Lyon - things to see and do
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Central Lyon - the old city and the Presqu'île.Surprisingly for a city that until 2014 had no world-class museum, no great cathedral, and none of the top thirty tourist attractions in France, Lyon claims to be the second tourist destination in France after Paris, and ahead of Nice or Strasbourg.
But in fact, maybe this is not too surprising. Lyon is France's second city, one of France's oldest cities, and is reputed as the gourmet capital of France. It's large historic centre, Le Vieux Lyon, is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is the largest ensemble of Renaissance buildings in Europe. In addition, Lyon also has a new museum which looks as if it may vie for celebrity with the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao. The new Confluences museum lies at the point where the Saône and Rhone rivers meet, and is a museum of science and anthropology, with plenty of interactive exhibits.
The confluence of these two great rivers is the hub of an urban area with over two million inhabitants. Lyon is also the main city on the road and rail routes between Paris and the south of France, Paris and the Alps and Italy, and northern Europe and Spain.
Place Bellecour, seen from the view point at Fourvière.As a city break destination or a long weekend destination, Lyon has plenty to offer; and what it has got to offer well makes up for what it has not got. In and close to the old city there are plenty of places to see and visit, and plenty of opportunities to enjoy the city's life and experiences, and the many events that take place in Lyon during the year.
As the gastronomic capital of France, it is a city with a huge selection of good restaurants – not just its top-of-the-range Michelin starred eateries, but also its many good traditional bistrots and small city restaurants offering top quality food and local specialities at reasonable prices. Located between the vineyards of Beaujolais and Burgundy to the north, and Côtes du Rhône to the south, Lyon is also a city where there are plenty of local wines to be sampled.
Founded by the Romans in 43 BC, Lyon was one of the most important cities of the Roman empire, and capital of Gaul, an area comprising most of modern France and Belgium. In the Middle Ages it was an important trading city astride the routes from Northwest Europe to the Mediterranean and to Italy. Later it became famed as the capital of the French silk weaving industry and then a major textiles centre. Today it is a major industrial and business hub with excellent rail and road links and one of France's busiest provincial airports.
Place Bellecour, the great piazza in the city centre between the Rhône and the Saône.
Walk west from the northwest corner of the square, then cross the river Saone on the Pont Bonaparte bridge, and continue straight on for 100 metres until you see the station for the Funicular railway .Take line F2 up to the hilltop at Fourvière. From here, you can get your bearings as you look out over the city of Lyon at your feet.
Fourvière is home to Lyon's most emblematic monument, Notre Dame de Fourvière,
a late 19th century basilica built in shimmering white stone in the neo-Byzantine style, and very similar in this respect to the Sacré-Coeur basilica at Montmartre, in Paris. Richly decorated inside with Byzantine-style gilded mosaics, murals and rich stained-glass windows, Notre Dame de Fourvière is a fine example of 19th century architectural exuberance, and a very impressive building.
The basilica Notre Dame de Fourvière
The basilica Notre Dame de Fourvière
A couple of hundred metres south of the Basilica lie the principal remains of the Roman city of Lugdunum, the Roman theatre and the smaller odeon. Long hidden from view, these were excavated in the twentieth century, and the theatre is now used in summer for the Nuits de Fourvière music festival.
From beside the basilica, visitors can then wander back down the hill, to discover on the west bank of the Saône the historic quarter of le vieux Lyon, a maze of narrow streets and historic buildings many dating from the Renaissance or earlier.
Among the musts in this part of old Lyon, in addition to the cafés and restaurants, are the "traboules", narrow Renaissance alleyways mostly running perpendicular to the river. Several of these are open to the public, and visitors can explore the interior courtyards and vaulted passages that characterise the historic city.
Also in the old city is the Cathedral Saint Jean, a mediaeval gothic cathedral most famed for its astronomic clock. Externally, Lyon cathedral is rather less interesting than the great gothic cathedrals of northern France.
From the old city, cross back over the Saône on the Passserelle du Palais de Justice footbridge, and back to the "Presqu'ile", the neck of land between the two rivers. At the end of the bridge, cross the road, and plunge into the narrow streets of the Presqu'île following the narrow pedestrianized rue de la Monnaie. There are lots of small cafés and restaurants in this and adjoining streets. You are never far from Place Bellecour, which is indicated on signs.
Running north from place Bellecour, up the centre of the Presqu'île, is the rue Edouard Herriot. It is a bit over a kilometre from the Place Bellecour to another great square the Place des Terreaux, on which stands the Lyon fine arts museum. While not on a par with the best Paris museums, it is one of the best provincial museums in France and has a good collection, from Egyptian and classical antiquities and decorative arts to paintings, and includes works by Veronese, Rubens, Tintoretto, the French Impressionists, Matisse, Picasso or Francis Bacon.
Lyon's new Confluences museum of science and anthropology.As for the new Confluences museum of science and anthropology, it lies at the southern end of the Presqu'ile, at the point where the rivers meet – two miles as the crow flies from , or a ten minute bus ride (lines C10 or C15) from Place Bellecour.
Other interesting Lyon museums include the Textile Museum (near Place Bellecour), one of the best of its kind, the Modern Art Museum, the Lyon Cinema museum, and the Electricity museum.
Lyon has several festivals and hosts many special events. The city's Festival of Lights is a four day event culminating on 8th December. The Festival commemorates the sparing of Lyon from the plague in 1643. Many buildings are specially floodlit or lit up for the event, and people put candles on their windowsills all over town.
In June and July, the Nuits de Fourvière festival stages some fifty open air concerts and theatrical performances in the Roman theatre.
Seeing LyonThere are several options for taking a tourist trip around Lyon. The first is on foot, which is great on a nice day: in addition, visiting Lyon on foot is the only way to see the narrow streets of Old Lyon, which is the most attractive and interesting part of the city. Take the funiculaire up to Fourvière, from the Old Town, just close to the Cathedral.
For a longer visit, taking in a greater part of the city, try the tourist buses run by the Lyon Open tour; or take a boat trip on the Sâone and /or Rhône rivers. Departures from the Quai des Célestins, on the Saône, near Place Bellecour.
Pérouges, to the east, the vineyards of the Beaujolais area to the north of Lyon, and Vienne, beside the Rhône, to the south.
Vienne is a small town with a rich historic heritage, including a very well-preserved Roman temple, the temple of Augustus and Livia, and a Roman pyramid. There is also a large Gallo-Roman theatre and a fine romanesque abbey with 12th century cloister, the best cloister in the Rhone-Alpes region.
For a day's outing in summer time, drive south to the small town of Tournon sur Rhône, for a trip on one of France's best scenic railways, the Chemin de Fer de l'Ardèche.
Further afield, but easily accessible, are the Alps. The lakeside resort of Aix les Bains can be reached by train from Lyon in 1 hr. 10 mins, and Chambéry in 1hr 20.
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Access - getting to Lyon
By road : Lyon is 6 hours drive from Calais, 4 hours from Paris, and 2h from Geneva.
By train: direct TGV services from Paris (2 hours), Lille (3 hours), Strasbourg and Marseille. Regular international train services to Geneva and Turin.
Lyon train stations :Lyon has two main train stations. All TGV high-speed train services come into Lyon Part Dieu station, on the east side of the Rhone. Some continue, along with many local trains, to the old main station at Perrache, on the Presqu'ile, 1 km south of Place Bellecour.
The Lyon city card :The Lyon City card provides free entry to museums, a river cruise, guided tours and discounts on other attractions. It can be purchased online from the Tourist office for 1, 2 or 3 days. For more information and to buy online click here.
Nearby cities: Grenoble, Saint Etienne.
Lyon is in the Rhone valley,
Urban area Population 2.2 million
Main sites: The old city (UNESCO world heritage site), Notre Dame de Fourvière, St. John's Cathedral, the Musée des Beaux Arts, the Roman theatre.
Nearby attractions: Beaujolais and Côtes du Rhone vineyards, Vienne, the mediaeval city of Pérouges - and within just over an hour's drive, the Alps.
See opposite or above (small screens).
Renaissance houses in old Lyon
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Copyright © About-France.com 2003 - 2017 Plan of Lyon from an open-source original from openstreetmap.org.
Photo top by Patrick Verdier Folp.free.fr. Place Bellecour by Otourly - licence GNU. Fourvière basilica by Mickael G, Renaissance house by Chris 73, - Creative Commons licence