Sitting smack in the center of Vietnam, close to its coastline touching the South China Sea, Hue may be a lesser-known town in the rest of the world, but it holds within itself centuries of rich history and cultural heritage. With one foot firmly rooted in Vietnam’s imperial era, and another in the modernity reflected in its swanky skyline, Hue borrows some of its inimitable charm from the beautiful Perfume River that flows through it. A city that was once the seat of the royal families that ruled Vietnam, Hue has always been an integral part of Vietnam’s history.
Although an unusual destination, Hue is well connected to the rest of the country. One of the best ways to get here is from Da Nang. With cars, minivans, bus, and trains available on this route, it is not only economical but also convenient to travel from Da Nang to Hue in only 2 to 3 hours. Additionally, it is also possible to travel to Hue from Hanoi by either taking an overnight bus or a train.
Now that we have your attention, irrespective of what your Vietnam itinerary looks like, we urge you to consider a stopover in Hue. If you’re not tempted already, here’s a roundup of some of the most interesting things to do and see in Hue to help you make up your mind.
1. Deep dive into history at Hue Imperial City
The most important historic place of interest in Hue, the Imperial City, also sometimes called the Imperial Citadel, is essentially a walled part of the city housing ancient fortresses. Though it used to be the royal residence of the ruling emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty at some point, the Imperial City is relatively less important in current times.
Preserved for the purpose of tourism, this is hands down one of the most popular places to visit in Hue, owing to its historical significance. For those interested in learning about the imperial past of Hue, a visit to the walled citadel provides the perfect introduction to the city.
Entry fees: Adults: 150,000 VND (approximately USD 6.50), children aged 7-12: 30,000VND (approximately USD 1.30)
Opening hours: From April to September: 8 am – 10 pm, from October to March: 8 am – 5:30 pm
2. Slow down the pace of your life at the Perfume River
With a name that beautiful, it would be a shame if you didn’t spend some time enjoying the beauty of the Perfume River that cuts through Hue. If you prefer avoiding touristy crowds, head here early in the morning when the surroundings of the river are only visited by locals for a walk or a jog. Feel free to join them for a refreshing start to the day or just enjoy the views this time of the day offers.
However, if you want to get a feel of the local nightlife, walk along the riverbank in the evening when local vendors set up stalls to sell local food items like Banh Khoai (crispy rice flour crepe filled with meat/seafood) and other items. Grab a bite of the street food fare and spend a leisurely evening strolling by the riverside. However, if you’d like to be a little more indulgent, how about taking a river cruise in the evening? It’s a relaxing way to spend a few hours while taking in the views of the city and relishing good food onboard.
3. Travel back in time at the tombs of ancient emperors
Hue is a city full of ancient sites and one of the most abundantly found structures here are tombs of emperors who have ruled over the city in the past. Many of these tombs are designed and built elaborately with intricate carvings that not only look pretty but also tell stories from the past. Some of them are even surrounded by landscaped gardens and lakes making them more than just a plain historic site.
Depending on how much time you have on hand, these are the two tombs you should definitely plan to visit – Tomb of Minh Mang and Tomb of Khai Dinh, for their historic as well as aesthetic value.
4. Revel in the festive vibes of Hue Festival
Although not a regular occurrence, the Hue Festival is one of the biggest cultural events to be held in the city every two years, sometime between April and June. If you have been wanting to visit Hue, this is a good time to put your planning hat on so your visit coincides with the festival.
Hue Festival is a concoction of different activities ranging from pottery and kite flying to theatrical enactments of local historical episodes, a variety rarely found in one single festival. With over forty venues across the city participating in the festivities and organizing activities of all kinds, it’s hard to miss the festive vibes if you happen to be in Hue at this time. The festival originally started as a tribute to Hue’s culture and history and continues in the same spirit to this day.
5. Reconnect with nature at the Bach Ma National Park
Hue may be famous for its imperial history, but it is no less exciting for nature enthusiasts. Bach Ma National Park, located just 50 Km outside the city is known for its thick, tropical forest cover, sparkling waterfalls, winding jungle trails, hiking opportunities, and incredible wildlife.
With an elevation of about 1,200 meters above sea level, the national park has cooler weather, a welcome change from the general heat and humidity of Vietnam. Either spend a day here exploring the wilderness or consider camping overnight for an extra kick of adventure in this untouched little corner of the country.
Entry fees: 40,000 VND (approximately USD 1.80)
Being a small town in Central Vietnam, Hue does get overshadowed by its bigger, more popular counterparts – Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Hoi An. However, that shouldn’t discourage you from considering a visit to Hue. The fact that it is still fairly unexplored, gives us more reason to go off the beaten track and find out more about this historic town. If you are looking for authentic, local experiences in Vietnam, Hue is the destination you are seeking.