Sitting smack dab in the middle of some of the best riding country in the, er…country, Hue, Vietnam is an excellent stop on any Vietnam motorbike trip. With a unique and prominent cultural and historic heritage, the city offers a glimpse into both the far and relatively recent past of the country. Combine that with some excellent roads leading into and out of the area and some of Vietnam’s most iconic cuisine, and you’ve got one heck of a stop.
To break things down, we’ve written this article around some of the more interesting things to see in Hue. Most of what’s here can be seen in 1-2 days, depending on the pace you want to maintain.
An excellent way to start is entering from the south via the Hai Van pass, which makes for a thrilling descent into the flatlands leading towards Hue. But no matter what way you come to Hue, you’ll find plenty to see. Let’s dive in.
Table of Contents
Welcome to the majestic Hue Citadel, a treasure trove of history and cultural heritage in Vietnam. As the former capital of Vietnam, Hue is home to the Imperial City, a magnificent complex similar to the Forbidden City in Beijing and recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Imperial City served as the residence and ruling place of the Nguyen Dynasty, which governed until 1945. Spread across 520 hectares near the banks of the Perfume River, this sprawling citadel offers visitors a glimpse into the grandeur and opulence of Vietnam’s past.
To explore the Imperial City, visitors can access it easily by taxi, cyclo, or bicycle. The entrance fee for adults is 150,000 VND, and the citadel opens its doors from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. It is recommended to wear comfortable shoes, bring a camera to capture the stunning architecture, and stay hydrated with water during your visit. To fully appreciate the historical significance and stories hidden within the walls of the citadel, taking a guide is highly recommended.
One of the highlights of the Imperial City is the Ngo Mon Gate, an architectural masterpiece that served as a royal entrance and viewing platform. As you step through this grand gate, you will be transported back in time to an era of emperors and dynasties. The gate features various elements that showcase the rich cultural heritage of Vietnam.
The Hue Citadel is not just a political hub; it also encompasses a vibrant cultural and religious center. The complex is aligned with the Five Cardinal Points, Five Elements, and Five Colors, creating a harmonious balance between nature and human creation. Beyond the citadel walls, you will find other important monuments such as temples, tombs, and ritual sites that add to the charm and authenticity of this historical site.
Hue itself is a city of poetry, known for its peaceful beauty and exceptional history. In addition to the Imperial City, visitors can explore beautiful royal tombs, visit a museum displaying royal antiquities, and immerse themselves in the serene atmosphere of temples, pagodas, and gardens. The city also offers evening shows and performances that recreate royal ceremonies, allowing you to witness the grandeur and elegance of the past. And let’s not forget about Hue’s renowned cuisine, which is considered some of the best in Vietnam. Indulge in the city’s specialties and savor the taste and refinement of Hue’s culinary delights.
A visit to the Hue Citadel is a journey through time, where you can witness the legacy of Vietnam’s imperial past. Immerse yourself in the rich history, breathtaking architecture, and captivating stories that make Hue Citadel a must-visit destination.
Welcome to the Tiger Arena Hue, a unique arena where elephants were trained to be powerful weapons under the Nguyen dynasty. This arena was built in the 19th century and was specifically designed to train elephants for battle against tigers, showcasing the power and strength of these majestic animals. While smaller in size compared to the Colosseum in Italy, the Tiger Arena Hue boasts a unique architectural design. Shaped like a donut, it features an outer wall that serves as a stand for spectators, with the emperor’s bleachers positioned higher than the surrounding seats. Inside the arena, you’ll find steps for emperors and officials, tiger cages, and a circular grass area. The battles between elephants and tigers were once a significant event, with the last known fight taking place in 1904. Today, visitors can explore this historical site by taking a dragon boat, taxi, bike, or motorbike. The entrance fee is VND 50,000, and the arena is open from 7 am to 5 pm daily.
The animal combats held at Tiger Arena Hue held symbolic significance as they represented the power of the Emperor. The elephant, being a symbol of monarchy, would battle against the tiger, representing rebellion. This portrayal of power and control was a way to assert dominance and authority during the Nguyen dynasty. Nowadays, the Tiger Arena Hue stands as a reminder of this historical significance and showcases the grandeur of royal Vietnamese colosseums.
Despite being heavily damaged due to the passage of time and war, Tiger Arena Hue still stands as a testament to its former glory. With its round construction featuring a tall inner wall and a shorter outer ring wall, it offers a glimpse into its majestic past. The arena also includes an emperor’s seat, ladder systems for officials, and five tiger cages. In its prime, the arena hosted formal ceremonies with flags, soldiers, and music during the annual fights between elephants and tigers. These battles not only entertained spectators but also served as a way to train warriors and inspire the spirit of learning kung fu.
Getting to Tiger Arena Hue is a breeze, with various transportation options available. Whether you choose to explore by bike, scooter, or through a private car tour, you’ll have easy access to this unique historical site located just 5 kilometers west of Hue city. So come and immerse yourself in the rich history and cultural significance of Tiger Arena Hue. Experience the grandeur of the past and gain a deeper understanding of the power dynamics that shaped the Nguyen dynasty.
Bunker Hill in Hue, Vietnam is a hidden gem that holds a significant place in history. Located on a secluded hilltop south of the historic capital city, Bunker Hill is home to several concrete bunkers dating back to the Vietnam War. These bunkers, once used by American troops, offer a unique glimpse into the past. Accessible through dirt backroads, visitors can explore these abandoned structures and take in the commanding view of the Perfume River. While they are often referred to as American bunkers, there is speculation that they may have actually been built by the French during the First Indochina War. Regardless of their origins, these bunkers tell a story of the conflicts that took place in this region.
Hue itself played a significant role during the Vietnam War and still bears remnants of the conflict to this day. From planes and tanks to bombs, the city’s Huế History Museum offers a comprehensive display of artifacts from this tumultuous period. It is clear that Hue was a strategic location during the war, making Bunker Hill an even more intriguing site to explore.
Overlooking the Perfume River, just a few kilometers west of Hue, lies another cluster of bunkers with a panoramic view over the plains stretching towards the mountains in the west. It remains unclear when these bunkers were built and by whom, but it is likely they were constructed during the French era or by US troops to block off the approach of NVA troops. These bunkers are unique if built by US troops, as they typically avoided building concrete bunkers to avoid appearing as occupiers. This suggests that these bunkers hold a special significance in terms of military strategy.
The bunkers in this area are located in Doi Vong Canh, a small green area near an old cemetery and the Tu Duc tomb. This serene setting adds to the allure of exploring these historical structures. As visitors wander through the bunkers, they can imagine the challenges and hardships faced by the soldiers who once occupied them. The bunkers serve as a reminder of the sacrifices made during times of conflict and the resilience of those who fought for their beliefs.
Vong Canh Hill, where the bunkers are situated, was a strategic military advantage utilized by both the French and Americans during their wars with Vietnam. The presence of a French bunker and two American bunkers further emphasizes the historical significance of this location. It is a place where history comes alive, and visitors can gain a deeper understanding of the complex events that unfolded during the Vietnam War.
The Tomb of Khải Định, also known as the Ứng Mausoleum, is a remarkable architectural masterpiece situated in Chau Chu mountain, just 10km away from Hue city in Vietnam. Built for Khải Định, the twelfth Emperor of the Nguyễn dynasty, this tomb is a fusion of Vietnamese and Western architectural styles. It took 11 years to complete, with construction finishing in 1931. Khải Định’s visit to France greatly influenced the design of the tomb, incorporating European architectural elements that make it stand out from other Nguyễn dynasty tombs. In recognition of its significance, the tomb was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. Visitors can explore the grand staircase, stone figures and animals, stele pavilion, and the exquisite Thiên Định Palace. The interior of the palace is adorned with vibrant and lavish embellishments, providing a glimpse into the opulence of the Nguyễn dynasty.
Khai Dinh Tomb is not only renowned for its architectural beauty but also for its historical and cultural significance. It holds a strong French influence and was funded through increased taxes. Despite its smaller size compared to other tombs of the Nguyễn dynasty, it showcases an elaborate design that captivates visitors. The tomb’s exterior is made of concrete, iron, steel, and slate, creating a striking contrast against its colorful ceramic interiors. The main building, Thien Dinh palace, is adorned with magnificent murals depicting the Four Seasons, Eight Precious Objects, and the Eight Immortals. Inside the tomb lies a gilt bronze statue of King Khai Dinh, with his remains interred below the statue.
As part of the Complex of Hue Monuments, which was recognized as a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993, Khai Dinh Tomb holds a significant place in Vietnam’s cultural heritage. Its location on Chau Chu Mountain adds to its allure, providing visitors with breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. The tomb can be easily accessed from Hue city center, either by road or boat, making it a must-visit attraction for those exploring the area.
Whether you are an architecture enthusiast, history buff, or simply someone seeking to immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage of Vietnam, a visit to Khai Dinh Tomb is highly recommended. Marvel at the fusion of Vietnamese and Western architectural styles, appreciate the intricate details of the interiors, and delve into the fascinating history of the Nguyễn dynasty. This tomb offers a unique and memorable experience that will leave you in awe of the craftsmanship and artistic vision of Emperor Khải Định. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site and discover the beauty that lies within Khai Dinh Tomb.
Thien Mu Pagoda in Hue, Vietnam is a must-visit destination for anyone exploring the city. Situated on Hà Khê hill, just 3 km from the Citadel of Hue, this historic temple holds great significance and has a lot of cultural and historical value. The pagoda’s iconic seven-story structure is considered the unofficial symbol of Hue, making it a prominent landmark that attracts tourists from all over the world.
Visiting Thien Mu Pagoda is not only a visual treat but also an opportunity to delve into the rich history and spirituality of Vietnam. The pagoda is often accessed by boat, adding to the charm of the experience as visitors cruise along the Perfume River to reach this magnificent site. The tranquil surroundings and serene atmosphere make it an ideal place for meditation and introspection.
One of the highlights of Thien Mu Pagoda is its intricate architecture. Each story of the pagoda has its unique design and represents different aspects of Buddhist teachings. From the beautifully adorned entrance gate to the towering structure itself, every detail is a testament to the craftsmanship and devotion of those who built it. Exploring the pagoda’s various levels offers breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape, making it a photographer’s paradise.
Apart from its architectural marvels, Thien Mu Pagoda also holds historical significance. It played an essential role during the Vietnam War as a center for political activism and protest against the government. The famous “Austin car” that belonged to Thich Quang Duc, a monk who self-immolated in Saigon in 1963 to protest against religious persecution, is still preserved within the pagoda’s premises. This makes Thien Mu Pagoda not only a spiritual haven but also a site of historical remembrance.
In addition to its cultural and historical value, Thien Mu Pagoda offers visitors a chance to connect with their spiritual side. The serene surroundings and peaceful ambiance create an atmosphere conducive to introspection and meditation. Many visitors find solace in the pagoda’s tranquil gardens and prayer halls, finding a sense of peace and enlightenment.
Overall, Thien Mu Pagoda is a destination that should not be missed when visiting Hue, Vietnam. Its architectural beauty, historical significance, and spiritual ambiance make it a place that has a lot to offer to every visitor. Whether you are interested in history, culture, or simply seeking a moment of tranquility, Thien Mu Pagoda will leave you with a profound and memorable experience.
The Perfume River, also known as the Huong River, is a captivating attraction in Hue, Vietnam that meanders through the city, offering breathtaking views and a serene ambiance. The name “Perfume River” derives from the aromatic plants that once grew along its banks, infusing the air with their delightful fragrance. Although these plants are no longer found there, the river continues to enthrall visitors with its clear blue waters and gentle flow. It serves as a source of inspiration for artists and poets, who find solace in its beauty. Taking a boat excursion on the Perfume River is a popular activity for tourists visiting Hue, allowing them to immerse themselves in the tranquility and charm of this iconic river. As you glide along its waters, you will have the opportunity to visit various attractions located along the riverbank, such as the Tomb of Minh Mang and Thien Mu Pagoda, adding to the richness of your experience.
When exploring Hue city, it becomes evident that the Perfume River serves as a natural boundary, dividing the city into two distinct parts — the Northern and the Southern regions. This geographical feature adds to the allure of Hue, creating a unique atmosphere that captivates locals and visitors alike. As you stroll along the river, you will witness the seamless blend of historical architecture and natural beauty, creating a harmonious setting that transports you to a bygone era.
One of the best times to visit the Perfume River is during the dry season from March to September. However, if you want to witness a truly enchanting spectacle, plan your visit between late June and July when the riverbanks come alive with blooming red flamboyant flowers. This burst of vibrant colors adds a touch of magic to an already picturesque landscape, making it an ideal time for photography enthusiasts to capture stunning shots.
There is an array of activities and sights to explore along the Perfume River. You can embark on a dragon boat cruise, allowing you to leisurely navigate the river while taking in the breathtaking scenery. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit iconic architectural landmarks such as the Trang Tien Bridge and Thien Mu Pagoda, which have significant cultural and historical importance. For those who prefer a leisurely stroll, Nguyen Dinh Chieu pedestrian street offers a charming pathway along the riverbank, where you can soak in the serene atmosphere and enjoy the picturesque views.
Onyabike Adventures’ Hue Tours
If you’re on tour with us, you’ll find many of our tours go through Hue. Here are some examples:
- Ho Chi Minh Trail, Hue, and Phong Nha
- Hue, Hai Van Pass, and the Ho Chi Minh Trail
- Mountain and DMZ Adventure Loop
- Central Vietnam Adventure Tour
- Hanoi to Da Nang — Phong Nha Caves Adventure Tour
- North to South Classic
- The Highlights of Central Vietnam
If you want to know more about how we run these tours or if you’d just like to speak to a real human being about them, we’re always happy to hear from motorbike adventure enthusiasts. Reach out to us and we’ll get back to you with the same amount of excitement we’ve always had about touring Vietnam’s outstanding roads.