As the most monumental building in the history of Vietnam, Hue Imperial City was built for nearly 30 years using tens of thousands of laborers to fill the river, ditch, build and move tombs etc. They processed a huge amount of rock and soil of up to millions of cubic meters. This complex of monuments was started to be built in 1804 by the first King of Nguyen Dynasty and was finished in 1833.
Visiting the complex of Hue Royal Citadel you will admire hundreds of magnificent palaces, temples and shrines. It has magnificent beauty and excellent architecture which will impress you deeply.
The Imperial City in Hue (Vietnamese: Hoang Thanh) is the second Citadel within the capital, which protects the most important palaces of the royal court, the Nguyen ancestral shrines, and the Purple Forbidden City. Hue imperial citadel is the first UNESCO’s recognition in Vietnam in 1993, in which the royal city is a wall enclosure within the Hue Citadel. Fortunately, after the war, most parts of the relics that remain are being restored and preserved.
I - History of Hue Imperial city Vietnam
King Nguyen Anh (Source: Internet)
Nguyen Anh unified Vietnam and proclaimed himself as King Gia Long in 1789 and then chose Hue as the capital of Vietnam. Started in 1804, but not until 1833 was the Imperial Citadel finished by King Minh Mang. Bao Dai, the last King of Vietnam (1926–1945), who remained as a powerless ruler under the French control, resigned when the Viet Minh seized power in their August revolution 1945. At that time, the Hue Forbidden City had many buildings and hundreds of rooms. It suffered from neglect, termite ravages, and harsh weather, such as heavy storms. However, what destroyed it the most were human-made crises of the military conflicts in the 20th century. Only ten main sites out of 160 buildings remain from the battle, such as the Thai Hoa and Can Thanh Palace, The Mieu, and Hien Lam Cac.
II - Restorations of the complex of Hue monuments
There was a long period in which many royal architectural works in Hue were destroyed by natural disasters and bombing. Not until 1993, when Hue was recognized by UNESCO that the conservation and restoration of the monuments were given attention and promoted. Since then, with domestic and foreign assistance, many works have been embellished to have the same appearance as before. The latest, and so far largest, restoration project took place in 2015.
III - The outstanding structure of the Ancient Imperial city of Hue
The grounds of the Imperial City are protected by a moat. Water from the Perfume River flows in the moat. It surrounds the Citadel (Kinh Thanh). Inside the citadel is the Imperial City (Hoang Thanh), with a perimeter wall some 2.5 kilometers in length. Within the Imperial City is the Purple Forbidden City (Tu Cam Thanh), a term identical to the Forbidden City in Beijing. Only the imperial family can access the innermost enclosure.
Hue Citadel landscape (Source: Veronica Reverse)
The relics of the Imperial City typically are:
1 - Flagpole (Ky Dai)
Located in the middle of the south of Hue citadel within the Nam Chanh fortress, the flagpole is the place where the royal flag hangs. It was built in the 6th year of Gia Long's reign (1807). Historically, the flag was often a place to mark important events and changes of governmental institutions in Hue.
2 - Hue Noon gate or Meridian gate (Ngo Mon)
Ngo Mon - Meridian gate is the main gate in the south of the Imperial citadel in Hue, which was built in 1833 in the traditional Vietnamese Nguyen style under the rule of emperor Minh Mang. The gate has two levels. The ground level has five entrances, of which the center one was always reserved for the king only. Mandarins, soldiers and horses could only enter on the two smaller sides. The two small arched doorways on the side were for the rest and commoners.
The second floor of the gate was called Lau Ngu Phung (Five Phoenix Pavilion). From the main hall, the king would watch troop movements and ceremonies. There are various animals and creatures to ward off evil on the roof tiles.
3 - Hue Royal palaces
Thai Hoa Palace Hue
Thai Hoa Palace is located in the Imperial Citadel, the coronation place of the Nguyen Dynasty. This is also the place where important court ceremonies took place. This palace is in the center of the Imperial Citadel, symbolizing the power of the Nguyen Dynasty.
Thai Hoa Palace (Source: Kon Karampelas)
Palace of Audiences (Dien Can Chanh)
The palace of Can Chanh, situated in the Hue purple forbidden city is where the king set up the royal court, received diplomatic missions, organized royal banquets, and royal dynasties of the Nguyen dynasty. This building was burned in February 1947. Fortunately, the western and eastern pavilions were preserved and fully restored in 1990-1991.
Palace of Can Thanh (Dien Can Thanh)
The palace was reserved as a private place of the king. The Can Thanh Palace in Hue Imperial City is the center of the Forbidden City, located behind Can Chanh Palace - where the king held a court. It was a three-building connected Palace with a one-meter basement. This work also became a ruin after being burned in February 1947.
Palace of Trinh Minh (Dien Trinh Minh)
The Palace of Trinh Minh is located inside the Hue Imperial enclosure, completely separated from the outside world by a 3.5 m high brick wall. This is the place for the king’s concubines, the king’s second wives. Unfortunately, the building was ruined in the war.
For the fear that there were so many royal ladies, three private palaces and six residences were built for them.
4 - Private palaces in the Hue Royal citadel
Since the reign of Gia Long, the kings followed Chinese customs. Every king had an official wife called Hoang Quy Phi (she was not called Queen because the king was afraid of usurping the throne). The king recruited many second wives, also called Concubines.
For the fear that there were so many royal concubines, three private palaces and 6 residences were built for them
Dien Tho Palace (Source: Homeaz)
Three private palaces included:
Dien Tho Palace: Among many palaces in Hue Imperial Citadel, Dien Tho Palace is the largest palace architecture system in Hue remaining to this day. This was once the residence of the Kings’ mothers and grandmothers.
Truong Sinh Palace: built in the Northwest of Imperial City with the original role as a garden, where the Nguyen kings invited their mothers to visit the scenery. Later, the palace was converted into a living place for some Kings’ mothers and grandmothers.
Khon Thai Palace: Located near Can Thanh, it was reserved for Hoang Quy Phi (Head of Concubines). Originally under the Gia Long reign, the palace was Khon Duc, and in the 14th year of Minh Mang reign (1833), the king changed its name to Khon Thai.
5 - Six residences in the Imperial Royal Citadel
The other concubines of the Kings lived in six residences, namely Thuan Huy Residence, Doan Thuan Residence, Doan Hoa Residence, Doan Huy Residence, Doan Truong Residence, Doan Trang Residence
The hierarchy of Concubines has followed the sequence; the highest is Thuan Huy, the lowest is Doan Trang.
6 - Minh Vien Pavillion
Located in the Hue Vietnam forbidden purple city, behind Khon Thai Palace, it was originally built in 1827 by Minh Mang King. After that, Khai Dinh King built a new building on this palace basement, his residence, and named it Kien Trung Palace. The building was above 10 meters high with two floors. Unfortunately, it was also destroyed by the war in 1946, only the basement remained.
The Royal Garden of Hue Citade (Source: Vntravellive)
7 - The royal gardens
The royal gardens were once the pride of Nguyen kings and praised in the works of Hue’s writers and poets. During the dynasty's reign, almost 30 gardens existed. Thieu Phuong garden was one of them that accounted for almost a quarter of the citadel area. It was located in the Purple Forbidden City Hue and a place where kings and his family relaxed and made poems. The gardens had a great deal of beautiful and precious flowers, trees and a lake. On the south of the garden is the Royal theater, and on the west is Thai Binh Lau (King’s library). It was successfully restored in 2014. If you have more time to visit here, you should not miss this charming garden.
Besides Thieu Phuong garden, Co Ha is also a worth-a-visit garden. It was built in 1843 under Thieu Tri Emperor’s reign. The garden has romantic lakes and beautiful palaces, which makes a harmonious combination and is a unique feature of the garden.
IV - Hue Imperial city tour in a exploring day
A small note for those intending to go to explore the Imperial city is you should start your journey in the morning when it’s still cool or very early in the afternoon so that you can hang out longer there. The Imperial City closes at around 5:00pm. Therefore if you start late, it is not enough to go to every corner or palaces and it will be quite wasteful of your entrance fees & ticket prices..
In addition, any season of the year is suitable to visit here, but ideally, in April or June of even years (such as 2020, 2022, 2024 ect.) Hue festivals will be held with water puppets and many other vibrant activities. Sightseeing will become much more relaxing and interesting at that time.
1 - Ticket Price
The Hue imperial city entrance fee as well as other landmarks ticket prices are in the table below:
Venue - Tourist route
Children (7 – 12 age or 0.8 – 1.3m)
I - Venue
1 - Hue Imperial City (Citadel – Hue Museum of Royal Antiquities)
2 - Royal tombs: Emperor Minh Mang’s tomb; Emperor Tu Duc’s tomb; Emperor Khai Dinh's tomb
3 - Hue Imperial tombs and other constructions: Emperor Gia Long’s tomb; Emperor Thiệu Trị’s tomb; Emperor Dong Khanh’s tomb; Hon Chen Temple; An Dinh Palace; Nam Giao Esplanade
II - Tourist route
1 - Combo of 03 venues: Hue Imperial City - Emperor Minh Mang’s tomb – Emperor Khai Dinh’s tomb
2 - Combo of 04 venues: Hue Imperial City - Emperor Minh Mang’s tomb – Emperor Tu Duc’s tomb - Emperor Khai Dinh’s tomb
3 - Tickets of all venues (visit all of the above-mentioned venues)
Notes: Expiry date for all tourist route tickets:
- Combos of 3 and 4 venues: 02 day validity
- Tickets of all venues (visit all of the above-mentioned venues): 02 day validity
Tourists visit Hue Citadel (Source: Le Chung)
2 - Regulations and guidelines
- Hue Imperial city dress code: Actually, there is no regulation for dressing. However, tourists should dress politely and keep quiet in solemn places.
- You can take photos in most places, but several holy areas (the interior of the palace) are not allowed.
- No smoking in palaces and other flammable areas.
- No picking of flowers or tree’s twigs.
- Do not lie, sit, touch artifacts and no painting on historical sites.
- The Citadel is located in the center of Vietnam, so the climate here is also the typical climate of the Central Vietnam region, hot and sunny in summer and rainy in October and November. The best time for traveling here is from February to May. However, travelers should avoid upcoming storms or rainy periods.
- The Hue Imperial City opening hours are from 6.30 am to 17.30 pm (summertime), or 7.00 am-17 pm (wintertime).
- Hue is pretty hot during the daytime, so make sure to bring with you sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, umbrella, and water to make the most of the trip.
- It is advisable that visitors should go early in the morning for better photos and also because the weather is less hot and visitors do not have to rush for closing hours if they wander around.
- Hue imperial city audio guide: the audio guide service is available at five places: Imperial City, King Minh Mang's Tomb, King Tu Duc's Tomb, Khai Dinh's Tomb, and Thien Mu Pagoda. There are 11 foreign languages supported by audio guides including English, French, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, German, Spanish, Russian, Italian and Portuguese.
Each audio tour lasts approximately for 1 hour and provides an in-depth introduction to the site's history and cultural values. Three options for visitors - one day, half day or just a short stay.
3 - Order to have an ideal Hue Imperial city walking tour
The imperial city is quite large, with a total area around 500ha. Therefore, visitors should spend half a day discovering this culture and architectural heritage.
Visitors start at Meridian Gate (Ngo Mon) for ticket checking and go straight to Thai Hoa Palace. Behind Thai Hoa Palace is the Can Chanh Palace, then turn left to visit The Mieu (a shrine worshiping kings and their ancestors). After that, people visit Dien Tho Palace and Truong Sinh palace, behind The Mieu. If you have more time, go to the right side to visit Royal Gardens and wander around to see many more buildings, gates. The trip ends at Ngo Mon.
4 - How to get to Imperial city in Hue
Visitors from all over Vietnam can access Hue by a number of modes of transportation such as motorbike, bus, car, train, flights..
The Imperial City is in the center of Hue City. From the south of Perfume river, go through Trang Tien bridge, Phu Xuan bridge or Bach Ho bridge, then head to Quang Duc street, you will reach Hue Imperial City..You can get here by the following means of transportation:
- Car, motorbike, cyclo, bicycle, etc.
- Boat (departing from Toa Kham landing, 05 Le Loi street).
In addition, you can visit the surrounding outside or inside the Imperial City by electric shuttle bus. Electric shuttle buses depart from the backside of Thai Hoa palace or Hien Nhon gate (Imperial Citadel).
Thien Mu Pagoda (Source: TTXVN)
5 - Other activities
Besides the Hue Imperial citadel, there are many other ancient landmarks for you to explore, such as Thien Mu pagoda and Long An palace museum, Kings’ tombs, etc. Hue is a coastal city so you can even go to the beaches - Lang Co beach for amusement and sightseeing.
If you happen to come to Hue city in an even year when the Hue Festival takes place, that will be an amazing chance to explore plenty of cultural events, traditional villages, games and performances in that festival.You should also enjoy Nha Nhac, or the Royal Music of the Nguyen Dynasty. Nha Nhac has been recognized by UNESCO as an Oral and Intangible cultural heritage. It is worth spending an evening enjoying a royal music performance on a boat along the Huong River.
Have a Hue food tour around the city is highly recommended.
V - The imperial city of Hue Vietnam on the movies
Phuong Khau (Source: Tuoitrethudo)
1 - Phuong Khau
Phuong Khau is a Vietnamese TV show about the life of the mother of Emperor Tu Duc - Empress Tu Du. Computer-generated imagery (CGI) was applied to reimagine the scenery inside Hue Imperial Palace and Citadel.
2 - Trang Quynh
Trang Quynh was an adaptation from old Vietnamese tales. Not only is it simple as a film, but those scenes have also partly contributed to the work of promoting Vietnam tourism in general and that of Hue in particular. Nearly half of the film's background was implemented in Hue. Those are various charming, beautiful scenery or ancient scenes from the Imperial Citadel.
Traveling to Hue, you must definitely visit Hue Imperial City, not only to visit or admire the building imprinted with ancient architecture but also to find back memories of an authoritative feudal era of Vietnam. The timeless beauty of the Royal Citadel is still there waiting for you to explore.