What I love most about France is that each region of the country is so different from the next. There are so many different cultures and traditions within this country alone! Lyon is the third largest city in France, behind Paris and Marseille. Situated in the middle of the Rhône-Alpes region, this city is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It used to be an important site for silk production. Lyon sits right where the Rhône and Saône rivers meet.
The Fête des Lumières takes place in Lyon every winter. Another interesting tidbit involving the term Lumière – Lyon was home of the Lumière brothers! They were some of the first filmmakers in history.
I visited Lyon in 2013 as a student, but I was very happy to rediscover this charming city. It’s well-known for its food as well as its traboules (more on that later!). In the winter, this city is quite cold due to the wind coming off the surrounding mountains. I had to wear double socks all weekend while I visited! Despite the extra wind along the rivers, this city is best experienced by walking along the banks of both rivers that run into each other in the middle of Lyon.
La Place Bellecour is the large square in the center of Lyon. This is the third largest open square in France, and the largest pedestrian square in Europe! The tourist office of Lyon can be found here, and it is a great starting place to explore the city. Louis XIV dominates the center of the square in this equestrian statue. Beneath Louis, there are allegorical statues representing the two rivers of Lyon – the Saône and the Rhône. The original statue of Louis XIV was destroyed in the French Revolution for canon, but it was recreated in 1825!
Old Town (Vieux Lyon) runs along the Saône River, at the foot of the tall Fourvière Hill. Vieux Lyon is super charming with its cobblestones and smaller pedestrian streets. This is probably my favorite part of the city, despite the plethora of tourist-trap restaurants. If a man is standing outside a restaurant saying why it’s a great place to eat, chances are it’s probably not that great of a restaurant. My friend and I ended up eating at a bistrot called Aux 24 Colonnes which had a bunch of Tripadvisor awards on the door! Lyon is known for its Bouchons, a type of restaurant that serves traditional Lyonnaise cuisine.
Vieux Lyon is one of the neighborhoods where you can find the infamous Traboules. Traboules are essentially hidden passageways. In Vieux Lyon they were built perpendicular to the river for easier access for craftsman to the larger parallel streets. Traboules can also be found in the Croix-Rousse neighborhood, where they were primarily used by the silk workers, or canuts. Not all of these passageways are available to the public, but more than 40 are accessible for free! They are very interesting to see and characteristic of the city.
Another really gorgeous part of the city is the Fourvière Hill. For those who feel ambitious, there’s about 800 stairs to climb from Vieux Lyon up to Fourvière Hill. However, I chose to take the funiculaire (lift) to the top of the hill. The lift is mostly underground, but there are a few displays on the way up the steep trip with relics from the local museum.
The exit from the lift lets out right in front of the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière. This basilica is one of the most stunning places I have ever been. The entire interior is covered with mosaics! It’s stunning to see all the different scenes on the walls and the ornate details in the ceiling. This is definitely a must-see when visiting the city.
Beside the basilica, there’s a beautiful overlook of the entire city. It’s a great place to watch the sunset!
Musée des Tissus
I mentioned before that Lyon was prominent in silk production. There is a really fascinating museum in Presqu’île, the heart of Lyon. Musée des Tissus et des Arts décoratifs gives a unique look into the history of the city and the textile industry. Apparently this museum is home to one of the largest international collections of textiles. The price of one ticket provides access to both sections of the museum! It’s pretty amazing to see the progress and development of textiles over time. I was in awe looking at the hand embroidering!
Murals in Lyon
There are two huge murals that you can’t miss when visiting Lyon. La Fresque des Lyonnais is a 800 square meter mural featuring 30 historic local figures. This fresco is located in the 1st arrondissement of Lyon, just across the pedestrian bridge from Vieux Lyon.
Mur des Canuts is a giant fresco dedicated to silk workers. This tromp-l’œil style mural is even larger than La Fresque des Lyonnais, taking up 1,200 square meters! The mural is in the Croix-Rousse neighborhood, in the 4th arrondissement.
There’s a lot to love about Lyon! Such a beautiful city to explore, both day and night. I’m so happy to have gone back to rediscover it this past December. Cheers to adventures, both old and new!