A local guide to 20 best things to do in Hue (Vietnam)

A local guide to 20 best things to do in Hue (Vietnam)
Photo by Đằng Nguyễn / Unsplash

The list of 20 best things to do in Hue is perfect for any cultural and natural lover.

Visiting this city means exploring the majestic land of art and culture. One also can enjoy the absolute peacefulness of the land, where people live in harmony with the nurturing Huong river, beautiful beaches, and mountains.

The geographic and cultural context

Hue Imperial in fall. Photo by Tom Hoang

Among many reasons why this place was chosen as the capital of the Nguyen Dynasty, the Vietnamese last loyal empire, for 140 years (from 1805 to 1945), there are two most wildly known ones.

First, as the central connecting point of transportation between the north and south, this land becomes the crucial on-land area that allows the logistics' fluidity in all fields from economy to national defenses.

Second, being described as a crouching tiger and hidden dragon, the land has the Ngu Binh Mountain (known as the Royal Screen) on the back to defense the imperial and Huong river (or Perfume river), as a perfect natural protection frontier in the front.

The Forbidden Purple City. Photo by Kha Vo/ Unsplash

Regarding the spatial planning of the Complex of Hue Monuments, it is well placed and aligned cosmologically with the Five Cardinal Points (known as central, west, east, north, south), the Five Elements (metal, wood, water, fire, earth) and the Five Colors (yellow, red, black, white, blue).

The center of this complex, Hue Citadel, is the powerhouse and resident place of the highest men. This central area contains the Imperial City (Hoang Thanh), the Forbidden Purple City (Tu Cam Thanh). Besides those locations, there are some important monuments in the outlying area, which are the Temple of Literature (Van Mieu), the Esplanade of Sacrifice to the Heaven and Earth (Dan Nam Giao), the Celestial Lady Pagoda (Chua Thien Mu), and Tombs of the dynasty's emperors (Minh Mang Tomb, Khai Dinh Tomb, Tu Duc Tomb, Gia Long Tomb, etc.,)

Here are the 20 best things to cross your bucket list in Hue:

01 - Strolling down the city on a cyclo

A green and slow-pace tour on cyclo has become one of the cultural features of this citadel. You can find no better way to enjoy the peacefulness of the city than lean back on the cyclo, hear local riders talk about the destinations, enjoy the zen vibe from the relaxed lifestyle, and archive the antique beauty of the architecture.

Cyclo tour in autumn. Photo by Hue of Hue
  • Ideal time: Spring, summer, and fall (Late Feb- Sep)
  • Price: 40 000 VND - 100 000 VND depending on routes (1.76 USD - 4.39 USD)

02  - Cycling / walking alongside the river

  • Ideal time: Spring, summer, and fall (Late Feb- Sep)

Hue city newly opens the riverside road for pedestrians and cyclists. It allows strollers to enjoy the riverbank stretching from the famous Truong Tien Bridge stretching up to Thien Mu Pagoda.

On the way, you will find some old river ports for royal dragon boats and many historical relics preserved from the Nguyen dynasty. Those destinations are free of entry, so you can take your time and discover the city for as long as you like.

Making friends with the locals is also a nice thing to do. Hue people love to enjoy their morning and evening walk/cycling on the riverside road, so come out there and let the conversation flow.


03 -  Make a street food tour

Thirty-six dishes of Sweet soup. Photo by Hue of Hue
  • Ideal time: All year round
  • Price: 10 000 VND - 35 0000 VND per dish (0.4 USD- 1.6 USD per dish)

Hue cuisine is well-known for its delicate flavors and representation, accompanied by its healthiness and diversity.

Local food is very diverse, ranging from soup-based dishes such as Bun Bo Hue, Bun Hen (Baby mussel noodle), Com Hen (Baby mussel rice) to special cakes including Banh Beo (Bloating fern-shaped cake), Banh Loc (Rice dumpling cake), Banh Nam (Flat steamed rice dumplings). Besides, in the food tour, you will regret it if you forget to try the 36 dishes of Hue's royal sweet soup.


04 - Try the most delicate vegetarian restaurants

An Nhien Garden Vegetarian. Photo by An Nhien Garden Vegetarian

Being deep-rooted in Buddism, local people practice cooking and eating vegan/vegetarian food twice each month during the beginning and the middle of the lunar month. Locals have also been using plant-based food as a natural remedy for royals. That's why Hue is one of the country's finest places for vegetarian/ vegan cuisine.


05  - Explore the rich culture and art of the Forbidden Purple City

  • Ideal time: Spring, summer, and fall (Late Feb- Sep)
  • Price: 200 000 VND per adult, 40 000 VND per child (8.8 USD per adult, 1.8 USD per child)
The Forbidden Purple City. Photo by Hue of Hue

The Forbidden Purple City (Tu Cam Thanh) is the grandest and the most significant monument among the Complex of Hue Monuments. Under the well-preservation, most of its architectural and artistic unique features under the Nguyen Dynasty are in good condition.

At best, visitors should be here in the morning and spend half a day or a day discovering both cultural and historical stories. You can bring your food/snack or enjoy food and cafes available in the visiting area.  


06 - Witnessing the ancient ritual in the Esplanade of Sacrifice to the Heaven and Earth

  • Ideal time: During Hue' Festival (held every two years in April/May/June)
  • Price: Free
The ceremony under the Nguyen Dynasty. Photo by Tang Vinh Photo/Flickr

As an important annual ritual under Nguyen's reign, it took up to several months to prepare. Finally, the king held the ceremony to give offerings to the sky and earth spirits, wishing for prosperity and peacefulness to the country. Realizing its cultural value, the decedents' generations take on the custom and hold this ceremony every two years as an activity of the Hue Festival.


07 - Attend the local biggest Buddhism festival Vesak day/ or Buddha day

  • Ideal time: 15th April in lunar calendar (Around May/June, the date will differ each year)
  • Price: Free
Vesak day 2019. Photo by Phat Tu Vietnam

Buddhism was thriving to its utmost glory in Vietnam under the Nguyen dynasty. Since Hue is the center of Buddist practice, the belief system of this religion shapes the local culture. Hue is one of the places holding the grandest Vesak ceremony each year.

If you come to Hue during these days, this city seems to put on new clothes with colorful flags and lanterns on every street. Each pagoda and district prepare and decorate its float joining the parade. Buddhists start parading through the main streets in the afternoon, then stop by the significant religious locations before ending the ceremony in the evening.


08 - Enjoy Ca Hue (Hue Royal Refined Music) on the Huong river when nightfall.

  • Ideal time: Spring, summer, and fall (Late Feb- Sep)
  • Price: Book an 8-seat Emperor Dragon Boat for 1hr with music performance: 1 200 000 VND (53 USD)
  • Book a 12-seat Emperor Dragon Boat for 1hr with Hue Royal Refined Music performance: 1 500 000 VND (66 USD)
Sunset on Huong river. Photo by Hue of Hue

UNESCO proclaimed hue Royal Refined Music (Nha Nhac Cung Dinh Hue) as a Masterpiece of humanity's Oral and Intangible Heritage. The best two locations to enjoy this heritage are in the Forbidden Purple City during Hue Festival time or on the Emperor Dragon Boats at night.

Each way of enjoying the music will deliver an incomparable experience. While in the Purple Forbidden City, the royal space completes your experiences formally and nobly, on the river, the rhythm of local life joining the river's flow creates something so austere but admirable of Hue.


09 - Kayaking or riding SUP on the Huong river

Huong river and Thien Mu pagoda. Photo by Hue of Hue
  • Ideal time: Spring, summer, and fall (Late Feb- Sep)
  • Price: 100 000 VND - 150 000 VND per person/half-day (4.4 USD- 6.7 USD)

For those who love to sail, swim and feel the gentle flow of the Huong river, book yourself a SUP and contemplate Hue city from a different perspective. The beautiful landscape of this land won't let you down!

Please make sure that your service providers ensure to give detailed instructions and guard your safety!


10 -  Visiting Thien Mu Pagoda- Ancient sacred Pagoda's tower

  • Ideal time: All year round
  • Price: Free
Night falls on Thien Mu pagoda. Photo by the Hue of Hue

Thien Mu pagoda was built in 1601, then went through a further construction of Hue symbolic Phuoc Duyen tower in 1884. The name "Thien Mu" literally means "Heaven Fairy Lady." From this pagoda location, you can have a clear view of the Huong river without the city background but mystic mountains instead.

  • Fun fact: If you ask locals about the mysterious myth of this pagoda, you might receive a warning not to bring your boyfriend or girlfriend here.

11 - Get stunned by the marvelous interior architecture of emperors' Tombs.

  • Ideal time: All year round
  • Price: 150 000 VND per adult, 30 000 VND per child (6.6 USD per adult, 1.32 USD per child)
Morning fog in Tu Duc Tomb. Photo by Martijn Vonk/ Unsplash

Unlike inside the Imperial City, monuments concentrate within a small area. On the outskirt, the locations of the tombs spread. You will have the chance to ride on two wheels and see the peacefulness of the land on the way to your destinations. Each emperor's tomb will surprise you with its chosen location and distinct architecture and interior decorative pattern.


12 - See the dusk falling on Huong river from Vong Canh Hill.

  • Ideal time: Spring, summer, and fall (Late Feb- Sep)
  • Price: Free
Huong river view from Vong Canh Hill. Photo by the Hue of Hue

Vong Canh Hill is a perfect location for a light walk, picnic, and brewing some hot coffee for yourself while getting immersed in the beauty of the Huong river looking from above.

The name "Vong Canh" means sightseeing, as standing from it, visitors can see the horizon where the river and mountain unite.


13 - Camping and catching the sunrise from Hon Vuon peak

  • Ideal time: Spring and fall (Late Feb- Apr,  Jul- Sep)
  • Price: Free
Hue stretching landscape, view from Hon Vuon peak. Photo by Hue of Hue
  • Ideal time: Spring and fall (Late Feb- Apr,  Jul- Sep)
  • Price: Free

Hon Vuon peak is close enough for a ride and high enough for the sight!

All you need to prepare are your camping essentials and a high spirit for the stunning sunrise the following day.

The trek only requires light-medium physical condition and will take about 30-45 mins. Hon Vuon peak offers you a panorama view of both nature scenes and the city at once.


14 - Stroll the most prestigious High school in the country - Quoc Hoc Hue

  • Ideal time: All year round
  • Price: Free
Quoc Hoc High School from above. Photo by Humans of Quoc Hoc

Being the earliest and most prestigious high school in Vietnam, Quoc Hoc Hue has been under operation since the French colony until now. The school is now 125 years old and still is the nurturing place of many excellent students' generations. Two of its most notable students are Nguyen Tat Thanh, also known as Ho Chi Minh, and General Vo Nguyen Giap.

Besides the rich cultural value, it owns the very proud and elegant French architecture with the iconic brick red paint color.


15 - Learn the art of Hue people in the Art Museums

  • Ideal time: All year round
  • Price: Free

Hue is not only an endless source of poetic inspiration; this place is also the homeland of talented artists and poets. Coming here, you will see the unique art styles from locals and national artists in different fields such as embroidery, painting, sculpturing, and royal jewelry handcrafting.

The best places to take a look are the Hue Museum of Royal Antiquities, Le Ba Dang Art Museum, and the XQ Hue Embroidery Art Museum.


16 - Coming to the local cafes to experience the authentic Hue

  • Ideal time: All year round
  • Price: 15 000 VND (0.66 USD per person)
Local cafe in Vy Da village. Photo by Le Thuy Hoa

The coffee culture in Hue comes in many appearances and vibe, but some stay authentic to the antique spirit of Hue. Strolling the streets and alleys in the city, you will accidentally see local cafes where the elderly sit around, play chess, watch the birds dance or enjoy their cigarettes with some old days stories.

Tip: Most locals keep the habit of waking and drinking coffee early in the morning, so it's best to go out early and enjoy the pleasant, pure morning atmosphere, and of course, experience Hue like a local.


17 - Explore the Royal Tea Art

  • Ideal time: All year round
  • Price: 50 000 VND - 100 000 VND per person (2.2USD- 4.4 USD per person)
Art of Roya Tea. Photo by the Hue of Hue

Teas have been used as remedies for nurturing beauty, balancing energy, and cleansing the body under the royal's reign. In Hue, each type of tea is used for specific individual needs and health conditions.

Tra Đinh Vu Di

  • Address: Cu Chanh, Thuy Bang, Huong Thuy,  Hue city
  • Opening Hours: 8 am- 10 pm

Di Nhien Tra That

  • Address: 3/26, Nguyen Thien Thuat Street, Hue city
  • Opening Hours: 7 am -10 pm

Quan Tra Om

  • Address: 5 Nguyen Huy Luong street, Phu Hiep, Hue city
  • Opening Hours: 8 am- 10 pm

18 -  Chill on Hue's pristine beaches

  • Ideal time: Summer and fall (Apr-Sep)
  • Price: Free
Afternoon on a local beach. Photo by Quinny

Besides the well-known Thuan An, Canh Duong, and Lang Co beaches, there are a lot of untouched beaches known and enjoyed only by locals. So if you have motorbikes and time, go alongside the beach road and find your paradise!

  1. Trek stunning waterfalls and mountain routes in A Luoi

Ideal time: Spring, summer, and fall (Late Feb- Sep)

Price: Free

A Luoi is a mountain district within Hue province, and you can get there by bus or by riding motorbikes. This mountain land is the residence of most ethnic people in Hue. The locals help keep and protect nature in its best conditions.

Prepare your trekking and camping essentials and head to A Nor waterfall, A-Lin spring, or go further upstream for Ar Lang waterfall and Par Le springs.

  1. Having fresh seafood on Tam Giang lagoon

Lagoons in Hue. Photo by Hue of Hue

Ideal time: All year round

Price: 100 000 - 200 000 per person (4.4USD- 8.8 USD per person)

Tam Giang lagoon is a vast area of brackish water, a living source of thousands of locals who rely on fishing and fish farming. As you set your foot here, the first thing that makes you stunned is the immense water scenery, then the super fresh seafood within a reasonable price range.  

Once visiting this land, you will find more than 20 things worth trying here.

Hope to see you soon in this land of cultural richness!