Imperial Citadel in Hue Vietnam

A Day Trip to Hue: Visit the Ancient Imperial Capital of Vietnam

Planning a Hue day trip? The old capital of Vietnam dating from the 19th century between 1802 and 1945 was a political, cultural and religious centre. Here’s what you can’t miss in the former imperial capital.

Winding its way past the ancient citadel, tombs of ancient emperors and Buddhist temples, the Perfume River sleepily swerves its way through the ancient capital city of Vietnam, Hue.

Boats on the Perfume River in Hue Vietnam

The UNESCO-listed complex of monuments in Hue withstood 3 wars, as well as ever-changing modern development. Today, the city is a top tourist destination in Vietnam, with many opting to venture north for a day trip to Hue from Da Nang or Hoi An to explore the collection of monuments.

The Mieu Gate in the Hue Imperial Citadel in Vietnam
Thien Mu Pagoda in Hue in Vietnam with text overlay Gate and temple in the Hue Imperial Citadel in Vietnam with text overlay Woman walking towards temple gate in the Hue Imperial Citadel in Vietnam with text overlay

Here’s what you need to know to plan a Hue day trip and make the most of your time in this cultural and architectural hub.

Travel tips for visiting Hue in Vietnam

Vietnamese currency notes

First time to Vietnam or Hue? Here’s what you need to know before you go.

The closest airports to Hue are Phu Bai Airport (mostly domestic flights) or Da Nang International Airport. You can apply for a 30 day e-visa from the official Vietnam e-visa website if you hold a passport from one of these 46 countries – make sure you only use the official visa website! If you hold a passport from certain Southeast Asian and European countries you may be eligible to enter visa-free – check this guide for more details.

The currency in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong and the exchange rate is approximately US$1: 23,000 VND, 1 Euro: 25,000 VND 15,000 IDR or AU$1: 16,000 VND. There are ATMs in the airport and local banks located outside the departures hall of Da Nang International Airport (after you exit on the left) where you can withdraw or exchange a small sum to get you started, and then you can visit a local ATM or money exchange place once you are in Da Nang, Hoi An or Hue. Legitimate currency exchange shops advertise the rates clearly and do not charge a commission.

You pretty much never have to pay full price for admissions tickets in Vietnam as most tour operators, car charters, spas and major attractions are listed on Klook. Just click here and search for places you want to go, and book online for discounted entry or head on over here to read more about how to use Klook to book travel experiences.

Buy a local Vietnamese SIM card. The easiest way to do that is via Klook – you can get a 4 GB/day SIM card and pick it up from Da Nang airport on arrival, or you can purchase an eSIM if your phone supports it. Buy your local Vietnam SIM card here.

Streets of Hue in Vietnam

The best time to visit Hue is typically considered to be during the drier months between February to June. From April onwards the heat starts to pick up and the mid-day sun can be sweltering, so come prepared with a hat and plenty of sunscreen – when we visited in early April the temperature reached upwards of 33, 34 degrees Celsius by 10 AM in the morning! The rainy season begins in approximately August and can last all the way through to January.

Dress code at Hue Imperial Citadel in Vietnam

What to wear in Hue: As a top tourism destination the dress code in Hue is generally fairly relaxed. Many Hue attractions including the Imperial Citadel, Thien Mu Pagoda and the mausoleums do not offer many shaded areas, so plan to wear light, breathable clothing and bring a hat. Most attractions in Hue have a dress code: you should dress appropriately and wear clothing that covers your legs and shoulders, and shoes that are easy to slip on or off as they will need to be removed to enter temple areas.

Flying a drone in Hue: You must apply for a license to fly your drone in Vietnam. This process can be expensive and complicated – more details here. If you are a recreational UAV user you may want to consider leaving your drone at home.

How to get to Hue and how to get around

Van and driver in Hue Vietnam

By plane: Short domestic flights from Hanoi, Dalat and Ho Chi Minh City land at Hue’s Phu Bai Airport.

By car: The car ride from Da Nang to Hue takes approximately 2 hours, and the journey from Hoi An to Hue will take closer to 3 hours. If you are staying in the Lang Co area expect the ride to take 1.5-2 hours.

Although you could opt to take a local train, you may want to consider hiring a private car and driver instead – this way you can make the most of your time in Hue and travel comfortably between landmarks in an airconditioned vehicle.

We hired a private van and driver (Lao) to take us from Lang Co to Hue – he stayed with us for the entire day and though he didn’t speak much English we simply pointed at a map or told him which monument we wanted to visit, and he would drive and wait for us at the landmark. By hiring a dedicated driver and vehicle we didn’t have to waste any time trying to find transportation from one sightseeing spot to the next.

The full day, round-trip rental cost 2,460,000 VND (just over US$100) in a spacious, airconditioned van – Lao picked us up at 8 AM and dropped us off around 4 PM. He can be contacted at +84 985 252 580.

Where to stay if you’re visiting Hue

The ancient city can be visited on a (long) day trip to Hue from Hoi An, Da Nang or Lang Co.

If you are basing yourself in Hoi An I highly recommend Ann Retreat, located a short 10-minute stroll or a 2-minute bicycle ride from the Ancient Town and night market. This Hoi An boutique hotel has spacious rooms, an excellent on-site restaurant, a lovely in-house spa and two sun-dappled pools – one for the adults and another for children.

Ann Retreat also offers free bicycle rentals for their guests to visit the Ancient Town area and beyond. Click here to check rates and availability at Ann Retreat or head on over here to check out other accommodation options in Hoi An. We also considered Allegro Hoi An, Little Riverside Hoi An, and the beachside Naman Retreat which is located about mid-way between Da Nang and Hoi An.

Not keen on the long travel day from Hoi An to Hue? Consider stopping at Angsana Lang Co on the way. This luxury beachside resort is located about mid-way between Hoi An and Hue – we stayed here for a destination wedding and loved the swim-up bar, excellent breakfast buffet and spacious rooms.

Kids club at Angsana Lang Co in Vietnam

If you are traveling with young children you may even want to extend your stay here for a few nights as it has an excellent kids club. Click here to check out rates and availability at Angsana Lang Co or read my full Angsana Lang Co review here.

Planning on staying overnight in Hue? Hue also has its fair share of boutique hotels and resorts. Click here to see highly-rated hotels in Hue.

The best places to visit in Hue, Vietnam

Perfume River in Hue Vietnam

Wondering what to see in Hue? It is relatively easy to get around – most Hue tourist attractions are within a 15-20 minute drive of one another. Here are some of the main Hue attractions that you’ll want to visit during a Hue half day tour, and here is a Hue tourism map.

1. The Imperial Citadel

Temple gate at Imperial Citadel in Hue Vietnam

Visit the Dai Noi Citadel with temples, harems and grand palaces of the Nguyen dynasty – the last feudal state in Vietnam.

Entry gate and moat at the Imperial Citadel in Hue Vietnam

Visiting the Imperial Citadel is one of the main highlights of any Hue day trip itinerary.

Gate in Imperial Citadel of Hue in Vietnam

There is almost no shade in the Hue Citadel complex and the walk between landmarks is extensive – the best way to visit the various landmarks within Hue’s Imperial City is to hire an electric shuttle bus (parked on the right as you walk through the Noon Gate). It will cost US$15 per hour and can accommodate 7-8 passengers.

Electric shuttle in Hue Imperial Citadel in Vietnam

The driver can take you to the main Hue Citadel attractions including the To Mieu Temple, the Purple Forbidden City and the Ta Tra Building.

Purple Forbidden City in Imperial Citadel of Hue Vietnam

Plan to spend 1-2 hours at the very minimum at the Hue Imperial Citadel to explore the grounds of each monument. There are plenty of signs in English and Vietnamese to explain the history and significance of each of the Imperial Citadel landmarks.

Courtyard at the Imperial Citadel in Hue Vietnam

In order to enter the Hue Imperial Citadel you will need to purchase a ticket – my advice is to buy a combo ticket for your Hue 1 day itinerary as it also includes entrance into the various tombs of the emperors. Make sure you hold onto the ticket (or snap a photo of it) as you will be asked to show the QR code again!

To Mieu Temple in Hue Imperial Citadel in Vietnam

The Imperial Citadel exit is separate from the entrance where the Noon Gate is – in order to get back to the Nine Holy Cannons/ticket booth turn right and right again once you exit.

Hue Imperial Citadel entrance ticket prices (as of April 2023)

Adult entry fee (VND)Children’s entry fee (7-12 years old) (VND)
Hue Imperial City only200,00040,000
Hue Imperial City + Tu Duc Tomb + Khai Dinh Tomb420,00080,000
Hue Imperial City Tu Duc Tomb + Minh Mang Tomb420,00080,000
Hue Imperial City + Khai Dinh Tomb + Minh Mang Tomb420,00080,000
Hue Imperial City + Tu Duc Tomb + Khai Dinh Tomb + Minh Mang Tomb530,000100,000
* Combo tickets are valid for 2 days

2. Thien Mu Pagoda

Thien Mu Pagoda in Hue Vietnam

The Thien Mu Pagoda, or Thien Mu Temple, is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Vietnam. An icon that is synonymous with Hue, the seven-story pagoda can even be found on some Vietnamese currency notes.

Thien Mu Pagoda in Hue Vietnam

Dating back to the early 1600s, the Thien Mu Pagoda sits on a small hill overlooking the banks of the Perfume River. Exploring the grounds of the Thien Mu Pagoda is one of the best things to do in Hue.

Thien Mu Temple in Hue Vietnam

As this is a religious monument in Hue you will need to abide by a dress code – shoulders, midriff and knees should be covered. No ticket or entrance fee is required to visit the grounds of the Thien Mu Temple.

Lunch break: After strolling through the grounds of the Thien Mu Pagoda this is a great opportunity to stop for a bite to eat before continuing on your Hue itinerary. We enjoyed tasting traditional Hue delicacies and dishes at Madam Thu, located about 15 minutes by car from the Thien Mu Temple.

Hue’s classic cuisine typically features an assortment of steamed dumplings made with sticky rice flour and filled with pork and shrimp, and grilled pork skewers on lemongrass stems.

3. Emperor Khai Dinh Tomb

Tomb of Emperor Khai Dinh in Hue Vietnam

Though smaller in scale than some of the other tombs in Hue, the mausoleum of Emperor Khai Dinh is architecturally astounding and not to be missed. Emperor Khai Dinh ruled for a short time between 1916-1925, and his tomb was completed in 1931.

Courtyard at the Tomb of Emperor Khai Dinh in Hue Vietnam

As you enter the main gates, you will make your way up the stairs to the first platform courtyard which houses statues of soldiers, elephants and horses.

Tomb of Emperor Khai Dinh in Hue Vietnam

As you make your way up to the upper level you will find the Thien Dinh Palace, where Emperor Khai Dinh is worshipped and buried. The bronze statue, tomb and worshipping ancestral tablet are found in the centre compartment of the palace – the chamber is decorated elaborately with glass and porcelain, though no photos are permitted in this area.

View from the Khai Dinh Tomb in Hue Vietnam

Plan to spend no less than 30 minutes at the Khai Dinh Tomb. If you did not purchase a combo ticket then single entry to the Khai Dinh Tomb costs 150,000 VND for adults and 30,000 VND for children.

4. Emperor Tu Doc Tomb (or Tu Duc)

The Gate of Imperial Tomb of Tu Duc
Photo credit: ermakovep via

The most-visited tombs in Hue are the Khai Dinh, Tu Duc, Minh Mang and Gia Long mausoleums. However, if you are on a Hue day trip from Hoi An or Da Nang you will need to factor in the long drive back and be selective about what to see in Hue.

If you only have time to visit one Emperor’s tomb in Hue, I recommend exploring Emperor Khai Dinh’s Tomb mentioned above. However, if you have some time to spare then another option would be to visit the Emperor Tu Duc Tomb which resembles a sprawling park with a small lake and palace.

Dating back to the mid-1800s, the grounds also contain the emperor’s working palace, final resting place, altars dedicated to the emperor’s wives as well as his concubines.

If you are spending more than 1 day in Hue and are not all tomb’ed out then consider visiting the Tomb of Emperor Minh Mang and Tomb of Emperor Gia Long. Other important attractions in Hue include the Dong Ba Market, the Tomb of Emperor Duc Duc and the Tomb of Emperor Dong Kanh.

So…is Hue worth visiting?

Gate in Imperial Citadel in Hue Vietnam

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: a Hue day trip from Da Nang or Hoi An can be exhausting. The car journey is long and you are voluntarily signing up for a big travel and sightseeing day in the sweltering heat with minimal shade.

However, the historical significance of Hue and the cultural monuments are worth experiencing and seeing with your own eyes. To ease the travel time of a Hue day trip consider staying overnight at Angsana Lang Co in Lang Co Bay on the way there or the way back.

Toddler at To Mieu Temple in Hue Imperial Citadel in Vietnam

Is Hue worth visiting with kids? Personally I would advise against traveling with very young children, babies or toddlers to Hue for a one day trip – we brought our 2-year old and we took turns running after him at the various Hue attractions. The heat was also unbelievably unforgiving and made traveling with a child very difficult.

Grounds of Imperial Citadel in Hue Vietnam

You would not want to have a young child strapped to you in a baby carrier, and even sitting in a stroller would be difficult in the oppressive heat in Hue city. Instead, one of us ended up having to either stay with our baby in the airconditioned van for the majority of the Hue day trip, or chase him around in the Imperial Citadel and Thien Mu Pagoda grounds under the glaring sun.

Streets of Hoi An Ancient Town in Vietnam

In comparison, we found visiting Hoi An with a toddler challenging but enjoyable – we had more independence with rental bikes and shorter distances between the Hoi An attractions, and we loved the downtime in the pool at this boutique hotel in Hoi An.

Gate in Imperial Citadel in Hue Vietnam 2\\

I hope you found this short Hue day trip itinerary helpful! Ready to book your day trip to Hue? You can book a private car and driver or join a Hue group tour via Klook here. I recommend staying at Ann Retreat in Hoi An or at Angsana Lang Co located about midway between Hoi An/Da Nang and Hue, or you can also click here to see highly-rated hotels for an overnight stay in Hue.

You may also enjoy these reads about traveling to Vietnam:

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