Hue (pronounced “h’way”) is located in central Vietnam and a city that history buffs will find particularly intriguing. Not only was it the seat of Nguyen Dynasty emperors from 1802 to 1945, but it was also the site of the longest and bloodiest battle of the ‘American War’ (or, as we like to say in America, the ‘Vietnam War’).
Sadly, when the war was over much of the damage in Hue was neglected because they were seen by the communist regime as “relics from the feudal regime”. But today, slowly, work is progressing to repair the historical monuments that have lead to this city being recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.
If you plan on visiting Central Vietnam, 2 days in Hue should be enough time to see the highlights. Read on to learn all about our top 8 things to do in Hue, Vietnam!
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- The Top 6 Things to do in Hue, Vietnam
Hue, Vietnam Travel Basics
Currency in Vietnam
Vietnam is an easy and inexpensive country to travel around! The currency of Vietnam is the Dong (VND) and at the time of writing the exchange rate was approximately 23,186 VND to $1 USD. Don’t worry about bringing a lot of cash from home, there are plenty of ATMs around Hue.
Getting to Hue
Hue is home to Phu Bai International Airport and there are dozens of domestic flights – operated by Jetstar Pacific, Vietnam Airlines, and VietJet – into and out of the city daily. Unfortunately, there are not any international flights into Hue directly. The closest truly international airport in the much larger Da Nang International Airport an hour south of Hue.
If you’re coming from Da Nang to the south then you can travel to Hue by Bus, Train or Private Car.
If you’re on a budget then a bus is your best option. We always use Bookaway to book our bus tickets in Vietnam because you can see all the bus schedules as well as ratings and reviews.
And if you’re a history buff or a ferroequinologist then you’ll certainly want to take the train as the railway running between Da Nang and Hue is considered to be the most scenic stretch in Vietnam. That being said the trains in Vietnam are rather slow and rarely run on time so unfortunately, it’s not the most efficient way to get between the two cities. For some reason buying train tickets through Bookaway is actually cheaper than buying them directly through the Vietnam Railways website.
You can also just hire a private driver to take you to Hue. The advantage to this is you can have them take you over the Hai Van Pass for some seriously scenic views!
Hoi An is just 45 minutes further south from Da Nang and your best transportation options are bus or private car. The train doesn’t run to Hoi An so if you’re set on taking the train to Hue you’ll first need to hire a driver to take you to the train station in Da Nang.
Getting Around Hue
The best way to get around Hue is by using the ride-hailing app Grab – it’s the Uber of Southeast Asia. Of course, you’ll need internet to use Grab and we always recommend buying a local Vietnam SIM card as soon as you arrive in the country.
Best Time to Visit Hue
The hot/dry season in central Vietnam lasts from April until October with the high temperatures ranging from 95 – 104 °F. July is generally the hottest month of the year and temperatures in Hue can be unbearably hot in the middle of the day. You can expect some rainfall from September until January.
You’ll find the weather to be the driest and most pleasant from February until April.
The Top 6 Things to do in Hue, Vietnam
1. Explore the Imperial City
Nguyen emperors occupied the Imperial City of Hue for over a century. This walled city is a private complex of buildings that at the time was only accessible by the emperors, their families, concubines, and those granted special permission. The penalty for trespassing was death.
The Citadel is the outer area of the Imperial City and is surrounded by brick walls and a moat. You’ll pay an entrance fee of 150,000 VND (~$6.50 USD) and once you venture inside you’ll find the Noon Gate which has been restored to its original beauty. This impressive entrance was used for grand royal ceremonies during its heyday. And at the very center of the city is the Forbidden Purple City where the emperor’s consorts lived.
You can spend hours wandering around the Imperial City, marveling at the impressive gates and beautiful landscaping. And thankfully most of the walkways are covered so you’ll get some respite from the blazing midday sun. Be sure to stop for an iced coffee at the shop near the coy pond to relax your feet before continuing your tour. If you only have time for one activity, a visit to the Imperial City is the best thing to do in Hue
2. Visit the Thien Mu Pagoda
The Thien Mu Pagoda, also known as the Pagoda of the Celestial Lady, is a stunningly beautiful 7-tiered tower right on the banks of the Perfume River. The pagoda was originally constructed in the 1600s and has been reconstructed, damaged, and restored several times over the centuries. It’s not as large as it once was but it’s impressive to behold nonetheless.
If you would like to snap a photo free from other tourists, head to Thien Mu in the early morning hours. The tour bus crowds descend by mid-morning.
3. See the Ancient Emperors Tombs
The Nguyen emperors ruled over the city of Hue and constructed elaborate tombs along the Perfume River to serve as their final resting place. There are 7 tombs that are available although only 3 are frequently visited by tourists – Tu Duc, Khai Dinh, and Minh Mang.
Emperor Tu Duc’s mausoleum is the most impressive of the 7 and one thing you must do in Hue. After paying the entrance fee of 100,000 VND (~$4.30 USD), you can enter this gorgeously landscaped area that is quite massive considering the relatively small size of his actual tomb. The tomb was constructed between 1864 and 1867. Tu Duc designed it himself for use both before and after his death.
There is a lovely lake in the middle of the grounds filled with lily pads. Bring an umbrella to shield you from the unrelenting sun and plan on spending at least an hour and a half wandering around the grounds, admiring the landscaping and the beautiful architecture.
4. Cruise in a Boat on the Perfume River
Another one of the best things to do in Hue is cruising the historic Perfume River! While the emperors tombs and the Thien Mu Pagoda are easily accessible by taxi or motorbike, you may prefer to hire a boat for several hours instead. You’ll have the opportunity to cruise on the Perfume River, soaking in the Hue countryside as you pass. It’s a relaxing way to visit the sites and you’ll get to see the city from a different vantage point.
Negotiating the price of your boat can be a hassle. Ignore the touts when you first arrive to the marina (Bến Thuyền Du Lịch Tòa Khâm) and note that there is no “official” boat booking booth as they will have you believe. If you can get the aggressive ladies to leave you alone you will be able to find a boat driver that will offer a fair price. We paid 900,000 VND (~$38 USD) for a 4-hour boat ride for 4 people.
5. Tour the DMZ
After the Imperial City and the Royal Tombs, the thing that brings most international visitors to the ancient capital city of Hue is it’s proximity to the Demilitarized Zone. This area, sometimes referred to as the 17th Parallel, separated Northern and Southern Vietnam before the country’s reunification in 1976. There were a number of military installations in and around this area that you can still visit, and, for history buffs, a visit to the DMZ will likely be the best thing to do in Hue.
We are all for exploring things on your own, but in this case, the easiest way to see DMZ is to book a tour. A full-day tour will take you to most of the major DMZ sites including a portion of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the Vinh Moc tunnels, Khe Sanh Combat Base, Hien Luong Bridge (Peace Bridge), The Rockpile (Thon Khe Tri), and Doc-Mieu-Station.
6. Sample the Local Cuisine
We love writing about food – especially Vietnamese food. We have thoroughly explored the Vietnamese cuisine of Hanoi and Saigon. And while there will always be a debate about Vietnam’s best city for food, there are several Vietnamese dishes that you simply must try in Hue, the city of their origin.
Cơm hến (clam rice) is a popular dish with locals and is generally eaten for breakfast. The primary ingredients are rice and baby clams. It is simple, cheap, and delicious. If you would prefer noodles over rice, ask for “bún hến” instead.
You’ll find bún bò huế (spicy beef noodle soup) served all over Vietnam, but it was originally associated with the cooking style of the royal court of Hue. This soup has a broth made from beef bones, beef shank, and lemongrass and is seasoned with fermented shrimp sauce. It has a rich flavor that is salty, spicy, and slightly fishy.
The soup generally contains rice vermicelli noodles, beef shank slices, oxtail chunks, pig’s knuckles, and congealed pig blood cubes – yum! Add lime, onions, chili, and other greens to taste.
Grab a plastic stool, a can of Huda Beer, and enjoy the Imperial City’s unique, flavorful Vietnamese food – it’s the best thing to do in Hue for all you foodies out there!
7. Visit the Abandoned Water Park at Thuy Tien Lake
Hue’s abandoned water park has become somewhat famous recently due to the gigantic dragon-shaped tower at its center. This unique building – crumbling and covered in spray paint – has become a favorite photo location for Instagrammers. And if you love exploring weird attractions or abandoned buildings then visiting this creepy, deserted water park will be the best activity in Hue for you!
This water park is (obviously) closed, and is officially off-limits to all visitors. Some visitors report being able to bribe the water park guards to let them in for as little as 20,000 VND. Other reports seem to indicate the guards can’t be bought for any price. If you want to try your luck hire motorbike and head to the waterpark yourself – it’s easy to find on Google Maps.
If that doesn’t work you should try hiring a local motorbike guide – rumor has it that the Easy Riders will take you there.
8. Take a Ride in a Cyclo
The “cyclo” is Vietnam’s take on the ubiquitous rickshaw of Southeast Asia. These 3-wheeled bicycle taxis have a front seat for the passenger and the driver sits behind. While you’ll see cyclos in the larger cities of Vietnam, you’ll have a more pleasant experience in Hue where traffic isn’t nearly as crazy.
They gather near the entrances to popular tourist destinations around the city and are a fun way to go short distances. Be sure to negotiate the price upfront and plan on spending more than you would on a taxi or Grab.
Other Things to do in Hue, Vietnam
- Shop and eat at the Pham Ngu Lao Walking Street (closed to car traffic from 6pm – 2am Friday and Saturday and 6pm -12am on Sunday)
- Go on a photography tour
- Check out the ancient bridge of Truong Tien, designed by Gustave Eiffel (creator of the Eiffel Tower in Paris)
- Ride over the Hai Van Pass on a motorbike on your way south to the beaches of Da Nang and the Hoi An’s Old Town.
We hope you enjoy your time in the beautiful city of Hue, Vietnam!
Planning a trip to Vietnam? Check out our favorite books and travel guides!