Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) is considered to be a must-visit city in Southeast Asia because of its richness in history, culture, affordability, and a liveliness metropolitan. There is something for everyone. In our latest Vietnam local guide to the vibrant city’s attractions, we bring you the 11 free things to do in Saigon that ensure you will still be able to experience the local culture on your budget travel.
1. Explore Ben Thanh Market
First opened in 1912 and located in a prime location in the city center, Ben Thanh Market has emerged as one of the leading marketplaces with lots of goods trading from different regions of Vietnam. It also offers visitors a vast selection of branded items, knockoff brands, foods, and a glimpse into the local trades.
In many cases, the clock tower at the south gate of this market is considered an unofficial symbol of Saigon. Ben Thanh Market in District 1 is a great place to buy local handicrafts, Vietnamese art, ornaments, try the Vietnamese foods and refreshing coconut, and other souvenirs.
Tips and note:
-In a crowded place, keep your eyes on your valuables at all times and avoid keeping things in your back pockets
-Go with a local to help bargain if you would like to buy souvenirs
Location: Intersections of Le Loi, Ham Nghi, Tran Hung Dao, and Le Lai Street, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Opening time: 6 AM – 6 PM
2. Get Closer to Nature in Tao Dan Park
There are so many free things to do in Saigon, and if you are the person who looks for a fresh atmosphere, Tao Dan Park is the perfect place for you. Tao Dan Park has an abundant urban green space that covers 10 hectares of Saigon, and it is the home of over 1,000 prominent trees. Situated in the center of the city, this refreshing park provides much oxygen to the people in a congested city.
If you come to this park in the early morning or late afternoon, you can see more of the local lifestyle with people doing exercise, walking, and practicing yoga or tai chi together. Not to mention that there is a bird singing contest in the early morning, where locals bring their pet birds in cages to meet up and enjoy a cup of coffee; this is a fascinating part of Vietnamese culture.
In the park, there is a replica of Nha Trang’s Cham Tower and the Hung King Temple built to honor his contribution to developing the country in the past.
Tips and notes:
-You should not go to Tao Dan Park at late night
-Sit on the bench in the early morning, have some coffee and take a deep breath to relax your body and mind, and you will have a great starting day
Location: 55C Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Opening time: 5 AM – 8 PM
3. Walk Around Nguyen Hue Street
One of the main Saigon attractions you should not miss is the Nguyen Hue Walking Street. After opening on Ho Chi Minh’s birthday, it has become an ideal attraction not only for Saigonese but also for tourists far and near.
Nguyen Hue walking street is a desired place for hosting significant events of the city, such as parades, concerts, street festivals, and the annual flower displays on the Tet holiday. Besides, this walking street is a social gathering place for the young generation on the weekend and evening. When you visit Nguyen Hue, one of the free things to do is join in the water fountain fun with the local kids trying to get some cooling from the tropical heat. Occasionally, there is live acoustic music and dance entertainment put on by street performers. At night, all of the lights light up making Saigon very lively and busy.
Tips and notes:
-Come on the evening weekends if you want to watch water music performances
-Be aware of your belongings in crowded areas
Location: Nguyen Hue Street, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Opening time: 5 AM – 12 AM
4. Visit Thien Hau Temple
The Chinese built Thien Hau Temple in the early 19th century, and this beautiful Saigon Pagoda is also known as Chua Ba to the locals. It was named after one of the famous sea Goddesses who protected the voyagers when they crossed the ocean to reach Vietnam. The temple is located on the busy Nguyen Trai Street, and you can access it by entering the iron gate and passing a small yard.
Inside it, you can see the ceremonial displays of spiral incense hanging on the ceilings and majestic interior ceramic decorations on the roofs and walls. When a religious event is happening, Thien Hau Temple is always flooded with visitors coming there to pray for their families, particularly on the Lunar New Year. This free attraction in Saigon is not only a valuable work of history, architecture, and sculpture but also a significant religious site for the Chinese and Vietnamese communities.
Tips and notes:
-Keep noises to a minimal
-Be careful with the porcelain dioramas
Location: 710 Nguyen Trai Street, Cho Lon, District 5, Ho Chi Minh City
Opening time: 8 AM – 4:30 PM
5. Stroll Through the Book Street
If you are a book-lover and you like strolling through bookshops on a short street, we recommend you to visit one of the new free attractions in Saigon at Nguyen Van Binh Book Street. They sell Vietnamese and foreign language books, new and second hand, though they don’t come with a vast selection.
Located on the opposite of the Notre Dame Cathedral and adjacent to the Central Post Office, the Book Street now has over 20 shops selling lots of domestic and international books with different genres ranging from songbooks to classic Vietnamese. On this fancy new pedestrian book street, locals sometimes host live music performances and authors come and talk about their books.
Fancy stopping by a reading station, browsing through your favorite books, and enjoying a cup of coffee? Take part of these free things to do in Saigon.
Tips and notes:
-Choose a shaded place in the center where you can enjoy some quietness, away from the traffic
-Be aware of pickpockets
Location: Nguyen Van Binh Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Opening time: 8 AM – 8 PM
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6. Join in the Nightlife Scenes at Bui Vien Walking Street
Bui Vien Walking Street, as known as “Pho Tay,” is a street located in the backpacker’s area of Pham Ngu Lao, De Tham, Cong Quynh, and Do Quang Dau streets in District 1, Ho Chi Minh city.
From July 2017, the city officially turned this place into a walking street for travelers to safely walk around and join in the liveliness of the city scenes full of bars, restaurants, mini-marts, street food vendors, and cheap beers. Some places open late until past midnight. Join in the fun and take a stroll with other locals and travelers at Bui Vien’s exciting night scene in the evening.
Tips and notes:
-The night scenes start from 7 PM, and it’s much more crowded on the weekends and holidays
-Be mindful of your belongings
Location: Bui Vien Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Vehicles are prohibited from 7 PM – 2 AM (Saturday and Sunday only)
7. See Saigon’s Overview at Thu Thiem Tunnel Park
A visit to the secluded Thu Thiem Tunnel Park is a place to see the city across from the Saigon River. Located on the roof of the Thu Thiem underground tunnel connecting District 1 and District 2, this is one of those free things to do in Saigon not many people know of, and it isn’t easy to find. From here, you can take in some fresh air with a splendid river and a panoramic city view of Saigon’s significant buildings. At night, this place becomes a romantic dating spot for young locals to gather and look at the city’s nightlights from afar.
Tip: it’s best to come in the late afternoon to watch the sunset or with a local
Location: on the roof of the Thu Thiem tunnel, District 2, Ho Chi Minh City
8. Join a Free Walking Tour
One of the best ways to see the city is with the locals. There are university student groups in Saigon that offer free walking tours to tourists in exchange for the students to practice English and get international exposure. It’s a great way to meet people and get their advice.
There are also tour guides passionate about sharing the city who do freelance tours. They work on tips alone, and you’re not obligated to pay unless you think the trip was worth it at the end. As one of the free things to do, the schedules fill up fast, so you should plan ahead.
9. Admire the 19th Century Architectures at the Central Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral
The French built both the Central Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral in the 1800s. These two main attractions are free to visit in Saigon, and they are just adjacent to each other. Built in 1880, the Notre Dame Cathedral is currently under renovation so only outside visit. At the post office, a favorite thing to do for travelers is to send a postcard home.
Location: Cong Xa Paris Street, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Opening time: 7 AM – 6 PM
10. Enjoy a Free Concert at the Saigon Opera House
Early Sunday mornings at the front steps of the Saigon Opera House, you will have an opportunity to enjoy a free concert ringing in the heart of the city.
Location: Municipal Theatre, 7 Lam Son Square, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Time: 8 AM – 10 AM
11. Discover the Local Trades at Binh Tay Market (Cho Lon)
Binh Tay Market, known as “Cho Lon,” is the most prominent wholesale market in Saigon. Binh Tay Market was built in 1928 by a Chinese businessman. It just currently closed for renovation in 2017 in Chinatown, but temporary booths of over 1,000 shops are set up near Thap Muoi Street. This busy local market in District 6 is where visitors can come to witness the local trades.
Location: 57A Thap Muoi Street, Ward 2, District 6, Ho Chi Minh City
Summary of the 11 Free Things to Do in Saigon
Saigon is a busy city with many things to do, and this guide introduces you to the free things to do. From historical sights to parks and local markets, visiting these attractions can give you a glimpse of the local lifestyle and customs. To check out other attractions in the city, read more about the 3-day customized itinerary in our Saigon Travel Guide or places to visit and things to do in Ho Chi Minh City.
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