Hue, Vietnam, is often skipped by travelers looking to focus their time in Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh City, and Hanoi. However, Hue is well worth a visit, as it’s packed with world heritage sites, imperial palaces, rivers, and historic places. Plus, it’s easy to get to, with Phu Bai international airport being just outside the city — so there’s no excuse not to go! Here are the reasons why you need to visit Hue, Vietnam:
1. Imagine Life as a Vietnamese King in the Imperial Citadel
From 1802 to 1945, Hue became the capital city of reunified Vietnam and was the cultural and political heart of the country. As the former Imperial capital, Hue is home to the Imperial Citadel, a sprawling complex of buildings and temples where the royal family resided. The citadel is surrounded by today’s modern city of Hue, and visitors can only access it by crossing bridges over the moat.
While visiting the Imperial Citadel, you’ll have to use your imagination to picture what it must have once looked like — the temples, pavilion, and walls were damaged during the American-Vietnam war when the major military Tet Offensive campaign in 1968 destroyed most of the city. Even though much is in ruin, the Imperial Citadel is still well worth a visit. You can still see some of the city’s elegant gates and walls, and there are some parts that have been restored. The city is best explored by an official tour.
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2. Dong Ba Market
Dong Ba Market is the oldest of its kind and is packed to the brim with hundreds of stalls selling everything from handicrafts to fresh foods, clothing, and household items. It’s an eclectic mix of products being sold and best explored by simply strolling around and seeing what you can find. The market is usually very busy and can be an assault on the senses.
3. Hai Van Pass
If you want to travel to Hue in style, consider renting a motorbike, moped or jeep and driving down the epic Hai Van Pass. It’s a 12-mile strip of road that joins the city of Da Nang and Lang Co, passing through the Hue province. The pass is over 1,640 feet above sea level, making it the highest in the whole of Vietnam — and the views are truly spectacular. You’ll see everything from mountains to jungle forests, sandy beaches and small towns.
4. Thien Mu Pagoda
The Thien Mu Pagoda is a beautiful, seven-story pagoda that is thought of as the symbol of the city, dating back to the 1660s. The pagoda lies on top of a hill and is a peaceful respite from the bustling city of Hue.
5. Forbidden Purple City
The Forbidden Purple City is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is located inside the Imperial Citadel, overlooking the Perfume River. Once inside the forbidden city, you’ll see the remnants of imperial gates and architecture at every turn. The forbidden city was reserved just for the most important people in Vietnam but much of it was destroyed during the Vietnam War, as with the Imperial Citadel. While the Tet Offensive was declared a victory for American forces, the tragic destruction of the city was said to be the beginning of the end of public support for the war in the US.
6. Cycling in the Countryside
If you’re staying in Hue for a few days, a great day trip idea is to go on a countryside cycling tour. You can cycle past rice paddies, small villages, and smaller temples and soak in the beautiful views at your own pace.
7. Khai Dinh Royal Tomb
Khai Dinh Royal Tomb lies just outside Hue. Khai Dinh was one of the emperors of the Nguyen dynasty and had an extravagant royal tomb constructed. Legend has it that he purposely asked for the tomb to be difficult to access. The tomb sits on the side of a mountain which has almost 130 steps to the top, meaning that those paying their respects have to wear themselves out to pay their respects.
8. Royal Street Food
While the street food is incredible throughout Vietnam, Hue is famous among the locals for its take on Royal cuisine. Hue is said to have around 1,000 specialty Asian dishes and variations — so it’s a great place to be if you’re feeling hungry.