Since visiting Lyon, the phrase “Only in Lyon” has imprinted in my head. Lyon is indeed one of its kind and there are several things that you can only do in this wonderful city. From strolling the Vieux Lyon, visiting the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fouvière to dining at a Bouchon, each activity is an extraordinary experience.
Boasting a strategic location at the junction of the Rhône and Saône River, Lyon has been a major city since the Roman Age. Its 2000 years of history and culture are reflected through the Roman trace on the Fouvière Hill, the medieval and Renaissance architecture in the Vieux Lyon to the modern Confluence district. Today, it is France’s third-largest metropole; and a center for banking, chemical, pharmaceutical, and software industries.
1. Strolling around Vieux Lyon
With its winding narrow streets and medieval buildings, Vieux Lyon or the Old Town of Lyon was listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1998. The district is divided into three distinct quarters: Saint-Jean, Saint Paul, and Saint Georges. While Saint-Jean was Lyon’s religious and political power during the Middle Age, Saint Paul was predominantly occupied by wealthy bankers from Italy.
The poor silk weavers, on the other hand, lived in Saint Georges before moving to Croix Rousse in the 19th century. It was in this quarter that the first traboules – hidden corridors that run through buildings and connect one street directly with another – were built.
2. Visiting the majestic Fourvière
More than 2000 years ago, the Romans built the military colony of Lugdunum (Lyon) on the slopes of Fourvière on Saône’s western bank. Although the Roman city has no longer existed, its trace can still be found at the Théâtres Romains. Today, the focal point of Fourvière Hill is the spectacular Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière (in short: Fourvière) crowning at the top. Thus, it is known in Lyon as “the hill that prays”.
Constructed in the 19th century, between 1872 and 1884, Fourvière is dedicated to the Virgin Maria, who saved the city of Lyon on various occasions, including the Black Death that swept across Europe in 1643 and the advance of the Prussian during the Franco-Prussian war. The construction of the basilica was privately funded and its design draws from both Romanesque and Byzantine architecture. Thanks to its location, Fourvière can be seen from many places in the city center, and thus it has become the symbol of Lyon.
3. Adore the beautiful squares of Presqu’île
The heart of Lyon is Presqu’île (Peninsula) which extends from the foot of the Croix Rousse hill to the confluence of the two rivers. Filled with picturesque streets, this district was an important counterpoint to the Vieux Lyon in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
Today, Presqu’île is known for its magnificent squares, in many cases decorated with fountains, and the abundance of cáfes, restaurants, luxury shops, museums, banks, and government buildings. Noteworthy attractions in the area are Place Bellecour, Place des Jacobins, Place des Terreaux with its Bartholdi fountain, Italian inspired Théâtre des Célestins, as well as the beautiful Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall).
4. Step into the future at La Confluence
At the southern end of Presqu’île, you will find yourself in the newest neighborhood of Lyon – La Confluence. The former industrial wasteland was transformed into a modern district with cutting-edge, environmental-friendly buildings.
Most noteworthy is the futuristic-looking Musée des Confluences which houses over 5000m² of permanent and temporary exhibitions. The museum tells the story of mankind and the history of life in a very interactive way. Visitors are even encouraged to touch some exhibited objects.
5. Dining at a Bouchon
Somewhere else in France a bouchon is understood as a “plug” or a “traffic jam”. But in Lyon, a bouchon is a sort of bistro that cooks up traditional cuisine using regional products. Bouchon’s menu is limited, its decor is very modest and you usually sit elbow-to-elbow with strangers.
However, the down-to-earth food and the good ambiance can warm the heart of any visitor. Unlike classical French dishes, Lyon’s signature dishes specialized in various parts of the pig, including intestine and trotter, as well as crayfish.
Tips for visiting Lyon
- Lyon has an excellent public transport system. Most places are easily accessible by metros, trams and buses, as well as the funicular. A day ticket allows you to use all of these transport vehicles.
- Lyon’s international airport is connected to the city centre by the Rhone Express. It takes around 20-30 minutes and costs 9.90€. Please note the ticket machines only accept coins, but you can still buy the ticket on board.
- The hidden passages are relatively difficult to be recognised. But we found one way to see them is by taking the funicular. From the funicular, you can see some passages crisscrossing between buildings.
- Authentic bouchon can be found around Hôtel de Ville and Ampère-Victor Hugo and can be realised by the metal plate on their façade depicting traditional puppet Gnafron with his wine glass.
28 thoughts on “Lyon: The Unique City on the Rhône”
These bouchons sound like my jam. Yuuuuum.
It’s quite enjoyable! The menus are completely in French but the waiter (but could be the owner) was nice enough to translate for you. She also taught me how to eat blanc fromage like a Lyonnaise. You sprinkle the sugar on the fromage and eat it. It’s unhealthy but it tastes really good 🙂
What a contrast! The cityscape that is. Musee Confluence is as far away from the Notre Dame as can be!
Gorgeous architecture and beautiful juxtaposition of the old and the new.
Thank you, cô Tám 🙂
I love Lyon, Ken!!! And you captured very well its essence! Excellent job 🙂
I hope you enjoyed it. You had beautiful weather, as I can see.
Have a nice day!
Thanks a lot, Eleazar! Lyon is indeed a wonderful city and I really enjoyed the time there despite the not-so-great weather. Actually, it was pouring rain during my stay. If you look closely at the photo of Fourvière you might notice some dark cloud. The sun only came out on the last day, so I had to run out for some shots 🙂 But I still missed some shots of the farmer markets, the food there is awesome!
Some very yummy food (even though I probably shouldn’t have read the ingredients…) 😳
I admit if I could read the ingredients, I might not order the andouillette 🙂 The menu is in French so I could only understand that this dish is made of pork. And the waiter explained to me it is made of something around the belly (by using body language). So I thought she means the pork belly or something. But it is not 🙂 Fortunately, it turned out well. The dish might sound a bit unusual but it tastes not so bad.
I’ve been to Lyon many times. You’ve just reminded me what a great city it is. I’ve seen everything you mentioned except the Musée des Confluences, so that’s what I can do next time I visit my Lyonnais friends. Great blog post!
Many thanks! I am glad that you like it. You should definitely visit the museum and the surrounding area by your next visit 🙂 It looks totally different than other parts of Lyon. The museum is interesting not only for kids but also for adults.
A wonderful photo essay! The Musée de Confluence is such a complex and beautiful structure. Reminds me of the MAAT in Lisbon except it is more angular.
Such an interesting building! Thanks for letting me know that, Regina! I definitely need to check it out when i visit Lisbon 😉
Just one small correction: The building you have labelled as “Opéra de Lyon” is actually not the opera house, but rather a theater (for spoken drama) called the Théâtre des Célestins. (I saw a play by Molière there once but only understood part of it.) The real opera house in Lyon looks *much* different.
Thanks a lot for the information, Don! I’d been wondering what the glass-building in front of the city hall is, now I know 🙂 It looks much different to a classical opera house.
Originally it was a classical opera house, inaugurated in 1831. It stayed that way for over a hundred and fifty years before being radically redesigned and expanded by the French architect Jean Nouvel from 1989 to 1993. I once saw a fine performance there of Luisa Miller, the fifteenth opera by Giuseppe Verdi.
Your pictures are unreal! I’m in Lyon now and these tips are super helpful
You welcome! 🙂
Great post. You are right, Lyon seems to have a lot of unique, curious elements that make it a really well-rounded place to visit. I was there for three days only but I loved it. Small enough to get around easily but full of lots of quirky things to see and do. The bouchons are fun as long as you aren’t squeamish about eating arse etc! Vieux Lyon is gorgeous. Lovely piece.
Many thanks! I agree with you that the dishes in bouchon is not for everyone, including myself 🙂 It is worth a try, however I don’t think I will eat them again. The only exceptions are the crayfish and the dessert.
Stunning photos. Sadly we didn’t make it to the Fourvière when we were there, but we’ll definitely go back to Lyon some day. Did you have a chance to taste the le coussin de Lyon when you went there? https://foodwatershoes.com/2017/09/19/sweet-as-candy-tradition-behind-coussin-de-lyon-voisin-lyon-france/
Your shots are very beautiful. There is such a wonderful contrast in architecture. I like the Gothic style, and found the inside chapel of the Notre Dame to be very pretty. Thanks for sharing. Kind regards, Denise.
Your words made my day 🙂 Thank you, Denise! Lyon is a great city. I really like it, especially the culinary scene and the cathedral. They are truly one -of-a-kind.
I would love to explore the traboules that you mention. Did you get to stroll through them? As for the basilica, it is gorgeous. Beautiful photographs, as always.
Thank you 🙂 From the street level, it’s quite difficult to see the traboules. I didn’t do research in advance so I could not find it. I only recognised it when sitting on the funicular.
Hmm makes sense, since they were supposed to be a secretive affair. Even more tantalising. 🙂