Hue City is the ancient capital of Vietnam with the highest concentration of historic structures in the country. But what do you do if you only have one day in Hue? Here is my overview for the time-conscious traveler with just one day in Hue.
- 1. The Imperial City — Hue Citadel
- 2. Thien Mu Pagoda
- 3. Temple of Literature
- 4. Imperial Tombs — Tomb of Tu Duc
- 5. Thuy Tien Lake — Abandoned Water Park Hue
- 6. Bunkers and Perfume River Overlook
- 7. Tam Giang Lagoon
- Hue City at Night
- 8. Walking street — Pham Ngu Lao
- 9.The Perfume River & Truong Tien Bridge
- Getting around Hue City
- Tour of Hue City
1. The Imperial City — Hue Citadel
No matter what you’re interested in, the Imperial City is a must. It is the former capital of Vietnam and the seat of the Nguyen Dynasty for almost 150 years, up until 1945 when the capital was moved to Hanoi.
The Citadel takes at least 2 hours and up to 4 or 5 hours if you really want to see and read everything, as well as take pictures. Getting an early start is recommended to beat the midday heat and crowds.
2. Thien Mu Pagoda
The iconic seven-storey Thien Mu Pagoda sits on a hill overlooking the Perfume River. The original temple was first erected in 1601 while the current Pagoda was built under Emperor Thiệu Trị in 1844.
Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk from the Thien Mu Pagoda made international headlines in 1963 when he burned himself to death at an intersection in Saigon, protesting the oppression of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government. The car that drove him to the intersection can be seen on display in a building behind the Thien Mu Pagoda.
It is a popular place to visit with many tourists buses. Get there early to avoid the crowds. It’s about a ten-minute drive from the Citadel so if you’re an early bird, go and see it before you see the Citadel.
3. Temple of Literature
Built in 1808, during the reign of Gia Long, the first Nguyen Emporer, the Temple of Literature in Hue was built as a temple dedicated to the scholars of Confucianism. In later years, national examinations were held here and the names of successful candidates are engraved on stone slabs.
It is just a few minutes down the road from the Thien Mu Pagoda but is visited by only a few. It’s free to enter and despite the destruction over the ages, it’s well worth a short stop. You will probably have the place to yourself.
Now it is time for lunch! There’s a great local spot between the Citadel and Thien Mu Pagoda called Quan An Huyen Anh.
It’s a popular spot amongst locals and one of my favorite places to eat in Hue! The address shows up incorrectly when you enter it in Google Maps so use the name. Though, if you’re looking at the actual addresses on the street it will be at 52 Kim Long, down a small alley.
Quan an Huyen Anh
52/1 Kim Long, Thành phố Huế,
4. Imperial Tombs — Tomb of Tu Duc
The Nguyen Dynasty Emperors were, in most cases, buried in Hue, near the Perfume River. The tombs are more like small citadels with beautiful gates, architecture, and sprawling grounds; not what you might think of as a tomb.
If you have just one day in Hue then you will likely have time for just one tomb. There are three “main” tombs (the larger more elaborate tombs): 1. Tu Duc, 2. Khai Dinh, 3. Minh Mang, as well as a hand full of smaller tombs.
Selecting one tomb depends on what your interests are. My personal favorite was Tu Duc with its small island, pavilions, old crumbling walls (just one section) in a beautiful forest setting (though a few of the structures are being restored).
The most elaborate imperial tomb, with a mix of Chinese and European architecture, as well as the only tomb where you can view the actual remains, is the tomb of emperor Khai Dinh.
5. Thuy Tien Lake — Abandoned Water Park Hue
Officially, this derelict water park is closed and getting inside isn’t a sure bet, so keep this in mind when you factor it into your plans.
An overgrown abandoned waterpark reminiscent of Jurassic Park, it is centered around a giant dragon structure that you can climb up inside via a staircase and gaze out over the park. I love old historical sights (which is one of the reasons I love Hue) and while this park was only abandoned in 2004, it is a pretty fantastic place to wander around in and bring out your inner urban explorer.
It’s listed on Google maps as Thuy Tien Lake Abandoned Water Park, about 5 miles outside of the city center. Sometimes you can pay (10k to 20k vnd) to enter, sometimes you can just drive in. The last time I was there (June 2018) they were very adamant about not letting people in and wouldn’t accept payment claiming that there was a fire recently and it was under investigation.
With only one day in Hue you might want to plan on somewhere to see the sunset. If you’re in the Abandoned Water Park you can watch the sunset from the dragon’s mouth. Otherwise here are two more options. My favorite place to watch the sunset in Hue is Tam Giang Lagoon.
6. Bunkers and Perfume River Overlook
Up on a hill amongst pine trees overlooking the Perfume River are a cluster of bunkers from the Vietnam-American War. It’s a pleasant spot to sit and watch the boats on the Perfume River as the last rays of daylight glisten across the water.
Just down the road from the Tomb of Tu Duc up on a hill. It’s labeled as “The Hill (bunker)” on Google Maps and “Vietnam War Bunkers” on Maps.me.
7. Tam Giang Lagoon
On the outskirts of Hue, fishermen go about their traditional life on a beautiful lagoon. Come here to get away from the busier city and historical sites. Take a boat out to a restaurant (the only way to get there) propped up on stilts in the lagoon, eat seafood while the sun sinks down over the water. A perfect relaxing way to finish a day in Hue.
It’s not the easiest place to find. On Maps.me it’s labeled as “Floating restaurant in the lake.” On Google Maps look for Đàm Chuồn An Phú. There are two restaurants, both are on stilts; one you must take a boat to, the other can be accessed from the shore via a wooden path on stilts.
Hue City at Night
8. Walking street — Pham Ngu Lao
This is the main tourist area but many locals come here as well. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, the streets are closed to traffic and people play games and sometimes perform live music in the street. It’s a nice place to hang out with many bars and places to eat. If you’re looking for something quieter, you can walk down to the Perfume River.
9.The Perfume River & Truong Tien Bridge
Down on the banks of the Perfume River, clustered around the iconic Truong Tien bridge are numerous places to eat. Come here to get away from the more tourist vibe of the Pham Ngu Lao walking street.
Walk across the Truong Tien Bridge or take a night cruise on the Perfume River.
Getting around Hue City
To get the most out of one day in Hue, you can rent motorbikes (if that’s something you are comfortable with) or you can hire a driver (can be arranged at your hotel). Using the Grab app also works and you won’t have to haggle over the price. If you do get a taxi, agree on the price beforehand.
Tour of Hue City
If you have just one day in Hue and want to maximize it to see as much as you can without worrying about transport, your other option is to do a tour. Most hostels and hotels will be able to arrange this for you. It’s less flexible and you’ll have to stick to a set schedule but you’ll probably be able to fit more in than if you plan it on your own.