In central Vietnam, Hue is a true gem for the traveller who wants a bit of history, great cuisine and a quiet but interesting city escape.
Hue has a grand imperial past and from 1802 to 1945, it was the capital of Vietnam under the Emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty. After experiencing considerable damage over the years (a battle between the French and Viet Minh took place in Hue and it was also shelled by the Americans during the Vietnam War) it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993.
Now the city has protected status and is a superb destination for exploring amazing temples, palaces and pagodas. This Hue travel guide will tell you exactly what you need to know about planning your visit.
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Best Time to Visit Hue
The best time to visit Hue is between January and April, where temperatures average between 20 and 24 degrees. During this time of year, the temperature is comfortable enough to explore the city on foot and visit the countless Buddhist temples, palaces, tombs and pagodas.
Where to Stay in Hue
The city of Hue has a range of areas to stay in, and whilst it can be tricky picking the spot that is right for you, here’s a breakdown of where we’d recommend – especially if it’s your first time visiting.
- Vinh Ninh – This is slap bang in the middle of the city and the perfect spot to base yourself if you’ve never visited Hue before. It provides easy access to the many temples, museums and murals that are all within walking distance.
- Xuan Phu – If you’re on a tight budget, Xuan Phu is the place for you. Xuan Phu is on the east side of the city and is slightly quieter than the Vinh Ninh region – probably one of the reasons that you can stay in a hostel for around $5USD a night! Even though it’s a little quieter here, there’s still loads to do, with an abundance of cute little cafés, palaces and even a marine museum, all on your doorstep!
- Vy Da – This is the perfect place to soak up Hue’s nightlife! Vy Da is a great spot if you’re wanting to meet other backpackers as there are plenty of bars and clubs to dance the night away in.
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Best Hostels in Hue
- Vietnam Backpacker Hostels – Top pick for solo travellers!
If you don’t mind a short walk from the river, Vietnam Backpacker Hostels offers dormitory accommodation from just $6USD a night. Guests are treated to a free breakfast every morning of their stay and the hostel puts on activities such as beer pong competitions and parties, making it the perfect place to socialise and meet fellow backpackers. Our top pick for solo travellers.
- Shark Home – Great choice for couples!
If you’ve got a little bit more of a generous budget, Shark Home hostel offers dormitory accommodation within walking distance of Hue’s walking street. Equipped with a walled courtyard surrounded by trees, this budget-friendly hostel is a great base from which to explore Hue. In fact, it is only a couple of US dollars more a night than many of the other local options!
- Happy Hue Homestay – Amazing local hosts!
The clue is in the name… this place is a homestay run by a local family. Guests rave about the breakfast and the friendly staff that greet you as soon as you arrive. Located in the backpacker area of Hue, guests are gifted one free beer between 6-9pm with unlimited fruit, tea and coffee provided throughout their stay. Again, another great option for travellers on a shoestring budget!
Top Things to Do in Hue
The perfect setting away from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and without the busy touristy spots in Ha Long Bay and Hoi An, Hue offers sprawling imperial palaces and culinary delights that will appeal to every kind of backpacker. These are our top picks of the best things to do.
1. Spend a Day Exploring the Citadel
The Imperial City, or what is commonly known as the Citadel, is the old walled city of Hue and is without a doubt the top thing to do in Hue.
For 200,000 VND (around $9USD per person), you can spend the whole day wandering around the UNESCO World Heritage site that was the former capital city of the Nguyen Dynasty for over 140 years.
The site is filled with countless tombs, palaces and royal buildings, making it one of the top tourist attractions in the city.
2. Stroll Along the Perfume River
The city of Hue runs along the Perfume River and is a great spot for soaking up the views, trying the local cuisine and visiting some of Hue’s top attractions.
Earning its name from the smell of orchid petals that fall in the water in the autumn, the Perfume River is a great spot to wind down and take a stroll after a busy day.
3. Visit the Tombs of the Former Emperors
You can also visit the Tombs of the Former Emperors, such as Minh Mang, located on the banks of the enigmatic Perfume River. Set within beautifully landscaped gardens, you’ll need to hire a bike or taxi from the city. Alternatively, you can take a boat cruise on the river which is probably the best way to visit the site.
4. Take In the Sights by Bike
Previously, the only way to explore the ancient streets of Hue on two wheels was to rent a bicycle or bring your own. However, a public bicycle system has been introduced, meaning that anybody can now pick up a bike to use for the day before dropping it off at an approved location when they are finished with it.
This is a really cool idea which will not only help the city go greener but also helps travellers to get the most out of a visit there. The majority of sites in Hue are in close proximity to each other and the breeze should offer some relief from the humidity!
5. Jump on a Motorbike and Do the Hai Van Pass
The journey between Hue and Hoi An is home to the beautiful Hai Van Pass and you’ll never be short of companies trying to sell you a motorbike tour as you wander around the city! You can either drive yourself or jump on the back of an ‘easy rider’ and take in the views.
There is also the option to ride the pass in the back of a jeep. Prices vary depending on the type of tour that you choose. Regardless of which mode of transport you go for, you’ll be able to take in amazing views of the pass, following the route famously taken by the Top Gear trio in 2008 for around 8 hours.
With stops at waterfalls, local villages and breathtaking viewpoints, this is an experience rated highly by backpackers. Even if you’re not a petrolhead, it is a great way to see some of the beautiful scenery that Vietnam has to offer.
Make sure you pick a day when the weather looks good and don’t settle for the first tour you are asked to do when you’re stopped on the street. Do your research before booking anything! You can check out some of the local Hai Van Pass companies that we partner with here.
Also read: A Guide to Transport in Vietnam.
6. Indulge in Local Delicacies
The local food is Hue is widely regarded to be some of the best in Vietnam. Try ‘Com Hen’ (mussels from the Perfume River cooked with rice). Delicious, local and cheap, it’s a must-try dish for any backpacker.
Food and Drink in Hue
Central Vietnam has some great delicacies and Hue is no exception. When Hue became the capital of Vietnam during the Nguyen dynasty, food became a key cultural trademark where royal food had to be aesthetic, elegant and beautifully presented.
The food in Hue is still adored because of many of these characteristics but nowadays visitors and locals alike have many great food choices. From quick snacks on street corners to dinner dishes that mustn’t be missed, there is something for everyone.
Here are just two delicacies that we’d recommend trying on your visit to the city:
- Nem Lui Hue – also known as ‘lemongrass pork skewers’, Nem Lui was a dish created exclusively for the imperial family in the city and is a delicacy found predominantly in central Vietnam. With tasty pork skewers that are dipped in a peanut, chilli dipping sauce, this dish can be found on any corner of Hue and is the perfect snack when on the move, or a great choice for a sit-down meal (you purchase them ‘by the stick’ so eat as many or as little as you like!)
- Bún bò Hue – a beef noodle soup with a spicy kick, the bún bò found in Hue is made with thick round noodles that are cooked in a spicy red broth packed with chilli, mint, onions and shrimp paste. A dish for the spice-connoisseur, you can find it all over Hue and it’s a fun twist on the classic Vietnamese pho found across the country. One great spot to try Bún bò is at Bún Bò Huế O Cương Chú Điệp – this restaurant serves the dish with a great combination of sweet beef and thick vermicelli noodles. The restaurant is always busy and guests arrive throughout the night to get their bún bò fix!
How To Get to Hue
By plane – Flying to Hue (Phu Bai Airport – HUI) is simple and flights from Hanoi are around $56USD one way with similar prices for a flight from Ho Chi Minh City. Once at the airport, it’s a short 20-minute taxi drive to the centre and usually costs around $10USD.
By train – For around $20USD, you can jump on a train from Hanoi to Hue for a 9 to 10-hour journey. If you plan this as an overnight journey, you can save money on accommodation and prices vary depending on the type of cabin you pick. Trains from Ho Chi Minh City are almost double the duration so we’d recommend choosing an alternative option if you’re wanting to move from Vietnam’s largest city to Hue (although you’ll be missing some great stops along the way such as Nha Trang and Hoi An!)
Where to go next?
- Hoi An: If you’re travelling from the North to the South, head to Hoi An! It’s most famous for its ancient town but is also home to a beautiful coastline. The town is renowned for its world-class tailoring and tourists can get a tailormade suit or dress for a great price. The tailors will even keep your measurements and you can email them to get more made and shipped back home to you when you leave!
- Phong Nha: If you’re travelling from the South to the North, head to Phong Nha! A perfect break from city life, Phong Nha is a 3-hour train journey from Hue and offers a variety of different caving experiences such as the Hang Son Doong expedition to exploring the Tu Lan Cave System. Travellers recommend spending 2-3 nights at the national park.
- Ninh Binh: If you’re wanting a bit more countryside, head to Ninh Binh. Accessible via an overnight train journey from Hue, Ninh Binh is perfect for adventurers and is a place full of surreal landscapes, Buddhist temples and incredible limestone scenery.