Vietnam is known for its cuisine, culture, and history, with places like Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi as the go-to, tourist-friendly places.
But if you really want to indulge in the royal side of Vietnam, Hue is the place to be.
This magnificent city is brimming with cultural attractions, ancient buildings, royal palaces, and natural attractions.
Walking amongst these destinations will definitely make you feel like you’re part of the monarchy.
It’s the perfect place for those who want to indulge in authentic Vietnamese culture and history.
So if you’re not sure yet where to spend your next vacation days, make this city your top choice.
Here are the 15 best things to do in Hue, Vietnam:
Pay Your Respects at the Mausoleum of Emperor Tu Duc
Emperor Tu Duc reigned the longest among the past emperors of Vietnam, so his tomb's grandeur equals to his years as a ruler.
His mausoleum is divided into two areas, the Temple Area and the Tomb Area.
The temple side was already used by Tu Duc himself before his death, as it had many amenities that allowed him to live a decadent life.
These features still stand today, including a pavilion and lotus pond where Tu Duc himself hunted small game.
The tomb area is equally lavish, with a stele where his epitaph (inscribed by him personally) remains standing today.
His actual remains are buried in an unknown place, so only the remains of his adoptive son Kien Phuc and his empress Le Thien lay in silence amongst the decorated walls.
Many visit the place for the monumental designs and lavish decor that showed off the emperor’s financial capability, mostly fueled by the high taxes he imposed on his citizens.
Today, it remains a reminder of a once-proud era in Vietnam, if only for its royalty.
See the Majestic Thien Mu Pagoda
Buddhism is one of the main religions practiced in Vietnam, and signs of this faith can be seen everywhere you look in Hue.
One of the city’s most recognizable symbols, the Thien Mu Pagoda, is one of these monuments to the Buddha.
This landmark is translated to “Pagoda of the Celestial Lady,” and it is a seven-story structure that serves as part of the Nguyen lords’ legacy.
Today, it remains an architectural marvel with intricate symbols and markings outside and inside the structure.
Within the rooms of the pagoda are bronze-cast shrines, gilded wooden boards with ancient inscriptions, statues, and other artifacts tied to the Buddhist faith.
There are monks that live in the complex, so make sure to follow their guidelines as a sign of respect to their culture.
See the War Machines at Thua Thien Hue History Museum
While the Hue Museum of Royal Antiquities focuses more on the lives of Hue’s past monarchs, Thua Thien Hue History Museum is dedicated to the whole history of Vietnam.
So you can expect artifacts and collections that showcase the life of ancient civilizations in the country up to recent events.
Bronze drums for the ancient Dong Son societies, jewelry, coins, and other items are displayed within the facility's halls.
Outside, you’ll find remnants of the Vietnam Civil War.
Tanks, helicopters, and other instruments of battle lay in various states of decay as moisture and sun corrode their metal parts.
These serve as reminders of a tumultuous past that shaped Vietnam that we see today.
Explore the Tomb of Khải Định
Khải Định was one of the last emperors of Vietnam from the Nguyen dynasty, and his remains are left in this grand mausoleum.
He was hugely disliked, seen merely as a puppet of the French Government, but his legacy still endures at his lavishly decorated tomb.
It’s located a few kilometers from Hue’s city proper, but it’s a worthwhile visit for those who want to see the country’s recent history.
The complex contains elements of traditional Vietnamese architecture and Western motifs, an interesting combination that resulted in a unique structure.
Within the complex, delicate porcelain art embellish the walls, and stone guards stand as sentinels around the tomb.
There’s also the largest dragon sculpture anywhere in the country forming the walls, while nine others decorate the ceiling of Khai Thanh Palace.
Check Out Hue Museum of Royal Antiquities
Because of the conditions of ancient ruins, you’d hardly find any artifacts except for those that are embedded within the structures themselves.
This is especially true for the temples and palaces of Hue, as aside from bandits and looters, the civil war that tore the country apart has also left most ancient structures in ruins.
So if you want to visit a place with most of the surviving items from imperial Vietnam, then head to Hue Museum of Royal Antiquities.
It’s one of the first museums in the country, and it houses some important items and artworks from the past.
Their collection includes porcelain and enameled bronze wares, royal clothing and uniforms, musical instruments, and other ceremonial objects.
There are also collections of woodworks inlaid with precious mother-of-pearl as well as unique Cham sculptures.
Most of these are found within Long An palace, the main display building and one of the most majestic royal structures in the city.
See Vietnam’s Wildlife at Bạch Mã National Park
Bạch Mã National Park is the premier outdoor destination near Hue’s city proper, and it’s a good break after your temple and palace tours.
Within the 220 square kilometer area, swaths of humid jungles, raging rivers, high cliffs, and endemic flora and fauna abound.
The park itself is located smack dab at the geographical point where northern and southern Vietnam is divided, and the significant biodiversity here earned it a protected area status.
Join a tour to see all of the sights of this magnificent eco-tourism destination.
You’ll be able to visit Do Quyen Waterfalls, the magical Five Lakes, and Hai Vong Dai peak.
These tours also offer many opportunities for wildlife encounters.
You might see white-cheeked gibbons, Vietnamese crested argus, and even Asian elephants.
Tour the Magnificent Imperial City
Most people come to Hue in the first place to see the majesty of the walled Imperial City.
This complex served as the home of royalty back at a time when Hue was the imperial capital of Vietnam, covered by a wall and a moat and accessible via fortified bridges.
Today, it stands as a historical monument that highlights the beauty of unified Vietnam and the architectural innovations that flourished during that time—most of which were inspired by Chinese designs.
One of the most iconic parts of this place is the Purple Forbidden City, which served as the emperor's residence.
Thái Hòa Palace is another significant building with yellow roofs, and an interior decked in red decor, and it served as a ceremonial building for various rituals and traditional events.
Of course, you wouldn’t miss the many beautiful gates and bridges that lead into the walled enclosure itself.
Meridian Gate is one of these notable entrances, with yellow glazed styles and intricate carvings of animals that were said to ward off evil.
Join the many tours to this majestic attraction if you want to see all the hidden wonders in store.
Pray to a Princess at Huyen Tran Cultural Center
This solemn and spiritual destination houses the Huyen Tran Princess Temple, where the venerated Princess Huyen Tran and King Tran Nhan Tong are worshiped.
It’s a peaceful destination that is perfect for those looking for a place to meditate amongst oriental architecture imbued with Hue elements.
Within the 28-hectare space, there are four majestic gates that lead to the princess’s shrine, flanked by majestic statues of lions.
The shrine itself has a bronze statue of Huyan Tran, sitting on an exquisite throne that befits her status.
Outside are beautiful gardens and verdant grounds that add to the beauty of the whole complex.
Tour the Sights of the Mausoleum of Emperor Minh Mang
Minh Mang was the second emperor under the Nguyen dynasty, and his lakeside tomb serves as a testament to his expansive aspirations for his country.
After its completion, there were more than 40 structures with lavish decorations, lacquered finishes, and elaborate ornamentation that made the complex a sight unlike any other.
But as the country faced external and internal conflicts, many of the structures were reduced to ruins, leaving only around 20 structures that are in need of renovations themselves.
However, this hasn’t stopped tourists from going in and marveling at all the beautiful architecture and views.
For within the complex, there are terraced gardens, picturesque bridges and gardens, a magnificent lake view, and other sceneries that make for a worthwhile visit.
The tomb itself was also meant to be a national park, which is why there are many natural attractions connecting and surrounding the structures.
It’s one of the most visited locations here in Hue, so make sure it’s in your itinerary to see for yourself the wonders of this attraction.
Stroll Along the Riverside Promenade
Perfume River is an important feature in the city, serving as the main water source for the predominantly agricultural industry of Hue in ancient times.
On the banks of this body of water is the riverside promenade, a scenic path that offers great views and relaxing experiences.
There are many food stalls scattered along the route that offer Vietnamese staples, including rice noodle soup, bun cha, and bánh mì sandwiches.
When the sun is low, and the streets aren’t too hot, you can visit the many landscape gardens along the promenade and smell the fragrant flowers blooming.
Or you could simply have a lovely stroll and mingle with the locals and other visitors exploring this destination.
Cruise the Calm Waters of Perfume River
Maybe the views of the Riverside Promenade have convinced you to get into the Perfume River itself.
If that’s the case, there are many boat tours that offer relaxing cruises along the gentle bends and turbulent rapids of the rivers.
Most prominent of these are the Pagoda tours that include lunch or dinner options.
These boats decorated with dragons will take you to scenic spots where you can see and take pictures of iconic locations like the Imperial City.
You might even find some water buffalos grazing on the riverside hills or frolicking on the banks of the Perfume River while you enjoy a homecooked meal.
For those feeling more adventurous, there are resorts and businesses that offer kayak tours of the river.
It’s a better option if you want a more challenging and customized trip to the more isolated areas.
Soak in the Hot Waters of Alba Thanh Tan Hot Spring
After a long day of exploring the hidden wonders of Hue, the best place to relax and relieve your sore muscles is at Alba Thanh Tan Hot Spring.
Located at the foot of the Truong Son Mountains, this wellness destination has steaming streams of hot waters bubbling from underground.
It’s the perfect place for a relaxing soak for your tired body; guaranteed, you’ll come out relaxed and invigorated.
Aside from the hot springs, the facility offers many other outdoor activities for those feeling adventurous.
There are long zip lines where you can soar above the jungle and get a bird’s eye view of the surroundings.
At the swimming park, you try water-related activities or simply relax in the pools surrounded by lush greenery.
For those who want cultural activities to try, the craft village offers paper mask making, pottery, paper lotus making, and other traditional crafts.
Shop Local Goods at Dong Ba Market
Dong Ba Market is an authentic cultural experience that immerses you in the everyday life of Hue’s residents.
With more than 16,000 square meters of space, the market contains hundreds of stalls that offer a wide range of goods and products.
It’s the main source of produce, meats, and seafood in Hue, so you can expect many locals wandering the stalls looking for ingredients for their next meal.
Food stalls offer fresh springs rolls, pho, banh khoai, and other local delights that are sure to satisfy your cravings.
There are also vendors that sell traditional wares, fabrics, and other items that you won’t find anywhere else.
It’s the ideal place to buy a souvenir or memorabilia of your trip to this charming city.
Join the Hue Festival
Happening only once every two years, Hue Festival is a rare event that lucky visitors can join.
The celebration highlights everything that makes the city unique and beautiful: music, arts, traditions, and culture.
You’ll see parades of people in vivid red clothing, wearing flashy jewelry and other accessories unique to the region.
Join an art showing and exhibit to see pieces of some of the city's most talented artists.
There are also performances that showcase the instruments unique to the place, such as drums and other percussion instruments.
At the Pottery Festival, you’ll see skilled artisans craft pottery using traditional techniques and materials.
And at night, there are bombastic fireworks that serve as the perfect end to a day of colorful and loud celebrations.
Cross the Ancient Thanh Toan Bridge
Outside of Hue’s city proper are many traditional villages that offer a more in-depth look at this region’s culture.
In Thuy Thanh village, an underrated attraction stands waiting for the most patient and adventurous tourists: Thanh Toan Bridge.
This ancient structure has tiled roofs, intricate designs, and sturdy engineering that has withstood many years of weathering.
The facade itself has stone sculptures of dragons, with details that will leave you amazed at the talent of the ancient sculptures.
It’s still used by the locals today—a testament to its longevity and strength.
Take in the River Views from Vong Canh Hill
Vong Canh Hill is a stunning overlook southwest of Hue.
The summit rises 45 meters above the Perfume River with commanding views over the lowlands.
This is a popular picnic spot for locals and is best visited at sunrise or sunset.
Vong Canh Hill has a famous past.
The emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty used to visit this hillside to take in the scenery.
Additionally, the Mausoleum of Emperor Tu Duc is only a stone’s throw from the Vong Canh Hill, and visiting both locations at the same time is advisable.
The area also has a more recent military history and is home to bunkers from the Vietnam War.
Uncover the Magic of Hue’s Night Walking Streets
The Hue midtown is a hub of activity.
This is a part of the city that seemingly never sleeps.
A short walk north of the central plaza, you’ll find the Hue Night Walking Street.
This is the perfect place for street food and a cold glass of bia hơi.
In the evenings, the street is closed off to vehicles and is dedicated to pedestrians.
You’ll find themed eateries, hostels, buzzing bars, and multi-story nightclubs.
This pedestrian zone also includes the Central Walking Street and West Hue Street.
Check out HutTuna for a cold beer and some tasty spring rolls!
Marvel at the Sophistication of the An Dinh Royal Palace
On the banks of the river Sông An Cựu you’ll discover the opulent remains of the An Dinh Royal Palace.
This early 20th-century palace was home to some of the last kings of Vietnam in the Nguyen Dynasty.
The building is an eclectic mix of French and Vietnamese architecture, which combines South-Asian influence with a Baroque flourish.
The palace is in various states of repair, but it is still worth ambling around the grounds to admire the sophistication of the building.
Try Local Vietnamese Delicacies at Hanh Pancake
Vietnam has some of the best food in the world, and in Hue, you can find a sample of this cuisine.
Locals go to Hanh Pancake for the five-course meal that highlights some of the regional specialties.
Sumptuous dishes like bánh bèo, bánh khoai mì, and nem lui are all served at Hanh Pancake.
Bánh bèo is a highlight on the menu.
It is a mouth-watering snack made from steamed rice cakes topped with mung beans, prawns, fried pork, and scallion oil.
Madam Thu is another fantastic restaurant that serves some of the best spring rolls in Hue.
Hire a Bike and Explore the City
Thanks to the ancient ramparts and old streets of Hue, it is a very bike-friendly city.
Other cities in Vietnam can be overwhelming and even scary for cycling.
Whereas spending a day cycling around Hue allows you to visit multiple temples, religious sites, and mausoleums.
At Hue Smile Travel, you can hire a bike for 50,000 VND for the day.
Hue is undeniably the cultural capital of Vietnam, having been once its imperial capital during the days of the emperors.
Touring the place is one of the best ways to see a glimpse of this past and how it reflects on the present-day culture and heritage of the city.
Reference this list when planning your itinerary so you’ll know the most recommended spots for visitors.