France’s third largest city is brimming with life and history. Founded by the Romans, Lyon is today a heritage city, a charming confluence of bustling metropolitan vibes and the rustic placidity of distinct old quarters and renaissance architecture. It is shaped by two rivers which run North-South across the city: the Rhône to the east, and the Saône to the west.
What to do and see
Explore Lyon by neighbourhood, each with its own character and stories to tell. Start with Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon) on the west bank of the Saône, a UNESCO-protected Renaissance area. Notice the traboule (tunnels between the streets) amidst your stroll down the magnificent buildings. Next to Vieux Lyonis Fourvière hill, ‘the hill that prays’, a name begot from the numerous churches and religious institutions along it. Most well-known is the Catholic Basilica of Fourvière, origin of the Festival of Lights when the city’s citizens display candles at their windows. On the south lie the ruins of Roman baths and an unusually well-preserved theatre.
Across the Saône is ‘the hill that works’. Croix-Rousse was home to silk workers up till the 19th century. Take a tour at Atelier de Passementerie, a trimmings workshop where you can learn the history of the looms and see the intricate pieces being created. In the same area is the Musée des Beaux-Arts, which showcases a fine collection of works by the likes of Rembrandt Monet, Matisse and Picasso.
Cross the Rhône to Parc de la Tête d’Or, a lovely park with a rose and botanical garden and plenty of green space to pony ride, merry-go-round, cycle, or simply take a walk and pop in and out of its many shops. Admire the mansions in the Brotteaux, the wealthiest district in Lyon and home to a large number of restaurants that give the city its reputation for gastronomy. Try Brasserie des Brotteaux, an Art Nouveau brasserie serving up local fare at reasonable prices.
Trickle southwards where you can visit the Montluc Military Prison, built in 1921 and temporary holding place to Jean Moulin, Marc Bloch, the Children of Izieu and 8000 Jews, as well as French resistance fighters. Since Lyon is known as the birthplace of cinema, do not miss out on Institut Lumière, once the family home to the Lumière brothers who invented the Cinematograph. Regular screenings also are held at its cinema.
Getting around Lyon
One of the nice things about Lyon is its pleasantly manageable size, and most of the city’s attractions can be reached on foot. However, the central areas are well served by metro and bus lines. Driving is not encouraged as traffic is rather dense, and most signs in French. Taxis can be hired at fixed but expensive prices. Consider the Lyon city card, which covers 1-3 days’worth of free public transport, as well as entry to all museums and discounts on many activities.
Getting to Lyon
The Saint-Exupéry Airport lies 25km east of Lyon. It hosts few international flights, but has luxury and budget connections to many European hubs such as Paris, London and Frankfurt. Easyjet is a reliable budget airline for flying cheaply within Europe. From here, you can take the Rhônexpress to the city centre, or an airport shuttle to the Meyzieu tramway station, where you can get to the city for less than 2 euros.