This post was last updated on February 20th, 2020 at 05:39 pm
Welcome to Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam. Rich in history, culture, excellent cuisine and surrounded by beautiful rural landscapes. It is also a city that, unfortunately, is often skipped by travelers traveling directly to the nearby highlights Phong Nha and Hoi An.
We can say that Hue definitely deserves a day or 2, or 3, especially if you are a history lover. And that is where Hue’s biggest problem lies. Information is scarce at the beautiful sights themselves, which means that most tourists are looking at buildings and have no idea what has happened there.
A local guide or a very comprehensive travel guide with background information is no luxury if you find this a problem. That said, the atmosphere that the buildings radiate is enough in itself to visit Hue.
Personally, we think Hue is a highlight of Vietnam. The beautiful location on the Parfum river, the mysterious tombs, the beautiful countryside and the impressive Citadel are all beautiful photos to capture. It comes as no surprise that many photographers see the city as the most photogenic place in Vietnam.
So time to explore Hue. On this page you can read everything about the sights, the excellent cuisine and practical travel information.
Best Things to Do in Hue
The best sights in Hue are the remains of royal tombs and ornate pagodas, most of which are easily reached on foot or by bike. Once the capital of Vietnam between 1802 and 1945, Hue was ruled by emperors. For anyone interested in the cultural history of Vietnam, Hue is a gold mine of tombs, pagodas, castles and ruins.
The vast majority of these old buildings overlook the vast Perfume River and over the years have survived violent wars, which led to UNESCO placing them on the World Heritage List.
1. Discover the Hue Imperial Palace
The city has countless temples and sights, the most famous of which is undoubtedly the Imperial Palace or Tu Cam Thanh. Hue Imperial City is located on the north bank of the Perfume River and consists of hundreds of monuments.
These date from the beginning of the 19th century, including the Forbidden Purple City (not to be confused with the Forbidden City in Beijing), royal tombs, pagodas, temples, royal rooms, a library, and museums.
This monument is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is no surprise that this is THE place to visit in Hue. Many travelers, but also locals, come here to enjoy the old architecture and the many small sights in the complex.
TIP – The entrance fee is 150,000 VND (about $6.45).
2. Go to the Thieng Mu Pagoda
The Thieng Mu Pagoda (Heavenly Lady Pagoda) was built in the year 1601 and is one of the oldest buildings in Vietnam, and certainly one of the most beautiful. In addition, this pagoda is located in a beautiful area surrounded by the Perfume River.
This is also the place where one of the most famous photographs of Vietnam was taken. The photo of the monk Thich Quang Duc who set fire to a car in 1963. He did this in protest against the discrimination against Buddhist monks by the regime of Ngo Dinh Diem, the American-backed President of South Vietnam.
The Pagoda is located on a hill just outside the city center and offers breathtaking views of the Perfume River and Hue Imperial City. One of its striking features is a 21-meter high octagonal tower called Thap Phuoc Duyen, which was built in 1844.
You don’t have to pay an entry fee to enter the Thien Mu Pagoda.
TIP – At the Thien Mu Pagoda you can find the car with which the monk Thich Quang Duc drove to Ho Chi Minh City in 1963 to set himself on fire in protest against the then ruling president.
3. Go to the Thanh Toan bridge
The Thanh Toan Bridge is a pedestrian bridge similar to the Japanese covered bridge in Hoi An. The bridge is decorated with ancient Chinese and Japanese motifs and graceful sacred animals. It was built during the reign of Emperor Le Hien Tong (1740-1786) and it stretches across the Nhu Y River.
The Thanh Toan Bridge is approximately a 20-minute drive from the Hue town center, in the village of Thanh Thuy. Along the way, you will pass various traditional villages, rice fields, and different pagodas. An impressive ride!
Hue is beside the Perfume River. You can sail over this river by boat. An absolute must! It will cost you around $7 per hour and is definitely worth it.
4. Visit the Tomb of Khai Dinh
This monument on a hill is a tomb with Vietnamese and European elements. Most of the impressive exterior of the grave is covered with black concrete, giving it a kind of gothic look, while the interior looks like an explosion of colorful mosaic.
The tomb is for Khai Dinh, one of the last emperors of Vietnam, who reigned from 1916 to 1925. According to many, he did not do well because here he was mainly seen as a puppet of the French. The construction of his flamboyant tomb took 11 years. The tomb of Khai Dinh is located 10 kilometers from Hue in the village of Chau Chu.
TIP – The entrance fee is 30,000 VND ($1.30) p.p.
5. Go to the tomb of Minh Mang
The tomb of Minh Mang, famous emperor from the Nguyen dynasty, is located on the west bank of the Perfume River. It is not entirely in the center of the city, but a 30-minute drive away. The construction of the grave began in 1840 under the orders of Emperor Minh Mang himself.
Two years later it was completed under the reign of Emperor Thieu Tri. The tomb of Minh Mang is quite impressive with beautiful lakes, gardens, and canals. It has 40 buildings, including palaces, temples, terraces, and pavilions.
TIP – The entrance fee is 100,000 VND ($4.30) p.p.
6. Visit another tomb; the Tu Duc Tomb
The Tu Duc Tomb is one of the many royal tombs on the outskirts of Hue Imperial City. It was built between 1864 and 1867 in memory of the fourth emperor. Interestingly enough, the complex also served as a summer palace for emperor Tu Duc thanks to the beautiful hills and river landscape.
The Tu Duc Tomb offers a relaxed atmosphere for visitors looking for the remains of the ancient Nguyen dynasty. The royal tomb is located in Thuong Ba Village, a 15-minute drive from Hue Imperial City.
7. Visit the Hon Chen Temple
This temple was built to worship Po Nagar, the goddess of the ancient Cham population. It is located on top of a rocky cliff in Ngoc Ho Village. The special sanctuary has been restored several times under the emperor Minh Mang and Dong Khanh between 1832 and 1886.
Nowadays you will find various relics such as ancient vases, Chinese writings, and religious figures. If you are in Hue and want to go to the temple, keep an eye on the Hon Chen Temple Festival. This is held every year in the third and seventh Month of the Moon. Traditional rituals and folk dances are performed in colorful costumes.
8. Relax at the Perfume River
The Perfume River is approximately 80 kilometers long and flows from the Truong Son Mountains through Hue and Bang Lang Fork. The river is also known as the Huong River, named after the withered flowers that float upstream during the autumn months. This results in a strong floral scent, hence the name.
It is a picturesque river. On the waterfront, you will have a great view out over the water, surrounding mountains, and temples that lie nearby. You will find temples and local villages along the entire Perfume River. Of course, there are also tour operators who offer pedal boats, boat trips, and cruises.
TIP – Check this website for an overview of fun tours in the city.
9. Relax at Lang Co beach
Lang Co has a wonderful 10-kilometer long beach with a number of good resorts for relaxing. This place is also a good base for a number of fun activities, including various types of water sports.
10. Cross the Hai Van Pass
The Hai Van Pass, cloud pass or, in Vietnamese, Deo Hai Van is seen by many as one of the most beautiful coastal roads in the world and is without a doubt one of the best sightseeing spots in Vietnam.
It is one of the best things to do in Hue and it is incredibly popular because of its incredible views of the coast. Combine your visit to this mountain pass with a cooling dip in the Elephant Springs.
11. Visit Bach Ma National Park
The Bach Ma National Park contains one of the most stunning and expansive jungle walks and mountain ranges in central Vietnam. It is also easily accessible. It is halfway between Da Nang and Hue with cheap tourist buses that commute between them.
12. Go to Dong Ba Market
A nice activity is a visit to the Dong Ba Market just over the perfume river. You will usually not find any tourists here. At the market you will find a large selection of items that vary from jewelry to food, typical souvenirs and more. You can also get a great breakfast or lunch meal here.
13. Cycling Around Hue
Many travelers choose to rent bicycles and cycle along the perfume river and visit different sights in Hue, such as the temples, pagodas and tombs. Some hotels have free bikes to borrow and otherwise you can rent a cheap bike somewhere.
14. The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
The Vietnam War has left deep scars and everyone knows a number of stories. But if you really want to learn more about the atrocities of the war, you can visit the DMZ near Hue. In this demilitarized zone you will find the Hien Luong Bridge, which was the border between north and south Vietnam.
There is an abandoned American army base, Khe Sanh Combat Base, where you can see tanks, helicopters and planes. You can also see the Vinh Moc Tunnels, an underground tunnel system that was used to hide from the bombs that rained from the sky. You can visit the DMZ with a day trip from Hue.
15. The Abandoned Water Park in Hue
If you love taking great (and a bit eerie) pictures then you should consider visiting the abandoned water park. It was abandoned in 2004, but you can still go inside, even though some people are denied access.
It is quite unique with a large dragon around a dome that used to be an aquarium. You can look around and explore the glass tunnel where once there were fish and crocodiles, and take some really cool urban photos.
Hue itself doesn’t have any noteworthy beaches but not too far from Hue is one of the best beaches in all of Vietnam: Lang Co Beach. On the road from Hue to Da Nang or vice versa, just before the start of the Hai Van Pass, there is a small fishing village called Lang Co. Many will drive through this village but won’t stop there.
However, if you have the time, an overnight stay is definitely recommended. Lang Co has a wonderful 10 kilometer long beach with a number of great resorts for relaxing. This place is also a good base for a number of fun activities.
Lang Co Beach
The 10 kilometer long beach is inviting with its yellow / white fine sand. The best time to come here is between April and August. For the best stretch of beach you should stay at the Lang Co Beach Resort. They keep this stretch of beach very clean and you can use the lounge chairs.
An evening stroll along the beach will take you to a number of excellent fish restaurants. Do not expect the locals here to speak great English, but with a bit of pointing and laughing, food is brought to your table.
On the other side of the road is a lagoon with a number of restaurants on stilts in the water. You have a beautiful view over the mountains. A great place to spend the evening. On a clear day you have a beautiful sunset here.
Hue Food and Drinks
The imperial past of Hue has left a huge mark on the local cuisine. The emperors gathered the best chefs in the country, which led to the development of a cuisine that can be seen as unique in Asia.
The Hue cuisine is now also very popular outside Hue and you will find local specialties throughout the country. A good introduction to the specialties is to eat at the popular chain “Mon Hue”. This will appeal to most tourists because you can eat in a clean, air-conditioned room. This chain has branches throughout the country.
Anyway, you are in the original city where the origin of this kitchen is, so step over your fear and eat at the local “Quan” restaurants. These restaurants do not have the most attractive interior but the food is cheap and often of excellent quality. These restaurants often specialize in one or a few dishes, guaranteeing freshness.
Forget the restaurants in the tourist streets with their menus as thick as the Bible. Here you don’t get the real Hue taste. Go to the restaurants in these streets if you just want a pizza or other Western food.
But what are the dishes that you should really try? We will keep it short and give you 3 dishes that you should try. These dishes all fit well with the taste of Western tourists.
Bun Bo Hue
Bun Bo Hue is a soup with a beef stock. The bowl contains round white rice noodle which look very different from Pho noodles, for example. It comes with pieces of fermented sausage, thinly sliced beef and a piece of beef leg. As a garnish you get bean sprouts and a large plate with fresh herbs. The soup is not spicy by itself, but we like to add a generous scoop of chilies to give it some heat.
Nem Lui in Combination with Banh Khoai
Our personal favorite from Hue’s kitchen. They are two separate dishes but are actually always combined. Nem Lui is a minced meat that is pressed around a lemongrass stalk and then grilled. Banh Khoai is a rice pancake filled with shrimp, meat, coconut and bean sprouts. It looks a bit like the southern Banh Xeo but is smaller and thicker.
Now take a sheet of rice paper and fill it with the lettuce and herbs on the table, add a piece of grilled meat and a piece of the pancake and roll it up. The dip sauces complete it. Highly recommended!
You can find Nem Lui restaurants everywhere through Hue. Several locals recommended the following address: 6 Nguyen Hue.
Banh Beo are small rice pancakes steamed in separate dishes. Often filled with shrimps or seasoned minced meat. As a garnish you get bean sprouts and different kinds of herbs. The wonderfully composed fish sauce completes it.
The Pham Ngu Lao street and the adjacent streets are pretty much the tourist and backpacker quarter. Here you will find all kinds of Western food and coffee shops that sell cappuccino, espresso and the like. The nightlife also takes place here with a number of nice bars to choose from.
In recent years the backpacker area has increasingly become the entertainment center for local youth. The DMZ, the oldest and most famous tourist bar in the city, which is mentioned first in all travel guides, has been attracting more and more Vietnamese guests for years. Nowadays, tourists are in the minority there.
The same applies to Brown Eyes. A few years ago it was the tourist club but now Vietnamese are in the majority. Many tourists have all left for the Century Pub Beergarden a block away. I think beer garden is a somewhat crooked translation, beer garden does not do it justice.
It may be a garden but it is completely covered. Only the front is completely open so you are actually inside. That is, if you can come in. It is often that busy! A great sound system, a stage, live music and 2 TV screens of about 3 by 4 meters. And all of this for very reasonable prices. We got half a liter of beer for 60 cents.
The fact that the streets are now closed for traffic in the evening on weekends also adds to the crowds. To date, the closure continues to attract a lot of public. If the weather cooperates a bit, it is always busy.
Hue slowly but surely gets a lively nightlife. Well, not really a “night” life since most places do close by midnight. In a tropical climate, everyone is used to getting up early but nowadays this neighborhood is highly recommended for an evening of socializing. And for those who want to continue after midnight, if they still have guests, they will not kick you out. And otherwise there are always the clubs.
The Best Bars & Clubs in Hue
- Century Pub Beergarden
- One for the Road Bar
- DMZ Bar
- Brown Eyes
- Asta The Club
- Dong Bar – Unlock the Vibes
- F75 – Factory 75 Bar
Best Time to Visit Hue
The best time to visit Hue is from January to April. The temperatures are a pleasant 20°C to 25°C (68°F to 77°F) and there’s almost no rain.
From mid-January to September is the dry season with high temperatures (30°C – 86°F) and humidity. From our own experience we can say that the combination of heat and high humidity will really make you sweat. Plan your visit to the Citadel and the tombs in the early morning or afternoon and rest at noon.
In September it cools down and the rainy season starts. Temperatures are more pleasant, between 20°C and 30°C (68°F to 86°F). The city is known for the drizzling weather during this period, which can also give a special atmosphere to the old buildings and the surrounding tombs. If you visit the city during this period, make sure you wear suitable rain gear.
Hue Location in Vietnam
Hue is located in the central region of Vietnam on the famous Perfume River and a short distance from the coast. Due to the relatively small distance between the city and other famous attractions such as Hoi An, Da Nang and Phong Nha, it is an ideal stop for anyone traveling through this region. That said, you certainly don’t have to see Hue as a place to break up your journey as there is so much to see and do, but more about that later.
How to Get to Hue
The city has an airport and is well connected with multiple daily flights between major destinations in Vietnam. Hue Airport is only for domestic flights. The train station is a short distance from the streets where you can find the best restaurants, bars and hotels and it takes no more than 10 minutes by taxi.
You will probably come from one of the following places.
From Hanoi to Hue
If you want to go directly from Hanoi to Hue (688 kilometers) then you have two options. Take a domestic flight or the night train. Forget the bus, that’s a disaster. Book your airline tickets through a comparison site like Skyscanner and train tickets through 12GoAsia for the cheapest rates.
From Phong Nha / Dong Hoi to Hue
If you come from this region, then bus transport is the best option. Optionally you can take the train from Dong Hoi but then you miss out on an interesting day. The best thing is to book a tour from one of these places that will take you along the Vinh Moc Tunnels and the DMZ to catch an interesting piece of history.
These tours leave around 8 a.m. and drop you off at 2 p.m. near your hotel in Hue. A tour is easy to book at almost any hotel or travel agency in these places. We recently paid VND 500,000 (US $21.50) per person from Phong Nha for this trip including the tunnels and DMZ admission tickets.
From Hoi An to Hue
If you want to go from Hoi An to Hue then you also have a very impressive day trip. Many travelers choose to rent a scooter and ride the magical Hai Van Pass. If you do not want to drive yourself, hire a motorbike guide for the day. Alternatively there is the beautiful train route between Da Nang and Hue. In that case it is best to take a taxi from Hoi An to the train station in Da Nang which costs around VND 400,000 (US $17.20).
Can you also take the bus? Yes, you can, but then you really do yourself a bit short because this is one of the most beautiful routes in Vietnam. So make it an outing!
If you still want to take the bus, here are the prices and travel times to Hue from some of the popular cities in Vietnam.
- Da Nang – max. $4 per person, 3 hours
- Hanoi – max. $30 per person, 14 hours
- Ho Chi Minh City – max. $40 per person, 20 hours
- Ninh Binh – max. $ 25 per person, 12 hours
Hue Hotel & Hostel Guide
The nicest hotels in Hue are all located around Le Loi & Pham Ngu Lao street, near the Perfume River. From this block you can quickly reach all important sights, cozy restaurants and bars.
Best Budget Hotels & Hostels in Hue
Best Mid-Range Hotels in Hue
Best High End Hotels & Resorts in Hue
- Pilgrimage Village Boutique Resort & Spa – US $80
- Vedana Lagoon Resort & Spa – US $80
- Indochine Palace – US $90
TIP – For an overview of all options you can take a look at Booking.com.