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The palaces of the Imperial City, boaters on the Perfume River, and gentle waves along the sandy coast all welcome you to the heart of central Vietnam. A century and a half as the home of the Nguyen Dynasty’s court has left its mark on the city, and there’s a community of craftspeople and gourmands who are keeping some of the country’s favorite traditions alive. Get to know the things to do in Hue as you explore the unique places, sights, and flavors that wait around every corner.
Parkland, monuments, and artificial lakes stand around the cluster of shops and residences in Hue’s old city. Surrounded by canals and the citadel walls of the old imperial residence, Tuan Thanh features some of the city’s most historic sights, along with diners, cafes, and little shops on almost every block.
Hue’s former French quarter stretches down the south bank of the Perfume River, holding the biggest concentration of hotels in the city along with plenty of classy restaurants and bars. You can follow Le Loi Boulevard past a string of parks set up along the water and check out the colonial-style villas that stand in between the bridges.
Bounded on three sides by a bend in the Perfume River, Hue’s southwestern corner features a quaint rural atmosphere that dates back to the pair of hamlets that date back nearly 500 years. Dominated by trees and old communal houses, the district features a few riverfront hotels among the sleepy residences, roadside markets, and open countryside.
History plays an outsize role in Vietnam’s former capital, and you can see signs of it wherever you go. The Imperial City dominates the center of town with its ornate gateways and palace halls, and a laughing Buddha welcomes visitors to the Thien Mu Pagoda just upstream. You can see Ho Chi Minh’s former home, visit the Cultural Center on Hung Vuong Street to see its array of arts and music events. Venture into the countryside to visit the tombs of the Nguyen emperors, from Minh Mann to Khai Dinh, and get another look at the traditional grandeur that outlived their dynasty.
The most insightful way to get to know the city is with some help from a local expert; if you have a day to space, a private guide can show you around and share the secrets of Hue’s most venerable spots. Breeze through the streets on a bicycle tour, sample some favorite street food from a cycle rickshaw, try your hand at traditional wood carving or crafting a classic conical hat, and have dinner on the Perfume River with a scenic boat cruise.
If you want to explore a little farther afield, you can spend a day learning about Vietnamese cooking and pottery with artisans in the village of Phuoc Tich. A motorbike can take you out to the coast for some time relaxing at Tam Giang Lagoon, and a day trip to the Paradise Cave lets you admire some of the most amazing underground scenery in Asia. And if that’s not enough nature for you, try the wilderness of Bach Ma National Park for a day filled with spectacular views of the jungle.