One of the most popular cities in Vietnam, Hue is known for its history. This is where the Nguyen Dynasty emperors sat on the throne for nearly 150 years. Without a question, in this city, you will find buildings and antiquity sites from the imperial era, like the Imperial City of Hue. But what is there beyond the wall? Why did they build such a grandeur complex? You will find the answers in this article.
History of The Citadel
First, let me take you back to the early 19th century when the citadel was first built. Thousands of workers were instructed to build ramparts and dig a 10 km (6.2 miles) long moat surrounding the 500 hectare (1.93 square miles) area. It took them around 30 years to complete. It was in the honor of Nguyen Anh, the Emperor Gia Long. Since then, it became his palace and the center of his government.
Inside the thick wall, there are palaces, pavilions, courtyards, gardens, and temples. They went through several reconstructions due to the 1947 Viet Minh seizure and the 1968 Tet Offensive, but some of the main buildings are still standing since the day that they were built.
As Buddhism is a big part of Vietnamese life, it should come as no surprise to find temples in almost every building in this country. The Imperial City of Hue is no exception. Almost in every occupied building here, you will find shrines that have been meaningfully placed.
The biggest one is the To Mieu Temple complex on the southern part of the enclosure. It consists of three main pavilions. The main temple is decorated with beautiful red-yellow doors. Now, it is used to keep the shrines of all Nguyen Dynasty emperors. Inside the temple, you may not take photos. So, just enjoy the majestic display and pay your respect to those who ruled the country.
Yes, basically the whole place is a museum, but there are certain spots dedicated to showcasing items used during the emperor’s reign. Walking through the hallways felt like taking a little journey through the imperial time, thanks to the photos, paintings, and other memorabilia displayed hanging on the walls. What used to be the residences of the royal family members have been converted and are now used for this purpose. Each section of the designated areas represent each of its unique functions. Explore them one by one and each of them will give you a different vibe and a different thing to be in awe of.
A cafe in the middle of the citadel
Don’t worry about getting hungry or thirsty during your exploration, because there are some spots available to get you food and beverages inside the citadel. This one is a pavilion above a lily pond. Beautiful, isn’t it? It is located in the western part of the enclosure. This area used to be the residence of the queen mother. Parts of the buildings are in ruins, but the rest is mostly intact.
What I love the most about this site is how well-planned it is. The design, placement, and how they merge with nature as if the trees and ponds are as important as the thick walls. There are plenty of spots where you can just sit back to enjoy your surroundings. My favorite would be this garden, the Co Ha garden, on the east part of the enclosure. It was used as a study area for the royal family. If only we had as beautiful and comforting study rooms as these, we would have got a better score in Mathematics!
What's left of the ruins
As mentioned earlier, most parts of the enclosure suffered damages, especially during the 1947 Viet Minh seizure and the 1968 Tet Offensive. Vietnam is now doing its best to restore and keep this place intact. Unfortunately, some parts of them are too ravaged to be reconstructed. They remain there as a silent witness to history.
What else is there in the citadel?
There are many other areas inside this Imperial City of Hue, such as the Tu Vo Phuong pavilion, standing above a moat and located right in the rear of the enclosure, and this Japanese-style pavilion where you can feed the Koi fish. This area was under construction during my visit.
Plan your exit
Since the Imperial City of Hue is a huge area and you will be on your feet the whole time, so it is important to plan your tour. Make sure you end it near the exit, so you don’t have to walk around again just to get out.
Technically, there are four gates, one on each side of the wall. One of them is the main entrance, but you cannot exit through this gate. The other two gates are mostly closed, so you can only exit through one. Keep an eye out for the exit sign to find which exit gate is available.
Hien Nhon Gate is located on the east wall. If this is the available exit, I suggest you start your exploration from the west.
Some parts of the Imperial City are considered holy, such as the temples and the shrines. Here, there are rules for visitors to obey. For example, you should wear appropriate clothing, covering your shoulders, knees, and chest. Indoor shrines mostly require visitors to take off their shoes and hats while remaining quiet inside. Some areas also restrict photography, so please read the signs carefully as officers are placed to monitor the visitors.
A site that can be explored all day
These are not everything that this citadel has to offer. There are other things worth seeing, such as the nine dynastic urns, the war cannons, and the Royal Theater where you can watch art performances. You need to plan your visit beforehand to make sure you have time to explore every single area. The model of the whole complex can be found in the Thai Hoa Palace area, which is the first building you will see as you enter the main gate and walk through the beautiful lily pond bridge. This will help you figure out where to go and what to do next.
The entrance fee to the Imperial City of Hue is 150,000 VND (approximately 6.5 USD) per person. If you don’t feel like walking, they provide a shuttle bus to take you from one point to another for an extra charge. This service, along with a tour guide, is included in the special tour package. The price may vary depending on how large your tour group is. Please ask at the ticket booth for more information.
Besides this great Imperial City, or as some would call it the Imperial Enclosure, Hue is also known as the home to the emperor’s tombs. Read my other stories of Hue here: Explore The Majestic Tomb Of Tu Duc, Vietnamese Emperor and Tomb of Khai Dinh: The Mix Of Vietnamese-French Architectural Design.
Get Trip101 in your inbox
You can buy and claim online, even after you've left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
*5% off when you book with our promo code: TRIP101
*For our Canadian and US travellers, unfortunately due to financial services laws, we cannot provide a discount. This promotional code cannot be used with any other discount offer, including World Nomads Members’ discount for travel insurance policy holders.