy city of Hanoi.
The Hoan Kiem Lake’s Walking Street (Pho Di Bo) is now the ideal place for an early-morning jog or late night sports, along with some great entertainment around the lake. From Kpop cover dancing, on-demand karaoke, jazz / rock performances, you’ll always find something new on Hanoi’s most crowded walking street.
2. Practice your photography skills with the crazy traffic
Hanoi can sometimes be a mad world of heavy traffic and reckless drivers. Instead of losing your temper, you can head to a bar’s terrace to get a bird’s eye view and practice your photography prowess. It’s better to do the photo shoot when the sun is starting to set so you’ll get a dramatic lighting of the city.
Remember: Take only photos of the view and avoid stealing shots of private moments or people. Just so you’ll not get yourself in trouble.
3. Visiting a cave/Perfume Pagoda
Finding a Buddhist temple or pagoda to visit isn’t a hard task since it’s located all over Hanoi. You can head to One Pillar Pagoda, Ngoc Son Temple, or Bach Ma Temple. Most of these places are open every day for free.
Looking for free things to do in Hanoi with cave exploration plus religious visit? I suggest that you head to the Perfume Pagoda at Huong Tich Mountains. The pagoda has a massive entrance that’s comparable to that of a dragon’s mouth. Inside, you’ll find shrines and statues made from green stone as well as stalactites and stalagmites which visitors believe will bring good luck and miracles when touched. The best time to visit is from January to April when they celebrate the Chua Huong Festival.
4. Window shopping in night markets
If you’re staying in the Hoan Kiem District, the most accessible night market to go to is Dong Xuan. It’s the biggest indoor market in the city and has a four-storey building. The upper floors have the dried goods like fabrics, clothes, luggage, accessories, and other souvenir items. The place is open from 6 am to 7 pm where you can shop to your eyes’ content.
Another must-see night shopping place is the Weekend Night Market in Old Quarter. If you’re a first-timer, you shouldn’t miss the buzz of this place at night with its illuminating lights. There are also live cultural performances here so you don’t need to go to the Opera House to hear Vietnamese tunes.
5. Day and Night Tours in the city
Many student groups here offer free tours around the city to tourists like you. You just have to book in advance and some of them can pick you up from your hotel. You can try contacting Hanoi Free Walking Tours (FWT) and have a local student guide accompany you on the tour. Usually, they form groups of tourists so you can also make friends with them. Of all the free things to do in Hanoi, this one’s the most cost-saving.
Another group is the student-run Hanoi Free Tour guides that can offer either a walking or food tour. Don’t worry about the language barrier because they are really good with English and other foreign tongues like Japanese, French, Spanish, Russian, and more.
6. Morning strolls in Hoan Kiem Lake and West Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake is the go-to place for locals, expats, and tourists for their morning jog. The place can be flooded with people but it doesn’t run out of massive space for new visitors like you. If you don’t want to jog, you can just sit in one of the lakeside benches as you savor the view of the Tortoise Tower. Also, you shouldn’t forget to take a photo of the romantic red-painted bridge.
But if you happen to be in the more upscale West Lake, you can still do the same on Hanoi’s biggest lake. When you visit here, it’s irresistible not to drop by in the nearby pagodas or check upscale stores and lounges.
7. Making friends with locals
The best way to immortalize your Hanoi visit is to make new friends with Hanoians. Free tours with students are the best way to develop a bond with locals as well as chatting with someone in Hoan Kiem Lake. The older folks might not be good in English, but the youngsters will not disappoint you.
When someone stirred a conversation with you, be accommodating enough to listen to their selling offers like souvenirs, rooms, and any stuff tourist would need. Whether you buy or not, they’re happy just the same talking to you.Chatting and making friends with Hanoians are good ways to learn Vietnamese life and get some advice about your stay. Who knows, they might give you hands-on haggling lessons!
8. Checking handicrafts and art in Old Quarter
If you’re an artsy soul, checking handicrafts and art pieces in the maze-like streets of Old Quarter will satisfy a day’s tour. Free things to do in Hanoi include scouting paintings, ink drawings, carvings, and lanterns, in the numerous galleries and shops in the place. The best artists are in Hanoi so appreciate every piece very well because you won’t see this in other parts of Vietnam.
The Quarter is full of hidden treasures and if you’re adventurous enough to traverse the alleyways, you’ll discover unique-themed cafés and shops. The locals don’t actually fret if you’ll not buy, as long as you stay polite and appreciative, they’ll love your presence.
9. Nature-tripping in botanical gardens
The capital’s noise can be tiring and if you feel so, you can visit their botanical gardens scattered all over the city. You can take refuge in the Bach Thao Park near the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and fill your lungs with fresh air. Its name means “hundreds of plants” and for more than a hundred years serves as nature’s paradise for locals and tourists.
If you’re on the northwest side of the capital, you can visit the Hanoi Botanic Gardens considered as the green lungs of the city. There’s little change made in this park and you can find rare species of plants as well. You can also conduct plant research here.
10. Free tai-chi sessions at Hoan Kiem Lake
Tai chi is a form of martial arts that has a Chinese origin. Mostly it’s used for self-defense, but locals here in Hanoi also do it as their regular exercise. Take a jog in the Hoan Kiem Lake and you’ll see a bunch of folks doing movements with a resemblance to that of the Kung Fu Hustle movie. You can approach the locals and ask if you can join. They can teach you the routine and they can be your morning tai chi buddies for free.
Anyway, the downside here is those old folks might not be really good in English. Nevertheless, you can still spot a few youngsters in the group that can help you get in.
11. Learn basic Vietnamese phrases
Learning to say “Hi!, “Good morning”, “Thank you”, and “How much is this?” in different languages is a tourist’s staple when traveling. Although many locals can speak English, it pays to learn a few phrases whenever you’re traveling around.
You can ask the student guides to teach you a couple of Vietnamese words. Learning their language sends warmth to locals.
12. Selfie galore!
With all these beautiful spots and Instagram-worthy backgrounds, it’s a sin not to exploit your camera. If you feel like you want to take a selfie on every attraction you visit, do so! Photos are the freest souvenir you can give yourself on your stay in Hanoi.
As much as you’re free to take pictures around, remember to respect other people’s space.
Traveling shouldn’t be costly with all these free things to do in Hanoi. If you’re smart enough to make your way around, you can meet new friends and enjoy free things. The locals are really hospitable, and if you stay kind, they’ll give you nice treatment. So, what do you think of these free stuff? Send your thoughts in the comment section!
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