France’s second biggest city is renowned first and foremost as a gastronomic capital. Set in lovely landscape between two hills; Croix-Rousse and Fourviere and two rivers; the Rhone and the Saone, Lyon boasts a wealth of fabulous architecture and historical buildings. Having shot to the forefront of the silk industry in the early 19th century it has since also earned a reputation as something of a fashion capital. Gateway to the Rhone Valley, Lyon is a perfect base from which to explore both the Rhone Alpes and the vineyards of the Cotes du Rhone; moreover the beaches of Provence are also within easy reach.
Things to do
Vieux Lyon along the banks of the Saone River is old Lyon’s centrepiece. Rue St Jean is its main street and lined with many gothic and renaissance buildings, the whole area is a UNESCO world heritage site. Living up to its considerable gastronomic reputation Lyon’s bouchons (traditional inns) can be found along the cobbled alleyways of the old town. No visit to Lyon would be complete without a visit to some of these lively establishments. Still within Vieux Lyon another highly intriguing attraction are the city’s famous covered passageways (traboules), linking private courtyards to neighbouring streets and built in the Renaissance they were used to great effect by the French Resistance during the cities’ occupation in World War Two.
Presquile (peninsula) is the thin strip of land between Lyon’s two rivers the Rhone and the Saone, this is the hub of smart Lyon with many of the city’s shops being located here. Its main attraction is one of Europe’s largest squares, the grand Place Bellecour.
The Fourviere neighbourhood, at the top of the impressive hill that is its namesake, is topped by the Fourviere Basillica. Surrounded by many Roman ruins including the Gallo-Roman Amphitheatre, historically speaking it is an immensely important area with magnificent views, the summit is reached via the funicular railway.
The Croix-Rousse District (Lyon’s other hillside neighbourhood) on the northern end of the Presquile is the historic centre of Lyon’s silk weaving industry, nowadays it is awash with boutiques and restaurants.
Lyon has a good selection of galleries and museums but one of the best is the Museum of Fine Arts (Musee des Beaux Arts), one of the largest collections of its kind in France highlights include paintings by Rubens and Rembrandt as well as Monet and Picasso.
Both the centre of Lyon (the peninsula or Presquile) and the city’s old town (Vieux Lyon) have a compact layout and can easily be explored on foot. However you will without a doubt need to make use of public transport for some of the other attractions. Being such a large city Lyon has an extensive public transport network comprising metro trains, trams, buses and a funicular which transports passengers up and down one of Lyons two hills namely the Fourviere hill. All tickets and carnets can be purchased at their individual stations from vending machines as well as from the two main railway stations: Lyon Part Dieu and Lyon Perrache. The Lyon City Card offers unlimited travel on the entire public transport network as well as admission to many of the city’s attractions.