Lyon also written Lyons in English, is the third largest city in and centre of the second largest metropolitan area in the country. It is the capital of the region and the département. It is known as a gastronomic and historical city with a vibrant cultural scene. It is also the birthplace of cinema.
Founded by the Romans, with many preserved historical areas, Lyon is the archetype of the heritage city, as recognised by UNESCO. Lyon is a vibrant metropolis which makes the most out of its unique architectural, cultural and gastronomic heritage, its dynamic demographics and economy and its strategic location between Northern and Southern Europe. It is more and more open to the world, with an increasing number of students and international events.
The city itself has about 480,000 inhabitants. However, the direct influence of the city extends well over its administrative borders. The figure which should be compared to the population of other major metropolises is the population of Greater Lyon (which includes 57 towns or communes): about 1,200,000. Lyon and its metropolitan area are rapidly growing and getting younger, because of their economic attractiveness.
The silk industry was the main activity for centuries. Since the end of the 19th century, it has been successfully replaced by a number of others. Feyzin, a southern suburb, is home to a major oil refinery and a large number of chemical plants are also located along the Rhône river south of Lyon. Pharmaceutics and biotechnology are also important; they were historically fueled by Lyon’s prominence in medical research, and the local authorities are trying to maintain an international leadership in these industries. The southeastern suburbs of Vénissieux and St Priest host large automotive plants, such as Renault’s truck and bus factories. But as in most Western metropolises, the service industry is now dominant. Many large banking and insurance companies have important offices in Lyon, and the IT services industry is also well developed. From an economic point of view, Lyon is the most attractive and dynamic city in France. This may be explained by the easy access from all over Europe (probably second only to Paris in the country), the availability of qualified workforce and research centres, and cheaper real estate prices compared to the capital.
Lyon has a “semi-continental” climate. Winters are cold but temperatures under -5°C (23°F) remain rare. You can, however, experience an awful freezing sensation when northerly winds blow. Snowfalls happen but snow-covered streets are generally not seen for more than a few days every winter. Summers can be hot; temperatures around 35°C (95°F) are not exceptional in July and August. Precipitations are moderate and happen throughout the year; the mountains to the west (Massif central) protect the area against perturbations from the Atlantic. During the summer, especially in August, precipitations often take the form of thunderstorms whereas in winter, lighter but more continuous rain is more common. Spring and early autumn are usually enjoyable.
When to visit
It lasts four days around the 8th of December. It was initially a traditional religious celebration: on December 8th, 1852, the people of Lyon spontaneously illuminated their windows with candles to celebrate the inauguration of the golden statue of the Virgin Mary
Of course, the Festival of Lights is a thrilling experience. However, depending on your expectations, this may not be the best time to visit the city, given the weather and the overcrowding. If you are particularly interested in one of the city’s events, then go for it. Otherwise, avoid coming in August, especially during the first two or three weeks, unless you are only interested in things that don’t take holidays like traboules or churches. The city is deserted, nothing really interesting happens and it is very difficult to find a decent restaurant. In July, the activity is close to normal but the weather may be unpleasantly hot. May-June and September are probably the best times: the weather is usually nice and warm and you can enjoy quite long daylight hours.
The city centre is not so big and most attractions can be reached from each other on foot. The walk from Place des Terreaux to Place Bellecour, for example, is about 20 min. The rule of thumb is that metro stations are generally about 10 min walk apart.Be careful when crossing major axes: traffic is dense and running red lights is a very popular sport.You can also visit Lyon in footing. Jogg’in City offers several sightjogging tours of Lyon
A good point for visitors is that most attractions will not cost you a cent: churches, traboules, parks, etc. For those intending to visit several museums (which are almost the only attractions you cannot see for free), the Lyon City Card may be of interest. Available from the Tourist office, it costs €21 for one day, €31 for 2 days and €41 for 3 days. It includes unlimited rides on the public transport network, free or reduced entry fee to major museums and exhibitions and one guided tour per day per person (Vieux Lyon, Croix-Rousse, etc.). The price is still a bit high, so count before you buy to see if this is a good deal considering your plans.
Do not hesitate to buy a detailed map with a street index from a book shop or a newsagent; many places of interest or good restaurants are located in small streets you will not find on simplified maps, such as the ones you can get from the Tourist office.
Whatever the time of year (except for the Fête des Lumières), tourists are not very numerous yet, but they concentrate in a few small areas, especially Fourvière and Vieux Lyon, where the pedestrian streets are just as crowded as the Champs-Elysees sidewalks on sunny weekend
- The view from Fourvière basilica, and the basilica itself.
- Streets and traboules in Vieux Lyon, St Jean cathedral.
- Traboules in Croix-Rousse.
- Musées Gadagne.
- Parc de la Tête d’Or.
Off the beaten path:
- Musée urbain Tony Garnier and Etats-Unis neighbourhood.
- St Irénée church, Montée du Gourguillon, St Georges neighbourhood.
- A drink on Place Sathonay.
- St Bruno church.
- Parc de Gerland.
- Gratte-ciel neighbourhood in Villeurbanne.
After , the Old Lyon, a narrow strip along the right bank of the Saône, is the largest Renaissance area in Europe (well, it’s actually far behind Venice). Its current organization, with narrow streets mainly parallel to the river, dates back to the Middle Ages. The buildings were erected between the 15th and the 17th centuries, notably by wealthy Italian, Flemish and German merchants who settled in Lyon where four fairs were held each year. At that time, the buildings of Lyon were said to be the highest in Europe. The area was entirely refurbished in the 1980s and 1990s. It now offers the visitor colorful, narrow cobblestone streets; there are some interesting craftmen’s shops but also many tourist traps.
It is divided into three parts which are named after their respective churches:
- St Paul, north of place du Change, was the commercial area during the Renaissance;
- St Jean, between place du Change and St Jean cathedral, was home to most wealthy families: aristocrats, public officers, etc;
- St Georges, south of St Jean, was a craftsmen’s district.
The area is generally crowded in the afternoon, especially at weekends. To really enjoy its architectural beauties, the best time is therefore the morning. Around lunchtime, the streets somewhat disappear behind restaurant terraces, postcard racks and the crowd of tourists.
Guided tours in several languages, including English, are available from the tourist office (€9, ).
- St Jean Cathedral, place St Jean (M: Vieux Lyon). M-F 8:15AM-noon, 1:45PM-7:30PM, Sa Su 8:15AM-noon, 1:45PM-7PM; services (no visits) M-F 9AM and 7PM, Sa 9AM, Sun 8:30AM and 10:30AM (high mass). Officially, the cathedral is dedicated to both St John the Baptist (St Jean-Baptiste) and St Stephen (St Etienne) and has the title of primatiale because the Bishop of Lyon has the honorary title of Primat des Gaules. Built between 1180 and 1480, it is mostly of Gothic style with Romanesque elements; the oldest parts are the chancel and the lateral chapels, and as one goes towards the facade, the style becomes more and more Gothic. The cathedral hosts a spectacular astronomical clock originally built in the 14th century but modified later. It is especially worth seeing when the bells ring, daily on the hour from noon-4PM. Over the main door, the rose window, known as the “Lamb rose window”, is an admirable work of art depicting the life of St Stephen and St John the Baptist. Free, appropriate dress required.
- St Jean archaeological garden, rue de la Bombarde/rue Mandelot/rue des Estrées (M: Vieux Lyon). Next to St Jean cathedral (on the northern side), this small garden shows the remains of the religious buildings which occupied the site before the cathedral was erected. The oldest remains date back to the 4th century (baptistery of the former St Etienne church).
- Rue St Jean, (M: Vieux Lyon). This cobblestone pedestrian street is the main axis of the area. It is full of souvenir shops and restaurants mainly intended for tourists. Local people are aware that real good bouchons are extremely rare here. On a sunny Sunday afternoon, it may be hard to walk because of the crowd of both locals and tourists. You can also check out the more quiet rue des Trois Maries which runs parallel to rue St Jean, between place de la Baleine and rue du Palais de Justice.
- Rue du Boeuf, (M: Vieux Lyon). Parallel to Rue St Jean, this street is much more quiet and just as beautiful. It also has a number of restaurants, more expensive than in rue St Jean but, on average, much more worth the money.
- Place du Change, (B: C3-Gare St Paul). The largest square in the area has two remarkable buildings. The Loge du Change, on the west side, was partially built by the great architect Soufflot. It is now a Protestant church known asTemple du Change. It can be visited on Saturdays. Religious services on Sundays, 10:30AM. Opposite is the Maison Thomassin, with its Gothic-style 14th-century facade. The Thomassins were a powerful merchant family in the Renaissance. Above the 2nd floor windows are the arms of the King of France, of the Dauphin (heir of the Kingdom) and of Duchess Anne of Brittany. Unfortunately, the courtyard is closed to the public.
- Rue Juiverie, (B: C3-Gare St Paul). Another typical street of Vieux Lyon. It is named after the Jewish community who originally settled there but were expelled in the 14th century. Check out the back courtyard at Hôtel Builloud (number 8); it has a magnificent gallery on the first floor, designed by Philibert Delorme who was one of the most prominent local architects during the Renaissance.
- St Paul church, rue St Paul (B: C3-Gare St Paul). A very nice church, with mixed Romanesque and Gothic styles. The oldest parts are from the 10th century.
- St Georges neighbourhood, rue St Georges, rue du Doyenné and other smaller streets (M: Vieux Lyon). St Georges is the name given to the south part of the Vieux Lyon. It has nice Renaissance buildings which, however, do not really compare to the palaces of St Jean; on the other hand, it is much more quiet than the St Jean area.
- Montée du Gourguillon, (M: Vieux Lyon/F: Minimes). This picturesque montée (sloping street on hillside) starts behind Vieux Lyon metro station and ends quite close to the Roman theatres of Fourvière. It was the main link between the river Saône and the top of Fourvière throughout the Roman era, Middle Ages and Renaissance. Nowadays it keeps a medieval spirit. Around numbers 5-7 is Impasse Turquet, a small cul-de-sac named after Etienne Turquet, an Italian who is said to have founded the silk industry in Lyon in 1536. In this small passageway are the oldest houses of the city, dating back to the 13th or 14th century, with wooden balconies.
- Palais de Justice, Quai Romain Rolland (M: Vieux Lyon). The historical court house, also named “the 24 columns”, was built between 1835 and 1842 by architect Louis-Pierre Baltard. It is a fine example of French “neo-classical” architecture. It now hosts only the criminal court (Cour d’Assises) and the court of appeal. The other jurisdictions moved to a new building in Part-Dieu in 1995. The most famous trial held there was that of the former head of the Lyon Gestapo, Klaus Barbie, in 1987. The building is currently undergoing major refurbishment works
For the people of Lyon, Presqu’île is the place to go for shopping, dining or clubbing. It also represents a large part of the city’s economic activity.
This narrow peninsula between the Rhône and Saône rivers was largely shaped by man. When the first inhabitants settled on what was then called Canabae, the junction of the river was located near the current site of St Martin d’Ainay basilica. South of this point was an island. From 1772, titanic works led by engineer Antoine-Michel Perrache reunited the island to the mainland. The swamps which existed there were then dried out, which allowed the construction of Perrache station, opened in 1846. Northern Presqu’île was largely redesigned from 1848; the only remaining Renaissance part is around rue Mercière.
Most of the action on Presqu’île actually takes place between Terreaux and Bellecour. Between Bellecour and Perrache, the neighbourhood of Ainay is traditionally home to the Catholic bourgeoisie. Perrache station and its “exchange centre” (freeway interchange, car parks, metro and bus station) are a very important border; going from one side to the other is a challenge, be it on foot or by car. The area south of Perrache is dealt with in the next section.
Place Bellecour, (M: Bellecour). The largest clear square in Europe. In the center stands the equestrian statue of Louis XIV (“under the horse’s tail” is a usual meeting point for locals). Apart from this, it is rather empty, windy and not so pleasant. A renovation project is under way. Between the southeast corner of Place Bellecour and the river Rhône is Place Antonin Poncet. There was a hospital there (Hôpital de la Charité), built in 1622 and demolished in 1934. The only remain is the bell tower (Clocher de la Charité) built in 1667
Théâtre des Célestins, place des Célestins (M: Bellecour). Designed by Gaspard André and opened in 1877, the building has a beautiful Italian-style facade. In the middle of the quiet plaza outside the theatre stands a strange periscope in which you can see rotating geometric shapes, like a kaleidoscope. Those were actually painted in the car park beneath the plaza by the famous artist Daniel Buren and they are reflected by a rotating mirror. To enter the car park and see the other side, take the stairway on your right when looking at the theatre
Hôtel de Ville (City Hall), place des Terreaux and place de la Comédie (M: Hôtel de Ville). The city hall, built in the 17th century, has a very beautiful facade on Place des Terreaux. The most notable feature of this facade is the sculpture representing King Henri IV on horseback (in the middle of the upper part). Unfortunately, it is impossible to visit the building except during the “Heritage days” (Journées du patrimoine) in mid-September.
Opera house, place de la Comédie (M: Hôtel de Ville). Opposite the City Hall stands the opera house. The 1826 theatre built by Chenavard and Pollet was completely redesigned by Jean Nouvel who kept only the façades and the foyer on the first floor. The building was reopened in 1993. The history of these works was epic: a lot of technical problems occurred and the final cost of the project was six times the initial estimate. Today, the glass top has become a classical landmark of the city but the interior design is criticised, for both aesthetic and functional reasons
Place des Terreaux, (M: Hôtel de Ville). This large square was completely redesigned in the 1990s by the artist Daniel Buren. On the East side stands the City Hall. On the North side, you will find the fountain sculpted by Bartholdi, the ‘father’ of the Statue of Liberty; this fountain was moved from the West side when the square was renovated. It now faces Palais St Pierre, which hosts the Museum of Fine Arts
Cité Internationale, quai Charles de Gaulle (B: C1). This business and residential area is the most important urban project Lyon has seen in recent years. Designed by the famous Italian architect Renzo Piano (also known for Beaubourg modern art centre in Paris and part of the Potsdamer Platz area in Berlin), it comprises a convention centre, hotels and luxury apartments just between the Rhône and Parc de la Tête d’Or
Parc de la Tête d’Or, Between boulevard des Belges, quai Charles de Gaulle and boulevard de Stalingrad (M: Masséna / B: C1-several stops around the park). 15 Oct -14 Apr 6:30AM-8:30PM, 15 Apr-14 Oct 6:30AM-10:30PM.Completed in 1862, this 105-hectare English-style garden is one of the largest and arguably one of the most beautiful urban parks in France. It is a popular place for families as well as joggers. The highlights of the park include the large greenhouses, the botanical garden, the rose garden and the recently added “African plain” in which animals wander in a natural-style environment, perfect for children
- Musée gallo-romain de Fourvière, 17 rue Cléberg (F: Minimes-Théâtres Romains), ☎ +2 38 49 30, .Tu-Su 10AM-6PM, closed 1Jan, 1 May, 1 Nov and 25 Dec. The second largest museum in France, it has all kinds of things relating to Rhone-Alps history. A free visit to the Roman theatres may be just as interesting for those not into the details. €4, reduced fee €2.50, under 18 and disabled free; free for all on Th.
- Musée de la Miniature et des Décors de cinéma (Miniature and Movie scenery Museum), 60 rue St Jean (M: Vieux Lyon), ☎ +2 00 24 77, . M 2PM-6:30PM, Tu-F 10AM-6:30PM, Sa Su 10AM-7PM. Created by artist Dan Ohlmann, this private gallery shows about 120 miniature models of all kinds of scenes: houses, restaurants, workshops, schools, etc., from Lyon or elsewhere, historical or contemporary. The accuracy of the models is astonishing and some sections will be real fun for children. Movie sceneries are also presented. The gallery is in a large 16th-century building called Maison des Avocats (Lawyers’ house). €7, under 15/student €5.50.
- Musée des Hospices civils de Lyon (Lyon hospitals museum), 1 place de l’Hôpital (M: Bellecour), ☎ +2 41 30 42, . M-F 1PM-6PM except public holidays. This museum recreates the rich history of medicine in Lyon; it also exhibits art works donated to the hospitals by their benefactors (paintings, sculptures, pieces of furniture). A number of items come from the former Hôpital de la Charité, demolished in 1934. Unfortunately, it is closed due to the reconstruction of Hôtel-Dieu. Full fee €4, student €2.
- Musée de l’Imprimerie (Printing museum), 13 rue de la Poulaillerie (M: Cordeliers), ☎ +8 37 65 98 ( ), . W-Su 9:30AM-noon, 2PM-6PM, closed on holidays. Visit it only if you’re a printing specialist, the collection is important, but it is presented in a totally outdated way. €3.80, students in groups: €2.
- Palais Saint-Pierre / Musée des Beaux Arts (Museum of Fine Arts), 20 place des Terreaux (M: Hôtel de Ville), ☎ +2 10 17 40, . M, W, Th, Sa 10AM-6PM, F 10:30AM-6PM, partial closures noon-2:15PM, ticket office closes 5:30PM. €7, reduced €4, under 18, EU students, and some others free, audioguide is included in the price..
- Musée d’Art contemporain (Museum of Contemporary Art), 81 quai Charles de Gaulle (B: C1-Musée d’Art contemporain), ☎ +2 69 17 18, . Wed-Sun 12PM-7PM. Holds only temporary exhibitions which are often very interesting and popular. Fees vary depending on the exhibition.
- Institut Lumière – Musée vivant du Cinéma, 25 rue du Premier Film (M: Monplaisir-Lumière), ☎ +8 78 18 95, . Tu-Su 11AM-6:30PM. Closed 1 Jan, 1 May, and 25 Dec. Open on bank holiday Mondays. Located in the Lumière brothers’ house, this museum presents an interesting history of cinema through various items and film excerpts. Also worth seeing for the lovely architecture. €6, under 18 and students €5.
- Musées Gadagne: Historical museum of Lyon and International puppet museum, 14 rue de Gadagne/1 place du Petit Collège (M: Vieux Lyon / B: C3-Gare St Paul), ☎ +8 42 03 61, . W-Su 11AM-6:30PM except public holidays. After 10 years of major refurbishment works, these museums dedicated to the history of the city and to puppets (like the famous Guignol from Lyon) were reopened in June 2009, with great public and critical success. The building itself, a magnificent Renaissance palace, is worth a visit. A nice garden and cafe have also been created at the top of the building (free access). 1 museum: €6 including audioguide, 2 museums: €8. Under 26 and disabled: free.
- Musée urbain Tony Garnier, 4 rue des Serpollières (T: Etats-Unis-Musée Tony Garnier), ☎ +8 75 16 75, . Visitor centre: Tu-Sa 2PM-6PM, guided tours Sa at 2:30PM or by appointment for groups of 10 or more. This museum was created during the renovation of the Etats-Unis neighbourhood in the 1980s and 1990s, and the inhabitants were strongly involved in the project. The museum comprises a recreated apartment of the 1930s, which shows how life was like in these very modern housing units, and the 25 wall paintings depicting Garnier’s work and ideals. You can also see the walls on your own but you will miss the interesting comments on the history of the area and the social project behind it. Guided tours: €6, under 18 €4, children under 5 free; audioguide: €5, under 18 €3, children under 5 free.
- Centre d’Histoire de la Résistance et de la Déportation (Museum of the Resistance during World War II), 14 avenue Berthelot (T: Centre Berthelot), ☎ +2 73 33 54, . W-Su 9AM-5:30PM, Closed on holidays. Located in the former Gestapo regional headquarters, this museum depicts the daily life in Lyon under the German occupation and keeps memories of this tragic period. Often holds exhibitions (mostly photography). €3. Free for children under 18.
- Musée des Arts Décoratifs / Musée des Tissus (Decorative Arts museum / Fabrics museum), 34 rue de la Charité (M: Ampère Victor Hugo), ☎ +8 38 42 00( ), . Tu-Su 10AM-noon, 2PM-5:30PM, closed on holidays. €4.58, groups (10 adults minimum) €3.81, students €2.29, free for children under 18.
Cultural events are listed by two weekly magazines: Le Petit Bulletin (free, available in cinemas, theatres, some bars, etc. and online ) and Lyon Poche (from newsagents or online ). There also exists a new map of Lyon called “La Ville Nue” which lists bars, theaters, librairies, cinemas, music stores and concerts .
Early booking is often necessary for the major institutions (Auditorium, opera house, Célestins and Croix-Rousse theatres). The big names sell out months in advance. Unlike London or New York, there is no place in Lyon where you can buy reduced-price tickets for same day shows. (There used to be one but it was very short-lived, possibly because it had too few seats to sell.)
- Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, 102 cours Lafayette, 69003 Lyon (B: C3-Halles Paul Bocuse, M/T: Part-Dieu). Tue-Sat 7AM-12PM and 3PM-7PM, Sun 7AM-12PM. Formerly located on Place des Cordeliers, the Halles moved to the Part-Dieu area in 1971. If you want the very best food, this is the place to go. It has a price however.
- Croix-Rousse market, Boulevard de la Croix-Rousse, 69001 Lyon (M: Croix-Rousse). Tue-Sun 7AM-1PM.Very popular and typical market mith many local producers. On Tuesdays, also sells non-food items. Very crowded on sunny Sundays, but this is the right time to enjoy the particular mood of the neighbourhood.
- St Antoine market, Quai St Antoine and Quai des Célestins, 69002 Lyon (M: Cordeliers). Tue-Sun 7AM-1PM. The other major market, in a wealthier part of town. Also some local fruit and vegetable producers. Eating oysters by the Saône is a very pleasant occupation before Sunday lunch
Restaurants have their menus with prices displayed outside. As everywhere in France, the prices always include service, bread and tap water (ask for a carafe of water). Tipping is rare and only expected if you are particularly satisfied with the service. This is especially true in budget or mid-range restaurants, maybe less so in expensive places where it may be considered more appropriate; nothing is compulsory, though. Typical tips depend, of course, on the price of the menu and your level of satisfaction but they are generally not as high as in the US, for example. If you pay by credit card and wish to add a tip, you can tell the person in charge how much he/she should charge your card.
Meal times are generally 12PM-2PM for lunch and 7:30PM-10PM for dinner. Visitors from areas such as North America and Northern Europe might be surprised to find many places still closed at their usual dinner times. Places offering all-day service are located in tourist areas, and are unlikely to serve quality fresh food. Late-night service is quite rare in quality restaurants, but you can always get the usual fast-food or kebab.
The traditional restaurants in Lyon are called bouchons; the origin of the word is unclear (it literally means “cork”). They appeared at the end of the 19th century and flourished in the 1930s, when the economic crisis forced wealthy families to fire their cooks, who opened their own restaurants for a working-class clientele. These women are referred to as mères (mothers); the most famous of them, Eugénie Brazier, became one of the first chefs to be awarded three stars (the highest ranking) by the famous Michelin gastronomic guide. She also had a young apprentice called Paul Bocuse. Eating in a good bouchon is certainly a must-do. They serve the typical local dishes:
- salade lyonnaise (Lyon salad): green salad with bacon cubes, croutons and a poached egg;
- saucisson chaud: a hot, boiled sausage; can be cooked with red wine (saucisson beaujolais) or in a bun (saucisson brioché);
- quenelle de brochet: dumpling made of flour and egg with pike fish and a crayfish sauce (Nantua sauce);
- tablier de sapeur: marinated tripes coated with breadcrumbs then fried, even locals often hesitate before trying it;
- andouillette: sausage made with chopped tripes, usually served with a mustard sauce;
- gratin dauphinois: the traditional side dish, oven-cooked sliced potatoes with cream;
- cervelle de canut (cervelle’ = ‘ brain): fresh cheese with garlic and herbs.
- rognons de veau à la moutarde: veal kidneys in a mustard sauce. Delicious and textural experience.
Rue Ste Catherine, behind Place des Terreaux, is locally famous for its bars; on weekend nights there are a lot of drunk people on the street, who might be violent. The police keep a close watch but it is probably better to avoid the area if you are on your own, especially after 3AM when the bars are closed.
- The car museum of Rochetaillée has a very nice collection of modern and old cars. The main attraction of the museum is Adolf Hitler’s armored car. Château Rochetaillée, 69270 Rochetaillée-sur-Saône, ☎ +8 22 18 80, (Fax +8 22 69 60). Open 9AM-7PM daily (EXCEPT Monday) in July and August, 9AM-6PM the rest of the year. Closed on Christmas and New Year. Fees: Adults €5, free for children under 18.
- is a small village 30 min outside of Lyon. Its buildings all date to the middle ages and it’s a popular weekend destination for people who live in Lyon.
- The bird park of Villars-les-Dombes.
- and its international jazz festival.
- The border and the city of are just over 2 hr away by train.
- , the “Venice of Savoie” with its beautiful lake and canals, is about 2 hr away and makes a nice daytrip.
- , one of the four starting points for .
- , a large industrial hub.