Visit Hué, to immerse yourself in Vietnam’s imperial past

Porte Ngo Mon Hue Vietnam

What to do in Hué, Vietnam

Hué lies right in the heart of Vietnam, where most travellers don’t go (which is a good thing). This city is packed with cultural sites: Hue was the imperial capital of Vietnam in the 1800s, at a time when the country practiced a dynastic form of government with emperors at the helm. With an undeniable Chinese influence, the imperial city of Hué was made up of hundreds of buildings that served as government offices, residences for the emperor and his concubines, and temples. A large part of the imperial city was destroyed during the Vietnam War, however, and today only a dozen buildings remain.

Porte Ngo Mon Hue Vietnam

Flickr – Stephen Chipp

Perhaps it’s the sheer scale of the ruins that leads many tourists to overlook Hue on a trip to the country. In truth, it takes a great deal of imagination to recreate what life looked like during Vietnam’s imperial heyday. Nevertheless, Hue’s imperial monuments were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.

What can you visit in Hué itself?

Similar to Beijing, the Imperial City of Hue lies within a fortified enclosure. Enter through the Ngo Mon Gate (pictured above), probably one of the most majestic structures still standing in Hue today. Once inside, you’ll come face to face with the Thai Hoa, the Palace of Supreme Harmony. Today, this is the best-preserved original building, despite the violent fighting that took place during the Battle of Hué in 1968. The Thai Hoa Palace was also the most important building within the imperial precincts, traditionally used by the emperor for official receptions.

Beyond that, the other surviving buildings were in various states of ruin. The Forbidden Purple City (where the emperor and his family lived) has been partially restored.

Cité Pourpre Interdite Hué Vietnam

Flickr – dalbera

When in Hue, allow at least one full day for sightseeing. Contrary to popular belief, imperial sites are in fact widely scattered and not all concentrated in the imperial city alone.

A few kilometers from the city’s outskirts are imperial tombs, those of emperors from the 1800s-1900s. Seven of these tombs are much visited, but the most interesting are the tomb of Tu Duc Tự Đức) and the tomb of Khai Dinh (Khải Định). The latter’s tomb is notably elaborate, with multi-level staircases, and terracotta statues of guards. The interior is a blend of magnificent architecture.

I’ve traced the route from the citadel to these two tombs.

Tombeau Khai Dinh Hué  Vietnam

Flickr – Khánh Hmoong

Other tombs include those of Minh Mạng and the royal tombs of Đồng Khánh and Gia Long.

On the way, you’ll certainly have the opportunity to cross the Trang Tien Bridge, which spans the Perfume River and is a nod to France, since Gustave Eiffel was responsible for its construction in the early 20th century.

Pont Trang Tien Hué

Wikimedia – ntt

A visit not to be missed, on the banks of the Perfume River in the Imperial City, is the Pagoda of the Heavenly Lady or Thien Mu. It is 7 storeys high, each representing a human apparition of Buddha. It is a symbol of the city of Hué.

Pagode de Thien Mu Hue

Flickr – tallphil

While in Hué, if you still have time to visit, you can check out the An Định Palace, the Japanese Bridge, and Dong Ba Market.

What to do around Hué?

When I traveled to Hué, after seeing the sites within the city itself, I was tempted to spend a day in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, which is, mind you, a 3h30 drive from Hué. There, you can explore caves after a leisurely stroll along a river. Nearby is Hang Son Doong, the world’s largest cave.

Parc National Phong Nha-Ke Bang Hué Vietnam

Flickr – gudi&cris

After that, I took a train from Dong Hoi station to Hanoi.

How to get to Hué

First of all, a word about transport in Hué. It’s best to get around on foot, but it’s also a good idea to rent a bicycle, especially around the imperial city, and to get between sites (tombs, pagodas, markets…).

As for the easiest way to get to Hué, you’ll have to do it in the same way as for Hoi An, for example, or Nha Trang. That is, either fly to Danang (then take a 2-hour bus) from Ho-Chi-Minh City or Hanoi, or arrive by bus or train. In my opinion, there’s little point in stopping between Hanoi and Hué.

Where to stay in Hué?

As I’ve already explained in several Vietnam-related articles, you don’t necessarily need to book your hotel nights in advance. All you need to do is find the hotels or guesthouses that appeal to you. Use our hotel comparator to help you.

Have you visited Hué? Do you think it deserves a few days’ visit?

Hotels and accommodation map – Vietnam