Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam, is a city that resonates with historical significance and cultural richness. Found along the Perfume River, Hue boasts a collection of well-preserved ancient structures, providing a glimpse into Vietnam’s imperial past. This blog post will cover the best things to see in Hue and tips for when you’re there!
How to Get to Hue
Hue is a very easy city to get to! If you’re flying, Phu Bai International Airport is the nearest airport to Hue. Situated about 15km from the city center, the airport is well-connected to major Vietnamese cities, including Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Taxis and airport shuttles are easy to catch for the short journey to the city.
If you’re exploring Vietnam by train, Hue’s railway station is a major stop on the North-South Railway. The station is close to the city center, allowing for easy access to accommodations and the main attractions. I highly recommend using the trains in Vietnam to travel around. I caught the overnight train from Ninh Binh to Hue – it was very comfortable and offered beautiful scenic views of the Vietnamese countryside. It was also very cost-effective, as the fare was reasonable and I didn’t have to pay for a night’s accommodation.
There are buses available, particularly from neighbouring cities like Da Nang and Hoi An. Although typically cheaper, the journey is usually longer depending on traffic conditions. Keep this in mind if you have limited time in Vietnam, or want to do Hue in a day trip.
How Long to Stay in Hue
Your time in Hue will depend on what you’re wanting to see and how long you have in Vietnam. I would recommend spending at least 1 night in Hue, giving you time to explore everything the city has to offer and enjoy some of the bars/restaurants. However, I wouldn’t personally recommend staying too long here. I originally booked to stay for 3 nights but left a day early. As I got the overnight train from Tam Coc / Ninh Binh, I arrived to Hue really early in the morning. By the following evening, I felt like I had seen most things and was ready to go. I did stay for two nights and made the most of a slow paced travel experience. Three nights seemed too long for what I wanted to do.
Best Things to Do in Hue
Imperial City / The Citadel
The Imperial City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, stands as the focal point of Hue’s historical allure. Built in the early 19th century, the citadel served as the seat of the Nguyen emperors. Surrounded by walls and a moat, the vast complex includes the Forbidden Purple City, numerous temples, and ornate gates. While exploring the Imperial City, take in the architectural grandeur and the interesting history of the area. I would say the Citadel was the main attraction in Hue. I met other travellers who just did day trips to Hue, from nearby cities, and only focused on seeing the Citadel.
Thien Mu Pagoda
Perched on Ha Khe Hill along the Perfume River, Thien Mu Pagoda is an iconic symbol of Hue. Dating back to the 17th century, the pagoda is known for its seven-tiered tower and serene surroundings. The pagoda offers panoramic views of the river and the lush landscape, providing a tranquil escape from the bustling city. A visit to Thien Mu Pagoda allows for contemplation and appreciation of Vietnamese Buddhist architecture.
Tombs of the Nguyen Emperors
You’ll find Royal tombs dotted around Hue, each a testament to the unique architectural styles of the Nguyen Dynasty. The Tomb of Minh Mang, Tomb of Khai Dinh, and Tomb of Tu Duc are among the most renowned. These elaborate structures are set in picturesque landscapes, reflecting the emperors’ personalities and the cultural nuances of their respective eras. Exploring the royal tombs provides a glimpse into the imperial legacy and the artistry that defined the Nguyen period. Be sure to wear appropriate clothes that cover your shoulders and knees. You will be turned away if you arrive in strappy tops or skimpy clothing.
Dong Ba Market
For a taste of local life and an array of culinary delights, a visit to Dong Ba Market is essential. Located near the Perfume River, the market is a bustling hub where locals gather to buy and sell fresh produce, seafood, and traditional handicrafts. Navigating the vibrant stalls, you can sample delicious local delicacies and buy a vast array of fruit and vegetables. Although food dominates the market, you can also buy clothes, toys and souvenirs. Dong Ba Market offers an authentic glimpse into daily life in Hue and is an excellent place to engage with the local community.
Perfume River Boat Cruise
The Perfume River runs through the city of Hue, and is named so due to flowers falling into the river in Autumn, giving the river a perfume-like smell. Numerous operators offer guided boat tours that take you past Thien Mu Pagoda, the Imperial City, and the lush riverside landscapes. The boats are colourfully decorated and our tour guide provided interesting insights into the area’s history. Although this was a pretty ride, I think I was a little let down after seeing how beautiful the river boat rides were in Tam Coc.
The Food Scene in Hue
I am a big foodie, so I couldn’t wait to try the delicacies that are local to Hue. There are a number of good restaurants, bars and markets to choose from, but some of my favourite dishes here were;
Bun Bo Hue
A signature dish of the region, bun bo Hue is a flavorful noodle soup featuring beef, lemongrass, and a vibrant broth. The dish often includes pork knuckles, congealed pig blood, and a medley of fresh herbs, creating a harmonious blend of textures and tastes.
Similar to a crispy pancake, banh khoai is a savoury delight made with rice flour, water, and turmeric. Stuffed with shrimp, pork, and bean sprouts, the pancake is folded and served with a tangy dipping sauce. It seems to be primarily a street food dish, as I couldn’t find it in restaurants.
Nem lui, or grilled pork skewers, is a popular dish in Hue. Minced pork is seasoned with lemongrass, garlic, and chili before being molded onto bamboo sticks. Served with rice paper, fresh herbs, and a dipping sauce, nem lui was one of my favourite dishes in Hue.
Hue, with its imperial grandeur and cultural tapestry, stands as a great place to visit for those seeking a deeper understanding of Vietnam’s history. From the imposing walls of the Imperial City to the serene banks of the Perfume River, each corner of Hue tells a fascinating story of a bygone era. Hue is definitely a destination worth visiting, however, I wouldn’t recommend staying too long here. From Hue, I made my way to Hoi An via bus.