Few would consider Bangladesh an expensive country to visit, but an unbeatable aspect of visiting Dhaka – compared to many other cities in South Asia – is that many of its top sights and activities still remain absolutely free to explore. From people watching at the ferry terminal to visiting the city’s most beautiful mosques, here’s our pick of the best free things to do in the Bangladesh capital.

A view of the river from Dhaka's ferry terminal of Sadarghat. Many people stand in their small wooden boats, looking up towards the dock and waiting for customers. Behind, larger, passenger-cruiser style boats are visible.
Dhaka's Sadarghat is a hive of activity throughout the day © Salvacampillo / Shutterstock

1. People-watch from the jetties of Sadarghat

One of the most atmospheric places in Dhaka is the main ferry terminal of Sadarghat, a series of jetties stretched out along the banks of the Buriganga River. A fabulous place for people-watching, Sadarghat comes alive in the early mornings, when hulking launch boats connecting Dhaka to other towns in the southern deltaic regions moor at the docks – disgorging thousands of commuters from their wood-and-metal innards – and late evenings, when throngs of passengers board the same vessels departing on overnight cruises to their respective destinations. 

Technically, you need to buy a ‘platform ticket’ to gain access to the piers for a meagre Tk 5 (6 US cents), but the return on your expense is disproportionately tilted in your favour.

2. Seek blessings at Dhakeswari Temple

The nerve centre of the Hindu faith in Bangladesh, Dhakeswari Temple was believed to have been founded nine centuries ago. Popular opinion unanimously converges on the assumption that the city got its name from the temple’s resident deity, Dhakeswari, an incarnation of the Hindu mother goddess. 

The temple welcomes people from all faiths; you can visit the main shrine to seek the deity’s blessings, and light a bunch of incense sticks or candles in a sand bunk across the main courtyard as a symbolic offering. Every year in September and October, the temple – as well the market area surrounding it – comes alive in a riot of festivities when the four-day-long Durga Puja festival is held here with much ritual and public fanfare.

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The brick-red Curzon Hall, a quasi-Gothic building built in the style of European-Mughal architecture. The large building almost resembles a castle, with turrets, arched balconies and minarets. In front of the grand building is a manicured green lawn and some trees.
The brick-red Curzon Hall is built in the quasi-Gothic style, which was popular with the British administration © Majority World / Getty Images

3. Stroll the grounds of Dhaka University

Given Dhaka’s otherwise unkempt urban profile, the leafy and decidedly pretty premises of Dhaka University are a delight to explore on foot. Established in 1921, when Bangladesh – then part of undivided India – was still under British rule, the university is considered Dhaka’s premier educational institution, and continues to draw scholars, teachers and academic visitors from the world over. 

The central attraction of the university is the brick-red Curzon Hall, a quasi-Gothic building built in 1905 in the style of European-Mughal architecture highly admired by the then British administration. Walking around, you will also see several other important buildings and halls, as well as sites of historic importance vis-a-vis the Liberation War in 1971.

An aerial view of a huge crowd of worshippers outside a mosque in Dakar, which creates a colourful scene.
Dhaka's mosques are extra animated at prayer time © Keren Su / Getty Images

4. Visit Dhaka’s standout mosques and palaces

Do not pass up a chance to visit Dhaka’s mosques – they’re simply beautiful. The grandest among them is the giant Baitul Mukarram Mosque, a modern structure designed in the manner of the Ka’aba at Mecca. On the other hand, the ancient onion-domed Sat Gumbad Mosque dates back to 1680 and survives today as a fabulous example of Mughal-style architecture. Yet another Mughal structure, Khan Mohammed Mridha’s Mosque goes back to 1706 and features a trio of domes with minarets in the corners. 

Then comes the unique Star Mosque, also built sometime in the early 18th century in the Mughal style, but refurbished some 50 years ago with Japanese and English porcelain tiles complementing its original mosaic work. In the stylish diplomatic enclave of Gulshan, the Gulshan Central Mosque embodies the futuristic ethos of 1960s architectural trends, evident in its rocket-shaped towers and geometric prayer hall.

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5. See the artisans of Sankharia Bazar at work

Done up in bright colours and perennially imbued with the smell of burning incense, the bustling but quaint riverside borough of Sankharia Bazar is one of Dhaka’s most photogenic neighbourhoods. Most residents in the area – predominantly Hindu families who settled here more than 300 years ago – are craftsmen, and make their living from carving numerous types of decorative pieces, religious paraphernalia and jewellery such as bangles and necklaces out of conch shells. 

Endangered in the modern world of assembly line production, many say this niche handicraft is poised for eventual extinction, but none of the crisis is apparent in the passion and artistic finery of each artisan’s day-to-day work. You are quite welcome to visit the studios, and sit and observe a conch carver at work. There’s no expense involved in just watching, but you could always buy a reasonably priced item as a souvenir in appreciation of the maker’s efforts.

A lone figure walking on the grass in Ramna Park in Dhaka. It is early morning and some of the park is still dark. In front of the figure is a large tree, while behind, a lake is visible.
Dhaka's parks provide respite from the hectic pace of city life © Syed Mahamudur Rahman / Getty Images

6. Chill out in the city’s public gardens

One of Dhaka’s most expansive green areas, the tree-lined Ramna Park was first appointed by Mughal rulers as a recreational area. It is still largely used as a place of public relaxation, and the presence of a lake within the park’s perimeters ups its eco rating when combined with the abundant greenery around it. 

Adjacent to Ramna Park, the expansive Suhrawardi Park was originally a racecourse designed by the British, and later assumed immense historical importance as the venue where the Bangladeshi Declaration of Independence and the surrender of Pakistani forces were conducted after the end of the Liberation War in 1971. Both these parks are open through the day, and the latter also turns into an open-air market in the evenings.

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