If you ever find yourself in France’s second biggest city, here’s Holly Cobb’s list of the not-to-be-missed attractions in Lyon.
I’ve been living in Lyon for exactly 6 months now and have managed to get around enough of the city to appreciate its best bits. Here’s a run down of my Top 10 Things to Do.
1. Picnic on the Rhône
The banks of the river Rhône have been transformed in the past few years into a fantastic social spot. From the 6th arrondissement all the way south to Parc de Gerland, there is plenty to do all year round. Granted this space is most enjoyed in the summer or at least sunny weather, when cycling alongside the bright blue waters and eating great food on the moored up barges is al absolute must. Grassy areas make picnicking a very popular activity too: only in France is it acceptable to take a few bottles of wine, some bread, cheese, saussisson and grapes to the side of a river and devour them all at 3pm in the afternoon! The atmosphere is great, with skateboarders showing off their skills on the ramps, spontaneous bands starting up and playing catchy tunes and kids enjoying the playgrounds dotted along the quai. This really is a must do when you’re in Lyon, particularly in nice weather!
2. Visit Vieux Lyon
Lyon wouldn’t be Lyon without the Vieux quartier. Set on the banks of the Saone it really is the quintessence of Lyon and its rich history. Wandering through the mazy cobbled streets past the countless souvenir shops, delicatessens, museums and bouchons is a lot of fun and really gets you involved in the local heritage. Furthermore though, traboules are one aspect of Vieux Lyon that you simply shouldn’t miss. Traboules are the “secret passageways” that link streets together by passing directly through buildings, apartment blocks and shops. They are more or less hidden to the public eye: a simple large wooden door may be the opening to one of the hundreds of traboules that are scattered through the Old Town and Croix Rousse. While it feels a bit strange to be randomly opening a door and walking into someone’s “home”, they truly are amazing.
3. Visit la Basilique de Fourvière
The Basilique de Fourvière sits on top of the hill overlooking the whole of Lyon. Architecturally, the building is amazing to look at up close on the inside and outside. It’s big and impressive without feeling too intimidating. From this high point however, the view of Lyon is amazing. You can see the Parc de la Tête d’Or in the north all the way down the Parc de Gerland in the south. On a particularly nice day, I’ve been told you can even see the Alps in the distance.
4. Take a cycle ride around the city
Taking a cycle ride around the city was one of the first things I got to do when I moved here. It has been my favourite way of seeing the city and you get the added bonus of getting a bit of exercise in too! It also allows you to get to know the city in a very practical way rather than by relying on metro maps. Walking is another option, but cycling means you can cover ground faster.
5. Go to the Fête des Lumières
I’ve already done a piece on the Fête des Lumières so I won’t go into lots of detail, but it’s a must to on anyone’s list when visiting Lyon in early December. It takes place on the weekend around the 8th and comprises of a series of massive light displays all over the city. There is lots of vin chaud, crêpes galore and you get to enjoy them while looking at the most incredible light displays and shows.
6. Check out a Lyonnais market
France in general has a very traditional way of sourcing their food. You can find fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, flowers, cheese, fish, patisserie and many more gems at your local market. Unlike in England, where supermarkets and mass market shopping have taken over, it is usual to frequent your local market on specific days of the week to buy your groceries fresh. It is a refreshing change to find that locally sourced food is thriving in a world increasingly fed by mass-market produce.
7. Picnic in the Parc de la Tête d’Or
The Parc de la Tête d’Or is an absolute gem of a park. First up, it is huge, so in nice weather nothing is better than taking a stroll around the lake and gardens and settling down with a yummy picnic (a perfect way to devour the yummy produce you’ve just bought in a market!) It is so spacious that, even on a beautiful summer’s day, you’re not constantly being hit with Frisbees, footballs or other flying objects and can enjoy your day in peace and quiet.
8. Check out the zoo in the Parc de la Tête d’Or
Aside from the park itself, the Parc de la Tête d’Or is also home to a free zoo. Over time, the zoo has developed and is now a very popular attraction in Lyon. It houses all sorts of wild animals including lions, giraffes, pelicans, flamingos, monkeys, crocodiles and even a spectacled bear amongst many others. It’s not the biggest zoo in the world, but it is an absolute must do.
9. Hire out a boat on the lake in the Parc de la Tête d’Or
The last big attraction in the park is the lake. In the summer months, you can hire out all different types of boat on there. When the weather is nice, it is a perfect way to spend an afternoon. The views of the trees reflecting off the water’s surface are incredible and you can even cruise around the small island in the middle. All in all, a very relaxing and enjoyable way to spend a few hours on a sunny day.
10. Eat in a Bouchon
Lyon is famous for it’s bouchons, and not the traffic jam kind! Bouchons are traditional Lyonnais restaurants selling a particular type of food and a particular atmosphere. There are officially 20 bouchons in Lyon, although many others use this word to describe themselves. They are based around a very rich cuisine, consisting of strong earthy sauces, with meat, potatoes and macaroni cheese. You’ll probably find some strange items on a menu too, such as andouillette and breaded tripe… But don’t let this put you off: the food is fantastic, the staff are wonderful and you’re guaranteed to have a great evening.
What is your favourite French or Francophone city? Get in touch with Sarah at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know!
Photo credit: Sarah Jones