The Lyonnaise told us Lyon has everything Paris has but the people are nicer. They just might be right, and you should definitely visit Lyon.
We spent four nights in this beautiful City and loved every minute of it; the history, the architecture, the rivers, the people and oh yes, the food.
Lyon is the third largest City in France, located in the region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. Perhaps most famous for its cuisine, which is totally delicious, Lyon is also culturally rich and one of the most elegant Cities we have visited.
The City is bisected by both the Rhone and the Saone Rivers, neatly dissected into 9 arrondisements. The central area is relatively flat and accessible and the steeper areas are accessed by the metro and in two cases the funicular. We found Lyon a really easy City to move around in and delighted at coming across treasures as we wandered the streets and laneways. Beautiful squares, broad rivers, cobblestoned laneways, and murals seemed to be at every turn.
Our visit to Lyon
We stayed in a really lovely apartment in the centre of Lyon, which allowed us to do some self catering but also to enjoy the cafes and bars in the surrounding area. The apartment was in Rue Rene Leynaud with a small food store next door, and the fun Odessa Comptoir bar across the road. We loved the Comptoir, not only did they have an eclectic and interesting selection of wines, they also served some delicious food; from the traditional Lyonnaise cuisine to international specialities. Provenance is really important to the brothers who own this bar, we had pizza there one evening and they explained that they knew the farmer who had grown the wheat. This might not be the most posh place to go in Lyon but it is certainly one of the more authentic (but please forget all that now because I don’t want it to become too popular).
Just around the corner we found Traboule Kitchen, serving excellent coffee, healthy and delicious salads and then there are the cakes. Run by a lovely young couple this is a great place to sit and watch the world go by along the Traboule.
Things to do in Lyon
Wander along the Traboules
We knew nothing of the traboules of Lyon when we arrived and were very lucky to find ourselves staying right next to one. The owners of the Comptoir told us a little about the history of the traboules and that we really must explore them. There are thought to be over 400 traboules in Lyon, but only around 40 are now open to the public. The first examples are believed to have been built in the 4th Century and were designed to allow the residents to quickly transit from their homes to the riverside. Most famously perhaps, they were used by silk merchants to carry their heavy loads of fabric whilst sheltering from the weather.
We caught the metro line C up the hill to the station Croix-Rousse and wandered down through the traboules, ultimately finding ourselves back in the traboule that runs off Rue Rene Leynaud, right near our apartment. We got delightfully lost on a couple of occasions but enjoyed wandering through the residential areas with lovely views out over the City. More sensible persons might buy a map or take a guided tour 😉
Take the funicular up to the Basilica de Notre-Dame de Fouvriere
Putting aside the incredible interior of the Basilica this is also a great spot to look out over Lyon, the photo at the head of this post was taken from there.
Little did I know when we visited that the site of this Basilica (but not the current building) is where the Society of Mary (Marists) was formed. An interesting coincidence as I went to a Marist boarding school in Sydney for the first 4 years of high school.
The Basilica building is to my eye much more beautiful from the outside than the more Gothic churches routinely found throughout France, sitting up white and bright with its four towers shining in the sun.
Inside, the mosaics are absolutely stunning and in remarkable condition. We greatly enjoyed our time looking through the Basilica.
Outside it is possible to enjoy a drink or a meal in the restaurant on the courtyard, or wander the Rosary Gardens directly under the Basilica.
Also close by is the Ancient Theatre of Fourvière, a Roman theatre, and the Museum of Gallo-Roman Civilisation.
Take a cyclo tour with Cyclopolitain
This is such a fun way to see Lyon and a great way to orient yourself on arrival. We got an excellent overview of the City with stops along the way to allow us to look more closely at locations such as the Cathedral de Lyon in the Saint-Jean area.
The tours run for around one hour and you will enjoy the anecdotes shared by your tour guide as you cycle along. In fact it was our tour guide who first told us that Lyon had everything that Paris has but the people are nicer 🙂
Explore the historic Saint-Jean area and eat in a bouchon authentique
Across the Saone from where we stayed, is the beautiful historic area of Saint-Jean. This is a perfect place to spend hours wandering the cobblestoned streets and laneways, or to sit enjoying a crepe or a drink whilst watching the passing parade.
The Saint-Jean area is also a prime location for the bouchons; the restaurants serving traditional Lyonnaise food. There are around twenty officially certified bouchons in Lyon but many more establishments calling themselves bouchons. The cuisine is typically meat based and heavier than some other French cuisines. The Lyonnaise are justly proud of their cuisine heritage, and whether you eat in a bouchon or not you will find excellent food in Lyon.
For more on the Saint Jean area and a foodie tour of Lyon see this post by Joanne Tracey.
Would we visit Lyon again?
The answer is an overwhelming yes! Only 2 hours by train from Paris, Lyon is so easily accessible. We loved every minute of our stay and besides re-visiting our favourite Comptoir and having coffee at Traboule Kitchen, we would happily further explore the very elegant 2nd arrondisement across from where we stayed. We traversed this area on our cyclo tour and my credit card nearly melted looking at the stylish boutiques in this area. The architecture was stunning and no doubt there is also more delicious food to enjoy there too. Lyon is on our list for a return visit when we are next in France.
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Have you been to Lyon? If so did you enjoy it? If not is it now on your list? Where should we visit next in France?