Lyon Guide What to See, Eat and Do
Many argue that Paris is not at all French – instead using Parisiene to describe France’s largest and most cosmopolitan city – and those same people would no doubt urge you to head south of Paris in search of the true France until you find Lyon. It’s not a simple thing – but simply put – Lyon is the culmination of what makes France…well, French. The wine and the food – the culture and the people that are so much more welcoming and that bit more worldly that those in Paris (trampling toes in a pair of Louboutin’s simply doesn't cut it – sorry).
Lyon boasts amongst its ranks some 2,000 restaurants – amongst them a galaxy of Michelin stars can be found. You can get everything – but we suggest you at least sample the delicate flavors and downright strange dishes offered in the city’s Bouchons – small bistros serving typical Lyonnaise cuisine. You’ll find most of these in the the Vieux Lyon (or the Old Town) part of the city – many of which have outdoor seating for the hotter, and often terribly busy summer months. It wouldn't’t be a visit to Lyon without trying a starter of cold cuts and cheeses with a slice or two ofRosette Lyonnaise, a Saucisson de Lyon or a warm dish of Lyonnaise Potatoes (basically sautéed potatoes with lots of butter, onions and parsley).
If you’re interested in learning the ways of Lyonnaise gastronomy – then consider taking a cooking class or two whilst in the city – which are proving to be quite popular. Plum teaching kitchen offers classes in English.
What to See in Lyon
You may be quite stricken at first by the fact that not one, but two large rivers (the Rhone and the Saone) run through the centre of the city – both of which are generally barren of boats and glimmer a gentle and welcoming shade of turquoise for much of the year.
Be sure to take a walk over the bridges and along the banks of the rivers, which can be quite lively during the summer months and almost empty in the winter – but nonetheless beautiful.
When the walking gets too much we suggest you head to the prettiest and most explorable part of the city – Vieux Lyon – and to get there simply buy a ticket for the funicular and head to the top of Fourvière hill and the basilica of Notre-Dame, which has a stunning golden statue of Mary, that watches over the city and is lit at night. The view here is simply staggering – from Vieux-Lyon out to the far bank (Presqu’île) of the city and far beyond.
If you enjoy exploring the cathedrals then do so as the basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière’s is really rather pretty inside. Afterwards, descend down into the UNESCO listed Vieux-Lyon, which is now one of the world’s largest Renaissance neighborhoods. The cobbled streets here run mostly parallel to the rivers, and offer all kinds of opportunity for exploration. There are numerous passages and back streets with all kinds of Bouchons, bars and shops to look through and of course the infamous traboules – which were built through the very heart of the houses in Vieux Lyon and the neighboring districts – and lead to colourful and often empty courtyards. Our favorite is easily the one pictured here which is easy to find off of the small main street.
Fête Des Lumières
Once a year the streets of Lyon are literally lit by millions of lights – they come in all shapes from intricate installations to mixed media light shows that cast animations on the facades of antique churches and buildings across the city. The event runs for a full weekend and is the fullest event on the city’s cultural calendar – so book in good time as the city’s hotels are often close to 100% capacity. The festival stems back to 1852, and the failed installation of the statue of the Virgin Mary in the Chapel on the Fourvière Hill. The ceremony to install the statue had to be abandoned as the River Saone was overflowing and so the festivities were put back to December 8 of the same year.
But on that day a violent storm broke out during the day, and the event had to be abandoned once more. Then as night fell the weather began to improve dramatically and the population of Lyon spontaneously lit their homes with candles. Thus was born the Fête Des Lumières. If you’d like to see not just vast light shows that accompany the festival these days, but also the original show of candlelight on the city’s window and balconies – then we suggest you make sure you’re there for the last day of the festival – which is when the majority of the candles are lit. Additionally, they are accompanied with a fireworks display by the river as a kind of grand finale.
The Best of Everything Else
If you’re a museum or gallery buff then you’ll find yourself quite well catered to – we suggest checking the Musée Gallo-Romain and the close by Ancient Theater of Fourvière – which is a beautiful, and quite well preserved Roman Amphitheatre which holds live music events in the summer and is otherwise a beautiful piece of explorable history that dates all the way back to 15B.C. If you feel like doing a little shopping while in town then have a hunt around Presqu’île which is home to a good number of stores as well as countless restaurants and a few modern galleries.
We would like to say a big thanks to Nick Nomi who has greatly contributed for this article with his experience and personal images.To find more about Nick visit his page here.