20 free things to do in Ho Chi Minh City: experience Saigon for nothing

Father and son on background Saigon Central Post Office on blue sky background in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. The inscription on the Vietnamese "post office"; Shutterstock ID 1036242475; your: Claire Naylor; gl: 65050; netsuite: Online ed; full: HCMC free update
From gazing at temple architecture to joining in with local activities, here are the top free things to do in Ho Chi Minh City © Elizaveta Galitckaia / Shutterstock

Bustling Ho Chi Minh City is one of Southeast Asia’s top value destinations, where you can gobble down a street-side bowl of pho for a couple of bucks.

For those traveling on an even tighter budget, there are plenty of free things to do too. From lively street performers to a family-friendly mini waterpark, these top free activities will keep you busy in HCMC.

Admire the interior of the Central Post Office

With a neo-Baroque facade and a science-themed interior, the functioning Central Post Office dates back to the late 1800s. Check out the vintage maps painted on the concourse walls and the impressive tiled floor.

Enjoy the views over Ben Thanh Market

Opened just before WWI, Ben Thanh Market, in one of the city's liveliest neighborhoods, pretty much sells anything you could ever want. Brave the gauntlet of sellers and make your way through the market’s narrow aisles to a hidden staircase near the South Gate. Take it up to a small temple where vendors pray for a good day’s business and enjoy the views over the market.


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A large building exterior at night. Each balcony is lit up in neon
Stop by #42 on Nguyen Hue for Ho Chi Minh's coolest boutiques and cafes © Gunter Nuyts / Shutterstock

Take an evening stroll along Nguyen Hue Walking Street

This pedestrian-only street gets busy on weekend evenings with street performers and families out for a walk. Don’t miss exploring the apartment building at #42, an Instagram hot spot, chock full of boutiques and trendy cafes.

Go on a free student-led walking tour

While hardly anyone walks anywhere in humid Ho Chi Minh City, the free walking tours at Saigon Free Day Tours is run by enthusiastic university students. It's a great way to see the city up close.

Splash about at Vivo Playground

The kids will enjoy cooling off from the heat with a romp through the mini waterpark at the Vivo Playground atop the SC VivoCity Mall just south of downtown.

A woman stands facing a huge red-brick cathedral building with two twin towers
Ho Chin Minh's Notre Dame Cathedral was built between 1877 and 1883 © noina / Shutterstock

Gaze up at the spires of Notre Dame Cathedral

Modeled after its Parisian namesake, the Romanesque Notre Dame Cathedral is a red-brick, neo-Romanesque church with twin bell towers and spires that reach 60m (197ft) into the sky. Inside, you can admire its stained-glass windows and walls inlaid with devotional tablets.  

Take photos at Ho Thi Ky Flower Market

Saigon’s largest flower market (52 Ho Thi Ky, District 10) is open 24/7, peaking in the early morning hours. It's a favorite backdrop for colorful photographs.

People in prayer at Cao Dai Temple, Ho Chi Minh City
Admire the colorful interior of Cao Dai Temple © emma muir / Lonely Planet

Visit Cao Dai Temple

Adherents of Caodaism, a religion founded in Vietnam incorporating elements from Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and Christianity, come to worship at the colorful three-story Cao Dai Temple. Head up the stairs (then to the left for women, right for men) to view the main hall.

Play shuttlecock at September 23 Park

Join one of the many groups kicking around a shuttlecock at this park just along the main backpacker area of Pham Ngu Lao. This popular Vietnamese pastime, called đá câu, is like badminton for the feet, but keeping the mass of plastic discs and feathers in the air is deceptively hard.

Courtyard in front of the entrance to the Ton Duc Thang Museum
 Ton Duc Thang Museum © James Pham / Lonely Planet

Learn about Ho Chi Minh's successor at Ton Duc Thang Museum

Celebrating the life of Vietnam’s first president after reunification, the Ton Duc Thang Museum provides interesting insights into Vietnam in the 1960s and '70s.

Meet English-speaking locals with Mundo Lingo

Mundo Lingo is a great way to meet English-speaking locals and other social polyglots. While weekly meetups are typically held at a local bar, there’s no obligation to buy a drink. Just slap on stickers of flags representing the languages you speak and get chatting!

A golden Buddha statue inside the colourful Chantaransey Pagoda, Ho Chi Minh City
The walls and ceilings of Chantaransey Pagoda are covered in murals © James Pham / Lonely Planet

See murals of the Buddha's life at Chantarangsay Pagoda

Serving HCMC’s Khmer community, the Chantarangsay Pagoda's main shrine has 14 Buddha statues with vivid colorful paintings of scenes from the life of the Buddha painted all over the ceiling and walls.

Look for shophouse outlines on Dong Khoi Street

Great for window shopping, Dong Khoi is Saigon’s premier shopping street full of international and Vietnamese boutiques. If you look hard enough, you’ll be able to see the outlines of the shophouses that once lined this canal leading to the Saigon River. For some free air-conditioning, head through the art arcade and up the stairs to the right to Couleurs d’Asie to view some fine-art photography depicting Vietnam’s ethnic minority groups by French photographer Réhahn.

Scooter traffic passes the Binh Tay Market in Ho Chi Minh City
Look at the Chinese-inspired architecture of Binh Tay Market © Richie Chan / Shutterstock

Take a wander through Binh Tay Market

The Binh Tay Market just outside of Chinatown is the city’s largest wholesale market, with a great clock tower and a central courtyard with gardens. It’s also noted for its Chinese-inspired architectural elements, including dragons and phoenixes on the roof.

Listen to birdsong at Tao Dan Park

Known as the Jardin de la Ville when it was founded in 1868, the 10-hectare Tao Dan Park right in the middle of the city is home to a temple, flower garden and sculpture exhibition. Song-bird lovers also congregate in the early mornings where their feathered friends can learn new songs from each other.

Green rice fields, with buildings in the background on the island of Thanh Da, Ho Chi Minh City
Take a peaceful stroll through Thanh Da © James Pham / Lonely Planet

Enjoy the green space of Thanh Da

Stroll the narrow paths on this lightly developed peninsula known as "the green lung of Saigon" for its rice paddies and fishing ponds just 15 minutes from downtown. Binh Quoi Tourist Village at the very end of the main street of Binh Quoi is set up to resemble a typical village in the Mekong Delta.

Learn about heroic Vietnamese women at the Southern Women’s Museum

See how the ao dai, Vietnam’s national costume, evolved through the years along with scenes of typical country life and other events highlighting the accomplishments of women in the charming Southern Women’s Museum.

Ornate facade of the Thien Hau Temple, with Chinese lanterns strung in front, Ho Chi Minh City
The Chinese-style Thien Hau Temple dates from 1760 © Saigoneer / Shutterstock

Pay homage to the Chinese goddess of the sea at Thien Hau Pagoda

The colorful Thien Hau Pagoda constructed in 1760 by seafaring Chinese immigrants is dedicated to the goddess of the sea. The gorgeous roof with its intricate ceramic dioramas and giant suspended incense coils add to the mysterious atmosphere.

Be dazzled by the colorful nighttime displays on Starlight Bridge

Join couples and families looking for a colorful spot for photos at the pedestrian Starlight Bridge, just behind posh Crescent Mall in the expat enclave known as District 7. From Thursday to Sunday evenings, the bridge spouts water lit up by a rainbow of LED lights.

Listen to a free performance outside Saigon Opera House

While the only way to see the inside of the Saigon Opera House (inaugurated in 1900) is to buy a ticket to a performance, come at 8am on a Sunday to catch a free live musical performance on the steps. Arrive early and snag one of the few plastic chairs, or do as the locals do and catch the hour-long performance from the seat of your motorbike.

Cyclo your way through Ho Chi Minh City
This article was first published on July 2, 2019 and updated on March 23, 2022

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