Paris in not the only city you should go to when in France. You might even like the others better: it is less crowded, there are less tourists, and just as many things to see and do. So let us start with Lyon.
You will find the third biggest city of France in the region Rhône-Alpes, in the East of the country. Switzerland is just a few hours away by car, and so are the mountains, which will offer you great ski resorts under the falling snow and many hiking trails and lakes to explore under the blazing sun. May it be in the winter or the summer, you will find plenty to do in Lyon or in the surrounding areas. Lyon itself is surrounded by three hills and crossed by two rivers, the Saône and the Rhône, which creates a peninsula at the heart of the city.
I have lived in Lyon all my life and recently left it as part of my studies. I hope to provide you with enough information to make you want to go there and to help you enjoy your stay as much as possible. Whether you are interested in history, culture, shopping, nature, or just trying to catch a glimpse of French life -or living it- this city will not disappoint you.
What to do
Lyon’s history is very rich and you would be missing out if you don’t discover it. Travel back in time by visiting the Gallo-Roman theatres of Lugdunum, as Lyon was called in the Roman Empire. Visit the basilica Notre-Dame de Fourvière on top of Fourvière hill, and take note of its mosaics, before going down by the gardens. You will arrive in the Medieval and Renaissance quarter, the Vieux Lyon, where you can enjoy the cobblestone streets from the cathedral of Saint-Jean to the church of Saint-Paul, and try to spot ornaments and small statues on the walls. There, be sure to go at least in one traboule, a term used in Lyon to describe a passageway. In Place des Terreaux, admire the fountain and its sculpted horses, and get some rest in the quiet and relaxing courtyard of the Fine arts Museum. Finish by exploring the revolutionary atmosphere of the XIX century with the story of the Canuts, Lyon’s silk workers, by going back up Croix-Rousse hill.
If you are looking for all those things that allow us to call a city “modern” then go enjoy the shopping centres of La Part-Dieu and of Confluence, take a walk on the main shopping streets of the peninsula that are Rue Victor Hugo and Rue de la République, stop your purchases to have a coffee by one the rivers, go to a bar in Terreaux or Vieux Lyon, hang out with your friends on the quays, choose your night club, buy yourself a congratulatory croissant for dancing all night and go back home! That’s what the locals would do on a weekend.
Lyon’s cultural aspect will not let you down either. Choose from one of many museums -puppets, miniatures, fine arts, war, silk, modern art, and much more- theatres, operas and cinemas the city has to offer. There are some major events that you should check out if you can: if you are here in the summer, keep an eye out for the music festival in the Gallo-Roman theatre, called the Nights of Fourvière. In the fall, you will have the occasion to assist to the Biennale de la Danse, festival of dancing, and to the Biennale d’Art Contemporain, festival of modern art. And in October the honour goes to the cinema and the Lumière brothers, with the Festival Lumière. In December be sure to be in town for the Festival of Lights, and if so, be prepared for the tremendous amount of people you will find in the streets. Of course those are just the biggest events but you will find things to do all year around. Just walk in the streets to try and find painted murals in trompe l’œil style, go to a coffee theatre on improvisation nights, go see a band playing in a bar or in a concert hall, visit an art gallery in Croix-Rousse…
If from time to time you need to escape from the noise and long for a greener place, go to the Parc de la Tête d’Or. It is a park in the city, where you can do some pedalo on the lake, go to the zoo which is free, explore the botanical garden or just wander around. If you’d like to swim you can go to the Parc de Miribel Jonage. Some of the beaches are free and you can walk or cycle around. It is much much bigger than the Parc de la Tête d’Or and it is out of the city, but there are buses to take you there and bring you back. It is also ideal for a barbecue between friends or in family.
Any restaurant in the city will provide you with a good taste of French food, and every boulangerie-pâtisserie will allow you to savour some pastry. If there is one thing that you must try in Lyon because you will not find it elsewhere in France, it is a Bouchon. It literally translates into “cork” and originally is a small restaurant where you would eat local food and specialities, which includes lot of pork products. Some places I would recommend to discover those typical restaurants are Rue Mercière and Rue des Maronniers. My favourite bouchon is the Café des Fédérations, Rue Major Martin. If you go there, and you really should, make sure to arrive with an empty stomach. It is quite small, the tables are close to one another, the decoration is typical, the atmosphere is easy-going, and the food, of course, is delicious and plentiful. A meal you should absolutely try is the quenelle!
If you have decided to go there, this should help you plan your stay.
- You can fly to Lyon and lend at the airport Saint-Exupéry, and from there you can take a shuttle to go into the city.
- There are two train stations: Perrache and Part-Dieu, where coaches usually stop too. From there, by coach or train, you can go anywhere in France.
- For your time in the city you could lend a car but parking in the centre will be charged and might not be easy to find. Luckily for you, Lyon has a very good network of public transport made of buses, undergrounds, trams and funiculars, which usually ends after midnight and start again early in the morning, around 5am.
- If you would like to see as many touristic attractions as possible in a short amount of time, Lyon does have a tour bus. The city is quite big and walking everywhere would be very tiring in just one day.
- Check out what people think of any places you might want to go to with this ultra complete and free guide of all the things you can do in Lyon: le petit paumé