13 Oct Things to Do in Hanoi, Vietnam on a Budget
Vietnam’s capitol, Hanoi, is a bustling city with a lot to explore. Cost of living is fairly cheap so there are many things to do in Hanoi on a budget. Despite not loving big cities and traffic, we have really enjoyed our past two visits to Hanoi where we have expat friends who graciously host us and share Hanoi’s treasures with us.
Below is a map of things to do in Hanoi, including our favorite cafes and several other attractions or activities that we mention in the post:
Going to Hanoi? Take this article with you as your guide!
Upload the article for free to your phone with the GPSmyCity app.
You can also upgrade to get an offline GPS map that guides you to each location we mention.
Eat in Hanoi
Southeast Asia is known for tasty, affordable food, and Hanoi has plenty of good food to offer. Just about everything you can think of is available in Hanoi – from traditional Northern Vietnamese street food to Domino’s Pizza to sushi. Vietnamese meals, especially if it’s in an open-air shop, can be found for under $1 per person, meanwhile the “expat food” tends to come with an “expat price.” Below are just a few examples of what and where you can eat in Hanoi on a budget.
Phở is perhaps the most ubiquitous of Vietnamese dishes you’ll find in North America. Last year, we learned that there are several types of phở available in Hanoi – only one of which comes in a savory broth. One of our favorites is Phở Cuốn, a wrapped version which you dip in delicious fish sauce.
Where to get it: 111 Trúc Bạch, Ba Đình along the lake (see map above for photo)
Cost: 250,000 vnd for three dishes and four drinks for four adults (about $2.80 per person)
Bún chả features vermicelli rice noodles and pork meatballs, served with greens/herbs and a dipping sauce. President Obama recently had this classic Hanoi dish with Anthony Bourdain, so you can now follow his footsteps (although the restaurant where they ate has since hiked up the price). We got ours down the street from our friends’ house on Pháo Đài Láng.
France occupied Vietnam for over a century and despite the obvious downsides of colonialism, one of the blessings is a fusion of food cultures and a trail of bakeries across the country. You’ll find baguette sandwiches (bánh mì) everywhere as well as other delicious pastries. During our recent stay, we frequented a little bakery/stall on Pháo Đài Láng and tried several different things. We’re not sure what this one is called but it’s a very soft, fluffy white bread, coated in a sweet-savory sauce and topped with dried meat shavings. It might sound strange but it was delicious!
Where to get it: Towards the middle of Pháo Đài Láng on the north side of the street
Cost: 7,000 vnd (about 30 cents US)
This is fast food for breakfast, Hanoi street food style. Xôi xéo (sounds like “soy say-o”) is sold on street corners and in the markets first thing in the morning. Ingredients include sticky rice, turmeric powder, mung bean, fried shallot, and dried meat shavings – all wrapped up in a banana leaf and old newspaper. It’s tasty, filling, and once we discovered it, we had it for breakfast almost every day!
Cost: 10,000 vnd each (about 45 cents US)
If you’re looking for a special treat and a way to cool off, try a coconut ice cream. It’s literally ice cream inside a coconut (we’re still not clear if dairy milk is involved or just coconut milk) and, yes, there is ice cream inside as well as on top.
Where to get it: There are three shops next to each other on 36 Nguyễn Chí Thanh, Ngọc Khánh
Cost: 50,000 vnd (a bit of a splurge but still affordable at about $2.25)
No matter how much you love Vietnamese food, when you’re an expat living in Hanoi year-round, sometimes you just crave something different. We get it. While these restaurants are nowhere near as cheap as street food, you won’t pay any more than you would in the States.
Street Sushi still gives you a local vibe – this place is a car wash and parking lot by day, but every night they bring out their tiny tables and boat-shaped portable kitchen. Prices are about a third of your average sushi cost in the States, and it’s pretty tasty too!
Chez Xuan is great for fair-weather days with just enough trees and open space to make you forget you’re in the city. We joined a group of expat families there for a meal of tasty french-inspired flatbreads and specialty burgers, paying about $12 for our two lunches. Another expat favorite, with outdoor space for romping children, is the Moose & Roo Smokehouse. They serve high-quality burgers and “pub fare” in a unique, outdoor-covered-sports-bar set up.
Drink Coffee in Hanoi
Though we’re typically not big coffee drinkers, we are when we’re in Vietnam! There are so many amazing cafes and different coffee concoctions in this country. Cà phê sữa (coffee with sweetened condensed milk) is most typical and can be ordered hot or iced. Another specialty of Hanoi is the sweet, creamy egg coffee and Cong Cà phê’s delicious coconut icecream with coffee poured over. We wrote more about coffee and cafes in Hanoi in this post: 4 Cool Cafes and Coffee Treats in Hanoi, Vietnam.
For our slow-paced, budget travel style, we typically don’t visit a ton of big attractions. Instead, we focus on getting a feel for local life and find activities that are either free or provide a really great value.
When we landed in Hanoi for the very first time, our friends shared the brilliant practice of going on a silent walk for our first experience of the city. Rather than react and comment and take pictures of everything, we walked a 20 minute loop around the neighborhood and just took it all in. There is so much going on in every corner of Hanoi. Wherever you are, get out and explore the neighborhood. In our end of town, we recommend starting at Pháo Đài Láng, a bustling market street.
Hoàn Kiếm Lake and Old Town
Most visitors will probably end up staying around the Old Town/French Quarter area, and it’s where you’ll see the highest concentration of foreigners and souvenirs. You could easily spend a day exploring, starting at Hoàn Kiếm Lake and heading out to the various monuments, pagodas, temples, and government buildings of your choice.
Temple of Literature
The Temple of Literature is dedicated to Confucius and Vietnam’s finest scholars. A great example of traditional Vietnamese architecture, it was also the site of Vietnam’s first university, which back then was exclusive to Vietnamese nobility. Entrance is 10,000 vnd (less than 50 cents US).
Work out at a Lake
If you like to stay active while you travel, you’ll be in good company in Hanoi. Locals flock to the many lakes throughout the city at sunrise to walk, jog, join a dancercize class, do calisthenics, or play badminton. Peak work out times seem to be just after the sun comes up, which avoids the heat of the day. To learn more about the fitness culture in Hanoi and our travel work out routine, check out this post: Staying Fit in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Get a Massage
This was a first for both of us. When we heard about Omamori Spa, just a few blocks away from where we stayed in Hanoi, we had to give it a try. This spa is a part of BlinkLink, an organization that empowers Vietnamese blind people with the opportunity of high quality employment. A one-hour massage (Vietnamese whole body, back massage, or Swedish massage) is just 190,000 vnd – about $8.50 US.
While not a super fancy place, they do a good job setting the mood in the small space they have. You get a chance to shower off in private before the massage starts – which is smart for Hanoi’s hot, humid climate – and sip some green tea before and after. We both found this to be an extraordinary value for our money.
Getting Around in Hanoi
For a sense of the amazingness that is Hanoi traffic, we recommend taking a look at the entertaining video of our first experience crossing the street in Vietnam. You could certainly rent a moped or a bicycle for cheap, but make sure you’re up for the challenge of navigating busy streets first!
While it’s not hard to find a taxi in Hanoi, visitors with access to a smartphone and wifi or cell data may prefer Uber or Grab (a local partner of Lyft). This way, you can set your starting and ending point without having to worry about your destination getting lost in translation. And no money has to change hands because everything goes through the smartphone app. No fares have to be negotiated. A ride across town is usually just a few dollars.
The city bus is another great option for budget travelers, at just 7,000 vnd (about 30 cents) per ride. Google Maps can help you find the best route to your destination. Then, just hang out at the bus stop and watch for the bus with the right number on the front. Pay the fare-taker (not the driver) after you get on, and try to have exact change. We use cell data and Google Maps on our phone to track our location and make sure we get off at the right stop. For more info about getting around Hanoi, check out this TravelFish article.
Where to Stay in Hanoi
Try searching for a hotel or hostel by clicking on the images above (we will get a commission on your booking, at no additional cost to you). Or find a cool apartment to rent on Airbnb.com (sign up for a new Airbnb account with this link and for a limited time, you can get up to $35 off your first booking).
There are plenty more things to do in Hanoi, including dozens of tourist attractions that we haven’t covered. These are the things we’ve done, personally, and found to be worthwhile. If you have a recommendation of your own – or a question, please add it to the comments below.
Did you like this post? Pin it!
Get our best tips and resources for transformational travel
Subscribe now to get our free Checklist for International Travel, plus other exclusive content about how to travel more, save money, and enjoy transformational experiences around the world.