Panoramic view of Lyon with Saone river by night, France.

10 reasons why Lyon is worth visiting

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Lyon is a cultured, cosmopolitan city but is often dismissed by visitors ferrying themselves between Paris and Provence. That is such a mistake. Here are a few reasons why you should add Lyon to your France itinerary.

Cafes in the streets close to Place Bellecour in Lyon, France

1. Lyon is the capital of gastronomy

This is the home of Paul Bocuse, of some of the most delightful food to be found in the country. A visit to Les Halles, the indoor market, is a culinary adventure that will linger. Lyon even has its own type of the restaurant, the “bouchon”, a small traditional establishment that evolved from feeding silk workers their lunch. For a foodie, Lyon is paradise.

Punched cards for automated Jaquard loom making silk brocade, Lyon, France

2. Lyon was once the capital of silk

There is still plenty to remind the visitor of the time Lyon was Europe’s silk capital. A museum of silk, workshop visits, silk shops stuffed with tempting scarves – all of them reminders of this former grandeur. The silk workers and workshop owners may be gone, but there are plenty of signs the heritage remains. A visit to the city's silk workshops is both fun and a learning experience.

Secret passage in Lyon

3. Lyon is stuffed with secret passages

Back when silk reigned, those bolts of cloth had to be brought down the hill with care. Using the “traboules”, or secret passages, ensured they’d reach their riverside destination without getting wet when it rained. The traboules also served to help rebels hide from the Gestapo during World War II. Of the hundreds of traboules in Lyon, only about 40 can be visited but you can see quite a bit of the city by exploring these.

A part of "La Mur des Canuts" in the Croix-Rousse district - Lyon, France.

4. Lyon is full of amazing murals

More than 100 giant murals grace Lyon’s buildings throughout Lyon, and many of them celebrate famous locals. A wonderful pastime involves walking around and trying to spot as many Lyon murals as you can.

Ruins of the Roman amphitheatre in Lyon, France

5. Lyon is home to magnificent Roman ruins

Once known as Lugdunum, Lyon is home to some fascinating Roman ruins and a museum that explains the presence of Rome in the city. Made up of two amphitheaters, one for theater performances and the other for music and oratory, they have been restored and are used today for performances and light shows.

Lyon city and Fourviere Hill in front of the Saone River

6. Lyon has both hills and rivers

While two rivers flow through Lyon, that doesn’t stop the city from climbing the hills that make it up, whether Croix-Rousse Hill, where the silk workers once wove, or Fourvière Hill, which hosts the Basilica of the same name (with stunning views of Lyon below).

Musee des Confluences, a science and anthropology museum in Lyon, France

7. Lyon has many (quirky) museums

Beyond the ultra-modern Musée des Confluences, which strives to reflect humanity’s path, or the classic Museum of Fine Arts, Lyon is full of unusual little museums, like the Museum of Movies and Miniatures, with its miniatures and movie props; the Petit Musée du Guignol, all about the puppets who call this city home; or the Musée Lumière, with its history of photography and antique cameras.

Festival of Lights in Lyon, France

8. Lyon has the best light show in December

Anyone fortunate enough to be in Lyon the first weekend of December will be in for a treat, as an exquisite light show bounces off the buildings of the city, giving it an impossibly festive atmosphere.

Lyon Old Town

9. Lyon has a charming Old Town

Cobblestones and cafés fill this part of town, which starts at the very gothic Saint-Jean-Baptiste Cathedral and the graceful square that faces it. The Old Town is small, only a few streets, but they are crammed with shops and restaurants and plenty of bustle – one thing not to miss are the many excellent ice cream shops scattered throughout the neighbourhood.

People walk on Place des Cordeliers square in the center of Lyon.

10. Lyon is a walkable city

The old part of the city can easily be seen on foot, as can several of the neighbourhoods. Beyond that, Lyon has an excellent and easy-to-figure-out public transport system which involves buses, tramways and the funicular that takes you up to Fourvière.

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Leyla Alyanak

Author - Leyla Alyanak

Leyla is a former foreign correspondent and diplomat, a perpetual expat who writes about people and places from a woman’s perspective. She’s also a foodie and gets sidetracked around lunchtime. These days, she hangs her hat online at Women on the Road and at Offbeat France.

Last Updated August 26, 2021

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