The Ancient Citadel of Hue once boasted 160 buildings spread over a 1 mile complex, and has been proudly compared by the Vietnamese to the Forbidden City of Beijing. Today the temple stands in both splendor and ruins and is a wonderful budget friendly half day activity filled with history, architecture and culture.
Getting There: on the north bank of the river, the ancient citadel is easy to walk to. If you’ve got a motorbike you’ll have to pay 5,000 VND to park, or you can hire a bicycle for around 30,000 VND.
Costs: entrance fee is 150,000 VND, and if you are planning on visiting the tombs get the combined ticket for 280,000 VND which will also get you into Minh Mang and Khai Dinh’s Tombs.
Suggested Time: the site opens at 8am so get there early to beat the crowds and make the most of exploring the site. Approximately 2 – 3 hours for exploring.
Nearby Attractions: spend the morning at the Citadel before hitting the two tombs included in the package ticket price
Often cited as the top attraction in Hue, in my opinion the citadel is both impressive and disappointing at the same time. During the height of its population it was compared to the Forbidden City in China, unfortunately due to substantial bombing during 2 wars in Vietnam I was left wondering about what could have been, rather than being impressed by what is left standing. Any comparison to the Forbidden City is no longer justified.
Construction started in 1805 by the first emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty, Gia Long. His goal was to construct an impressive palace complex which would also go on to act as the imperial seat of government. At the citadel’s peak there were 160 buildings spread over the one mile square complex, due to extensive bombing less than 20 of those buildings still stand although restoration efforts are still underway to restore parts of the citadel to its ancient glory.
The most impressive parts of the citadel are the gates and walls that divide the various sections of the grounds. The citadel is split into 4 clear sections based on function: the imperial city for royal palaces, the capital city for administrative purposes, the inner city for everyday functions with the forbidden purple palace located in the centre of the inner city.
Just as impressive is the 10 KM wall that surrounds the Citadel. The Nguyens took defending the citadel pretty seriously, with a 2 meter thick wall and a large moat surrounding the entire citadel. This is largely part of the reason Hue saw so much combat during the war as the defenses around the Citadel were used as refuge by both the VC and the Americans.
During my visit I decided against a tour guide, partially because I always travel on a budget and partially because I like taking things at my own pace and exploring solo. In this instance my stubbornness was slightly detrimental as I spent a lot of time on my phone googling information about the citadel! Tour guides charge about $5 which is probably money well spent to learn more about the history of the citadel and the Nguyen dynasty. If you are on a budget like me you can learn a fair amount from the various documentaries displayed on TV screens in the citadel, but a tour might be worthwile.
Spending the morning wandering around the Citadel is time well spent. Despite the fact that it is nowhere near as impressive as it would have been 70 years ago it still retains its imperial charms. If you buy the package ticket it saves you $4 and means you can freely visit two of the more impressive tombs of Hue on the same day.