Packed with charming colonial architecture, Buddhist temples and pagodas, the Old Quarter, located near Hoan Kiem Lake in Hoan Kiem District, is Hanoi’s major commercial district. Its heart and soul is exposed in the ancient commercial streets which are named after their original businesses dating back about 1,000 years. Though most of the specialties (cotton, jewellery, herbs, and silk) have changed over time and have been replaced with a variety of modern-day commodities and services, visitors can still appreciate some of the original goods as well as get a feel of rich old Vietnamese customs.
The preserved shop-houses that lie along these roads were built a little over a century ago and were constructed in their long and narrow style to avoid being hit by high taxes. Each has a street-facing façade and multiple courtyards inside. The front part of the buildings is where trading takes place while the family occupies the rest. Though one shop-house was meant to be for one family (with many generations in it), nowadays it is more common to see quite a few families jammed in under one roof. Expect to find plenty of hip café, bars, a variety of restaurants, bakeries, boutique shops and art galleries in this historical area.
Many of Hanoi’s major attractions are within or nearby the Old Quarter, including Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi Opera House, National Museum of Vietnamese History, Ba Dinh Square, a former Governor-General of French Indochina’s mansion, the One Pillar Pagoda, Bach Ma Temple, Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre and Dong Xuan, Hanoi’s largest market.