You’ll be blown away with this ultimate list of the best things to do in Hue, Vietnam, from the Imperial Citadel to the Dong Ba Market and more!
The ancient city of Hue, located on the Perfume River, may not be as famous as Hoi An or Hanoi but it is just as captivating.
The former Imperial City was the intellectual and cultural heart of Vietnam until the early twentieth century.
There are plenty of amazing things to do in Hue and it is a rewarding addition to any Vietnam itinerary.
Exploring the city gives glimpses into the luxurious lives of Vietnam’s former emperors plus a great introduction to modern Vietnamese life.
The must-see sights of Hue include crumbling, ornate royal tombs hidden away in sublime jungle settings, an imposing citadel filled with carefully restored gardens and palaces, and iconic pagodas famous throughout Vietnam.
History aside, modern Hue is a wonderfully diverse and dynamic city.
Table of Contents
The Best Things To Do In Hue, Vietnam
Accommodation options range from luxurious modern hotels competing with crowded alleyways full of cheap backpacker hostels.
An attractive promenade lines the banks of the Perfume River and museums, handicraft centres and renowned restaurants will keep tourists busy all day and well into the night.
Regardless of what brings you to the city, you are not likely to run out of things to do in Hue!
READ MORE: Plan your trip to Vietnam with our Vietnam Travel Guide!
1) Walk Through the Imperial Citadel (Kinh Thanh)
The Imperial Citadel is definitely a Hue top attraction. Built two hundred years ago during the Nguyen Dynasty, the fascinating Citadel is in the process of being carefully restored to its former glory.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Imperial Citadel and its vast contents will need at least a day to fully appreciate.
The sturdy security features designed to protect the Vietnamese royal family are crumbling but still impressive.
The deep moat, 10 impressive gateways, and thick stone walls that once kept enemies out, now entice tourists in.
It’s recommended that visitors buy a “package tour ticket” valid for two days when they arrive.
This joint ticket includes entrance to all areas of the Imperial Citadel, including the Imperial City and several of the Royal Tombs located just outside Hue.
If you don’t enjoy walking around in the heat, there are bicycles and golf-cart tours available near the entrance.
This is among the many places that make Hue a great city to explore with children.
The imposing Citadel from the Nguyen Dynasty dominates Hue city centre
2) Visit the Forbidden Purple City
The heart of the Imperial City Enclosure was the Forbidden Purple City, a private space accessed only by royalty and select servants.
However, due to war damage, almost nothing remains today of the Emperor’s personal rooms. The overgrown remains are atmospheric.
Take a moment to imagine the eunuchs once serving the Emperor in this lost palace.
The only part of the Forbidden Purple City to survive the twentieth-century wars is the Emperor’s Reading Room.
The exquisitely decorated outer walls and roofs are adorned with poems and mosaics.
Here, visitors can get a taste of the opulence in which the Emperors lived.
3) Stroll Through the Imperial City
Whilst the Citadel might be at the heart of the city, the Imperial City is the heart of the Citadel.
Badly damaged in the Vietnam War, what is left of the Emperor’s private residences and temples are nonetheless magnificent.
The remains of the Imperial Enclosure will take at least a few hours to really explore and get off the beaten track.
The tranquil surroundings of the Imperial Enclosure
4) Take in a Performance at the Royal Theatre
Interested in what to do in Hue that demonstrates the beautiful culture of the Vietnamese people? The living soul of the restored citadel is the Royal Theatre.
Every day, lavish cultural dances and plays are performed for tourists resting like royalty in the plush chairs.
Performances take place at 9 am, 10 am, 2.30 pm, and 3.30 pm. Entrance fees apply.
5) Walk Around the Thien Mu Pagoda
One of the most famous pagodas in Vietnam is the Thien Mu Pagoda.
Occupying a striking position on a hill on the bank of the Perfume River, the 21-metre tall tower was built in 1844.
The pagoda has eight sides and seven stories. The pagoda gets very busy and it’s difficult to tell if the tourists or the cicadas are noisier!
Dieu De National Pagoda and Bao Quoc Pagoda are also worth visiting for fine architecture and fantastic views. All three pagodas are free to visit.
Thien Mu Pagoda is famous as a symbol of Hue
6) Enjoy the Co Ha Gardens
These wonderful gardens in the Northeastern corner of the Imperial Enclosure have been carefully restored.
Tranquil streams, ornate gazebos, and colourful flora will entice you to linger and enjoy the fresh air.
Aside from the armies of gardeners maintaining the gardens, the Co Ha Gardens are a peaceful and relaxing spot to wander around just as the Royal families once did.
READ MORE: Be sure to check out these 33 must-do things to do in Vietnam!
7) Walk Around the Thai Hoa Palace
Historically, Thai Hoa Hall was the location for the Emperor’s official functions when he would greet visitors from his throne.
The inside of the palace is decorated with luxurious red and gold lacquer.
The palace has been carefully restored and visitors can watch audiovisual shows to find out more about the Citadel’s history and architecture.
The luxurious decor in Thai Hoa has been carefully restored
8) Explore the To Mieu Temple Complex
As part of your Hue sightseeing, you should plan to visit the To Mieu Temple complex.
Entering this walled complex within the Imperial Enclosure leads visitors to the stunning Hien Lay Pavilion, a three-tiered pavilion that has been beautifully restored and painted.
Opposite the pavilion is the To Mieu Temple which contains shrines commemorating each Emperor.
Also in the To Mieu Temple Complex, watch out for the famous Nine Dynastic Urns.
Each giant urn (dinh) is dedicated to a Vietnamese emperor.
Other memorable parts of the Citadel to visit are the imposing Ngo Mon Gateway (near the ticket office), the attractive Dien Tho Residence, and the recently restored Halls of the Mandarins filled with golden Buddhas and elaborate murals.
The reach of the former Emperors extends far beyond the Citadel and Hue itself.
Each emperor commissioned an imposing mausoleum to be built in their honour.
Situated along the Perfume River are seven (known) tombs dedicated to the Emperors.
Four of the tombs, Gia Long, Thieu Tri, Duc Duc, and Dong Khanh are less well-known and not usually included on popular tour itineraries.
It is possible to visit them but bear in mind that they may not be well looked after.
The main Royal Tombs visited by tourists are Khai Dinh, Tu Duc, and Minh Mang, all of which are beautifully cared for and open daily.
The best way to visit this place is by booking a Hue city tour on Klook.
9) Visit the Royal Tomb of Minh Mang
A huge complex this tomb deserves dedicating some real time to explore.
Said to contain more than 40 structures, Emperor Minh Mang didn’t live to see his tomb completed but he would have been proud.
The surroundings are beautiful and it is a much more peaceful place to visit than the other main tombs.
As well as the Royal Tombs and Citadel, Hue boasts several famous pagodas to add to its exhaustive collection of Royal buildings.
The Tomb of Minh Mang covers a vast area elegantly landscaped.
10) Marvel at the Hue Museum of Royal Fine Arts
To escape the heat whilst still learning about Hue’s dramatic past, you couldn’t ask for more.
This Hue Royal Fine Arts Museum displays artifacts from Hue’s past as well as many pieces of important Vietnamese art.
11) Enjoy the Hue Festival
Although Hue is famous for its history, the modern city is dynamic, charming and deserves to be explored.
The bi-annual Hue Festival celebrated every other April showcases the very best of Hue’s culture, music, and arts.
The 2020 Hue Festival is expected to attract tens of thousands of visitors from around the world.
12) Relax Along The Riverside Promenade
Part of the redevelopment of Hue city centre has focused on upgrading the promenade that runs along the river.
Dotted with food stalls and landscaped gardens, the promenade is a top Hue attraction that is a lovely place to enjoy an evening stroll once the heat of the day has passed.
Enjoy an evening stroll along the Perfume River
13) Try Some Royal Delicacies
The former Imperial city is a great place to try some of Vietnam’s most ‘regal’ food.
Hue is famous for Bun Bo Hue (a popular noodle dish), shrimp and pork dumplings called Banh Bot Loc and many sweet desserts once favoured by the Emperors.
14) Eat With the Monks
Vegetarians and vegans will love Lien Hoa on Le Quy Don.
This very traditional and simple restaurant serves Vietnamese food primarily to local Buddhist monks.
Try some local plant-based dishes and mingle with the monks over lunch.
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15) Meander Around the Dong Ba Market
A great activity in Hue is to visit the Dong Ba Market. First-time visitors to Vietnam will be captivated by the markets.
Dong Ba Market is a bustling local market selling everything you can imagine, from souvenirs to homegrown vegetables.
16) Pay Respects at the Royal Tomb of Khai Dinh
If you’re wondering what to see in Hue, a personal favourite of mine is the Tomb of Khai Dinh.
The blue-grey stone soldiers and elephants greet visitors as they climb the stairs between terraces.
The atmospheric jungle setting makes the mausoleum incredibly photogenic and memorable.
Khai Dinh Tomb took 11 years to build and was only finished in 1931. The buildings today seem much older.
As well as its attractive scenery, the unique blend of European and Oriental architecture makes this tomb clearly stand out.
A stone army stands guard at the tomb of Khai Dinh
17) Go on a Motorbike Tour
One of the speediest (and most exhilarating) ways to see the many Hue attractions is to experience it from a motorbike.
There are several tour companies around the city that offer motorbike tours of Hue.
Tours can be designed to cater to tourists with interests in history, food or nightlife.
Many of the best companies use their profits to help fund social enterprises and support local residents.
18) Take a Detour to Thanh Toan Bridge
Outside of Hue city centre, there are many traditional neighbourhoods worth exploring.
One trip worth making is to the famous Thanh Toan Bridge (the Japanese Bridge).
This historic wooden bridge with a tiled roof spans the river Nhu Y. It is a very picturesque and little-known spot far away from the tourist crowds.
19) Take a Lunchtime or Dinner Cruise Along the Perfume River
Savour the scenery as well as the view on a cruise along the river. We opted for a lunchtime cruise on a traditional houseboat back from Thien Mu Pagoda towards the city.
But if you have time, we definitely recommend doing a dinner cruise down the Perfume River instead.
Spot the water buffalo grazing on the banks and enjoy a homecooked meal on the water.
Take a cruise along the Perfume River in a dragon boat
20) Chill Out on the Beach
Although not technically in Hue, Thuan An Beach is close enough for an easy day trip.
Stroll along the beautiful white sand beach or enjoy the view from one of the many laid-back seafood restaurants.
READ MORE: Consider these 8 day trips from Ho Chi Minh City!
21) Discover the Story of One of Vietnam’s Darkest Hours
The Battle of Hue was one of the longest – and bloodiest – battles of the Vietnam War.
History buffs can find dozens of sites around Hue where they can learn more about this decisive battle.
The Vinh Moc Tunnels at Quảng Trị are a huge complex of tunnels worth exploring.
There are several companies running DMZ / war history tours from Hue although you can also travel independently around the various sights in the region.
22) Learn About War History Just Minutes from the Citadel
If you don’t have time for a tour, the Hue Provincial Museum (also referred to as both the Hue War Museum and the Historical and Revolutionary Museum), is a small museum dedicated to war history.
You can spot captured army vehicles and planes rusting in the grounds from the roadside.
If you want to enter (for a small fee) you can learn more about the war in the local area through photographic displays.
The museum is a little run-down but interesting nonetheless.
23) Visit the Royal Tomb of Tu Duc
Beautifully set around ponds, this is one of the most popular tombs to visit and with good reason.
Stroll around the grounds as Emperor Tu Duc once did (he built it before his death).
There are musical performances throughout the day and beautifully landscaped lakes to walk around.
The life of Emperor Tu Duc is absolutely fascinating and it is well worth paying a guide to relay the Emperor’s life story to you.
Tu Duc allegedly had over a hundred wives, ordered everyone who knew his exact burial place to be beheaded and used so much forced labour to build his tomb that the workers tried to overthrow him.
The coup failed but his legend lives on as a difficult and narcissistic ruler.
Musicians play traditional Vietnamese music at the Tomb of Emperor Tu Duc]
24) Shop for Social Justice
Hue is home to a number of inspiring social projects. The Wounded Heart Shop sells handicrafts made by disabled residents.
Profits are then used to pay for local children who need heart surgery. The Hope Center sells weaving produced by women from the A Luoi region bordering with Laos.
Profits help fund training and education for disadvantaged Vietnamese.
Give back to local residents by buying your souvenirs from one of these worthy organisations.
Wrapping Up What Do In Hue, Vietnam
Hue really is a city deserving a place in every visitor’s Vietnam travel itinerary.
The history, culture, and people will entice you and keep you returning.
The number of things to do in Hue alongside the delicious local food and easy access to the beach and mountains makes Hue a great base for a few days in central Vietnam.
If you only have one day in Hue, the Royal Tombs and Citadel are must-see relics of Vietnam’s rich past.
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