The city of Hue, near the center of Vietnam, was the imperial capital of the country from the eighteenth century until early in the twentieth. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993. Although parts of the city were badly damaged during the American war, there is still a lot to see in the old city, and it's well worth spending several days here.
Since most of the sights of Hue are at least partly outdoors, you want to visit during the dry season from March to July. The earlier you go, the cooler it will be, so the best time to visit is March or April. The months of September to December are to be avoided, as that is when Hue's rainy season is, and it can be quite wet.
The easiest way to get to Hue is to fly there. The city's airport offers several flights a day between Hue and both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. I would be remiss, however, if I didn't point out the beautiful scenery to be had on the drive between Hue and Danang over the Hai Van pass. If your itinerary includes Hoi An, consider renting a car and driver to make the journey between Hue and Hoi An by road.
You will want to have at least two full days to see the sights, which means staying three nights in Hue. If you really want to explore all the tombs in the countryside, and do it at your leisure, then add another day or two.
You will need some form of transportation to see some of the sights, like the tombs of the emperors. If you're visiting in the dry season and reasonably fit, a bicycle would be a great way to get around. Otherwise you may wish to engage a car and driver, since you cannot rely on taxis to get to the tombs.
The key sights of the city are the Citadel, the Thien Mu pagoda and the tombs of the Nguyen Emperors. The Citadel was like a smaller version of Beijing's forbidden city, a separate city unto itself for the Emperor and his concubines. While much of it was destroyed in the war, there's still a lot to see. Along the river just west of the city is the Thien Mu pagaoda . The temple predates Hue's role as the capital by more than 200 years, but the towering brick pagoda was built after the Emperor moved the capital to Hue. In the countryside around Hue, southwest of the city, the emperors built their tombs , which were fantastical palaces for the afterlife. No visit to Hue is complete without seeing at least some of these amazing structures.
There are a good number of hotels in Hue, but few of them really rate a POSH label. To get the most of your visit, you will want to stay in the city at one of the riverside hotels just across from the Citadel. Here's a short list of the hotels in Hue available from our partners. Note that there are an increasing number of resorts outside the city towards the ocean at Lang Co, which is some distance from the city. These might be a good option is you're mainly interested in a beach holiday, with a little history on the side.