1-day Walking Tour – Ho Chi Minh City
Here’s the first in a series of my suggested routes for walking around Ho Chi Minh City; Vietnam’s largest and most populous city and capital of South Vietnam.
Immerse yourself in the bustling energy, vibrant culture, rich history, and extraordinary attractions of this crazy metropolis, formerly known as Saigon.
From the peaceful Tao Dan Park and historical Reunification Palace to the lively Ben Thanh Night Market, the variety of sights, sounds, tastes, and smells reveal a vivid portrait of Vietnamese daily life.
I’ve walked this route several times. Every time I do this walking tour, by myself or with visiting family and friends, Ho Chi Minh City continues to delight, amaze, and astound me. It is truly one of my favorite cities in the world.
This hand-curated walking tour of Ho Chi Minh’s District 1 will:
- Take you to some of the most popular sites around downtown HCMC,
- Give you an excellent introduction to the history of the city and
- Provide you with plenty of opportunities to soak up the unique mix of chaos and tranquility that is modern-day Saigon.
What You Will See on this Ho Chi Minh City Walking Tour
This self-guided walking tour around Ho Chi Minh City allows you the flexibility and freedom to soak in the spirit of this dynamic city and explore its most iconic sites at your own pace.
Highlights and recommended route for the walking tour are:
- Tao Dan Park
- War Remnants Museum
- Reunification Palace (Independence Palace
- Notre Dame Cathedral (Nhà thờ Đức Bà Sài Gòn
- Book Street
- Saigon Central Post Office
- Đong Khoi Street
- Ho Chi Minh City Hall (People’s Committee Building
- Ho Chi Minh City Municipal Theatre (Saigon Opera House.
- Nguyen Hue Walking Street
- Ben Thanh Market
Starting Your Journey: How Long Will this Walking Tour Take?
According to Google Maps, this Ho Chi Minh sightseeing tour covers approximately 4 to 5 kilometers (2.5 to 3 miles ), and the actual walking time is just over an hour. But that would be at a breakneck pace!
Choosing to visit any attractions, such as the Reunification Palace or the War Remnants Museum, is an option and will add a few hours to the tour.
Frequent breaks in the many cafes, restaurants, and parks are highly recommended. Taking a slower and more relaxed approach can transform your experience into an enjoyable, full-day exploration. You can even extend your walk into a leisurely evening discovery tour.
What Does This Ho Chi Minh City Walking Tour Cost?
The route described in this post is a Ho Chi Minh City FREE walking tour.
Of course, if you enter the Reunification Palace and War Remnants Museum, you’ll pay a small entry fee. And, if you want a tour guide, you’ll need to pay them.
The amount you spend on food, beverages, and souvenirs over the day is completely up to you. I’ve given a few of my favorite establishments in the descriptions – both budget and more upmarket.
What You Will Need For Your Ho Chi Minh City Walking Tour
I wrote a whole post with lots of travel tips and advice on comfort and security when walking around Ho Chi Minh City. But here are a couple of reminders.
Comfortable footwear is a must for any walking tour. The streets of Ho Chi Minh City can be uneven and broken. So it’s essential to wear walking shoes that provide good support, grip, and maybe even ankle support. (Says she who both slipped on killer Vietnamese floor tiles and broke her arm, and fell in a pothole, and sprained her ankle badly.)
You may also find yourself standing for extended periods, especially in the museum. So, ensure your shoes are well-cushioned and comfortable for a smooth, enjoyable walking adventure.
Weather-Specific Gear: Staying Prepared In Vietnam
When preparing for a walking tour in Ho Chi Minh City, consider the weather. Vietnam has a tropical climate and can be quite hot and humid, especially during the summer months. It’s essential to have lightweight, breathable clothing to stay comfortable during your walk. A hat and sunglasses can also help to protect you from the sun. Don’t forget to pack a poncho or umbrella, as sudden rain showers are common.
Protecting Your Belongings: Security Measures With Anti-Theft Bags
As you wander the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, keeping your belongings safe is critical. Using an anti-theft bag can help prevent pickpocketing or bag snatching, which can be a concern in crowded areas. These bags often come with slash-resistant material and secure zippers. Additionally, it’s a good idea to carry only essential items and leave expensive jewelry or unnecessary credit cards in your hotel safe.
Before you set off, please read my post on staying safe in Ho Chi Minh City.
Start Exploring Iconic Attractions in Downtown Ho Chi Minh City
You can easily explore District 1, the heart of downtown Ho Chi Minh City, on foot. It’s here you’ll not only find the city’s administrative center but also many of the city’s most iconic attractions.
1 Tao Dan Park
2 War Remnants Museum
3 Reunification Palace
4 Notre Dame Cathedral
5 Nguyen van Binh Book Street
6 Saigon Central Post Office
7 Dong Khoi Street
8 People's Committee Building
9 Ho Chi Minh City Municipal Theatre (Saigon Opera House)
10 Nguyen Hue Walking Street
11 Apartment Cafes
12 Rex Hotel
13 Ho Chi Minh Statue
14 Nguyen Hue Music Fountain
15 Ben Thanh Market
Tao Dan Park
I suggest you start your day early in the cool of the morning at one of the city’s many parks. If you’re staying in Districts 1 or 3, I recommend you take a stroll to Tao Dan Park. You’ll find it located between Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street to the north, Nguyen Du to the south, Cach Mang Thang Tam to the west, and Huyen Tran Cong Chi.
The park will come alive not long after sunrise and will be a hive of activity by 7 a.m.
Start at the southwestern corner where Bùi Thị Xuân runs into Cách Mạng Tháng 8 and work your way through to the northeast corner of Truong Dinh. If you stick to the right-hand side as you enter, you will find a Temple of the Hung Kings along the way.
Pick up a Vietnamese coffee from one of the street vendors along the way (for about 15,000 VND). Then enjoy the spectacle of Vietnamese locals exercising, socializing, and relaxing in the cool of the morning. If you’re lucky you’ll see groups practicing traditional fan dancing and martial arts.
Distance (~5-600 m depending on the path you take.)
War Remnants Museum
Next walk straight up Truong Dinh until you hit Vo Van Tan. Turn right, and walk until you see the War Remnants Museum on the corner of Vo Van Tan and Le Quy Don. (450 m)
Opened in 1975, this excellent museum exhibits relics and displays related to the American phase of the Vietnam War.
This museum is a must-see on a visit to Ho Chi Minh City. It will give you an insight into the tragedy of the war, and help you to understand the country’s resilience and growth since those turbulent times. It is quite graphic, and perhaps a little one-sided. But the victors always write the history books, so you wouldn’t expect anything else.
Depending on your nationality, you may feel more comfortable contemplating these exhibits in relative quiet rather than alongside a throng of other tourists. It opens every day at 7.30 a.m., so you can get in early to beat the crowds.
Entrance fee – 40,000 VND.
The Lovely 30/4 Park
Depending on what time you started out you may be getting pretty hungry by now. Or, you might just need to sit down and reflect on what you’ve just experienced.
Turn right out of the museum and walk a block down Vo Van Tan until you reach Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa and turn right. Walk straight until you run into a lovely shady park. (~650m)
30/4 Park is named after Vietnam’s Liberation Day, the 30th of April. It’s located between the Independence Palace and Notre Dame Cathedral, with great views of both. It’s a great place to take a seat in relative peace and quiet and people-watch. If you need some refreshments, there are usually a handful of coconut, soft drink, water, and ice cream vendors plying their trade.
There are dozens of cafes and restaurants in this part of the city including quite a few around this park. Try Au Parc, Propaganda, or RuNam on Hàn Thuyên. Or there is a large Highlands Coffee outside Diamond Plaza, behind Notre Dame.
If you fancy sampling some fantastic Vietnamese street food, you should find numerous street vendors or local restaurants around this area. My favorites include Banh Mi (Vietnamese baguette), Bo Kho (thick, flavorsome beef stew), or Pho (noodle soup.) Pick a stall that seems popular with the Saigonese and has a good turnover. Alternatively, there is a food court at the top of Diamond Plaza, behind Notre Dame.
Independence Palace: The Symbol of History and Power
After a bit of rest, head over to the entrance of the Independence Palace (Also known as Reunification Palace.) This building is a powerful symbol of Vietnam’s history and stands as a testament to the nation’s turbulent past and steadfast resilience.
On 30 April 1975, an armored North Vietnamese tank dramatically crashed through the massive entry gates of the Palace, signaling the end of the Vietnam War.
Outside the gates, you can join a tour, pick up a personal guide, or just pay the ticket and use the brochure provided for background information. Assign at least an hour for your visit if you want to do it justice.
If you didn’t have lunch before your visit to the palace, you are spoilt for choice for lunch in this neck of the woods.
For Vietnamese cuisine, head up to Nha Hang Ngon at 160 Pasteur Street for a large selection of very reasonable and delicious Vietnamese dishes. Or drop into the elegant surrounds of Quan Ngon 138 at 138 Đ. Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa, just down the road from the palace. They have a mind-boggling array of Vietnamese dishes from around the country.
If you are looking for something a little bit more Western try Au Parc Cafe. You can find it at 23 Hàn Thuyên on the southern side of 30-4 Park, between Pasteur and Cong Xa Paris.
All three choices are in beautiful colonial buildings with leafy outlooks so you can chill before the next leg of the tour. On the same street as Au Parc, you’ll find Propaganda, another excellent Vietnamese Restaurant, and several others.
If you’re looking for something a bit more casual, Ben Nghe Street Food Market is around 50m further on from Quan Ngon 138 at 134 Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa.
Next, we’ll head to the other side of 30/4 Park. The first stop is the imposing Notre Dame Cathedral, situated on an island between the Park, Diamond Plaza, and the Central Post Office.
A symbol of Ho Chi Minh City’s colonial past is the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception. Constructed in the late 1800s from imported French materials, the cathedral remains a remarkable vestige of the French Colonial era. Its twin bell towers, each topped with a cross, soar to a height of 200 feet, creating an imposing silhouette against the city’s skyline.
Over the past few years, they have covered the outside in various stages of scaffolding as they undertake a major renovation. Hopefully, by the time you get there, all that will be gone.
Opening hours are between 5.30 am and 5 pm but visiting hours are more restricted. If you are lucky, you’ll see some couples out having their wedding pictures taken. Of course, you may enter when services are on, but please be respectful if you are visiting at this time. There is an English mass at 9.30 am on Sundays.
The church sits in a lovely setting close to the park, juxtaposed against Diamond Plaza and your next stop, the railway station-like City Post Office. Even if you can’t get in, the outside of the building is quite a sight.
Don’t forget to visit the statue of Our Lady of Peace in the garden at the front of the church. You may see visitors checking to see if the statue is crying, a phenomenon reported in 2005.
Browse Through Nguyen Van Binh Book Street
For a different kind of cultural experience, make your way to Nguyen Van Binh, better known as Book Street. Book Street stretches around 150m from Notre Dame Cathedral to Hai Ba Trung Street. The pedestrianized lane has more than 20 bookstores that display and sell thousands of non-fiction and fiction books, along with newspapers, magazines, stationery, literary memorabilia, and souvenirs.
You’ll find a number of cafes, an old book exchange with plenty of titles in English, and various book exhibitions. This location is extremely popular with the locals, especially students and families. But it also offers tourists a peaceful respite from the bustling city streets and an opportunity to pick up a range of excellent publications and souvenirs specific to Ho Chi Minh City and Vietnam. It’s well worth including in your Ho Chi Minh City walking tour.
Saigon Central Post Office
Right next to Book Street, the Saigon Central Post Office is in a gorgeous colonial building from the late 1880s that is still in excellent condition. Its bright yellow façade, adorned with green shutters, houses an interior reminiscent of an old European train station. Despite its historical significance, the building still functions as the city’s main post office, selling postcards on-site for visitors to send home as an inexpensive souvenir.
You’ll also find souvenir shops, tour booking services, and kiosks. The interior is just as elegant as the outside with high vaulted ceilings, beautiful tiles, and unique features such as the wooden phone booths.
Dong Khoi Street
From the Post Office, head further south-east along Dong Khoi taking the time to photograph more of the beautiful buildings still in fantastic condition. Along the street, you’ll find many high-end shopping choices, unique souvenir shops, and galleries full of local art that are worth your time.
Ho Chi Minh City Hall (People’s Committee Building)
By now it should be mid to late afternoon. Continue down Dong Khoi, until you reach Le Than Ton Street. On your right, you will see the gorgeous City Hall that is now the Office of Ho Chi Minh City’s People’s Committee. Its magnificent design was inspired by the Hotel de Ville in Paris and is adorned with ornate columns and bas-reliefs.
You can take a few pics now, but this is one of the many buildings around town lit up like a Christmas tree at night. So make sure to come back later and witness its exquisite features illuminated by colored lights.
Across the road is a brand new ritzy Union Square shopping center chock with high-end designer goods. Thankfully the architects designed the new building to fit in with the surroundings. If you didn’t know better, you wouldn’t guess it was built this century.
Ho Chi Minh City Municipal Theatre (Saigon Opera House)
Directly in front of City Hall, you’ll see Saigon’s famous walking Street, Nguyen Hue. But we have one more destination before we return to explore this.
Instead, continue walking down Dong Khoi Street until you see the elegant Hotel Continental on a corner on your left. Just across the road is the magnificent Ho Chi Minh City Municipal Theatre, otherwise known as the Saigon Opera House.
In French Colonial times, they originally built the Municipal Theatre to entertain Saigon’s burgeoning middle class. It was designed as a classical opera house and built in the flamboyant style of the French Third Republic. The original façade bore an uncanny resemblance to the Petit Palace built the same year in France.
The building is only open during performances, but you will get a great view of the outside. Consider taking in a show while you are here to gain entrance. The current performance of AO is internationally acclaimed. With a mixture of dance and acrobatics, there will be no language barriers to your enjoyment.
Now you have a couple of choices on where to go next on your HCMC walking tour.
If you’re getting tired, cut back to Nguyen Hue from the theatre and leave the rest of Don Khoi for another day.
But if you’re still feeling energetic, or it’s early in the day, keep walking down Dong Khoi towards the Saigon River. You’ll find lots of lovely shops, cafes, and bars to explore. When you get to The Majestic Hotel on your right, pop in to admire the gorgeous foyer. Even better, they have a traditional afternoon tea in the Catinat Lounge between 3 and 6 p.m. Once you’ve finished at the Majestic, you can cross the road to take a look at the dinner cruise boats that ply the Saigon River. Or, instead, turn right along Vo Van Kiet and walk until you reach the river end of Walking Street.
Nguyen Hue Walking Street
Take your time exploring Ho Chi Minh City’s most famous ‘Walking Street.’ It’s lined with some of the city’s nicest bars, restaurants, cafes, and souvenir shops. So you could easily spend a few hours getting back to the People’s Committee Building (City Hall.)
Highlights include the Apartment Block Cafes, the Rex Hotel, The Famous Ho Chi Minh Statue, and the Nguyen Hue Music Fountain as described below.
Apartment Block Cafes
This old Apartment block has been converted into a rabbit warren of quirky cafes, restaurants, and shops. The city keeps threatening to pull it down, but it’s managed to survive so far, probably due to its popularity.
The Rex Hotel
If you can time it right, get back to the top end of Nguyen Hue by around 5 p.m. and head to the Rooftop Garden in the Rex Hotel for sunset drinks. During the 60’s and 70s, the Rex Hotel was the site of the famous ‘Five O’clock Follies” where military officials delivered press briefings to international correspondents covering the Vietnam War.
The bar overlooks much of Ho Chi Minh City center. You’ll gaze down on Ho Chi Minh Square, Union Square Shopping Centre, City Hall, and Nguyen Hue (Walking Street.) It’s a beautiful place to relax with a cocktail and reflect on what you’ve experienced on your walking tour of Saigon.
I’m not sure if it still happens but they used to have two-for-one cocktails from 5-7 p.m. and will sometimes have a live performance in the early evening as a bonus.
Ho Chi Minh Statue
Possibly Ho Chi Minh City’s most popular selfie spot. This 24-foot-tall figure of a waving President Ho Chi Minh stands proudly in front of the People’s Committee building, gazing down the length of Walking Street. As you admire its imposing stature, take a moment to appreciate its symbolic significance. President Ho Chi Minh is the most revered figure in the country and played a pivotal role in the nation’s history.
Nguyen Hue Music Fountain
With a large lotus flower in the center, lots of LED lighting, and dancing water spouts, this is another of Saigon’s favorite selfie spots.
If you’ve still got some energy, head straight down Le Loi Street for about 600m to find the famous Ben Thanh Market
Ben Thanh Market
Centrally located, Ben Thanh Market is open during the day and is an integral part of Ho Chi Minh City’s cultural and commercial life. Steeped in history, the market traces its origins back to the 17th century and moved into its present location in 1912. It’s a bustling hive of activity where you can explore a wide variety of goods ranging from fresh produce and street food to clothing and souvenirs. The majority of visitors to Ho Chi Minh City will visit this iconic market at least once.
At 6 pm the main Ben Thanh market hall closes down and the night market opens up in the adjacent street. I personally prefer browsing the wares by night with a bit more air and space compared to the crowded daytime market hall.
Concluding Your Ho Chi Minh City Walking Tour: What’s Next?
As your walking tour in Ho Chi Minh City nears its end, you’re probably well aware you’ve only just touched the surface. There are many hidden gems left to uncover. There’s definitely a whole lot more to see and explore in this vibrant city. That’s one of the reasons I put together two further walking tours to assist your Ho Chi Minh City exploration efforts.
Ho Chi Minh City Walking tour number two travels through Districts 1 and 4. It begins at the botanic gardens, gets high in Bitexco Financial Tower with a better view than the Saigon Skydeck, visits two of the city’s best museums (Museum of Fine Arts and Ho Chi Minh Museum,) and ends back at Ben Thanh Market.
Ho Chi Minh City Walking tour number three explores the Cholon district, otherwise known as Chinatown. This self-guided walking tour winds through colorful local markets, historical temples, unique shops, and another unique Ho Chi Minh City Museum in Districts 5 and 10.
If you’d rather take a guided tour to explore Ho Chi Minh City, there are literally hundreds on offer. If you have the time, I recommend you consider the following types of tours in Ho Chi Minh City:
Free Walking Tours of Ho Chi Minh City
My favorite guides for a FREE tour around Ho Chi Minh City are the students from Saigon Hotpot – You can choose from one of a few FREE walking tours around town for zero cost. Any tips will go to their current favorite charity.
Paid Walking Tours Around Ho Chi Minh City
If you don’t want a free tour, there are plenty of paid walking tours in Ho Chi Minh City as well. Check out Get Your Guide and Viator to see what’s on offer. Very few, if any, will cover all of the spots I’ve included in this Self-guided itinerary, so you may have to combine a few or customize a private tour.
Non-Walking Tours Around Ho Chi Minh City
Not fond of walking? Then there are plenty of other ways to see and experience the city. I’ve added a few below:
1 Take a Saigon City tour by Cyclo. Due to the number of scams by private SOME unscrupulous cyclo drivers, I highly recommend a formal tour if you want to travel around the city by cycle.
2 Take one of the many motorbike sightseeing tours around the city. While the traffic looks absolutely insane, it’s not as dangerous as it looks. (I have had a Vietnamese motorbike license for many years.) And if you want to travel on two wheels, having an experienced driver is a definite plus.
3. If that all sounds too scary, there are many companies that will provide a private AC vehicle to shuttle you around the sights.
Other Amazing Experiences in Ho Chi Minh City
1. Take a cooking class. I’ve actually done three of these over the years, and all have been fabulous. Try to get one with a trip to the market beforehand and private cooking stations.
2. Take one of the many excellent food tours around town. Once again, I’ve been on several and had no fault with any. Saigon Street Eats is run by a fellow Aussie and her Vietnamese husband and has won a load of awards. But if you can book with them, (they are very popular) there are loads of others available. Take a look HERE.
3. You can combine a couple of these experiences and take a food tour by motorbike at night and tick off two Ho Chi Minh City highlights in one. Once again, I’ve been on a couple of these, and they don’t disappoint. A bit of an adrenaline rush, great food, and great company.
Day Tours from Ho Chi Minh City
If you’ve thoroughly explored the city and have a few more days to spend, there are plenty of day trips from Ho Chi Minh City on offer. Don’t miss:
1. Take a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels
2. Take a boat along the Saigon River and Mekong River to the Mekong Delta
3. Book a trip to Vung Tau, a favorite resort town of the locals and chock full of war history.
The last thing I’ll leave you with is some pro tips for visiting the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City. Visit the section below for links to travel resources for flights, accommodation, travel insurance, transport, and more.
And if you want to see what else I’ve written about Ho Chi Minh City and Vietnam, then head over HERE to our Vietnam Page. You’ll find plenty of information to assist with your entire Vietnam tour.
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