Hue – the turbulent history of Vietnam’s imperial city

Hue – The sights and beaches of Vietnam’s former capital

The city of Hue (Vietnam) is located in the heart of the country. From 1802 to 1945 it was the imperial capital of the Nguyen dynasty. Every emperor, in order to immortalize his name, created architectural structures of amazing beauty. Today, the city is the administrative center of Thuyat Thien-Hue Province. It covers an area of about 84 square kilometers with a population of about 455 thousand people. Hue is famous for its historical and architectural monuments, colorful festivals and celebrations. It is also an important educational center. There are seven higher education institutions in Hue (Art Institute, Foreign Language Institute, Medical Institute, etc.) where many foreign students study.

Hue City

All of Hue is divided into two parts: the Old City and the New City. The old part occupies the northern bank of the river. It is surrounded by a huge moat and fortress walls. There are many sights, to see which would take a whole day.

Pedestrian Street in Hue Old Town

Around the Old Town stretches the New Town, most of which is on the other side of the river. This area has everything you need for tourists: hotels, restaurants, cafes, banks, stores, entertainment. Although the Vietnamese city of Hue can not be called a metropolis, but to the provincial backwater it also can not be attributed. The city has many 10-story buildings, there are large shopping centers, hypermarkets. You can inexpensively rent a bike or motobike and explore all the interesting places.

Sights of Hue

The main attractions of Hue (Vietnam) are located compactly, so you can see them in one day. The first thing worth visiting is the Citadel, the residence of the Vietnamese emperors.

Imperial City (Citadel)

Imperial City

This architectural monument was laid in 1804 by order of the first emperor of the Nguyen dynasty, Gia Long. The citadel is surrounded by a moat 4 meters deep and 30 meters wide. To protect the citadel from enemies, strong bastions and observation towers were erected along the entire perimeter. Exit to the city was provided by folding bridges and reliable gates.

From the outside the Citadel was a securely defended fortress, but inside it was a rich royal court divided into three parts: the Civil, the Imperial and the Forbidden Purple City.

Famous Sacred Guns

From the Imperial City the state was ruled, and in the Forbidden City the personal life of the Emperor boiled with passions. In the Citadel you can admire the Palace of Harmony, see the famous sacred cannons, and visit the Hall of Mandarins.

  • A ticket to enter the attraction costs 150,000 . With this ticket you can not only walk around the entire town unimpeded, but also go to the Bao Tang Museum located outside the town.
  • Opening hours: 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily.
  • To visit some of the sites within the complex, you must have clothes covering your shoulders and knees, and you will also have to take off your shoes.

Purple City

This is part of the Citadel: an entire complex of palaces where members of the imperial family, the ruler’s concubines, servants and physicians lived. Others were categorically forbidden to enter here. The entire architectural ensemble consisted of 130 buildings, most of which were damaged after the American bombings of 1968.

Today it has been restored and one can see the military residence of the emperor, a room for the court physicians, a meditation room, a large kitchen, etc.

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Imperial Tombs

One of the highlights of Hue are the tombs of the monarchs. The “city” of tombs is located several kilometers from Hue. The rulers of Hue began their lives as a transition phase and prepared a place where their souls could find peace and tranquility. So majestic mausoleums surrounded by parks, groves, pavilions, and lakes were created.

From 1802 to 1945, 13 rulers succeeded in Vietnam but for unknown reasons, only 7 of them created their own mausoleums. These tombs are among the outstanding monuments of architecture, and they are a must-see. You can get there by boat, but the best way is to rent a bike or motorcycle. Of all the tombs of particular interest are the shrines of Minh Mang, Don Khan, Thieu Chi.

Minh Mang Tomb

Compared with the others, Minh Mang’s tomb is striking for its majestic and luxurious appearance. Minh Mang was known as a highly educated and cultured ruler of Vietnam.

The tomb was built for several years (from 1840) under the guidance of the Emperor himself. But the ruler died before the work was finished, and the construction was completed by his successors.

The entire complex consists of forty buildings. It is a very cozy quiet place on the bank of the fragrant river, it fits harmoniously with the living nature and disposes to a pleasant contemplation. On the sightseeing it is better to allocate at least 2 hours.

Tomb of Dong Khan

It differs from all the other crypts for its small size and originality. Don Khan was the ninth emperor of the Nguyen dynasty (1885-1889). He owed his reign to the French, who expelled his brother. Don Khan was a puppet in the hands of the French, ruled Vietnam for a short time and died at the age of 25 from illness.

The originality of the tomb is due to the penetration of European culture into the country. It intertwines traditional Vietnamese architecture with French motifs, terracotta bas-reliefs and colored glass.

Thieu Chi Tomb

It is located two kilometers from the crypt of Don Khan. It looks very modest – so commanded by Thieu Chi himself. He was the most beloved and revered ruler of the people.

When building the tombs, the signs of the earth, heavenly powers, Vietnamese traditions, etc., were necessarily taken into account. However, each imperial tomb reflected the personality of the buried ruler.

When Thieu Chi built the tomb, his son had to adhere to his father’s will, so it was conveniently planned and uncluttered. It is the only tomb that is not walled.

  • Admission to each attraction costs VND 100,000. You can save if you buy a comprehensive ticket to visit the tombs and the Imperial City.
  • Opening hours: 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily.

Thien Mu Pagoda

This unique historical monument is considered a trademark of Hue (Vietnam). The pagoda is located on a low hill on the northern bank of the Aromatic River. It consists of seven tiers, each symbolizing a level of enlightenment of the Buddha. The height of the temple is 21 meters.

Thien Mu Pagoda

On the left side of the tower in the six-walled pavilion is a giant bell weighing more than two tons. Its ringing can be heard at a distance of more than ten kilometers. In the pavilion on the right side of the tower is a sculpture of a huge marble tortoise, symbolizing longevity and wisdom.

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The creation of the pagoda in Hue dates back to the 1600s and is associated with the appearance of the legendary fairy Thienmu. She told the people that Vietnam’s prosperity will start when their ruler, Nguyen Hoang, builds a pagoda. The people were very happy to see the pagoda.

There is a remarkable incident connected with the pagoda. In the 1960s, the authorities wanted to ban Buddhism, which led to public discontent. One monk set himself on fire in protest. Now this car he drove is on display behind the main sanctuary.

Admission to the site is free.

Truong Tien Bridge

The people of Hue are justly proud of their Truong Tien Bridge, which is mounted on iron piers and is designed to connect the historic part and the modern resort. The bridge is not a historical monument. It was created in 1899 by the famous engineer Eiffel, which made it world famous. The design of the 400-meter bridge was developed taking into account the latest technology of those years.

Truong Tien Bridge

Throughout its existence the Truong Tien Bridge was subjected to the ravages of storms and much damage from U.S. bombing raids. It was not until two decades ago that it was finally rebuilt.

The central part of the bridge is used by cyclists, while the sides are reserved for pedestrians. Of particular interest is Truong Tien in the evening, when the colored lights turn on, repeating the graceful curves of the bridge.


Hue has no access to the sea, so there are no beaches in the city. However, 13 to 15 kilometers away there are several well-equipped beaches on the shores of the South China Sea. One of the most popular is the beach Lang Co, where foreign tourists and locals love to relax.

Lang Co Beach

Lang Co beach has white sand and blue waters for 10 kilometers along the coast. Getting to it from Hue is very convenient because the beach stretches along the highway. The road from the beach is separated by a hill, so the noise of motors does not reach here.

Palm thickets and grassy beach umbrellas create a wonderful exotic atmosphere. It is good to rest here with children – the depth is not more than a meter, and the water is always warm. On the coast there are hotels and restaurants, where you can have a good meal.

Thuan Nang Beach

This beach is located near the village of Thuanan (only 13 kilometers from Hue). It is convenient to get here by renting a bike or motorcycle. The beach attracts tourists with its beautiful nature, white sand and turquoise water. Infrastructure is virtually absent, but it is always crowded and fun, especially during holidays and festivals.

Climate and Weather

In Hue monsoon climate, there are four seasons. Spring is fresh, summer is hot, autumn is warm and mild, and winter is cool and windy. The summer heat reaches 40 degrees Celsius. In winter, the temperature is plus, averaging 20 °C, but can sometimes drop to 10 °C.

Air temperature in Hue

Due to the Seung Cheong Mountains to the south, there are always clouds over Hue, so there are more overcast days than sunny ones. There are often fogs, drizzle, or torrential downpours.

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The dry season in this part of Vietnam lasts from January to August. The most comfortable temperature is in January and March (22-25 ° C), although at night it can be cold (below 10 ° C). The hottest time in Hue is June and August (temperatures of +30°C and above).

The rainy season begins in late August and lasts until the end of January. It rains the most in September and December. During this time, puddles on the roads do not dry out and are constantly wet.

The best time to go to Hue is from February to April, when it is not so hot and it rarely rains.

Going on a trip to Hue, Vietnam, you will see a lot of interesting things. In addition to the listed attractions, be sure to visit the national park Bachma, at hot springs with mineral water, to see with my own eyes amazing Aromatic River. And if you come here in June, you can take part in the colorful celebrations and large-scale costume parades.

All prices on the page are for June 2020.

Interesting Facts
  1. The court music of Nha Niak, which took place during the Ly dynasty in Hue, is part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO.
  2. The city was originally named Fusuan. How, why and when it was renamed Hue is still not known.
  3. In Vietam alone, Hue has preserved more than 1,000 culinary recipes, some of which were created especially for the Nguyen dynasty rulers. Not only the taste is important but also the presentation, decoration and eating habits.

A walk through the sights of Hue and useful information for tourists in Vietnam – in this video.

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The imperial city in Hue

Hue has had a rich history for seven centuries. During these seven centuries the territory donated by the King of Cham for his marriage to a Vietnamese princess was divided, annexed and reclaimed in internecine strife.

Imperial City in Hue

The architecture of the city. Photo credit: hectorbuelta, Flick

A bit of history

The late nineteenth and twentieth centuries were particularly dramatic for Hue. There was the uprising against French colonization and the Tet Offensive of the communists – which turned the city into ruins and the Buddhist crisis – the memory of which keeps the monastery at the pagoda Thien Mu.

But there were also good times in Hue’s history. The peak of prosperity of the city came in the first half of the 19th century, when Emperor Nguyen Gia Long (Gia Long), made Hue the capital of Vietnam, which it remained for 140 years. After the proclamation of the new capital, Hue attracted people from all sides who formed the cultural and intellectual core of the country – scientists, poets, philosophers and artists. The city grew and was built by combining Eastern and Western architecture. The concept of Hue was based on the relationship between the five directions – center, west, east, north, south; the five elements – earth, metal, wood, water, fire; the five colors – yellow, white, blue, black, red.

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Imperial City in Hue - Blogs

One of the gates of the citadel. Photo credit: Jess Burvill, Flick

Located in the center of Vietnam with access to the sea, the new capital had to be well protected. The design work alone took two years. The construction itself took a long 27 years.

The design of the citadel was developed by the French military, who at that time were advisors to the emperor. According to various sources, between thirty and eighty thousand artisans, laborers and soldiers took part in the ambitious work. As a result, on the northern bank of the Aromatic River (Sông Hương), the Citadel of Kinh Thanh grew. Four six-meter-high walls with bastions and ammunition depots, around which, in a wide, curving ribbon, an artificial water trench with bridges led to the fortress. Within this armor was the Imperial City, with its residential quarters, theater, temples, school, courthouse, palace complex, ceremonial pavilions, and the “city within a city” – the Forbidden City or Purple Citadel.

Imperial Citadel

One of the entrances to the citadel. Photo credit: SV&D, Flick

Imperial City in Hue

A view from the citadel walls. Photo credit: James Robertson, Flick.

Imperial City in Hue

Network of artificial moats in citadel. Photo credit: t-dawg, Flick.

Imperial City

Many of the buildings in Hue’s Imperial City were copies of Chinese ones, including the Forbidden City, the original of which is in Beijing. However, the local architecture had its own unique characteristics. First of all – it is colored, ceramic elements in the interior such as glass dragons – symbols of the Vietnamese monarchy and a hallmark of Vietnamese architecture.

Imperial Citadel

A guard at the gate. Photo credit: lightwrite, Flick

Over time, Vietnam’s humid climate erodes the city’s buildings. But the citadel also took its toll during the war. By the 1970s some of the buildings were completely destroyed, the walls were riddled with bullets, and in some places there were gaping holes – portals for tanks. The palace decorations, furniture and jewels – “walked” on the black markets of the world.

Imperial City in Hue - travel blogs

Half-ruined arches. Photo credit: Trauts1971, Flick

Imperial Citadel

Long-suffering walls. Photo credit: Kay Li, Flick

Today, some of the buildings have been restored with funds provided by UNESCO. At the same time, there is some debate as to whether and how the citadel should be fully restored. First, so far Vietnamese researchers have not found pictures of some of the palace interiors, and secondly, there is an opinion that the reconstruction of buildings “turnkey”, from fragments crushed into dust, may deprive the Imperial Citadel of historical value, turning it into a theme, entertainment park.

Imperial City in Hue - Blogs

Imperial City in Hue. Photo credit: Andrey Samsonov, Flick

Imperial Citadel

The Imperial City in Hue. Photo credit: J&M, Flick

Imperial City in Hue - travel blogs

The Imperial city in Hue. Photo credit: Iam Marjon Bleeker, Flick.

Imperial City in Hue - travel blogs

European shades of the city. Photo credit: Silvia Romio, Flick

Imperial City in Hue - Blogs

Boxwood Turtles. Photo credit: unci_narynin, Flick

What’s Left of the Citadel

There are “nine sacred cannons” on the site. The ten-ton cannons were cast under Emperor Zia Long, from bronze spoils from battles with the Tay Son dynasty. They were never used for military purposes and were placed as a symbol of victory and defense of the city.

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Imperial Citadel

Symbolic cannons. Photo credit: Nguyen Minh Son, Flick

Among the restored buildings are temples, pagodas, a residence for the Queen Mother, mandarin halls, etc. In the palace museum, along with personal belongings and household items of the inhabitants of the Imperial City, there is an amusing photo depicting the turn of cultures and centuries. On it, the last of the emperors is dressed in a traditional suit and sunglasses.

Imperial City in Hue - Blogs

The Royal Theater. Photo credit: pigswillb, Flick

Imperial City in Hue - Blogs

The imperial city of Hue. Photo credit: Namaste1954, Flick

Imperial City in Hue - Blogs

Artificial pond. Photo credit: vegetablepredator, Flick

Also within the citadel are nine huge ornamented funerary urns that once contained the ashes of Nguyen dynasty monarchs.

Imperial City in Hue - Blogs

Dynastic urns, Photo credit: OliviaRodolphe, Flick

Imperial City in Hue

Same urns, only in the past. Photo credit: nguyen van vinh, Flick

The imperial citadel stands on the banks of the Huong River, literally blending into the natural landscape. One of its walls is curved and follows the curve of the river. At first, an earth mound was built and later reinforced with bricks.

Forbidden City

At the center of the Imperial Citadel is the Forbidden Purple City, surrounded by brick walls. Unfortunately, during the wars with France and then the United States, it was virtually destroyed. The citadel within the citadel, only the emperor, his wives, concubines, eunuchs and the queen mother had access to it. For the rest, entering the city could have cost lives.

There were several entrances within the walls of the Forbidden City, each with a specific purpose. The main “palace gate” was reserved exclusively for the emperor. Inside the Purple City there were about 60 buildings. Of those that had survived the millstones of historical events and had not collapsed over time, a small staircase, a couple of brass cannons, empty pedestals, floor plates and the imperial library remained.

Imperial City in Hue

Picturesque lotus ponds. Photo credit: Charlie, Flick

Imperial City in Hue

Lovely, tranquil avenues. Photo credit: Catherine Frisbie, Flick

Imperial City in Hue - travel blogs

The characteristic ruins of the city. Photo credit: pigswillb, Flick

Imperial City in Hue

A fish farm – a fish breeding pond. Photo credit: Steven Collis, Flick

Actually, today, the Forbidden City is a large, verdant complex. A park with lotus ponds and bridges through which it is pleasant to walk and enjoy the silence, birdsong and poetic scenery. It is only important to choose the right time, for example after the rain or close to closing time, when the flow of people who want to see the Imperial City in Hue decreases significantly.

To fully experience places like the citadel requires the imagination, which a digital reconstruction of the city in its heyday will help awaken.

How to find the Imperial City in Hue

The Imperial City is centrally located and easy to find, including on the map (because of the large moat around the perimeter).

Hue City and the Imperial Citadel are inextricably linked. Today the buildings from the Emperor’s time alternate with houses, schools, and offices inside the fortress walls. There are several bridges linking the citadel to the rest of Hue, such as the famous Trang Tien Bridge.

Imperial City in Hue

Modern life in the citadel, Photo credit: jeffshaw, Flick

Opening hours: 8am to 5pm every day, except for official events and celebrations.

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