Lyon is France's third largest city and is known for its rich history, cuisine, and architecture. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has a history of producing and weaving silk, and visitors can still explore the traboules through which the silk was transported. Some of the most popular attractions in Lyon include the museums and amphitheaters in the Fourvière, the historic sites in Vieux Lyon, the art in the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, the Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon, and the street art and markets found on La Croixe-Rousse.
1. Vieux Lyon
Vieux Lyon, or Old Lyon, is one of the largest and oldest Renaissance districts. It is considered one of France's most important cultural sites and is broken down into Saint Paul, Saint Jean, and Saint Georges. Each of the sections focuses on different aspects of Lyon's past, such as political and religious power, the Italian banker merchants that made the city wealthy, and the silk weavers that settled in the 16th century. Visitors can explore Lyon Cathedral, Gare Saint-Paul, and buildings in the Rue de Boeuf among the many other attractions that can be found there. It's also the starting point of many tours that focus on history, art, architecture, and Lyon's gastronomy.
In Vieux Lyon and La Croix-Rousse Saône are an architectural feature unique to this city: Traboules are delightful renaissance passageways, some 40 of which are open to the public, running beneath buildings in the direction of the Saône River. They gave the city’s silk workers direct access to riverbank, making it quick and easy to transport textiles, while also offering shelter from the elements. Nearly all of these passageways are part of residential properties, so it’s a good idea to go quietly. The best place to start your adventure is around Quai Fulchiron Rolland and Rue des Trois Maries.
3. Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere
The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière was built in the 1880s and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, who was credited with saving the city of Lyon from the bubonic plague that hit Europe in 1643, the cholera epidemic in 1832, and the Prussian invasion in 1870. The church was a place for people of Lyon to be able to thank her. Visitors in Lyon in December can see the city and the church light up during the Fête des Lumières – the Festival of Lights. Built atop Fourvière Hill, the church stands prominently over the city and is a symbol of Lyon. Visitors can enjoy guided tours of the basilica and the Museum of Sacred Art and can sometimes access the basilica's north town and see amazing views of Lyon.
4. Parc de la Tete d'Or
The Parc de la Tête d'Or, or the Park of the Golden Head, is a popular location for locals and visitors to go and spend the day relaxing with families and friends. The park is over 117 hectares in size and includes a lake, jogging paths, and a small zoo. Visitors can spend the day boating on the lake, going for an evening jog or bike ride, having a picnic, playing mini golf, or horse riding. The small zoo is a great place for visitors with younger kids as it's home to elephants, giraffes, deer, reptiles, and other animals. The park has an area dedicated to the African plains and is also home to a wetland that houses pelicans, flamingos, and many other species of bird.
5. Ancient Theatre of Fourviere
The Grand Theatre of Lyon, also known as the Ancient Theatre of Fourvière, was constructed in 15 BC on the hill of Fourvière and is able to seat over 10,000 people. This ancient structure is one of the oldest of its kind and after years of deterioration was restored in the 20th century for visitors to be able to enjoy for years to come. Though the theatre is one of the most visited tourist sites in Lyon, it is also home to the annual festival of Nuits de Fourvière, which is a collection of circus, dance, music, and theatre and invites visitors from all over the world.
6. The Gallo-Roman Museum of Lyon Fourviere
The Gallo-Roman Museum of Lyon-Fourvière, or Musée Gallo-Romain de Lyon-Fourvière as it is known in French, is a museum dedicated to narrating the many centuries that Lyon was ruled by Rome. Taking visitors back to 44 BC, when Julius Caesar found the city as Lugdunum, visitors of all ages will learn how Lyon flourished and became a thriving capital through a collection of archaeological artifacts from ancient Lyon. From sculptures and statues to inscriptions and mosaics, the museum has an extensive collection that includes stunning jewelry and unique everyday objects. There are many activities and events held at the museum, such as Night of Museums, which allows visitors to spend the night and explore the exhibits.
7. Lyon Cathedral
The Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon, more commonly known as Lyon Cathedral, is a Roman Catholic cathedral dedicated to Saint John the Baptist and is the seat of the Archbishop of Lyon. Built between the 12th and 15th centuries, Lyon Cathedral sits on what was once the churches of St. Etienne (St. Stephen) and Ste Croix (Holy Cross) and a baptistery. Visitors today can still see the remains of these structures in the archaeological garden next to the cathedral. When exploring the cathedral, visitors will come across a stunning 14th-century astronomical clock that sounds a unique combination of chimes, angels heralding, and roosters crowing at certain times throughout the day. The clock is a technological marvel and is one of the main highlights found in the cathedral. Another highlight not to be missed is the breathtaking 13th-century stained glass windows found in the choir.
8. Institute Lumiere
Anybody who goes to the cinema should be excited to pay homage to the Lumière brothers, who are held as the fathers of the movie-making art. The museum was set up by a descendant of Louis Lumière, who, working with August, helped invent the cinematograph, the first motion picture camera and projector. They also made more than a thousand films together, shown at the world’s first cinemas. The attraction is in Villa Lumière, a lovely art nouveau mansion built by the brothers’ father in 1899. In these elegant surrounds you can view many of their movies and check out the ingenious creations, like the cinematograph, that helped change entertainment forever.
9. Lyonnaise Cuisine
Lyon has more restaurants per capita than any other city in the country and for centuries has been lauded for the high quality of its produce and the prestige of its cuisine. You can dig into traditional Lyonnaise cuisine at “bouchons”, typical restaurants , and the best of these (awarded the label, Authentique Bouchon Lyonnais) tend to be around Presqu’île. They prepare meals that would usually have been eaten by workers in times gone by, so are filling, rich and make use of parts of the body you might not usually consider: There is marinated deep-fried tripe, usually served with a garlic and herb sauce. Andouilette, a sausage made from tripe, or gras double, tripe cooked with onions. Don’t worry; it is not all tripe! Coq au vin is also a tradition here, as is Lyonnaise potatoes, which are sliced and pan-fried with onions and parsley.
10. Aquarium de Lyon
A public aquarium located in the heart of Lyon, Aquarium de Lyon opened in 2002 and is home to over 5,000 fish. The 300 different species are located in 47 tanks, which vary from freshwater to saltwater environments. Visitors of all ages will enjoy exploring the aquatic animals and the interesting aquarium layouts with false shipwrecks and other fascinating decorative features. The largest and most popular exhibit is the Fosse Aux Requins, where visitors can visit sharks and stingrays, while younger visitors will love The Five Senses exhibit, where they can hold certain fishes, sea stars and hermit crabs.
Visitors are transported back to the Roman era during a visit to Lyon Fourvière, which was the city center when the Romans founded what is modern day Lyon. Filled with wonder, visitors can explore some of the more interesting and unique aspects of Lyon's history, especially in the several churches that can be found there. One of the most popular sites to visit is the Basilique de Fourvière, or Fourvière Basilica, which towers over the city. Other sites to visit include the Metallic Tower, the Gallo-Roman Museum, the Ancient Theatre of Fourvière, Fourvière's Montées, Eglise Sainte-Irenee, Eglise Saint-Just, the aqueduct remains, and Parc des Hauteurs.
12. Musee Miniature et Cinema
The Musee Miniature et Cinema, or the Miniature and Cinema Museum, is a private museum found by modelist Dan Ohlmann. Filled with miniature everyday scenes, special effects exhibits, and neat movie props, the museum's collection includes works not only by the founder but also by artists such as Julien Martinez, Michel Perez, and Yves Chouard. There are twelve rooms comprising the collection, which includes miniature decorations and vehicles, life-sized decor, costumes, animatronics, and masks and prostheses. Visitors will learn so much about digital cinema as well as stop-motion and 3D animation. Although lovers of cinematography may fully appreciate all that the museum offers, visitors and locals will find it just as wondrous.
13. Place Bellecour
A large and popular town square in the heart of Lyon, Place Bellecour is one of the largest open squares in Europe. The square is popular with tourists as it is mostly open to pedestrians. Other than its famous lack of greenery, the square is also popular for the equestrian statue of King Louis XIV, which was created in 1825 by François-Frédéric Lemot. There is also a statue of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry sitting in front of the Little Prince, a popular French character. Nearby, visitors will find the city's popular shopping streets and Lyon Cathedral.