The Old Quarter is a “tangled maze of shops, galleries and cafes,” says Insider Journeys. This UNESCO-protected heart of Hanoi is “bursting with bargains, from its simple street stalls to its chic boutiques.” It’s made up of some 40 streets, including 13th century lanes, “crammed with bikes, scooters, cyclos and hawkers, to find beautiful silks, mysterious vegetables, and quirky keepsakes.”
“It’s inside the maze of Old Quarter streets that you really feel the heartbeat of Vietnam's capital,” observes Traveller. “The oldest district in an old city — Hanoi celebrated its millennium last year — the Old Quarter originally sprang up around 36 guilds, each one filling a street, as reflected today in the names of the streets.” And because inhabitants of each street came from the same village, “streets developed a homogeneous look,” explains Things Asian. “Commoners' homes evolved out of market stalls, before streets were formed.”
The Old Quarter is also “where the seeds of Communist revolution were sown,” writes Frommers. Old Quarter trade guilds were “fertile ground for the worker's revolution,” and over time, “Communist cells emerged that would unite during the August Revolution of 1945.” A “beautiful example of French colonial architecture,” writes Rob McFarland at Traveller. “A small-scale replica of Paris's Opera Garnier, its yellow and white facade is a beguiling mix of imposing columns, ornate stonework and domed roofs.” And the interior is “equally impressive,” highlighted by a “stunning, sweeping marble staircase that leads to an intimate 900-seat venue smothered in red velvet.” Located on the famous August Revolution Square, it embraces the European Renaissance period architectural style with “Italian-made marble floor, copper chandeliers and exquisite French murals on the ceiling,” says Vietnam Online, “making the place one of Hanoi’s singular architectural landmarks.”
It was frequented by French colonial officials and “largely unvisited by the Vietnamese” when it was completed in 1911 after 10 years of work, explains City Pass Guide. “For most of the French era, artists who performed at the Opera House were almost exclusively European, but in the 1940s Vietnamese could rent what they called ‘the Western theatre’ to hold special performances and concerts … today the “grand old lady” functions as a high-end venue for the the best of local and international performers, and as a popular tourist attraction and “photo spot both for travellers and newlywed Vietnamese.” The opera house regularly holds classical concerts, operas and ballets and “it's a wonderful chance to experience European-style grandeur at Asian-style prices,” says Traveller.