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.
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.
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. If you're short on time or aren't sure where to start, a food tour is also an option. For a foodie, Lyon is paradise.
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.
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.
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).
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. If you're planning on visiting a few of them, it can be worth getting a Lyon City Card for cheaper admission.
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.
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.
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.
Planning a trip to Lyon? Stay at the Hôtel Des Artistes in the centre of the city, just a short walk to the old town.
Last Updated 6 June 2022