France’s third largest city nestles at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers. It is an important cultural, economic and historic centre. Known to the Romans as Lugdunum, Lyon is most famous for its food so gastronomes are in for a treat. Within its fantastic old town you can find Roman ruins, 17th century palaces and churches and some fine museums. Very tasty!
Areas & Neighbourhoods in Lyon
Vieux Lyon — When the French government decided to protect its historic sites, the old town of Lyon was first on the list. The Renaissance houses that cluster around the Cathedral of St Jean are magnificent – you can almost see the 16th century Italian bankers who lived here – and the 11th century Manécanterie choir school is the oldest building in the city.
Croix Rousse — The red cross was named for a brownstone Christian cross that was erected here in the 16th century – the area is most famous for its silk industry. The silk workers, called Canuts, would scurry through the traboules passageways transporting their woven silk to the river and picking up raw silk from the docks. Nowadays, La Croix Rousse is the place to find boutiques and music.
Presqu'île — The peninsula between the two rivers is the heart of Lyon, with the town hall dominating the Places des Terreaux square. This is the place to eat out at the best restaurants, splash some cash in luxury shops, visit department stores and check out some great museums. The St Pierre palace, a former Benedictine monastery, is home to the fine arts museum.
Fourvière — The district overlooking the old town to the east is known as the Hill That Prays in reference to its large preponderance of churches. This is where the Romans settled Lugdunum, and you’ll find the remains of Roman baths, a theatre and an odeon, used for Roman musical performances.
Things to See in Lyon
Start in the Place des Terreaux to marvel at the Hotel de Ville, and then walk to the Museum de Beaux Arts nearby to see works by the great Renaissance painters and their successors – Rodin, Rubens, Monet, Rembrandt, Matisse and Picasso. Walk up the river to see the fantastic waterfront architecture then pay a visit to La Croix Rousse to find out about the appalling working conditions of the Canuts. For a relaxing stroll or a picnic, head to the Parc de la Tete d’Or, with 117 hectares of carefully-tended plants and lawns.
Things to Do in Lyon
The Musee des Confluences is located at the pretty confluence of two rivers but the real aesthetic appeal lies in the collection that it holds inside. Food has to be high on the agenda in Lyon. It’s not hard to find a restaurant with at least one Michelin star, and in summer the streets are full of checked tablecloths for al fresco dining. With guided tours available for all the main attractions, including some in period costume, and tickets for the opera for those who book in advance, there’s always something to entertain visitors to Lyon.