Think of France, think of Paris. But if you have already seen the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, climbed the Eiffel Tower, and taken a boat trip on the Seine, it is time to look further south for your next French adventure.
Lyon is France’s second city, and offers a much more welcoming, manageable visitor experience than its more famous sister. The city’s history dates back to the Romans, it is a vibrant, multicultural metropolis, and the food scene is arguably the best in France.
Here are five reasons to visit Lyon.
Two rivers flow through Lyon
Not one but two mighty rivers flow through the centre of Lyon, the Rhone and the Saone. This means that large parts of the city area stretched out along scenic riverbanks.
You can walk or cycle along the quays and across the bridges, and are never far away from an attractive river view. The meeting point of the two rivers is a tourist attraction in its own right, well worth viewing at the same time as visiting the Confluence Museum with its galleries of natural history.
The Lyonnais have been building striking buildings in their city since its very earliest days. There are two Roman theatres side by side above the Old Town; the white Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière sits prominently on the hilltop; and there are plenty of historic churches dotted amongst squares, shops, and restaurants.
The 18th-century Hotel Dieu dominates one bank of the Rhone, crowned with a vast dome, and this is where you will find the 5* Intercontinental Lyon Hotel Dieu, the best place to stay in the city. Fans of contemporary architectural design will be intrigued by the modern vertical extension at Opéra de Lyon, the steel and glass structure which houses the Confluence Museum, and the vivid green Euronews headquarters in the redeveloped docks area.
It is rare to find a non-capital city with such a fantastic selection of museums: in that respect, Lyon reminded me of New York. The Gallo-Roman Museum is a Brutalist concrete structure built into the hillside above the Roman theatres and it tells the story of Lyon’s Roman history. The Museum of the History of Lyon is in the Old Town, sharing a building with the Puppet Museum, and covers a much longer historical period.
Art lovers should spend a whole day in the galleries of the Musee des Beaux Arts, which has everything from Ancient Egyptian mummies to Art Deco furniture; and there are also some smaller, specialist collections such as Museum Soieries Brochier, a private museum of silk. The Lyon City Card (from EUR 26.90) gives you free entry to all the Lyon’s museums, as well as free use of public transport.
Getting around Lyon on public transport is easy.
Lyon’s Old Town is walkable but it sits between the river and a steep hill on top of which sit major tourist attractions including the basilica and the Roman theatres.
Thankfully, Lyon has a superb public transport network which is fast, affordable, and reaches everywhere you might want to go.
A funicular links the Old Town and the hilltop; and elsewhere you can travel by bus, tram, or metro. The investment in public transport has paid off as there’s much less traffic in the city centre than in other cities of comparable size, and air pollution is lower, too.
Any trip to France is a gastronomic pleasure, but Lyon has a strong claim to be the country’s food capital. The markets are mouthwatering in their array of magnificent fresh produce, there are 20 Michelin-starred restaurants, and every neighbourhood has a rich selection of bars, cafes, and family-run restaurants to choose from.
If you want to try local dishes, the best option is to seek out the Bouchon Lyonnais. This name is given to those businesses which serve the city‘s traditional cuisine.
I ate my way through the menus of half a dozen of these establishments over a long weekend: Le Bistro d’Abel and Chez Lucien were particular favourites.
You also must visit Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, Lyon’s covered food market, which is named after the city’s most famous chef and has the biggest cheese stalls I’ve ever seen.
Also Read: 24 hours in Lyon
FLY: British Airways flies direct from London Gatwick to Lyon from £69 return.
STAY: Stay at the magnificent Intercontinental Lyon Hotel Dieu from £261 per night.
EAT: Le Bistro d’Abel and Chez Lucien
TOUR: Lyon Old Town Food Tour