It is not surprising that Lyon, in addition to being known as the gastronomic capital of France, was also named European Capital of Smart Tourism in 2019. With a beautiful mix of traditional and modern architecture, accessible transport and plenty of museums, the city is an ideal destination. Lyon also has a reputation for its night-time beauty, and although this culminates in its Fête des Lumières at the beginning of December every year, the city remains beautiful after dark all year round. Even after a year of living there, I have not seen everything Lyon has to offer, but here a few of the highlights.
1. Breakfast in Vieux Lyon
Originally the centre of the city, this Renaissance neighbourhood is a big part of what makes Lyon a UNESCO world heritage site. The narrow cobbled streets, hidden alleyways and staircases mean you could wander here for hours, but it is also a great place to start your busy day, with a coffee and croissant, of course.
2. Travel the ‘traboules‘
The hidden alleyways or ‘traboules’ in Lyon have an interesting history. Although many of the original hundreds are now closed to the public, there are still plenty to explore, and there is a mobile app as well as volunteer guides in summer, to make this easier. The origins of these passageways date back to the ‘canuts’ (silk workers), who worked in Lyon, a city renowned for its silk during the Renaissance period. The workers, after unloading the precious silks from the boats in Lyon, needed to get them quickly to the safety of their workshops, located up the hill in Croix-Rousse. To avoid damage from weather and thieves, they created secret passageways to make the journey as quick and easy as possible, and these tunnels were of course later used by locals during the resistance. Traboules can be found in both the old town and Croix-Rousse, and as you can imagine are a must-see in Lyon.
3. La Fourvière and Théatre Gallo Romain
Be ready for a climb (or take the metro!) and head from old town up to the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière, sat on ‘the hill that prays’. An impressive structure which can be seen from just about anywhere in Lyon, this is open to the public and full of incredible murals and general grandeur. The viewpoint also offers the most incredible view of the entire city. Nearby is Théatre Gallo Romain, one of the first visible Roman monuments in Lyon. An open air amphitheatre, the views from here are also incredible and it is free to wander around, or you can also visit the indoor museum.
4. The murals of les pentes de la Croix-Rousse
Crossing the Saône and back to the central ‘island’ of the city, take a wander through the lower areas of Croix Rousse, an alternative and artsy neighbourhood which offers some lovely unique shops. Keep your eyes peeled as there are many amazing murals painted throughout, which can easily be mistaken for real buildings if you’re not paying attention! As well as the shops, there are plenty of cafés, often offering vegetarian and vegan alternatives which are not always easy to come by in Lyon! I recommend a well deserved lunch break here.
5. La Croix-Rousse, Mur des Canuts
Walking uphill from the lower part of Croix-Rousse via the Montée de la Grande-Côte, with more independent shops and cafés, you reach the plateau of Croix-Rousse on ‘the hill that works’. Another beautiful view awaits, and from there you can wander through the many old silk worker’s workshops turned apartments, towards the Mur des Canuts. This incredible mural covers an entire side of an apartment building and is a marvel to see. A community project, the idea is that the mural changes to reflect the neighbourhood, so the characters in the painting have actually aged and changed over the years! Be sure to read the information and history of the wall detailed nearby, it really is incredible.
6. Parc de la Tête d’Or
Crossing the other river that runs through the city, the Rhône, you will see the beautiful parc de la Tête d’Or, with its huge gold topped gates. The park covers 16 hectares and has a large lake and plenty of attractions, from its new outdoor swimming pool to the mini golf and restaurant and gorgeous botanical gardens. Legend has it that the head of a gold statue of Christ lies under the lake, leading to its name, ‘park of the golden head’. There is lot to discover, so I suggest using the bicycle scheme, Velo’v, which has bikes outside the park entrances.
7. Dinner in Bellecour, Rue Mercière
At the centre of the city is Place Bellecour, the fifth largest square in France. Looking up towards the immense Fourvière and surrounded by elegant French architecture, this square houses the tourist office and a small park with soothing water features, trees and benches, should you need a sit down. This area is also where the main shopping streets are, from your usual high-street shops to designer brands. There are also plenty of bars and restaurants nearby, rue Mercière is particularly popular thanks to its many options for food and drink. An ideal place to stop for dinner.
8. Evening river stroll
One of the best features of Lyon is the two rivers that flow through it, which become even more amazing after dark. If you have the time (and energy), a stroll along either the Rhône or the Saône will leave you gazing in wonderment at the city of lights with its many beautifully lit bridges. Along the banks of the Rhône you will find a variety of boat bars, and further south along the river Saône there are some lovely riverside bars in the Confluence area. Place Bellecour is also worth a look at night, if just to see Fourvière shining magnificently above the city.
9. Stay the night
La confluence is a new urban development just south of the centre of Lyon. It is eco-friendly with ponds that promote biodiversity, crazily designed modern and carbon neutral buildings, and even a free electric, self driving shuttle bus! This area offers some popular hotels, and is definitely worth a visit in itself even if you choose to stay elsewhere. If your’e looking for something more classic, Bellecour neighbourhood, particularly the grand Hotel Dieu, offers some typical French style, with elegant courtyards housing high class restaurants and shops.