18 Oct What to Do in Huế, Vietnam on a Budget
Huế can be a great stop for travelers in central Vietnam. Once the national capitol and home to the royal Nguyen family, much of the Imperial City was destroyed during the Vietnam-American War but it has since become a UNESCO World Heritage site. We spent two full weekend days exploring this relatively small city, which seemed like the right amount of time for us.
This post shares some cheap things you can see, do, and eat in Huế, Vietnam. The video above is a quick recap of our two-day stay. The map below shows the places we visited and have recommended in the blog post below. (The purple line is a suggested biking route. Click on any blue icon to see a picture for that location.)
Going to Huế? Take this article with you as your guide!
Upload the article for free to your phone with the GPSmyCity app.
You can also upgrade to get an offline GPS map that guides you to each location we mention.
Cheap Things to See and Do in Huế
There are several possible tours, museums, and attractions you can visit in Huế. Souvenir and clothes shopping is also a pretty big draw. But for independent budget travelers like us, you can still get a lot out of the city’s free or inexpensive activities.
Huế Free Walking Tour
Every Saturday and Sunday, a group of young locals take the time to introduce visitors to their city on a two-hour walking tour. The tour guides are students or recent graduates who use the opportunity to practice and improve their English. The free weekend tour can be booked through the Hue Free Walking Tour website (along with other paid tours and private tours available throughout the week), and you’ll meet at the riverfront park (marked in the map above).
On our tour, we were led by one of the co-founders of the group, Thu, who was a knowledgeable guide and engaging leader. We were also accompanied by two of her “apprentices” who each led a portion of the tour and conversed with us along the way in English. We learned about the general history of Vietnam and Indochina, toured the Đông Ba market, and stopped at a few important monuments within the walled Citadel.
Although their website indicates that you are invited to tip the guides, Thu told us she was only doing tours for social/cultural exchange. So we treated the two young guys to lunch afterward instead, and they introduced us to a dish called nem lụi and to the region’s famous savory pancakes, which were both delicious (Nhà Hàng Quán Rom restaurant can be found on the map above). Lunch for the four of us was about $7.20.
Biking Around the Sights of Huế
Once we had some background info under our belts, our guides-now-friends confirmed that biking to Thien Mu Pagoda and around the Citadel would be a great next step. We had rented bikes through our Airbnb host (30,000 vnd, about $1.35 for a day) and navigated by way of Google Maps. We used data from our Viettel sim card but you can also download any area from Google Maps in advance which allows you to see your GPS location offline as well.
We first followed the Perfume River to the Thien Mu Pagoda. Bike and motorcycle parking along the roadside is monitored for a small fee but, otherwise, entrance is free and open to the public. The pagoda is a well-known symbol of the city and is one of the closest visit-worthy monuments outside of the Citadel that you can reach by bicycle (or boat). Though the road to the pagoda is pretty flat and wide, riders should always be alert and have a good sense of Vietnam’s “rules of the road” – which may seem chaotic at first.
The Huế Citadel is another foundational part of the city that is great to explore by bike. Four citadels and a moat were constructed around what was once the Imperial City, enclosing the royal family’s homes, shrines, and palaces. Some of these impressive buildings still exist today, alongside every-day neighborhoods and commercial districts. If you stay just inside the city walls, which make a large square, you’ll have a nice route that avoids some of the busy traffic in the interior (see route in purple on the map above).
Half the benefit of travel in Vietnam is all the fresh, affordable food. While Huế has its fair share of Western and air-conditioned, sit-down restaurants, these tend to come with “foreigner prices.” Some of the open air, local places will charge different prices to tourists, so we learned to confirm prices before ordering. Better yet, find local restaurants that publish their prices and have picture menus so you know exactly what you’re getting into.
Nhà Hàng Quán Rom on Điện Biên Phủ, near the train station, is where our local guides took us for nem lụi and bánh xèo.
Cafe Phương Nam at 38 Trần Cao Vân is a Vietnamese shop we found on TripAdvisor. They have an extensive picture menu with local specialties and really good fresh fruit smoothies. We’d definitely recommend this family-run eatery if you’re looking for a cheap, local place that’s approachable. Two noodle dishes and three smoothies cost us about $3.40 US.
Cơm Ông Chủ, at the corner of Đội Cung and Võ Thị Sáu, is where we tried Bún bò Huế, a beef and vermicelli soup that originated with the city’s former royal court. The staff were patient with us to decipher meal items and menu prices, which took some time. Two noodle bowls and a beer came to about $3.50 US.
T’ House Cafe at 2 Phạm Ngũ Lão is a really cute coffee shop in the tourist area where we stopped for refreshments a couple times. We love the decor and the delicious egg coffee that comes with a cookie! It seems that they may also have a few meal items available, in addition to coffee drinks. Our two drinks cost a total of $2.85 US.
For a range of meal options, from American bar food to Italian to sit-down Vietnamese, start at Phạm Ngũ Lão street. This is a bit of a tourist/shopping area but has a high concentration of restaurant choices and many have their menus on display outside.
Where to Stay in Huế
There are tons of hotels in Huế, especially on the south bank of the river. We found a great Airbnb just outside of the tourist center, where we could walk to restaurants and bike to the main attractions. We paid $20 per night, which included a Vietnamese-style breakfast, AC, and good wifi. The bedroom and private bathroom were spacious – the only downside, being next to the river after the rains, was quite a few mosquitos in the evening.
You can also try searching for a hotel or hostel by clicking on the banner above (we will get a commission on your booking, at no additional cost to you). Or find a cool homestay room to rent on Airbnb.com (sign up for a new Airbnb account with this link and for a limited time, you can get up to $35 off your first booking).
Getting To and From Huế
You can get to Huế from Hanoi in the North or Ho Chi Minh City in the South by overnight bus or train, or by a short flight into Da Nang. We opted for the “soft sleeper” overnight train car and booked online, thanks to Seat61, a very helpful resource site for train travel. It was about $36 each, departing from Hanoi train station around 8pm and arriving to Huế around 9:45am the next day.
We shared a car with a German couple, who got off about three hours before us, and then we were joined by two Vietnamese ladies. It was a good value for budget travelers like us, although you do have to tolerate smelly train bathrooms (and we also spotted two baby cockroaches in the car). We brought our own baked goods for breakfast, but there are vendors walking through and selling food in the hallways around meal times.
For our onward travel to Hoi An, we splurged a bit and booked a day-long motorbike tour. Some Peace Corps friends of ours had highly recommended Mr. Phu, a motorbike tour guide that had taken them out into the rural villages from Hoi An. He and another guide picked us up from our Airbnb in Huế at 8am and we adventured together to several different sights until about 5:30pm, when we were dropped off at our Airbnb in Hoi An. Since our backpacks were small enough, they simply strapped them to the back of the bike, giving us a nice back rest. It was an incredible experience, and we’ll be sharing more about it in the future. Costs for these kinds of day trips range from about $50 to $65 per person.
Should you go to Huế?
We definitely enjoyed it and our visit helped us understand more of Vietnam’s past. While it may not be the best stand-alone destination, Huế makes a great stop-over for travelers who are already visiting Central Vietnam. You could technically see “enough” of Huế in one day, however, we found two full days to be an ideal amount of time.
If you liked this post, please pin it!
Get our best tips and resources for transformational travel
Subscribe now to get our free Checklist for International Travel, plus other exclusive content about how to travel more, save money, and enjoy transformational experiences around the world.