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Hue: Explore the Imperial Capital of Vietnam Beyond the Old Citadel

May 26, 2024
11 Min Read
Boats on the Perfume River in Hue, Vietnam
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Hue: Explore the Imperial Capital of Vietnam Beyond the Old Citadel
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May 26, 2024
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Nestled in central Vietnam lies Hue, a city that flourished during the Nguyen Dynasty and is known for its rich history, culture, and architecture.

From the countless temples and tombs to its mouth-watering cuisine, Hue is a destination that deserves more than just a day-trip. We’ve spent a week exploring the city, and here are the 15 best things to do in Hue, Vietnam.

This guide will let you discover historical landmarks beyond the Imperial Citadel and explore natural landscapes surrounding the city including lagoons and national parks.

Discover Hue, Vietnam's imperial capital and the city of royals!

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Planning a Last Minute Trip to Hue?

Booking hotels in Hue: Booking.com is our go-to platform to search for amazing hotels. Here are the top hotels in Hue.

Booking tours in Hue: Viator and GetYourGuide are the best platforms to find tours and excursions to join in Hue. Here are some tours you can book right away that will let you experience Hue and more.

1. Hue City Tour with Private Driver

2. Hue Flavor Street Food Tour

3. Hue City Full-Day Tour

Want a hassle-free arrival from the airport? Book this private Hue transfer that will take you to the city center in no time.

Two people wearing conical hats look over the Perfume river in Hue, Vietnam

15 Things to Do in Hue, Vietnam

To discover more of the ancient imperial capital of Vietnam, we recommend spending at least 2 to 3 days in Hue. Here are the 15 best activities in Hue, Vietnam!

Read: 17 Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Vietnam

A temple surrounded by trees in Hue, Vietnam

1. Experience the Imperial Citadel

It comes as no surprise that the Imperial Citadel is one of the best tourist attractions in Hue. The vast complex contains intricate buildings, high walls and decorative gates, reserved only for the royal family during the Nguyen Dynasty.

Tip: We recommend visiting Hue Citadel in the early morning to avoid the crowds. Purchase your entrance ticket in advance and skip the line!

A woman in traditional clothes at the Imperial Citadel in Hue, Vietnam

The most impressive building is the newly completed restoration of Kien Trung Palace, which is also the most popular site, so expect some crowds. The palace stands out with its yellow facade adorned with mosaic art depicting dragons, flowers, and animals.

Want to learn more about the history of the Royal Citadel? Hire a guide at the complex or book this highly rated small group tour.

A decorated gate at the Imperial Citadel in Hue, Vietnam

2. Visit the Royal Tombs

Besides the Imperial City, don't miss out on exploring the royal tombs scattered throughout Hue.

The most impressive burial grounds we’ve visited and highly recommend include the tombs of Emperor Tu Duc, Khai Dinh, and Minh Mang. Discover the intricate details of the mausoleums, wander around the peaceful grounds, and unveil their fascinating history.

You can easily visit the sites on your own, or you can join a tour with an English speaking guide.

Read More: 5 Must Visit Royal Tombs in Hue

A courtyard at a temple in Hue, Vietnam

3. Watch the Sunset at Tam Giang Lagoon

If you're searching for something unique to do in Hue, then consider a day trip to the Tam Giang Lagoon.

Located around 25 kilometers from the city, it is well known for its stunning views, peaceful waters, and fishing villages. Additionally, Tam Giang is the largest lagoon in Southeast Asia, spanning about 22,000 hectares.

Tip: For the best experience, we suggest hopping on a wooden boat at sunrise or sunset. Book this half-day tour to visit the Tam Giang Lagoon from Hue.

Wooden boats at Tam Giang lagoon in Hue, Vietnam

We went for sunset in February, and despite the overcast weather, we had a great time. We didn't observe much local activity in the lagoon, but we enjoyed rowing along the lake in between the bamboo sticks and nets, as well as stopping at a nearby fishing village.

Read: Guide to Nhon Hai Fishing Village

A birds-eye view of Tam Giang lagoon in Hue, Vietnam

4. Walk Around the Ru Cha Mangrove

If you're near the Tam Giang Lagoon, we also recommend visiting the Ru Cha mangrove forest. It is small in size but well maintained with narrow pathways that are paved and easy to walk around.

A fish trap at the Ru Cha mangroves in Hue, Vietnam

Plus, there's no entrance fee, allowing you to leisurely stroll beneath the canopy of intertwining trees, which creates a shaded tunnel that adds to its charm. There’s also a viewpoint tower in the middle to enjoy a panoramic view of the surroundings.

We explored Ru Cha during the off-season when the water level was low, and we found the peaceful atmosphere quite enjoyable.

Interested in seeing more mangrove forests in Vietnam? Head to the Mekong Delta and visit Tra Su Cajuput Forest in An Giang.

Mangroves at Ru Cha in Hue, Vietnam

5. Admire the Dam Chuon Lagoon

If you’re looking for more boat activities in Hue, head to Dam Chuon Lagoon, which is part of the Tam Giang Lagoon. This is also an excellent place to watch the sunrise or sunset, which can be best viewed between March and August.

Visit early to check out the morning market, then take a boat to explore more of the lake.

Read More: Guide to Dam Chuon Lagoon in Hue

Bird-eye view of Dam Chuon lagoon in Hue, Vietnam

6. Stroll Along Hue Walking Street

A trip to Hue isn't complete without a stroll down Pho Di Bo Walking Street. At night, the area comes alive, with numerous restaurants and bars lined up next to each other. It gets particularly crowded on weekends, with many Vietnamese tourists enjoying the food, drinks, and lively music.

Though the area is known as a walking street, there is still a lot of traffic from cars and motorbikes. In addition to the restaurants and pubs, you’ll also find the usual stalls selling souvenirs and imitation North Face jackets.

Motorbikes on a street in Hue, Vietnam

7. Join a Food Tour

Along with the historical buildings, Hue City is also famous for its local delicacies. Some of our favorites include Bún Bò Huế, which is a beef noodle soup, and Bánh Bèo, a savory steamed rice cake topped with shrimp and pork cracklings.

Want to explore more local flavors? Here are the top food specialties in Dalat, Vietnam's Central Highlands.

The best way to enjoy Hue’s cuisine is to join a guided food tour that will take you to some hidden gems. Here are the most highly rated food tours in Hue.

8. Visit Thien Mu Temple

Thien Mu Temple, set on a hill overlooking the Perfume River, is one of Hue's oldest and most frequented temples.

The complex highlights the iconic seven-story pagoda, which is a standout in the middle of its lush backdrop. The actual Thien Mu Temple is located past the three entrance gates, at the far end of an open courtyard.

Visit early in the morning to enjoy the tranquil atmosphere of the temple grounds.

Read: Visit the Temples of Sam Mountain in An Giang

A birds-eye view of Thien Mu temple in Hue, Vietnam

9. Sail Across The Perfume River

The Huong River, also known as the Perfume River, runs through the heart of Hue and is a symbol of the city’s historical and cultural identity.

Cruise along one of the dragon boats and enjoy the scenery, including ancient pagodas and riverside villages. Here’s a highly recommended sunset boat tour that takes you along to discover life on the riverbanks, admire the sunset, and visit Thien Mu Pagoda.

Read: A Comprehensive Guide to Ha Long Bay

Colorful houses next to a river in Hue, Vietnam

10. View Truong Tien Bridge at Night

Looking for a relaxing way to end the night in Hue? Head towards the Truong Tien Bridge and stroll along the promenade, a great place to enjoy the night view and see some street performances. You'll also find brightly lit boats along the river at night. So, if you’re interested, you can take a nighttime boat tour on the Perfume River which lasts about an hour.

Read: Guide to the Best Trang An Boat Tour, Ninh Binh

11. Explore An Dinh Palace

Not far from the Thien Mu Temple you’ll find An Dinh Palace, another popular tourist attraction that is worth visiting in Hue.

A gazebo in the courtyard of An Dinh palace in Hue, Vietnam

Built in 1917 by Emperor Khai Dinh, the palace features a three-story structure with a striking yellow facade adorned with beautiful stone carvings on its pillars and walls. As you step inside, you’ll be greeted by the vibrant colors of the tiles and brightly painted walls and ceilings.

The palace opens everyday from 7am to 5pm, and has an entrance fee of 50,000 VND (2 USD).

Tip: The palace mainly attracts locals who come in their traditional clothes to take pictures. To beat the crowds, go early in the morning.

The inside of Ann Dinh palace in Hue, Vietnam

12. Take a DMZ Tour

If you’re interested in Vietnam’s war history, consider joining a day tour that takes you to the demilitarized zone (DMZ).

The most convenient way to see the sites is to join a day tour which leaves daily from Hue City. Learn more about the Vietnam war and visit historical places, including the Dakrong Bridge, Khe Sanh Combat Base, and the Vinh Moc tunnels.

Here are the most popular DMZ day tours from Hue.

13. Stop by the Incense Village

One of the most popular tourist attractions in Hue is the Thuy Xuan incense village, located about 7 kilometers southwest of the city center.

After visiting Thu Duc Mausoleum, we stopped at the village to have a look for ourselves. It turns out that the shops are not actually focused on selling and producing incense, but rather on selling a backdrop for your Instagram selfie. For 10,000 VND (0.40 USD), you can sit on a chair surrounded by colorfully dyed wooden sticks and pose for a photo.

Incense in Hue, Vietnam

While some stores sell real incense, they primarily focus on selling souvenirs with some demonstration of incense making, though this seems to be more of an afterthought.

For a more authentic incense-making village in Vietnam, head to Phia Thap Incense Village, located in Cao Bang Province.

Woman pose for a photo in front of incense in Hue, Vietnam

14. Drive the Hai Van Pass

Hue is a popular starting point for driving the Hai Van Pass, a 21-kilometer mountain road that connects Hue to Da Nang. Apart from its winding path, the pass offers gorgeous views of the coastline and a great way to travel between the cities.

Tip: Stop by the Lap An Lagoon and enjoy peaceful views of the mountain ranges in Phu Loc District.

The mountains and ocean seen from the Hai Van Pass in Vietnam

To fully experience the mountain roads, ride a motorbike or hire a driver for the day if you don't have a license. Here are the best tours you can book to tackle the Hai Van Pass from Hue.

15. Day Trip to Bach Ma National Park

Want to escape the city? Take a trekking tour and explore the nature of Bach Ma National Park. Hike through the lush forests, stopping at waterfalls and sweeping viewpoints along the way.

Tip: Take a day trip to the park with this highly-rated hiking tour from Hue, which includes round-trip transfers and a guide.

Where to Stay in Hue

In Hue, you'll find a range of accommodation options, from cozy homestays to luxurious resorts.

If you wish to be within walking distance of most of the restaurants and bars, we recommend staying in the Vinh Ninh neighborhood. Otherwise, getting around is straightforward, so you can stay somewhere farther away from the bustling center. Find all accommodations in Hue here.

During our recent visit, we stayed at La Y Riverview and highly recommend it. It's right next to the river, and we enjoyed the seclusion, large garden, and pool, which is perfect for watching the sunset. In addition, the staff and owner were friendly and helpful throughout our stay. Find rates and availability here!

La Y Riverview hotel in Hue, Vietnam

Best Time to Visit Hue

You may visit Hue at any time of year, although the most ideal weather is between January and April. During these months, you can expect pleasant temperatures and conditions, which are ideal for exploring temples and enjoying outdoor activities.

It is also best to avoid the rainy season, which typically occurs between September and December.

Read: Best Time to Visit Vietnam

A colorful decorated wall at a temple in Hue, Vietnam

How to Get to Hue

Getting to Hue is simple, there is an international airport nearby and plenty of buses and trains running daily to and from the city. Here are the best ways to reach Hue from anywhere in Vietnam.

Plane: Phu Bai International Airport (HUI) is located around 16 kilometers from the center. Book ahead of time, as there are limited flights arriving and departing daily.

Wooden boats on a lagoon in Hue, Vietnam

Train: Most express trains departing from bigger cities in Vietnam stop at Hue Railway Station. It is located around 2 kilometers away from the center. Find train tickets to Hue here.

Coming from Da Nang? Book this Heritage Train, which takes you through the Hai Van Pass for around 13 USD.

Van: If you’re coming from nearby cities, such as Da Nang or Hoi An, the fastest way to get to Hue is to take a shared van. Buy your van ticket here.

Where to Next?
Phong Nha
Rice fields with mountains in the background. Phong Nha, Vietnam
Hoi An
Colorful lanterns in front of a coffee shop in Hoi An, Vietnam.
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And that’s the list of the 15 things to do in Hue, Vietnam!

Hue is a must-visit destination in Vietnam. It showcases the country's rich history and offers opportunities to explore its cuisine and stunning countryside.

If you’re a first-time traveler planning a trip to Vietnam, here's a quick guide to visa requirements and our comprehensive 1-month itinerary. Discover the country from north to south while exploring top places such as Hue, Hanoi, and Ninh Binh.

Let us know if you have any questions in the comments below.

Some links in this Hue Guide may be affiliate links.

This means that if you make a purchase after clicking on one of our links, we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Please know that by doing so, you are supporting Colorful Journeys in continuing to provide free high quality content to help you in your travels!

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