Having visited both Hue and Hoi An on separate visits to Vietnam over the years, and enjoyed my time in each of them, I can definitely say they are worth going to see.
However some people don’t find the time to see both and can’t decide on which one to stay at.
Situated righto in the middle of the country it’s pretty much inevitable you will plan to visit at least one of them if you are travelling from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi or vice versa.
So this is my recommendation on whether you should visit Hue or Hoi An if you are short on time. They are each good for different reasons.
It will all come down to personal choice – do you want more history stuff, or do you want a more laid back old town to stay in.
Hue or Hoi An
First of all both Hue and Hoi An are great to visit as you can find old cultural vibes in each.
The main difference is the things to do in general.
If you are very short on time Hoi An is the closer one to visit as it’s only a 45 minute bus ride away from Da Nang, which you would transit through.
But that’s picking it a little bit as at the end of the day Hue is not so far from Da Nang either.
This is the comparison of Hue to Hoi An.
As far as what to do in Hue goes Hue is definitely the better choice if you have an interest in history. Without a doubt.
There you will find the epic 19th century Citadel of Hue that you could spend hours exploring. Hue is one of the old imperial cities of Vietnam.
Inside the moat walls of the complex is the old Imperial Palace and many other historic attractions, such as the old theatre and Purple City.
Imperial Palace in Hue:
There is also plenty of old emperor tombs scattered in the countryside close by to the city, and a good pagoda to visit.
The surrounding countryside is worth a trip alone if you get up into the mountains.
Getting around by motorbike is the best way to see a lot of the sites in one day. Rent your own if you know how to ride, otherwise you can do a 6 hour city tour of Hue by motorbike.
Another option is to rent a bicycle (always one of the best ways to see a place) to get around as some of the traffic is not as crazy as other parts of Vietnam.
But bear in mind the hot weather if cycling as Vietnam’s heat may be too much for some.
Part of the Hue Citadel complex:
In both Hue and Hoi An you can get onto the waterways in a traditional Vietnamese boat and go for a gentle ride, especially at sunset.
Hue is not as good as Hoi An as far as being on the relaxed side of things though when it comes to actual city vibes.
The area where many cafes and restaurants are gathered in the centre of Hue, where most tourists stay and eat, is nowhere near as good as Hoi An.
Visit Hue for the history.
Simple as that.
Where to stay in Hue
Hue is not as charming as Hoi An as far as places to stay goes but you can find some decent ones.
I personally use Agoda for booking places to stay in Asia as I often find they have some of the best deals:
Hoi An really is a little gem of a place. It can be called the ‘lantern town’ due to how many lanterns that are lit up at night.
It’s definitely a different vibe in what there is to do differently from Hue, but also in how it feels in general.
Where Hue is more hectic and historic, Hoi An has an old town that is just perfectly chilled out, with no traffic allowed in some areas.
Hoi An at night:
Hoi An during the day is very relaxed and there’s not much going on, but Hoi An has a really good cafe scene, way better than Hue.
So if you just want to take it easy then relax in a cafe, maybe do a cooking class, or a bicycle trip into the nearby countryside for a bit.
Although the things to do in Hoi An aren’t as numerous when it comes to actual sites in themselves compared with Hue, you can still find some fun activities.
Old cultural town in Hoi An:
Hoi An really comes into its own at nighttime.
At night lanterns are lit up in many areas of Hoi An’s old town, the restaurants are buzzing with activity, and a long souvenir style street market follows the length of the waterway.
If you do have a bit more time to spare, and plan a few days in the area, then technically you can do a long day trip from Hoi An to Hue, or vice versa, depending which one you stay at.
However that would mean getting up early and getting back late. But it’s possible.
In fact if you want to enjoy the better (than Hue obviously) old town vibe of Hoi An at night, then it may be best to stay in Hoi An and do a day trip to Hue’s Imperial City complex from Hoi An.
The only main downside to Hoi An is its immense popularity.
That means especially at nighttime those ‘peaceful in the daytime’ streets and alleys become a wave of tourists, and you will have to push your way through sometimes, or be prepared to walk slowly.
Tip – When in either Hue or Hoi An try some hotpot at one of the restaurants doing it there.
Where to stay in Hoi An
Hoi An I found has much nicer options for places to stay than Hue as many are situated in the old cultural town, as mentioned before.
Getting to Hue and Hoi An
Da Nang to Hue (and vice versa)
If you don’t want to ride on a motorbike (scooter) then take the train or bus.
Going by road on a motorbike, or bus, takes you over one of the most beautiful mountain roads in Vietnam called the Hai Van Pass.
Although the train doesn’t go up as high as the road does it’s still a beautiful journey in its own right.
I would suggest riding a motorbike, or taking the bus to Hue, and then taking the train back to get a feel for both journeys.
You can book a bus from Da Nang to Hue via the Hai Van Pass if you don’t want to ride a motorbike but still want to experience the journey.
Da Nang to Hoi An
If you are in Da Nang already then the only real way to get to Hoi An is by bus, or taking your own motorbike.
The bus ride is only around 45 minutes long so will be easy to get there. You can book the bus to Hoi An at most hotels/hostels in Da Nang that are used to travellers, if you ask. Otherwise head to the bus station.
If you want to go immediately from Da Nang Airport to Hoi An you can get a private shuttle transfer that does just that, for a very good price.
Going straight from the airport also saves time on not going to Da Nang. Also if you’re having to decide between Hue or Hoi An I’m guessing your short on time so skip Da Nang then.
However if you have a bit of time free these are some things to do in Da Nang when there.
Cycling is a nice way to get around in either Hoi An or Hue.
Side note on Vietnam travel:
If you love coffee like I do then be sure to try some in Vietnam!
It’s some of the best coffee you can find anywhere in the world.
Hue and (especially) Hoi An have plenty of good coffeeshops and cafes to try Vietnamese coffee.
The egg coffee is highly recommended and tastes way better than it sounds!
My Choice on Whether to stay in Hue or Hoi An
Now I have given a rundown on both Hue and Hoi An to show the difference between the two, this is what I would recommend if you have two nights in the area.
Two nights seems to be the average time many travellers would have for it from what I have gathered speaking with people who have been.
Dun duun duuuuun… The winner is:
Yeah I know it’s a bit of a copout but at the end of the day they are not that far apart from each other and you can see both.
If I knew before visiting what I know now I would have stayed in Hoi An for two nights as it has a much better nighttime vibe than Hue, and do a long day trip to Hue to see the historic stuff.
The best of both worlds.
If you only have one night for the region then I recommend going to Hue. One of the main reasons for that is simply the beautiful journey just to get there and back from Da Nang, on the Hai Van Pass.
It really is one of the most beautiful road trips in Vietnam.
Yes Hoi An has that cultural old town but you can find that in other places as well, maybe not as good, but you can find.
Having said that if all you really want to do is to chill out, and maybe just do one or two things like a little bit of cycling around, then Hoi An is the one to go to.
Either way you will enjoy your time in either!
Just be aware of the differences noted here.
Visit Hue and Hoi An
If you plan to visit Hue or Hoi An I hope this has helped in your decision.
Still in the planning stages of your trip to Vietnam? Then this is what I recommend to pack for your visit.
If you want to get much more detail on things to do in both places then pick up the Lonely Planet Vietnam guide.
And for more advice on many other countries in Asia take a look at my Asia country guides.
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