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How to spend one day in Hue: an action packed itinerary to see the highlights.


The historic city of Hue is an absolute must when you're exploring Central Vietnam- from 1802 - 1945 it was the national capital city, home to the Nguyen Emperors and in 1968 it was the location for some of the bloodiest battles in the Vietnam War. We've put together an action packed one day itinerary to help you explore all the top things to see and do in Hue!


A brief history of Hue:

Hue flourished in the 19th century under the Nguyen Dynasty, its Forbidden City and Imperial Citadel testaments to its cultural and political might. However, French colonialism and internal struggles chipped away at its golden age, culminating in the abdication of the last emperor in 1945. The Vietnam War dealt a heavy blow, with the brutal Battle of Hue leaving scars that you can still see on the walls. Today, Hue's UNESCO-listed monuments remind visitors of its glorious past.


Here is how we'd recommend spending a day in Hue:

The historic flag tower at Hue's Imperial Citadel

1. Head over the Hai Van Pass.

This is a day trip itinerary, so assuming that you're not waking up in Hue, take the scenic route out of Danang on this scenic coastal road winding through mountains, offering panoramic views of the South China Sea, deserted beaches, and lush jungles. Stop at the top for breath taking views or, if the mists have descended, a coffee in the clouds. The pass has its own microclimate and is generally cooler and damper than Danang and Hue. The winding turns provide a thrilling driving experience, especially for motorcyclists, and if you don't fancy including the Hai Giang Loop (another famous Vietnamese motorbike route), on your Vietnam trip, the Hai Van Pass is shorter and relatively less challenging.


2. Travel back in time and explore the Imperial Citadel.

Once you've arrived, head straight to the Imperial Citadel for a few hours. Step through the imposing Ngo Mon Gate and enter a world frozen in time - home to the emperors of Vietnam from 1802 - 1945, this stunning former Royal Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Explore the Forbidden City where the Nguyen royals once lived, its courtyards and palaces showcasing intricate architecture and imperial grandeur. Wander through the Thai Hoa Palace, where coronations and celebrations took place and imagine the bustle of the Royal Theatre, now silent except for demonstrations of traditional court music. Beyond the Forbidden City, explore the vast citadel grounds, moats and ramparts and pay your respects to past emperors in the serene Dien Long Ancestral Temple.


Like the rest of Vietnam, Hue's attractions are very inexpensive by Western standards. Tickets to Hue's Imperial City cost 200,000 VND (about £6.45), but we'd recommend buying the 4 site combo ticket for 530,000 VND (about £17) - it covers entry to the Imperial City plus the 3 Royal Tombs of Minh Mang, Tu Duc and Khai Ding and saves you about £4.


Imperial City opening hours:

Summer: 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m

Winter: 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m


3. Eat a local speciality.

While you're in Hue, be sure to seek out Bún Bò Hue for your lunch - the city's famous spicy noodle dish served with beef, pork knuckles and lemongrass.

a ceramic bowl of the Vietnamese noodle soup, Bun Bo Hue

4. Choose a few of the Royal Tombs to visit.

This collection of magnificent mausoleums, built by the Nguyen emperors between the 18th and early 20th centuries, offer a glimpse into the grandeur and architectural prowess of the Nguyen dynasty. Each tomb reflects the unique personality and preferences of the emperor it was built for, showcasing a diverse range of styles and features. Located out of the city, many of these ornate tombs have beautiful grounds. As you're short on time, we'd recommend focusing on the tombs of Tu Duc, Khai Dinh and Minh Mang.

From Top left, clockwise: the Royal Tomb of Tu Duc, Khai Dinh, inside the mausoleum of Khai Dinh, the Royal Tomb of Minh Mang.


4. Pause to reflect at the Thien Mu pagoda.

Spend some time at this beautiful, peaceful Buddhist temple with its famous octagonal pagoda. The site's tranquillity is jarringly juxtaposed against a small blue car tucked away further back in the temple grounds - this is the vehicle that transported Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc to Saigon in 1963, where he famously set himself on fire in protest against the Diem regime.


5. Finish your day with a sunset dragon boat cruise on the Perfume River.

Hue's long-standing association with dragon boats stems from its rich history as the imperial capital of Vietnam. Dragon boats served as the primary mode of transport for emperors and high-ranking officials - these ornate vessels symbolised their power and prestige and were often used in ceremonial processions.

You'll find the boats waiting for tourists at Toa Kham Wharf on Le Loi Street, near the Truong Tien Bridge, and also by the riverbank opposite the Thien Mu pagoda.

a dragon boat on the Perfume River, Hue, Vietnam

What to wear in Hue:

The Imperial Citadel and Royal Tombs are hugely culturally significant, venerated sites and they do have a dress code. In order to visit, you will need to wear respectful clothing, just like you would if you were visiting a church or temple. This doesn't mean floor length, but you should wear something that covers your shoulders and knees.


With all the walking you'll be doing, a pair of comfortable shoes is a must, preferably in a style that you can slip off and on easily, for ease when visiting temples and other important sites that require you to leave your shoes outside. Something like light weight, supportive trainers or walking sandals like Keens would be ideal - we live in our UIN travel shoes.


Don't forget a wide brimmed sunhat - the Imperial Citadel and Royal Tombs are very large sites with lots of exposed walking outside, so you'll want to protect your head from sunstroke!


For more tips and ideas check out our complete Vietnam packing list.


How to get to Hue:

There are several ways to get to Hue, depending on your budget and preferred mode of transportation.


By car or motorbike:

We travelled to Hue by car as a day trip from Danang. Public transport from Danang was less than ideal when we had so little time, so hiring a driver for the day was by far the best way to explore! Equally, Hue's main historical sites of interest are spread out over a large area, so you'd be needing to take taxis everywhere anyway, unless you're self driving on a motorbike. We booked our day trip from Danang with TSM tours who were excellent - fab communication and our driver was great fun and spoke very good English.


By plane: Hue has its own airport, Phu Bai International Airport (HUI), which is located about 15 kilometres from the city centre. There are regular flights to Hue from Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, and other major cities in Vietnam. You can also find connecting flights from many international airports. 


By train: Hue is located on the North-South railway line, making it easily accessible by train from Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and other major cities in Vietnam. The train journey from Hanoi takes about 13 hours, while the journey from Ho Chi Minh City takes about 20 hours. Train travel is a great way to see the Vietnamese countryside and experience local culture. 


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