Hue is one of the most charming towns in Vietnam and is located on the banks of the beautifully named Perfume River. This part of Vietnam has a long and illustrious history as it used to be one of the main royal capitals of the country. As such, history lovers will find a huge amount to enjoy here, from the rambling ancient architecture to the engaging museums that will fill you in on all the details. Many people come here in particular to check out the ancient tombs of former emperors which are dotted all over the city and provide you with a fascinating insight into Hue in the days of old.
As this is a riverfront town, you will also be able to spend time enjoying the cool breezes and the pretty vistas as you stroll along the riverside walkway, and if you want to get out of the town center than you will also be spoiled for choice. There are a number of fascinating day trip locations close to the city, which means that can happily spend a week in Hue and still not see and do everything that this pretty part of Vietnam has to offer.
Here are the best things to do in Hue…
1. Visit the Tombs of the Ancient Emperors
One of the big draws in Hue is the tombs of the Ancient Emperors and this is the main reason why so many visitors travel here every year.
Anyone with an interest in ancient architecture and history needs to visit the tombs which were built in honor of famous emperors of Hue.
The tombs mostly date from the 19th and 20th centuries and are carved to tell the stories of Buddhist legends.
Some of the main tombs not to miss include the Tomb of Tu Duc, the Tomb of Minh Mang and the Tomb of Khai Dinh.
If you are not sure which tombs to visit on a trip here then you can take a dedicated guided tour.
Included in: Hue Full-Day City Group Tour Including Lunch
2. Visit the Tu Hieu Pagoda
Tu Hieu Pagoda is one of the most famous in all of Hue and dates from 1843. This pagoda was also the home of eunuchs during the times of the Ancient Citadel in Hue and nowadays some 70 monks live here.
When you visit you can enjoy two towering temples and also listen to the monks chanting throughout the day as part of their religious rituals.
3. Walk along the Perfume River
The Perfume River is one of the most famous waterways in Vietnam and Hue is the perfect place to take it all in.
There is a delightful waterfront promenade along the banks of the river and this makes a great place to come for a scenic walk in the evenings.
You can also take to the water yourself if you want to get a closer look at the river and rent a paddleboat or opt for an elegant dinner cruise.
This tour includes a dragon boat trip on the Perfume River: Hue Full-Day City Group Tour Including Lunch
4. Sample the food
Hue is often said to have some of the best food in Vietnam and with that in mind you need to make sure that you sample all the delights on a trip here.
As Hue was once one of the most important royal cities in Vietnam, it was also one of the premium producers of famed Imperial Banquets.
Many restaurants all over town still serve these in the traditional style and you can sit down and enjoy a meal that unfolds over multiple courses.
If you are looking for a sweet treat in the city then make sure to check out the local candy which is made of sesame seeds.
Suggested tour: Hue: 5-Hour Street Food Tour by Motorbike
5. Explore Huyen Tran Princess Temple
The Huyen Tan Princess Temple consists of a large complex which is covered with lakes of lotus flowers.
The monastery of Emperor Tran Nhan Tong is also located here and you will also be able to stroll in picturesque orchard gardens when you visit.
Other highlights include a library which holds important documents relating to previous kings and historical figures during the Tran Dynasty.
6. Visit the Imperial Citadel
The Imperial Citadel in Hue would have been the previous center of the government and is made up of a vast complex.
When you walk around you can admire the moats, carved gates and royal pavilions, and there are also a clutch of engaging museums on the grounds.
If you like Vietnamese costumes, textiles and art then make sure not to skip the main galleries here.
7. Have a blind massage
If you want to support the local community and also relax and unwind at the same time, then you need to make an appointment at the Institute of the Blind.
Here you will find a number of blind massage staff who will give you a massage and all the proceeds go to helping those who live at the institute find employment.
At the end of the massage you will also get to spend time in the onsite herbal steam room.
8. Admire the Thien Mu Pagoda
Another famous pagoda in Hue is the Thien Mu Pagoda.
This temple sits overlooking the Perfume River and is known for its gold and silver images of the Buddha.
The pagoda is so well known in Vietnam that it is also the official symbol of Hue and you can take in beautiful views over the city from this spot.
Other highlights to look out for inside include a huge bells that was cast in 1710 as well as a stone turtle which dates from the 17th century and holds a marble stele.
9. Visit Phu Bai Airport
Phu Bai Airport is actually no longer a working airport but a museum dedicated to Vietnamese war history.
The airport would have operated as an American garrison during the Vietnam War and you can tour around the complex and even walk on the old, deserted airstrip here.
As well as the former runway, you will also find other historical relics such as bunkers and outbuildings that would have been used by the American military.
10. Soak in the Alba Thanh Tan Hot Springs
If you want to get outside Hue then head to the Alba Thanh Tan Hot Springs which is around 30 kilometers from the city center.
Here you will find one of the most famous hot springs resorts in Vietnam and there are a number of outdoor tubs available here.
You can also enjoy designated therapy rooms where you can get a soothing massage or other spa treatments.
There are also other quirky activities on offer here such as a high wire and a zip line, or you can play water games in the aqua park.
11. Visit the Royal Theatre
The Royal Theatre was constructed in 1826 and the National Conservatory of Music was then built on these foundations.
You can come here to watch a performance of traditional Vietnamese dance and music, or you can visit to tour the spacious galleries.
The exhibitions are made up of traditional masks as well as local Vietnamese musical instruments.
The performances are held according to a rotating schedule and usually last around 45 minutes.
12. Cycle around the city
Hue is often said to be one of the nicest cities in Vietnam to cycle around.
You will find far less traffic here than in other parts of the country and you can also cycle along the lush banks of the Huong River and visit all the key attractions for which Hue is famous.
You can either just rent a bike and go it alone, or you can also join a dedicated cycling tour with a guide that will take you around Hue or out into the surrounding countryside.
13. Take a photo at the Hue Sign
Anyone looking for a modern side of Hue needs to head to one of its newest attractions with is known as the Hue Sign.
Visitors flock to this spot in the city which is located in February 3 Park and includes a colorful illuminated sign that says ‘I Love Hue’. This installation is known as a premium place in the city for a photo opportunity and you can also enjoy the leafy park at the same time.
14. Shop at the Hope Center
The Hope Center is a project that has been set up to help disabled and disadvantaged residents in Hue find employment.
The center makes a number of garments and you will find amazing local handicraft items.
Some pieces to look out for include cloth which is woven by hand by A Luoi women and you will also find other items like bags, purses, scarves and even traditional jewelry for sale.
15. Journey to Bach Ma National Park
Bach Ma National Park is located at 1,450 meters above sea level and encompasses some of the prettiest scenery in all of Hue.
On a visit here you will find towering waterfalls as well as pretty hiking trails and there are several crumbling French villas to observe along the way.
The park is part of the wider Annamite Range and this part of Vietnam is known for its lush landscapes.
You can also combine a trip here with a stop off at the Cau Hai Village.
There is also the option to stay overnight here at the camp ground of you can just spend the day swimming in limpid pools and taking in the flora and fauna.
16. Visit the Ho Quyen Tiger Fighting Arena
The Tiger Fighting Arena is situated around three kilometers outside of the center of Hue proper and was erected in 1832. As such, it was built during the time of the Minh Mang Dynasty and would have been the venue for dramatic fights between tigers and elephants.
Nowadays you won’t find any more fights here (luckily!) as these were stopped in the 1900s but you can still take in this great monument to history and if you look closely there are even claw marks pocking the crumbling walls.
17. Admire Hon Chen Temple
Hon Chen Temple is dedicated to Po Nagar who is the Goddess of the Cham population who would have been based in Ngoc Ho Village in the days of old.
The shrine sits in on top of a craggy cliff in Ngoc Ho Village and was restored several times, first in 1832 and then again in 1886. The temple now has several antiques of interest such as a number of ancient vases, some Chinese calligraphy and ornate animal carvings.
If you come here on the third and seventh lunar month of the year then you will also find local music and dance performances.
18. Take a trip to Elephant Springs
Located between Hue and neighboring Da Nang, Elephant Springs is a top spot for anyone who wants to visit a famous springs in the area without the crowds.
Elephants Springs is far less visited by tourists than other springs around Hue and this attraction got it name thanks to the boulders that surround the waters and are said to resemble elephants playing.
There is also a carved elephant stone which has water squirting from its trunk and the pools here are cool but also make a great place to come if you want to relax in the middle of the jungle.
19. Take a Huda Brewery Tour
If you want to get a drink in Hue then consider signing up for a Huda Brewery Tour.
Located close to Phu Bai Airport, you can come here and see how Danish technology is being used to make a variety of delicious local brews.
You can tour the factory and learn about the history of the Huda brand and you will also get the chance to sample some of the different beverages available.
20. Shop at Dong Ba Market
Dong Ba Market is one of the premium shopping spots in Hue if you are looking for a dose of authenticity in the city.
Here you will find a flea market as well as a number of toothsome local food stalls.
This spot was made famous when celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain came here and filmed an episode of his show ‘No Reservations’. Bourdain sampled the Bun Bo here but you will find a huge number of other dishes including noodle soups and spring rolls.
21. Sunbathe on Thuan An Beach
Around 14 kilometers outside of Hue is Thuan An Beach, so if you fancy some sea and sun then this is the spot for you.
Part of the Phu Van District, Thuan An Beach consists of a long strip of fluffy sand and many locals claim that this is one of the most beautiful beaches in Vietnam.
Activities here include swimming and sunbathing and the main season here runs from May to September when temperatures in Hue rise.
22. Visit the Royal Antiquities Museum
If you like antiquities then head for the Royal Antiquities Museum where you will find a wide variety of different pieces that date from the Nguyen dynasty from 1802 to 1945. As you walk around the different galleries you will be able to enjoy traditional furniture as well as textiles, jewelry and other antiques that used to belong to the royal family.
There are seven different zones inside the museum and you should make sure to check out the ornate beams which are carved with sculptures of dragons.
23. Walk across the Thanh Toan Bridge
Thanh Toan Bridge is the most famous bridge in Hue and is said to date back some 200 years.
The bridge spans the Nhu Y River and is made up of a wooden platform which is topped with a tiled roof.
The bridge only stretches for 17 meters but it also has a shrine located inside which is dedicated to the patron of the structure.
You will find the bridge around 10 kilometers to the north of the city and this is a great place to come to see a more authentic side of Hue as this is also a residential neighborhood.
24. Visit the Healing the Wounded Heart Shop
The Healing the Wounded Heart Shop is the place to come in Hue if you want to pick up some gifts or souvenirs while also helping the local community.
The shop sells a range of handicrafts which were made by disabled artisans in Hue and many of these use recycled materials such as soda cans.
All the profits of any items you buy are then funneled back into the local community and used to fund heart surgery for local impoverished children.
25. Have dinner at Ancient Hue Royal Cuisine and Gallery
One of the best known restaurants in Hue is Ancient Hue Royal Cuisine and Gallery which serves delicious food and is located inside an ancient housing complex.
The food is a mix of local and international faer and although it is a little pricier than other restaurants in the city it is more than worth it if you are in the mood for some upscale dining.
They also serve cold beer so this is a great place to unwind after a day of sightseeing.