Situated at the geographic mid-point of Vietnam is the historical and mesmerizing city of Hue. Established as the imperial capital of Vietnam in 1802 under the Nguyễn Dynasty, it remained the country’s political, cultural and religious hub for nine dynasties until 1945. Such is its historical importance; Hue’s imperial citadel, royal tombs and temples are collectively inscribed into UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.
For the potential visitor, we’ve taken the guesswork out of your planning by visiting Hue in Apr-2016 and coming up with the following list of Top 6 Must-See Places in Hue! Enjoy!
#1: Hue Citadel (Imperial City)
The most historically significant attraction in Hue is undoubtedly the Citadel, which bound the Imperial City of the Nguyễn Dynasties. Within the Imperial City is the Purple Forbidden City, which houses the residence and administrative court of the Nguyễn Emperors
The construction of the Citadel started in 1804, after Emperor Gia Long (first Emperor of the Nguyễn Dynasty) took control of unified Vietnam. It is protected by fortified embankments and ringed by a moat.
Sadly, much of the original construction in the Citadel had been destroyed during the Vietnam War; only a handful survived. Restoration projects had been started. Nevertheless, there is still enough architecture in its current form to give visitors a taste of Vietnam during its feudal era.
#2: Thiên Mụ Pagoda
Built in 1601, the seven stories Thien Mu Pagoda is the tallest religious building in Vietnam. It is located a short drive away from the Citadel. Perched on top of a small hill beside the Perfume River, the historic temple offers a good view of the river and the surrounding rural landscape.
Legend has it that a Nguyễn Lord was touring the area when he heard about the story of an old lady, known as Thiên Mụ (literally “celestial lady”). The old lady prophesied that a lord would one day build a pagoda on the hill to pray for the nation’s prosperity. Strangely, the old lady disappeared soon after. After hearing the story, the Nguyễn Lord ordered the construction of the pagoda.
#3: Imperial Tomb of Emperor Minh Mang
Minh Mang (1791–1841) was the second emperor of the Nguyễn dynasty and the son of Emperor Gia Long. He reigned from 1820 until his death in 1841, and was widely held in high-regard for his devotion to running the country.
Minh Mang’s tomb is located on the west bank of Perfume River, approximately 13km from Hue Citadel. He started planning for the tomb in 1840, but passed on shortly after. His son and successor, Thieu Tri, continued the construction and completed it in 1843.
Widely recognised as the most grandiose of all Nguyễn era royal tombs, it consists of 40 monuments. Most interestingly, all monuments in the tomb are symmetric about an axis running the length of the tomb.
#4: Imperial Tomb of Emperor Khai Dinh
Khai Dinh (1885-1925) was the 12th emperor of the Nguyễn Dynasty, reigning from 1916 till his passing on in 1925. Approximately 10km from Hue Citadel, the tomb is located on the slopes of the steep Chau Chu Mountain.
Taking 11 years to complete (1920-1931), the lavish tomb was funded via a tax increase on the population. This fueled further resentment against Khai Dinh, whom was already suffering from widespread disapproval.
Though small, Khai Dinh’s tomb is more sophisticated than other Nguyễn era royal tombs. It employs a good mix of Eastern and Western architecture styles. The largest dragon stone sculpture in Vietnam can be found here.
#5: Imperial Tomb of Emperor Tu Duc
Tu Duc (1829–1883) was the 4th emperor of the Nguyễn Dynasty, reigning from 1847–1883. Widely regarded as the last emperor of Vietnam, he was the last to rule Vietnam independently before parts of it became a French colony.
Renowned for its scale and splendor, Tu Duc planned and constructed the tomb complex from 1864-1867, long before his passing. The exorbitant cost of the tomb was funded via increasing tax, which subsequently led to an unsuccessful rebellion in 1866. The complex remains one of the most scenic of Nguyễn Dynasty’s palaces and tombs.
For a tomb complex, Tu Duc’s tomb contains an unusual myriad of living amenities. In fact, Tu Duc used the tomb palace as his residence and stayed there (with his many wives/concubines) for a significant period.
Oddly, despite its magnificence and scale, Tu Duc was eventually buried in a different and secret location in Hue, probably to deter grave robbers. The 200 servants whom buried him were subsequently beheaded to prevent any leak, and the real tomb remained unknown till date.
#6: Hue Walking Street (Night Market)
Started in Jan-2012, the 400m long Hue Walking Street is located on the southern banks of the Perfume River (opposite Hue Citadel and along Nguyen Dinh Chieu street). Open daily from 5-11pm; the pedestrian-only street has more than 100 stalls dealing in traditional crafts products and consumer goods. There is also a 120m long dining area by the river that serves traditional Hue cuisines. Definitely one of the better places to hang out during the evenings