Table of Contents
- Wake up at Dong Ba Market
- Eat bun bo Hue for breakfast
- Visit Hue’s Imperial City
- Stroll along the Perfume River to Trang Tien Bridge
- Take a river cruise to Thien Mu Pagoda
- Breathe out at Thien Mu Pagoda
- Eat like royalty for lunch
- Find the Tomb of Minh Mang
- Discover Hue’s abandoned water park
- Find fabulous finger-food for dinner
- Grab a night market souvenir on Nguyen Dinh Chieu
- Experience Hue’s folk music show
- Unwind on Pham Ngu Lao
Vietnam’s Hue is a peaceful, picturesque city with a fascinating history, and no excursion should miss it! Found in Vietnam’s center, around three hours from Hoi An, Hue is the former royal capital. As a result, you will find that the city and countryside are full of ancient architecture, including tombs, former residences, and charming pagodas.
Given its importance, Hue was also heavily involved in Vietnam’s wars of independence and reunification, culminating in many of the city’s buildings being reduced to rubble. Some have since been lovingly restored. Walk down the streets of Hue today and you’ll be greeted with a scene of modern buildings sitting happily alongside history, with a beautiful river splitting the city in two.
It’s easy to spend a leisurely week in Hue. Sample the must-try foods and include all the surrounding countryside in your itinerary. But, if you only have time for a whistle-stop tour, then follow our guide to ensure you make the most of your trip. Here is our packed one day in Hue itinerary covering the gems of the city!
Wake up at Dong Ba Market
Time: 6 am
Location: 2 Tran Hung Dau, Phu Hoa
Don’t be frightened of tackling Hue’s biggest market at 6 am. By then, it’s already been open for three hours and will be in full swing! There’s no finer way to start a day in Vietnam than with an early start, and getting in amongst the locals.
At Dong Ba Market, you’ll find a food court on the ground floor, clothing stalls, hardware, souvenirs, and pretty much anything else you can think of. Find yourself a coffee vendor and grab yourself a takeaway. That way you can wander around this bustling market whilst the caffeine works its merry magic.
Eat bun bo Hue for breakfast
Time: 7 am
Location: Dong Ba Market, 2 Tran Hung Dau, Phu Hoa
Suitably dosed on coffee, grab a Hue-style breakfast before you leave the market. You can find over 1,000 different dishes in Vietnam’s former capital, but bun bo Hue is the most famous. It’s also the city’s greatest food export, and can be found across Vietnam. However, you’ll find it made here to the original recipe. A noodle soup containing pork, beef, greens, and pig’s blood will set you up perfectly for the adventure ahead.
Visit Hue’s Imperial City
Time: 8 am
Location: Thanh pho, Thua Thien
Hue’s most-celebrated attraction is the Imperial City, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a testament to the area’s former position as the nation’s capital, which ended in 1945. Here, you can see the former kings’ residence, along with a museum, mausoleums, and on-site pagoda. The extensive grounds are also a charm to explore.
The Imperial City was the site of some of Vietnam’s heaviest fighting during its wars for independence. A struggle with the French colonial forces in the 1940s, followed by the Tet offensive in 1968 saw less than 10 percent of the original buildings left untouched. However, given the size of the original city, there’s still plenty of interest to see.
Get to the Imperial City as soon as it opens at 8 am and you’ll be able to wander about before the sun is at its hottest. You’ll also stand a good chance of avoiding the group tours, which are in full swing by mid-morning.
Stroll along the Perfume River to Trang Tien Bridge
Time: 10 am
Location: head south-east to Le Duan street
Once you’ve had your dose of Hue history, head southeast to the river. It’s a brief 10-minute stroll from the Imperial City, and you’ll find plenty of street vendors en route, selling souvenirs, fresh juices, or sweet snacks. Trang Tien is a centerpiece on the Perfume River. First built over 100 years ago, it was designed by the French-architect Gustave Eiffel, famous for France’s Eiffel Tower and America’s Statue of Liberty.
Take a river cruise to Thien Mu Pagoda
Time: 10.30 am
Catch a boat at Trang Tien Bridge and board a river cruise west to Thien Mu Pagoda. You can take a long cruise here and enjoy a history lesson, or simply take a river taxi-style trip and get there in under half an hour.
Breathe out at Thien Mu Pagoda
Time: 11.30 am
Location: Ha Khe Hill, Huong Hoa, Thanh pho
Thien Mu is over 400 years old and its central tower can be seen from many points around Hue City. It’s an important center for Buddhists and offers a beautiful view over a wide stretch of the Perfume River. It’s the perfect place to get your breath back after a busy morning.
It hasn’t always been so peaceful at Thien Mu. Prior to Vietnam’s reunification in 1975, the site staged many a protest against the southern government. This was mainly due to former President Diem’s repression of Buddhism. As a result, the pagoda was an important meeting place for Buddhists and was often barricaded against the authorities.
Eat like royalty for lunch
Time: 12.30 pm
Location: Street vendors close to Thien Mu Pagoda
Take a short walk downhill from Thien Mu Pagoda and you’ll find a host of street food vendors selling a range of wonderful Hue dishes. Dive into whatever takes your fancy, but make sure you try banh beo! Now famous across Vietnam, these were once the preserve of Hue royalty. Legend has it that a former emperor challenged his chef to create something new one night, and these scrumptious rice cakes were the result.
Find the Tomb of Minh Mang
Time: 1 pm
Location: Huong Tho, Huong Tra, Thua Thien
You can take a leisurely two-hour boat ride here from Thien Mu Pagoda and while away the afternoon, or jump in a taxi and get here in twenty minutes. Minh Mang’s Tomb is around 10 kilometers from the pagoda.
A former Nguyen emperor, Minh Mang was also a great believer in Confucianism. His self-designed resting place is a reflection of both his royalty and beliefs. Set in a large outdoor space with rolling hills and water features, it’s well worth the short excursion from the city.
Minh Mang’s Tomb is seen as one of “the big three” tombs to visit in Hue. Khai Dinh and Tu Duc’s tombs are more lavish, with Khai Dinh’s being the most elaborate. As a result, these tombs get a lot more visitors. However, the peaceful grounds of Minh Mang’s Tomb offer the most time for reflection and a little break away from the crowds.
Discover Hue’s abandoned water park
Time: 3.30 pm
Around 15 minutes’ taxi-ride from Minh Mang’s Tomb is a genuine Hue oddity. It’s the remains of a purpose-built water park, opened in 2004 and closed just two years later. You can stroll around the extensive park and imagine the site once breathing with life. Many of the attractions are now becoming overgrown with local foliage, as the surrounding countryside reclaims the land.
Find fabulous finger-food for dinner
Time: 5.30 pm
Location: Lac Thien, 6 Dinh Tien Hoang, Phu Hoa
Suitably famished after your afternoon’s activities, return to the city and be sure to fill up with some fabulous finger food, Hue-style. These Vietnamese pancakes are filled with pork, shrimp, eggs, and beansprouts. They’re a lovely way to plug a gap before you dive into some street food later in the evening.
Grab a night market souvenir on Nguyen Dinh Chieu
Time: 6.30 pm
Location: Nguyen Dinh Chieu, Thua Thien
Return to Trang Tien Bridge and see the lights! The bridge and walkways by the river are beautifully lit after dark, and close by you’ll find the night market on Nguyen Dinh Chieu.
Alongside souvenir stalls and street food vendors, you’ll see artists and musicians, all setting the scene for one of Hue’s most vibrant nighttime experiences. Make sure you try che, popular across Central Vietnam. It’s a wonderful dessert made from beans, pulses, coconut milk, nuts, and ice.
Experience Hue’s folk music show
Time: 7.30 pm
Back at the boat station, you can find tickets for Hue’s folk music show. You’ll hear traditional Vietnamese music played as you ride a dragon boat along a moonlit river. Taking a boat both by day and night is a wonderful way to see Hue in all its glory.
Unwind on Pham Ngu Lao
Time: 9 pm
Location: Pham Ngu Lao, Thua Thien
Finally, muster up one last burst of energy and head to nearby Pham Ngu Lao. One of Hue’s busiest streets after dark, you’ll find bars and souvenir shops galore. Just the place to kick back and relax after your busy day in Hue!
If you have a little longer in Vietnam’s former capital, don’t forget to try as many local foods as you can with our culinary tour. And to keep updated with regulations around the world, see our guide to COVID-19 travel restrictions.