An Itinerary for One Unforgettable Day in Ho Chi Minh City

Looking for the perfect one day in Ho Chi Minh City itinerary? Read on for my detailed guide!

A lit up flower fountain and lit up gold building.

Ho Chi Minh City: the largest city in South Vietnam where history and modernity seamlessly intertwine, where bustling markets and tranquil temples stand side by side, and where the aroma of delicious street food wafts through the air as hoards of scooters zip through the streets.

Ho Chi Minh City has a rich history and played an important role, especially through the Vietnam War. Today, the city is a sprawling, modern metropolis that is home to 9 million people, making it Vietnam’s most populated city.

The city streets with colorful buildings on both sides of the streets with shiny tiles on both sides.

Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is a captivating destination that beckons travelers with its rich cultural heritage and energetic atmosphere.

While some of the most beautiful places in Vietnam are the gorgeous nature locations, like Ninh Binh, Halong Bay, or Sapa, the cities, including Ho Chi Minh, are also amazing destinations and for sure worth a visit.

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How to Spend 1 Perfect Day in Ho Chi Minh City

There are so many things to do in HCMC, but I think spending one day in Ho Chi Minh City is the perfect way to experience the best of this incredible city.

Below is the perfect 1 day in Ho Chi Minh City itinerary that covers a bit of everything. From lively streets to historic sites to delicious food, this detailed guide will help you experience the best of Ho Chi Minh City.


A dish with rice and spinach with a thick juicy red piece of meat.

While many hotels provide free breakfast, for some absolutely delicious local food, I’d recommend going to Nguyen Van Cu for Tam Coc, or broken rice.

This is one of the best places to get tam coc in Ho Chi Minh City – the pork chop was perfectly cooked and seasoned, and the rice was deliciously chewy.

Reunification Palace

A large, wide cream colored building with orange flags circling the area and oval windows carved into the exterior.

To start your day in Ho Chi Minh City, head over to an iconic landmark of the city, the Reunification Palace. 

The Reunification Palace, also known as Independence Palace, served as the home and office of the president of South Vietnam between 1962-1975. In 1975, a North Vietnamese tank bulldozed through the front gate, which signaled the official end of the Vietnam War. 

A velvet red and yellow room with detailed chair patterns with a red and blue rug.

You can tour through the different rooms in the palace, see multiple military aircraft and vehicles around the grounds, and walk through the underground bunkers. There is also quite a bit of signage giving historical details and context about the end of the war. We found this to be a fascinating place to visit.

Tao Dan Park

A woman in a floral dress stands in front of pink carnations and a fern gateway.

One of the largest parks in the city, Tao Dan Park is a lush green space with over 1,000 trees and various tropical plants. This serene park gives you a break from the hustle and bustle of the busy metropolis, and is a beautiful area to spend some time.

The park is full of walking paths, a small temple for Hung Kings, a cham tower, a children’s playground, fountains, and plenty of tropical plants and trees. A walk through Tao Dan Park is one of the most relaxing activities in HCMC.

War Remnants Museum

A war museum with different artifacts and tourists in the room.

If you only have 1 day in Ho Chi Minh City, visiting the War Remnants Museum is the best place to visit to learn more about the history of the Vietnam War and the First Indochina War. 

The museum was formerly called the “Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes” but when diplomatic relations improved with the US in the 1990’s the name was changed to the War Remnants Museum. But… the old name certainly reflects the tenor of the museum.

The War Remnants Museum focuses heavily almost exclusively on the Vietnam War, and the perspective of the North. The museum goes in-depth into the history of the war, the atrocities and brutality that occurred, and how this war had a significant impact on the Vietnamese people. 

Of course, the propaganda was also *very* strong here. For example, pretty inflammatory adjectives were used e.g.”the brave Viet Cong never backed down from the murderous USA soldiers.”

And a huge focus was put on the numbers and stories of civilians that died at the hands of the US and how terrible that was (which truly, it is)… while completely neglecting to mention the incredibly high amount of mass murders, torture, intimidation, and destruction from the Viet Cong towards the South Vietnamese civilians.  🤷🏻‍♀️

Vietnam fighter airplanes with a camoflage print.

Anyway, it’s a good museum to visit and you will definitely learn a lot about the history and significance of the Vietnam War, even if the propaganda is out in full force.

Lunch: Secret Garden

A beautifully plated lunch with vegetables and lettuce wrapped seeds and meat.

The Secret Garden was, by far, the most upscale and expensive meal we ate in Vietnam ($30 for two people), but it was so worth it – the food was absolutely drool-worthy. We also couldn’t help ordering extra dishes just to sample more of the impressive variety.

The dining room for the restaurant is also super cute – it’s on an open-air patio on a rooftop at the top of a non-descript building. You have to climb up several flights of stairs through an apartment building (you’ll wonder if you’re actually in the right place), but the top opens up to a really pretty setup.

Saigon Central Post Office

A grand yellow post office with a large clock and tile street.

Built during the French colonial times, this grand post office is the largest in all of Vietnam. The beautiful yellow building is a unique mix of European architecture and East Asian design, making it a unique attraction in HCMC.

Inside the post office, you will find a variety of stalls selling different small souvenirs, such as magnets and bookmarks. Another unique aspect of the post office is its old-time phone booths that line the walls.

A large spacious room with an arched ceiling and painting of a man. There are lots of people at a desk with postcards to mail home.

Saigon Central Post Office is still a fully functioning post office, making it the perfect place to pick out a postcard from Vietnam and mail it home.

Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon

A brown stone church with 2 steeples in the middle of a busy street with trees and busses.

Located next to the Saigon Central Post Office is another great place to visit in Ho Chi MInh City, the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon. 

This stunning cathedral is another building that is reminiscent of the French colonial times in HCMC. It was originally established by French colonists and given the name “Saigon Church.” Interestingly, all of the church’s building materials were imported directly from France. 

Today, the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon remains an important French colonial building in Ho Chi Minh City and is known for its two impressively tall bell towers.

Opera House

A cream opera house with detailed etchings and statues on the side of a busy street with motorcyles and cars.

The Saigon Opera House, also known as the Municipal Theatre, is a beautiful French-style building in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City. Throughout the year, there are a variety of live art performances that are held at the Opera House, from ballets to musicals.

 Unfortunately, you can’t visit the inside of the opera house as a tourist (you have to actually be attending a show). However, it’s still worth stopping by during your 24 hours in HCMC to admire the exterior, as it is a great example of the French Colonial architectural influence throughout the city.

Ben Thanh Market

A busy market with lit up stands with all sorts of souvenirs and trinkets.

A must-visit place on any 1-day itinerary in HCMC is to explore Ben Thanh Market. The market is a popular spot for both locals and tourists and is one of the best things to do in HCMC.

Shell spoons with lots of pieces of shell on the handle and a light colored spoon itself.
A favorite here was these seashell serving spoons

The atmosphere of the market is an experience in itself, as it is a very lively and bustling market, with over 1500 stalls selling everything from tourist souvenirs, to shoes and clothes, to spices, foods, and home goods, and even some food stalls selling hot meals to eat on the spot.

Pretty much anything you may need can be found at this large indoor market, making it a great place to check out during your visit to Ho Chi Minh City.

Prices do tend to be slightly higher here due to it being such a popular attraction in HCMC, however, you definitely should haggle and bring the price down. Many times, prices aren’t actually listed on items, so you’ll need to ask the shopowner directly. And even if they are listed, they are way above what you will actually pay.

Generally, we found that we could haggle down to about 30-50% of the stated price. Don’t be afraid of the haggle, be prepared to walk away (you get the best deals when you start to walk out), and project confidence, even if you don’t feel it! We visited twice and found better prices toward closing compared to midday.

Tan Dinh Church

A pink stone church with multiple tiny steeples and one large one.

Tan Dinh Church is a remarkable pink church located in the center of Ho Chi Minh City. This Roman Catholic Church is extremely unique due to its pink façade and is a great addition to add to your list of what to do in Ho Chi Minh City.

Tan Dinh Church is considered one of the most beautiful churches in Vietnam. It mixes Gothic, Roman, and Baroque designs to create a fairytale-like church in the heart of the city. The pink color of this church makes it uniquely beautiful and is a perfect photo spot.

Vinh Nghiem Buddhist Temple

An asian stone building with lots of markings and etchings carved into the sides and overhangs on different levels of the building.

One of the most important Buddhist sites in the city, exploring Vinh Nghiem Temple is one of the best things to do in HCMC. 

This Mahayana Buddhist pagoda is over 6,000 sq meters and has three different sections to explore. These include the Grand Hall, Shanman Gate, and surrounding towers. The pagoda houses and worships Buddha and two bodhisattvas. 

The Vinh Nghiem Buddhist Temple is open to the public and is a beautiful spot to experience Buddhism.

Water Puppet Show

A water puppet show with 3 puppets on a small wood boat in a small tank of water.

Water Puppet Shows are a form of traditional Vietnamese art that dates back to the 11th century. Historically, Water Puppet Shows originated as entertainment for villagers when the rice fields would flood. 

The show features puppets in a waist-deep pool of water that is connected to bamboo rods, allowing them to be moved by the puppeteers. Typically, the puppet water shows involve Vietnamese folklore, legends, and references to rural life in Vietnam.

This is one of the most unique things to do in Vietnam and a fantastic way to experience Vietnamese culture. 

👉Make your reservation to a water puppet show here

Dinner: Hoang Ty

A assortment of veggies and meat on a table.

Hoang Ty is a delicious restaurant with a really fun concept: they bring out a variety of ingredients, and you get to assemble and wrap your own fresh spring rolls.

A little burner is set up in the middle of your table to cook the meat, and you have a wide selection of vegetables, proteins, noodles, and wrappers to create your roll.

The spring rolls were absolutely delicious and the process was such a novelty – I highly recommend!

Nguyen Hue Walking Street

A state of the president during the Vietnam War with the yellow postal station in the background.

Nguyen Hue Walking Street is a 670m long pedestrian street that is split into two different sections. This vibrant street in Ho Chi Minh City is known for cafes, restaurants, and a lively nightlife scene. 

A must-visit stop along the Nguyen Hue Walking Street is the Ho Chi Minh Statue. This bronze statue is located in front of the People’s Committee Building and depicts President Ho Chi Minh, who was popularly known as Uncle Ho.

President Ho Chi Minh was an essential figure in the Vietnam War. You will find pictures of him in almost every building you go to in Vietnam.

Another popular place along Nguyen Hue is book street, which consists of several bookstores and book cafes that are home to a variety of literary works.

During the daytime, the street is calm and empty, but in the evenings, the scents of delicious street food and the sounds of street performers fill the air, making the street come to life.

Even if you walk through during the daylight, definitely swing back around at night for the entertainment and atmosphere.

Saigon Skydeck

The lit up skyline with skyscrapers/buildings and streets light up brightly.

Saigon Skydeck is one of the top attractions in HCMC and offers incredible panoramic city views. The Saigon Skydeck is a glass-enclosed observation deck that is located on the 49th floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower.

The Bitexco skyscraper is notable for several reasons. First, and most interestingly, it is designed to resemble a lotus flower, the national flower of Vietnam.

Rainbow colored buildings reflect on the lake with the colors of the sunrise on the glassy water.

Second, it is one of the tallest buildings in Vietnam. And third, it has landed on many “Best Skyscrapers” lists. For example, Thrillist listed it as the #2 coolest skyscraper in the world!

The views of the city from the Skydeck are stunning, especially at sunset, and the Skydeck is open late, making it a perfect way to end the day.

Mekong Delta: A Must-Do Daytrip from HCMC

A tour guide rows people through the bamboo and mud river.

Mekong Delta is an incredible day trip from HCMC that will immerse you in Vietnamese culture. The Mekong Delta is a region in southwestern Vietnam that includes mazes of rivers, swamps, islands, and villages that are surrounded by rice paddies. 

A day trip to the Mekong Delta typically starts with a visit to My Tho, where you can visit the Vinh Trang Pagoda, a historic Buddhist temple. 

Then, go by boat on a journey through the Mekong Delta, passing by rice paddies, lush tropical plants, and tranquil fruit orchards. 

Along the way stop at different islands to explore some of the rustic villages, try some delicious tropical fruits, and listen to Southern Vietnamese folk music. A highlight of the day trip is the ride in a sampan, a traditional wooden boat, amongst the lush coconut palms.

The boat trip is an amazing way to experience rural culture in Vietnam and is a must-do day trip from Ho Chi Minh City.

Other Helpful Information

Getting Around Ho Chi Minh City

The street from the view of a motorcycle with lots of motorcycles taking up the streets of the city

Ho Chi Minh City is divided into 5 districts, though most of the tourist destinations are in District 1 and are within walking distance of each other.

However, there are 2 restaurants (breakfast and dinner) and 2 churches (Tan Dinh and Vinh Nghiem) that are in District 3, and are about a 10 minute drive from the rest of the attractions.

For these (and if you just don’t want to walk everywhere in the city), you have two main options I’d recommend.

The first is to take a taxi or a Grab. Grab is Vietnam’s version of Uber (Uber itself is not available in Vietnam), and works very well. I’d try to use Grabs over taxis as much as possible.

The second option is to rent a scooter and join the masses of scooters as you zip around the city. I won’t lie, this option isn’t for everyone, but we had a great time scootering around Ho Chi Minh City.

Read all the details in my guide to renting a scootering in Vietnam.

A Brief History of Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City has a long history, from its early start as a small fishing village to becoming the most populated city in present-day Vietnam. 

Before 1975, Ho Chi Minh City was called Saigon. Saigon was a city that was heavily influenced by French Colonization in Vietnam, which can still be seen in the city’s architecture today. 

At the conclusion of the First Indochina War in 1954, the Geneva Convention split Vietnam into Northern and Southern zones. Southern Vietnam became the Republic of Vietnam, with Saigon as its capital city. As the capital of Southern Vietnam, the city played a crucial role in the Vietnam War.

During the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 70s, Saigon served as the headquarters for US military operations. The city became a center for industry and capitalism fueled the economy, but the reliance on imports and aid soon caused a hard-hit economic crisis for the city.

The city had many important events related to the Vietnam War. One significant historical event was in 1963 when Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức lit himself on fire in protest of the persecution of the Buddhists by the US-backed South Vietnamese government.

The Vietnam War continued, with a failed attempt to capture the city in 1968 during the Tet Offensive. Then, in 1975, Saigon was captured by the Vietnamese People’s Army, marking the official end of the Vietnam War. Saigon was then renamed Ho Chi Minh City after President Ho Chi Minh.

Saigon vs Ho Chi Minh City

The official name of the city is Ho Chi Minh City, however, the name Saigon is also commonly used to reference the city.

Saigon was the original name of the city. Saigon was first officially used in the 17th century, but the city name may have been around for longer than that.

Though the formal name is still Ho Chi Minh City, you will find references to Saigon in the city and it is commonly called Saigon by the Vietnamese community in the USA.

Is 1 Day Enough in HCMC?

One day is the perfect amount of time to hit the top highlights in the city. While you could certainly spend more time here, there are so many other amazing places to visit in Vietnam. Therefore, it makes sense to spend a single day here and then move on to experience other places in Vietnam.

Map of Attractions in Ho Chi Minh City

The Wrap Up: Visiting Ho Chi Minh City

There are so many things to do in HCMC, making it a great place to go on any trip to Vietnam. Spending one day in Ho Chi Minh City allows you to experience the highlights of what this incredible city has to offer.

From lively streets, vibrant markets, interesting museums, delicious food, and stunning architecture, there is something for everyone in Ho Chi Minh City. This itinerary in HCMC provides the perfect way to spend 24 hours exploring this fascinating city.

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