Take a journey through the Capital of Gaules! Here are seven things to see and do in Lyon.
Lyon is a cultural and dynamic city that’s ideal for an urban adventure among historical and contemporary discoveries, leisurely strolls, gourmet snacks and a lively local scene. From the cobblestone streets of historical Vieux Lyon to the edgy new Confluence district, here are seven things to do in Lyon.
1. Get Lost in Old Lyon
Narrow, cobbled pedestrian alleys lined with houses dating back to the Renaissance, retro stores, cafés, restaurants and trendy boutiques: Vieux Lyon’s charm will surely make you fall in love with the city. Start your visit at Place St Jean, the city’s oldest square, to admire the Gothic- and Romanesque-style Cathedral then head up St. John Street. The capital of Gaules is also characterized by its traboules, narrow passages under homes that allow pedestrians to pass from one street to another through alleyways and courtyards. Old Lyon contains around 200 out of the 400 found throughout the entire city, and they’re a perfect way to discover your surroundings from within.
2. Visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Fourvière
From Vieux Lyon take the funicular up Fourvière Hill, or the hill that prays, the strong spiritual center of Lyon’s identity as well as the birthplace of the Roman city Lugdunum. Arrive at the UNESCO-protected Basilica of Notre-Dame of Fourvière. On your way, admire the superb panorama over Lyon with a backdrop of the Alps. The Basilica is immediately recognizable thanks to its four corner towers, which represent the four cardinal virtues: prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice. Visit the impressive crypt, accessible by a red marble double staircase.
3. Take a Detour by the Roman Theaters
Coming out of the Basilica, go down Fourvière Hill through the Roman theaters. To the north, you’ll find the Grand Theater. Commissioned by Augustus in 15 BC, the Grand Theater is the oldest in France and was famous for its stagings of tragedies and comedies. The Odeon in the south hosted political and philosophical speeches, music performances and poetry readings. Each summer the theaters in this remarkable complex are decorated for Les Nuits de Fourvière, a multidisciplinary arts festival during which theatrical, musical, dance, operatic and circus performances occur nightly. Also, visit the Lugdunum Museum to learn more about Lyon’s rich Gallo-Roman heritage.
4. Visit the Confluence District
Take a leap back in time by visiting the new district of Confluence, an urban project nestled between the rivers Rhone and Saone. Confluence is a pilgrimage of Lyonnaise culture. The historic port facilities provide the perfect backdrop for art gallery expositions and cultural events like Les Nuits Sonores or the expositions for Lyon’s La Sucrière biennial which takes place every other year on the docks. Designed in the deconstructivist style to resemble a floating cloud, the Confluence Museum–home to four permanent exhibits that tell the story of humanity–is a must-see.
5. Stroll along the Banks of the Saône and Contemplate the Painted Walls
From Confluence, meander along the Saône’s edge (why not with an ice cream from Nardone in hand?), for superb views, in particular of La Fourvière. Amid the booksellers and local markets, the neighborhood is also home to the four murals of Lyon. Each mural depicts the history of the area in which it was painted. On the banks of the Saone, you can contemplate the Writers’ Wall, which displays the name of Lyon’s writers and excerpts from their texts; the Mural of Lyon, features 31 famous personalities from Lyon; the fresco of the Cour des Loges, with its illusionary rising stage décor; and finally, the Tribute to Tony Tollet fresco that includes four paintings by the artist just below a representation of the artist himself. After discovering these four painted walls, we recommend you head to Place des Terreaux near the Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon, the second-largest museum in France.
6. Tour Les Halles de Lyon-Paul Bocuse Indoor Food Market and Eat in One of Lyon’s Bouchons
Lyon is also the world capital of gastronomy, and Les Halles de Lyon-Paul Bocuse is an emblem of both local and French cuisine. Sample some of the region’s specialties in what’s also an ideal spot for gourmet shopping. After working up an appetite, have lunch at one of Lyon’s famous bouchons. Featuring generous cuisine from local products in a friendly and authentic atmosphere, the bouchons are emblematic of the city and its local gastronomy, the results of a singular savoir-faire and tradition.
7. Walking in the Parc de la Tête d’Or (Golden Head Park)
For better digestion, nothing’s better than a good walk in the park, and the 260-acre Parc de la Tête d’Or will give you all the room you’ll need. Discover the zoo, a botanical garden, a beautiful rose garden, a lake on which it’s possible to explore by boat during summer. In addition, outdoor facilities for children make it all the more appealing for families.