- Top Things To Do in Hue
- 1. Explore the Purple City: Best Thing To Do in Hue
- 2. Thien Mu Pagoda the Symbol of Hue
- 3. Be Astonished at Paradise Cave
- 4. Confucius Simplicity at Minh Mang Tomb
- 5. A Royal Outing at Tu Duc Tomb
- 6. The Lavish Khai Dinh Tomb
- 7. Hue Imperial Museum of Royal Antiquities
- 8. Living Traditional Crafts at Luc Bo Cultural Space
- 9. Local Shopping at Dong Ba Market
- 10. Hiking and Trekking at Bach Ma National Park
- 11. A Road Trip to Lang Co Beach
- 12. Stroll Along Nguyen Dinh Chieu Walking Street
- 13. The Final Imperial Abode An Dinh Palace
- 14. The People’s Princess Huyen Tran Temple
- 15. Folk Spirituality at Hue Nam Shrine
- 16. Walking and Cycling Tours
- 17. Savor the Local Specialties
- 18. Join a Cooking Class
- 19. The American War at Vinh Moc Tunnels
- 20. Tu Hieu Pagoda and Thich Nhat Hanh
- 21. Local Hospitality at Royal Garden Houses
- 22. A Country Outing to Gia Long Royal Tomb
- 23. Lake Truoi and Truc Lam Bach Ma Zen Monastery
- 24. A Sunny Day at Thuan An Beach
- 25. Dinner Cruise and Sunset on The Perfume River
- How To Get to Hue
- Getting Around Hue
- Visiting Temple and Pagodas in Hue: Dos and Don’ts
Hue (Vietnamese spelling: Huế) was one of Vietnam’s ancient imperial capitals. It’s situated along the Perfume River not far from the central coastline. There’s an abundance of natural scenery and interesting things to do in Hue.
Hue is interwoven with a rich tapestry of Vietnamese history, both ancient and modern. The former DMZ boundary that separated Vietnam was about 100 km to the north along the Ben Hai River, and the city is home to many UNESCO protected sites.
Top Things To Do in Hue
In Hue you can explore the royal tombs and magnificent mausoleums built by the Nguyen Kings. Vietnam’s ancient past can also be discovered in the Imperial Purple City, at Thien Mu Pagoda, as well as in museums and royal garden houses.
Nearby you can enjoy pristine beaches, explore the former DMZ, or hike tropical forests in Bach Ma National Park. However, one of the really fun things to do in Hue is to visit nearby Paradise Cave – one of the most spectacular caves in Asia.
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1. Explore the Purple City: Best Thing To Do in Hue
Hue Imperial Citadel (Quần thể Di tích Cố đô Huế) is a fascinating place even if you only visit for a couple of hours. It’s an adventure of its own through the maze of buildings, beautiful courtyards, impressive arched gates, and fun things like giant urns.
Highlights are the thrones of the Nguyen Kings, the Royal Theater and Reading Room, and the The To Temple (Thế Tổ Miếu). Construction was started in 1805 by Emperor Gia Long along the design of the Forbidden City in Beijing.
Protip: Bring your own drinks and snacks. The Museum of Royal Antiquities and Luc Bo Cultural Space are next to the citadel.
2. Thien Mu Pagoda the Symbol of Hue
Thien Mu (Thiên Mụ), or the Pagoda of the Celestial Lady, is one of the must-see places in Hue and is often quite busy and crowded. It’s the oldest pagoda and world heritage monument in Hue and was established in 1601 by Lord Nguyễn Hoàng.
The iconic hexagonal brick tower that dominates the skyline was added in 1844 by the Emperor Thieu Tri and the giant bell dates back to 1710 and Lord Nguyễn Phúc Chu.
A modern historic relic at this temple is the blue Austin car that drove the monk Thich Quang Duc (Thích Quảng Đức) to his self-immolation in Saigon in 1963 to protest the suppression of Buddhism by President Ngo Dinh Diem (Ngô Đình Diệm).
3. Be Astonished at Paradise Cave
Paradise Cave is certainly one of the best things to do while in Hue. The name derives from its cavernous interior, amazing rock formations, and breathtaking stalactites and stalagmites.
The cave is about 180 km due northeast of Hue city in Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park. It’s one of the longest dry cave systems in the world. One kilometer is open to popular tourism along well designed wooden platforms and stairs.
It’s a 4 hour drive from Hue and plenty of tours head that way. Other popular attractions in the park include Phong Nha Cave, wet cave adventuring in Dark Cave, as well as Phong Nha Botanical Garden and swimming at Mooc Spring.
4. Confucius Simplicity at Minh Mang Tomb
Minh Mang Tomb (Lăng Minh Mạng) has a simple and unassuming design. All the same, it’s majestic and sublime in how it draws you into the inner sanctum through a series of broad courtyards and gateways.
The wide angles, bright colors, and detailed ornamentation are a gift to the contemplative photographer. Only twenty of the original 40 structures remain, but they have undergone extensive renovation due to termites, high humidity, and fungus.
Minh Mang ruled between 1820 and 1849 and fought hard to keep Vietnam free of foreign influences. His monument reflects many Confusious ideals.
5. A Royal Outing at Tu Duc Tomb
Tu Duc is the largest imperial tomb and was built as a retreat by the emperor during his lifetime. It’s only about 6 km outside Hue city center and makes for a perfect bicycle outing and one of the best family things to do in Hue.
If you wander away from the main tomb, you’ll come across the houses of the royal concubines. You can stroll through pine groves, or enjoy some time along the shores of the lake.
There’s a splendid wooden pavilion facing a lake island, and if you’re lucky, there may be a musical performance. You can also pay a visit to the Hoa Khiem Temple (Điện Hoà Khiêm) and see some royal artefacts.
6. The Lavish Khai Dinh Tomb
Khai Dinh Mausoleum (Lăng Khải Định) is an imposing architectural masterpiece blending Vietnamese and particularly French influences. The blackened granite stones create a dark and somber mood even when set against a brilliant blue sky.
You have to walk up 127 steps, flanked by dragon motifs, to reach the fifth elevation of the main hall. Inside, the elaborate and intricate decorations of gold and ceramic mosaic are quite spectacular.
Khai Dinh was 12th and second to last of the Nguyen reign. This was the last mausoleum built and construction lasted from 1920 and 1931.
7. Hue Imperial Museum of Royal Antiquities
Situated right next to the Hue Citadel, or Purple City, you can find the Hue Imperial Museum of Antiquities (Bảo tàng Cổ vật Cung đình Huế). The building itself is a historical masterpiece dating back to 1845 during the time of King Thieu Tri (Thiệu Trị).
It’s built mainly of wood with 128 pillars, and there are many intricate carvings and poems in Chinese characters. The exhibits include many royal artefacts such as royal furniture and clothes, as well as ornaments made from gold, silver, jade, and porcelain.
8. Living Traditional Crafts at Luc Bo Cultural Space
From the Imperial Museum of Royal Antiquities, you can walk through or around the park to the Luc Bo Cultural Space (Không gian Văn hoá Lục Bộ). This is another beautiful historical building which now serves as an arts and crafts center.
If you’re looking for fun things to do with kids in Hue, there are workshops in making conical palm hats, lanterns, woven baskets, paper ﬂowers, and more.
There are also Nguyen Dynasty documents on display and historic information on royal products. You can purchase quality, handmade souvenirs, transitional teas and wines from the storefront.
9. Local Shopping at Dong Ba Market
If you walk along the river boardwalk to the Truong Tien bridge (cầu Trường Tiền), then cross the river and take a right, you’ll come to the Dong Ba Market (chợ Đông Ba). Dong Ba is a typical local Vietnamese market and one of the biggest in Hue.
You will need to bargain for prices, but you can pick up some cheap souvenirs, clothing, and religious paraphernalia like incense. There’s a lot of dried or packaged local foodstuffs, and food stalls cooking up some of Hue’s favorites.
Protip: If you’re looking for high-quality handicrafts, try the Luc Bo Cultural Space.
10. Hiking and Trekking at Bach Ma National Park
Bach Ma (Bạch Mã) is about 48 km south of Hue. It’s one of the best things to do in Hue if you’re looking to get away from it all. Most hiking routes are around 30 min or so and accessed from drop off points along the park’s roads.
You can hike up to Bach Ma Summit with panoramic views of the lagoon, lakes, and down to the ocean. Also on the list is the 300 meter high Do Quyen waterfall, refreshing dips in forest pools, or hikes along the Five Lakes Trail.
Tours generally leave around 8 am and return by early evening. The best time to go is the dry or cool season from December through April.
11. A Road Trip to Lang Co Beach
Lang Co Beach (bãi biển Lăng Cô) is a popular stop-off point if you’re heading south to Bach Ma National Park. It’s about 60 km from central Hue, but only 30 km from Danang. If you’re traveling from Danang to Hue via the Hai Van Pass, don’t forget to stop here.
Situated between a turquoise lagoon and a 10 km seafront, there’s plenty of room to enjoy swimming and beach activities. There are a few local restaurants along the land strip, and there may be a jet ski rental shop open depending. Alternatively, nearby resorts have facilities open to the general public.
12. Stroll Along Nguyen Dinh Chieu Walking Street
Nguyen Dinh Chieu Walking Street (phố đi bộ Nguyễn Đình Chiểu) is a pedestrian street that extends along the southern bank of the Perfume River halfway between the famous Truong Tien Bridge and the newer Phu Xuan Bridge (cầu Phú Xuân).
It’s a nice place to stretch your legs along the shady river bank, and do some shopping at the stalls and boutiques along the way. If it gets too hot, you can relax inside a cafe.
Protip: This street picks up into the night and you can walk here from the Hue Night Walking Street which is a little into town.
13. The Final Imperial Abode An Dinh Palace
An Dinh Palace (Cung An Định), with its gorgeous yellow exterior and ornate white decorative carvings, has its own story to tell. It lies on the An Cuu canal (sông An Cựu) which cuts the city in two before merging with the Perfume River.
Emperor Khai Dinh lived here as a child, and his son Bao Dai, the 13th and final Emperor, moved to this palace from the Purple City after abdicating in 1945. Bao Dai renovated the palace in a modern style, and since he never got to build a mausoleum, this palace can be considered his memorial.
Bao Dai’s mother, Queen Tu Cung (Hoàng Hậu Từ Cung), was ousted from the palace by the unpopular President Ngo Dinh Diem to a nearby residence, where she died at the age of 91, refusing to leave her beloved Hue.
14. The People’s Princess Huyen Tran Temple
This vast and stately temple is fairly recent dating back to 2007. It was built to honor the popular Princess Huyen Tran (Huyền Trân công chúa) since a previous temple had been lost to war and other upheavals.
Inside the main temple, you can see the 2.37 meter high statue of the princess. Behind this, is the longest dragon staircase in Vietnam that leads to a temple to her father, Tran Nhan Tong (Trần Nhân Tông).
If you fancy a little more exercise in the fresh air, try the 246 stairs leading to the Bell Tower of Peace on the top of the mountain where you can catch a panoramic view of Hue city.
The 28-hectare complex also houses the Huyen Tran Cultural Center, an orchid house, and calligraphy garden. If you’re in Vietnam during the Lunar New Year (Tết), you can join the eight-day Huyen Tran cultural festival that starts on the 8th lunar day.
15. Folk Spirituality at Hue Nam Shrine
From the banks of the Perfume River at Thien Mu Pagoda, you can take a river taxi 7 km down to this lesser-known gem, the Hue Nam Shrine (Điện Huệ Nam). This shaded shrine sits on a hill overlooking a bend in the river.
Also known as the Hon Chen Temple (Điện Hòn Chèn), it’s most famous for the large Autumn festival in the seventh lunar month, and the smaller Spring festival in the second lunar month. It honors the Holy Mother Thien Y A Na (Bà Thiên Y A Na) who is worshipped in the folk traditions as the creator goddess of the land, the trees, and the forests.
Many local people visit this temple to do spirit rituals and offerings, so the atmosphere is often charged with vibrant songs and music. Since early 2020 it’s been undergoing intensive renovation and reconstruction.
16. Walking and Cycling Tours
If you want to get to know the city more in-depth, there are various walking and cycling tours you can book. Some tours will take you along historical journeys, while others will take you around to try the local cuisine or snack at street stalls.
Because Hue is also a religious center, there are also vegetarian/vegan tour options. In which case, you’d better make sure to skip breakfast. A popular bicycle tour is to the Thanh Toàn Bridge, some 7.5 km inland from the central hotel district.
17. Savor the Local Specialties
There are many popular dishes from Hue you can eat all over Vietnam. However, nothing beats that taste of original local cuisine. There are several must-try signature dishes of Hue that you can eat at food stalls or in a restaurant.
- Bun Bo Hue (bún bò Huế) is the most popular. It’s a spicy beef broth noodle soup flavored with lemongrass with beef strips and crap balls, often topped with shallots.
- Bun Thit Nuong (bún thịt nướng) is Hue’s version of grilled pork noodles— also flavored with lemongrass.
- Nem Lui (nem lụi) are ground pork on lemongrass skewers.
- Banh Beo (bánh bèo) are small disk-shaped rice flour cakes with shrimp flakes and chili sauce on top.
- Banh Khot (bánh khọt) is a crispy cake made from tapioca four and coconut milk.
- Banh Loc (bánh lọc) is a similar glutinous tapioca dumpling with shrimp and pork belly inside.
18. Join a Cooking Class
Many travelers are looking for more than just sightseeing, shopping, or outdoor activities. Learning arts, crafts, and cooking are popular activities. Hue is famous for its unique cuisine, both everyday local favorites and the haute cuisine of its imperial past.
You can learn how to make dishes like Bun Bo Hue (beef soup noodles), lemongrass skewers, fig salad, and more. You can also go on a shopping trip to pick up the fresh ingredients.
19. The American War at Vinh Moc Tunnels
A full or half a day at Vinh Moc Tunnels (Địa đạo Vịnh Mốc) can get you out into the countryside, and experiencing some Vietnam War history. They were constructed as a refuge for villagers during the bombing raids, so aren’t as narrow and cramped as the Cu Chi Tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City.
The DMZ was just below the 17th parallel in Quang Tri (Quảng Trị) province as per the Geneva Agreements. It was the most heavily bombed area in modern history and lies about 100 km north of Hue, most of it running along the Ben Hai River.
20. Tu Hieu Pagoda and Thich Nhat Hanh
Tu Hieu (Từ Hiếu) is one of the most illustrious pagodas in Hue. The monk Nhat Dinh (Nhất Định) started it’s construction in 1843 in honor of and service to his mother. Its name, the Dutiful Son Pagoda, was conferred by Emperor Tu Duc.
This Zen Monastery houses around 70 monks and nuns. As a living Dharma center, you can be inspired by daily practices of mindfulness, or you can join daily meditation sessions at 10 am, noon, 4 pm, and 7 pm.
Its spacious grounds have quiet spots for contemplation. You can view the half-moon pond, the lotus lake, and visit the ancient graves of eunuchs. There’s a bookshop with books in various languages, as well as other souvenirs and paraphernalia.
In more recent times, this temple is where the internationally famous Zen teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh (Thích Nhất Hạnh), studied as a novice monk and currently resides.
21. Local Hospitality at Royal Garden Houses
Another part of Hue’s imperial past are the garden homes of former elites or minor royals. Some still remain under the care of original family lineages, and a few can be visited at a nominal fee. Since 2015, there has been an extensive conservation effort to restore many of these historic residences.
These picturesque houses typically have an ornate entrance gate and path leading to a bricked screen. Behind this is the pond with rocks gardens, fruit trees, and flowering plants along the sides— all meticulously designed according to feng shui principles.
- An Hien House (nhà vườn An Hiên) about a 15-minute-walk from Thien Mu Pagoda at 58 Nguyen Phuc Nguyen Str.
- Lac Tinh Vien House (nhà vườn Lạc Tịnh Viện) is on the other side of the river at 65 Phan Dinh Phung Str. covering around 2 000 square meters.
- Ngoc Son Princess Garden House (Phủ thờ Công chùa Ngọc Sơn) belonged to a daughter of Emperor Dong Khanh (Đồng Khánh).
22. A Country Outing to Gia Long Royal Tomb
Gia Long Tomb (Lăng Gia Long) is some 20km due southwest of central Hue in Huong Tra (Hương Trà) Town. Coming here is one of the more relaxing things to do in Hue, especially if you take a river taxi.
It would be best to head out early in the morning, taking along a packed lunch to enjoy. Around the complex are lots of shady trees, lotus ponds, and you can meander along footpaths and discover some local villages nearby.
Compared to other tombs, it’s not a grand or spectacular monument, but it’s a great place to visit for its historical significance and natural setting. The imperial temple Thua Thien (Thừa Thiên) has a few old artefacts, and there’s a large inner courtyard, gardens, and pond.
23. Lake Truoi and Truc Lam Bach Ma Zen Monastery
Hue city has a rich history of Zen culture. But what better way to appreciate this than getting out into nature? Heading 38 km towards the Bach Ma National Park, you will arrive at the beautiful turquoise waters of Truoi Lake (sông Truồi).
From there, it’s just a 15 min trip over the tranquil waters to the Truc Lam Bach Ma Monastery. There are 172 steps passing through three symbolic gates of the three worlds.
You can view the impressive beauty of the waters on the way to the 24 meter high Buddha statue. The monastery, completed in 2008, has become an international place of pilgrimage.
24. A Sunny Day at Thuan An Beach
Thuan An beach (bãi biển Thuận An) is the nearest beach to Hue and is only 15 km away or 30 minutes by motorbike or vehicle. The beach is on the peninsula where the Perfume River runs into Tam Giang Lagoon.
You can rent deck chairs and beach umbrellas for about 50 000 VND a day. There are grassy parks along the shoreline, and you can go over to the local resort nearby which also caters to outsiders.
A number of local coffee shops and restaurants along the peninsula are also worth investigating. April to September are the nicest months for swimming and enjoying great weather.
25. Dinner Cruise and Sunset on The Perfume River
The broad and stately Perfume River runs pretty much due east-west and is perfect for enjoying the gorgeous sunsets of Hue city. Several operators run cruises where you can enjoy some fine food, see the sights along the river, and be entertained with traditional folk music.
Most cruises do not include alcohol in the price for which you have to pay extra. Tour operators will usually pick you up at your hotel and take you to the wharf where the tour departs.
How To Get to Hue
Hue is served by a domestic airport, so you can easily get connecting flights from Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Nha Trang, and other locations. Flights to Hue can sometimes be limited or unreliable, so flying to Danang is another option.
From Danang, you can get to Hue by regular taxi or by a private shuttle service. It takes about 2 hours going directly. If you choose to go along the scenic Hai Van Pass with a stop off at Lang Co Beach, it will take longer.
Getting Around Hue
The best way to get around Hue is private transportation which is relatively inexpensive and far more convenient than public buses.
Taxis and Car Hires in Hue
For motor vehicle transportation, there are various taxi companies, or you can use a Grab Car. If you want to visit historic sites outside the city at your leisure, it’s cheaper to rent a car and driver for either a half or a full day, or by the hour with a Grab Car.
Metered taxis start at around 15 000 VND and then 11 500 VND to 16 000 VND per kilometer. Car rentals per day with a driver vary between 30 to 40 USD. A trip to the Vinh Moc tunnels averages around 50 USD, further locations could be 20‒30 USD extra, but to Paradise cave could be 100 USD or a little more.
Grab Corporation has a very user-friendly smart app with an English interface and support. Two of the national taxi corporations—Vinasun and Mai Linh—also have English language apps in the Google Play and Apple app stores.
Getting Around by Motorbike in Hue
Motorbikes are a good option if you’re traveling alone or with just a couple of friends. Grab Corporation also has a motorbike taxi service for single passengers. But, as with anywhere else in Vietnam, you can easily rent a motorbike for the day.
To rent and legally ride a bike you will need to show your passport, national, as well as international licenses. Scooters and 50cc bikes do not require a license.
A fully automatic for around the city can cost about 6 USD per day. Semi or fully automatics are about 20 USD per day.
Deposits for smaller, cheaper bikes made in China are usually around 1-million VND (45 USD), and more expensive road bikes between 3-5 million.
You can also pick up and drop off a bike in a different city like Danang, Hoi An, or Dong Hoi. Some motorbike rental companies will also arrange baggage transfer to your next destination.
Bicycle Rentals in Hue
Bicycle rental is quite popular in Hue. Basket type Asama bikes can be as cheap as 4 USD (90 000 VND) per day, and mountain bikes up to 13 USD.
There are also bicycle (and motorbike) tours to popular locations, tracing historical routes around the city, or going on a foodie venture. A lot of guest houses may provide free bicycles or you can rent from a shop.
Dragon Boat River Taxis in Hue
Another great option in Hue is a river taxi or dragon boat. Many popular sites, temples and tombs can be accessed directly from the riverbank, or by connecting to a cyclo for a short ride to your destination.
The Toa Kham pier at 49 Lê Lợi Str. in the tourist downtown is the place to go. There are various tours advertised. A single boat to Thien Mu Pagoda is around 250 000 VND and takes about 50 minutes.
Alternatively, at Thien Mu Pagoda warf you can easily negotiate boat trips to Hue Nam Shrine, Minh Mang Tomb, Gia Long Tomb, or elsewhere.
Visiting Temple and Pagodas in Hue: Dos and Don’ts
Many sites in Hue are pagodas, temples, and national heritage sites. As such, you should know a few things about correct etiquette.
For many temples, including at tombs, if you want to go inside the main hall or shrine, you should wear modest clothing that covers your knees and shoulders—for both men and women.
Don’t talk loudly and respect the space of people performing religious rituals and duties. Sometimes you have to remove your shoes, and feel free to offer incense while leaving a small donation.
In many locations, you shouldn’t take photographs of main deities or altars in shrines and pagodas. Just make a note to look around for signs which tell you what to do or not to do.