Planning a Trip
By Plane -- Hue connects from both Hanoi and Saigon with Vietnam Airlines (in Hue, tel. 054/824-709). A taxi from the airport costs 100,000 VND ($6.65/£3.70). There's also an airport bus that will drop you off or pick you up at your hotel and covers the half-hour trip to the airport for 30,000 VND ($2/£1.10). You can buy tickets at a stand in the airport's arrival area, or book through your hotel's front desk or any tour operator.
By Train -- Trains depart daily from both Hanoi and Saigon to the station in Hue (tel. 054/822-686); there are two nightly departures, at 7 and 11pm. A trip from Hanoi to Hue takes 14 hours on an express train and costs about $35 (£19) in a soft-berth compartment with air-conditioning. From Saigon, in a soft-berth compartment with air-conditioning, it's about $50 (£28).
By Car -- If you're coming from the south, contact any of the tour operators and they can arrange a car for the 3 1/2-hour ride from Danang to Hue for about $40 (£22).
By Bus -- Many travelers choose to take a nerve-rattling overnight bus or minivan from Hanoi to Hue. Tickets are $9 (£5) through one of Hanoi's tourist cafes, and the trip takes an excruciating 17 hours. Hue is a major stop on any "open tour" ticket, and open-tour-cafe buses connect with Danang and Hoi An for just $3 (£1.65), or Nha Trang for $6 (£3.35). (These are long, bumpy trails, but they're cheap and convenient.)
You can easily get around on foot in the main tourist area along the southern bank of the Perfume River (though the many cyclo and taxi touts would have you think otherwise), but to hit the main sites, you'll need some wheels.
By Taxi/Car -- Taxis are much cheaper here than in Hanoi: 8,000 VND (55¢/£0.30) starting out and 8,000 VND for each kilometer after. Flag 'em down or call Gili at tel. 054/828-282 or ThanhDo at tel. 054/858-585. Any hotel front desk can arrange a car and driver for the day.
By Cyclo -- Because Hue is relatively small, renting a cyclo by the hour for 16,000 VND to 20,000 VND ($1.05-$1.35/£0.60-£0.75) works well, but not to the imperial tomb sites outside of town.
By Motorbike/Bicycle -- Even the tiniest hotel provides motorbike rentals at $3 to $5 (£1.65-£2.75) per day and bicycles for $1 (£0.55) -- both great ways to get out in the countryside and visit the sites. Cycling the Hue riverside areas is particularly memorable.
Visitor information & Tours
You can book boat trips and visits to the DMZ through one of the tour companies in Hue. Every hotel will also be able to assist you, but the tour companies are more affordable, especially for transport.
Huong Giang Tourist Company, 17 Le Loi St. (tel. 054/832-220; www.charmingvietnam.com), organizes personalized tours to the tombs and the DMZ at a premium, or you can join one of their group tours. This is Hue's most upscale and efficient group, and also the most expensive. A half-day tour by car and boat, with guide, to the Citadel and Thien Mu Pagoda is $25 (£14) for one, $30 (£17) for two. A private boat up the Perfume River will cost $29 (£16).
On the budget end, Sinh Café (7 Nguyen Tri Phuong or 12 Hung Vuong St.; tel. 054/845-022; www.sinhcafevn.com) takes big groups upriver for $2 (£1.10) and has very reasonable junkets to the DMZ or around town.
An Phu Tourist (11 Nguyen Tri Phuong St. or at 54 Le Loi St.; tel. 054/833-897 or 054/820-058) arranges all of the same affordable tours as the folks at Sinh Café.
Party on at the Hue Festival!
Local holidays and events abound in Vietnam. But the annual Hue Festival is arguably the largest and most colorful event. Celebrating ancient Vietnam's richest cultural traditions of dance and theater, the festival has drawn visitors from throughout Vietnam since its inception in 2000. To witness the spectacle, you'll have to book your hotel far in advance -- and expect to pay at least double the usual tariff -- but you'll enjoy a wild show of floats, dance, and cultural events. Hue's Imperial Dance was in fact named a UNESCO World Heritage vestige of vital "Intangible Culture."