Capitale des Gaules
As if we were planning this on purpose but it’s just a matter of coincidence, it’s been a year since our last visit to France. Past year February and March were our French visits, and this year it happens to be the same. Probably because it is when the air fares to certain parts of France are the most economical, even though we did not fly directly to Lyon but to Geneva instead, some 150 kilometers away. In any case, while most of the people is flying to the region for sky during the winter months, we took the advantage of having our usual city break in low season, with very few other tourists hence enjoying the most out of it.
Lyon is the second largest city after Paris, city proper-wise speaking. If including the metropolitan area, then the second would be Marseilles after Paris, with Lyon in 3rd position. Bearing this in mind, the city is quite large with plenty to see and do. A weekend is not enough to fully explore it, and if you have only a bit less than a day and a half as we did, you will need to prioritize and it is impossible physically to get everywhere. In our case, we had to scrap everything from the Roman era in the Fourvière Hill (as the theater, the odeon), and other points elsewhere in the city as the remains of the amphitheater. After all, Lyon’s old town is one of the largest urban areas inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites List, so prepare to see a lot.
An unique architectural feature in Lyon are the so called Traboules. You will find many around the Vieux Lyon, not to mention is most of the postcards you will see at least one. These are narrow corridors connecting two streets through a building. Very easy to spot as are the ones having the tower containing snail staircases. Pay attention at the plaques indicating the historical buildings, some of them will have the door open where you can enter and see.
There are so many picturesque views from the many bridges that probably you should plan and organised way of walking around. I decided in this occasion to walk in a zig-zag way. Since all the streets follow a basic orthogonal urban plan, it’s very easy to move this way using the perpendicular streets to both of the rivers instead of walking the parallel way. In any case does not matter what way you do as long as you reach both ends marked Passarelle Saint-Vincent and Passarelle Saint Georges, both of which link the Vieux Lyon (Old City, 1st Arrondissment), with the Presqu’île district (2nd Arrondissment) across La Saone River. In the other side of the Presqu’île you will find many other beautiful bridges connecting with the 3rd Arrondissment across the Rhone River.
For unparalleled views of the entire city you should go to the top of the Fourvière Hill. Not only that it is a must do while in the city, but you will also enjoy the gorgeous interiors of the Basilica of Notre Dame. If I can suggest, do not attempt to climb all the way up on foot. There is a funicular train linking the Cathedral at the bottom with the Basilica right on top. On your way down you can easily do on foot as it’s really nice walk. This is one of the main errors people do, going the way up on foot, and down by funicular. It clearly makes sense the opposite way around.
Talking about food, I rarely can recall any city in France where I ever had any issue finding a nice place. Maybe that will only be Cannes, but that was exceptional case. There are hundreds of great restaurants, cafes and bars, mostly concentrated in Vieux Lyon. Impossible to miss them, especially in the night when the area is thriving with people. The traditional restaurants in Lyon are called bouchons. Of course the rule of thumbs, not every place you see proclaimed to be typical Lyonnais bouchon, is a real one; tourist traps happen here and everywhere in the world. Just take a look around, compare prices and see the clientele inside. French clients, or a mix of French and tourist then it is guaranteed to be a good place, as opposed to an all tourists where for sure will be the usual tourist trap with high prices and low quality.
To name a few typical dishes from Lyon, try Salade Lyonnais (Lyon salad), which is green salad with bacon cubes, croutons and a poached egg. Saucisson Chaud is a hot boiled sausage that can either be cooked in red wine (saucisson beaujolais) or served in a bun (saucisson brioché). Andouillette is a sausage made with chopped tripes and served with a mustard sauce.
For more information about Lyon check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. France’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Lyon
- Fourvière Hill Is the original Roman settlement where the major landmarks from the Roman times still in place.
-Roman Theatre Dating to the 15BC can be still used for performances.
-Odeon Adjacent to the theater could accommodate up to 3000 people.
-Basilica Fourvière Built in 1872 in eclectic style, with Byzantine interiors. Also known as the Basilica of Notre Dame. There is a viewing terrace from where you will see the entire city and beyond. A must do.
-Metallic Tower In resemblance to the top of the Eiffel Tower was built in 1894. It’s a TV antenna.
- Vieux Lyon Is the Old Town. Located side to side with the Fourvière Hill along a narrow strip on the right bank of the Saône River. Narrow cobblestone streets with 15th to 17th century buildings. One of the largest concentration of Renaissance buildings of any city in Europe.
-Saint Jean Cathedral Built between 1180 and 1480 in Gothic style. It is notorious the astronomical clock dating from the 14th century.
-Traboules Are the most traditional feature of Lyon’s architecture. Narrow small corridors connecting 2 streets through a building.
-Rue Saint Jean and Rue du Boeuf Are the main streets in the old town, completely pedestrianized and parallel each other.
-Place du Change Is the main and largest square in the old town.
-Maison Thomassin A merchant house from the 14th century
-Temple du Change The former stock exchange, built in 1750 is since 1803 a Protestant Temple.
-Saint Pauls Church In Romanesque and Gothic styles.
-Court of Justice Is a fine example of neo-classical architecture, built in 1842.
- Croix-Rousee District famous for becoming the main silk production area in the 19th century, for what the architecture of the buildings is also characteristic with high ceilings in order to accommodate the new machinery, the canuts apartments.
-Roman Amphitheatre Located at the foot of La Croix-Rousse hill, was originally built in the 19AD and expanded over the centuries.
-Traboules As described under Vieux Lyon.
-Saint Bruno Church The only Baroque church in the city.
-Jardin Roda Mir A very unusual garden created by a Spanish refugee and clearly influence by Gaudi’s works.
- Presqu’île Is the neighbourhood across the Saône River and Vieux Lyon. The elegant extension of the city with broad avenues
-Place des Terreaux Is the largest square in this neighbourhood.
-Hôtel de Ville City Hall Center piece of the square. Built in the 17th century.
-Bartholdi Fountain Designed by the creator of the Statue of Liberty.
-Museum of fine Arts Occupying the former Palais St Pierre.
-Place de la Comédie Side by side opposite the City Hall.
-Opera Nouvel Of recent construction was built between 1985 and 1993 and designed by world famous French architect Jean Nouvel. It kept the 1826 façade.
-Place Bellecour The largest square in Lyon with nice buildings all around and great views of the Fourvière Hillin the background.
-Mur des Lyonnais Is a large painted wall showcasing the portraits of the most famous people who were born in Lyon. Located in Rue de la Martinière.
-Saint Nizier Church In Gothic style.
-Basilique St Martin d’Ainay Is the only Romanesque church in Lyon, one of the noticeable landmarks.
-Hôtel-Dieu One of the largest buildings in the city was also the oldest hospital, built between 1741 and 1761 along the Rhône river front.
-Rue Mercière Is the only noteworthy cobblestone street remaining from the Renaissance period in this part of the city.
-Bridges There are many bridges connecting the three areas of the city, many of which of extreme beauty specially the iron bridge. Between Vieux Lyon and the Presqu’île, in order from south towards the north: Passarelle Saint Georges, Pont Bonaparte, Passarelle du Palais de Justice, Pont de la Feuillee, Passarelle Saint-Vincent. Between the Presqu’île and the 3rd Arrondissment, in order from south towards the north: Pont de l’Universite, Pont de la Guillotiere, Pont Wilson, Pont Lafayette, Passarelle du College.
- Parc de la Tête d’Or The largest park in Lyon and one of the nicest not only in the city but in France overall. One of the highlights are the greenhouses.
- Institut Lumière Located on Rue du Premier Film is a museum-theater about the cinema. Lyon was the birthplace of the cinema with the Lumière brothers, and this museum is on the former factory which was scenery of the world’s first movie: La sortie des usines Lumière
- Gare de Lyon Saint-Exupéry The airport train station was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava in 1994.
Saint-Exupéry Airport 25 kilometers to the east of the city is connected to the main train station and along the way the metro system of the city by the Rhônexpress. A tram like service covering the distance in 30 minutes, but beware of the high price, 15 euros for a single or 26 euros for a return ticket! A cheaper option is to take Go Airport shuttle from Terminal 1 towards the Meyzieu tram stop, and taking the tram from there to the city center. The total cost of this will be 9 euros compared to 15.
For an slower but the cheapest alternative, the bus 46 connects Terminal 1 with Meyzieu tram stop for 2 euros, instead of 7 the Go Airport shuttle charges.
An alternative airport is Geneva in Switzerland, connection that we did this time since flights to Lyon can really be more than twice the price than flying to Geneva instead, from where you can get a rental car or a train to Lyon. The train is around 25 euros per way and takes 2 hours, therefore consider the rental car option if you are 2 people or more.
Within the city there are 4 metro lines and 5 tram lines, plus countless bus routes therefore you will never be far from a transport link whenever you need it. A single ticket costs 1.70 euros and allows you unlimited transfers within 1 hour limit. A daily ticket might be more cost efficient should you be taking more than 3 times any public transportation, with a cost of 5 euros.
Considering our very short stay in Lyon we were not looking for any extras nor picky for choosing a hotel in this occasion as long as it would comply with our minimum standards. Also finding out that the prices were pretty high even it was still low season, the best decision we could do is staying a bit far from the city centre. After all, we were counting with a rental car to move so that would not be a problem in staying a bit less central. Yet in any case, even if you would not have a car, a metro station was not far from the hotel. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We stayed at the Campanile Lyon Sud. 2 Place Kellermann, Oullins 69600. There are many Campanile hotels across the city. I don’t think there would be much difference between them to the one we stayed, but was really nice, great value for money, large comfortable beds and friendly stuff. Although breakfast is not included in the fare, it is not an expensive one should you want to pay for it while there, otherwise, just 5km from the Old Town you will have plenty of choice.