France’s third largest city, Lyon offers a vibrant mix of art, history, sophisticated shopping and nightlife, with glut of gourmet restaurants that have earned it the label of gastronomic capital.
Feel Lyon with our top sensory experiences...
Take a stroll around the Saint-Jean district at the heart of the old town. Surrounded by blushing pink Renaissance apartment buildings, this former neighbourhood of the Lyonnaise bourgeoisie is home to the Gothic Saint-Jean Cathedral, surrounded by a succession of small cobblestone streets and galleries in Tuscan-type courtyards, which are testimony to the strong commercial relationship between France and Italy.
Art lovers are spoilt for choice in Lyon – its Museum of Contemporary Art hosts the city’s famous Biennial every two years; the Musée Gadagne is part-city history and part-puppets; and the futuristic Musée des Confluences is a veritable treasure chest, housing over two million pieces collected from the 16th century through to today. The Fine Arts Museum and Lumière Institute are also essential visits.
For the best views, take the Montée du Gourguillon up to the Saint-Just and Fourvière neighbourhoods and be rewarded with a panorama across to the Alps. Come Christmas time, Lyon’s must-see attraction is its Fête des Lumières (Festival of Lights). For several nights in December every year, the city’s facades come alive with spectacular, surreal illuminations – head out with the family and experience the festive atmosphere.
Lyon’s big aural event is the five-day Nuits Sonores festival each May, which celebrated its 12th birthday this year – but every weekend in Lyon sees dozens of DJs playing all over the city, in dedicated electro clubs (DV1, Terminal, Petit Salon); on river barges (Sirius, Marquise, Sonic); and in big concert venues on the outskirts such as Kao and Transbordeur.
The international Lyon Dance Biennial and Les Nuits de Fourvière (French website only) have both become major events on the international dance and perfoming arts scenes. The latter attracts over 100,000 people to Lyon each year for a multi-faceted celebration of theatre, circus, music, dance and film.
In Lyon you can shop ‘til you drop: head up Rue de la République, the main shopping artery, to the Printemps department store with its big-name brands, then cross the l'Argue Passage into the Golden Triangle, where quaint hat-makers and silverware shops take you back to the olden days. Rue Auguste Comte is thriving with art merchants and you may stumble across an unusual, must-have antique at Marilyn’s, number 55. At Arpin’s (number 32), shop for luxury fabrics, futons and cushions designed by the two centuries-old spinning and weaving mill. Lyon’s traditional silk district houses 70 artists at the Designers' Village in Passage Thiaffait; you should pause at Sophie Guyot’s workshop too, a textile designer who revisits the contemporary silk scarf.
For more action, hop on a bike and try a section of the ViaRhôna, a cycle path linking Lac Léman with the Mediterranean. And Lyon wouldn’t be Lyon without its waterborne activities – make the most of the riverside lifestyle on board Noémie, a solar-electric tour boat. Adventurous families or groups of friends should try a 200m row in the Dragon Boat on Saturday afternoons, or a stint in a waterball, a giant plastic ball allowing you to ‘roll’ across the surface of the water.
Lyon is an indisputable gastro capital, boasting some 2,000 restaurants ranging from Michelin-starred institutions to small, humble bouchons (Lyonnais bistros). Don’t leave town without sampling traditional dishes such as andouillette tirée à la ficelle (a French sausage of coarsely cut tripe) and quenelle, creamed fish or chicken combined with breadcrumbs. The coussin de Lyon is a sweet speciality: a cushion-shaped confection made with marzipan and chocolate ganache flavoured with curaçao liqueur.
To honour Lyon’s place on the global gastronomic scene, La Cité Internationale de la Gastronomie is a new cultural attraction – halfway between a museum and a laboratory – due to open in 2018 in the historic Grand Hôtel-Dieu. The local vineyards shouldn’t be overlooked either, producing exquisite Beaujolais, Côtes Rôties and Côtes du Rhône wines.
Local produce has lined the stalls in Les Halles de Lyon-Paul Bocuse (French website only) since 1971. In this covered market – the origins of which go back to 1859 – Lyon residents converge with Michelin-starred chefs in a vibrant atmosphere. The aromas of charcuterie from Mère Sibilia, quenelles from Giraudet and cheeses from St-Marcellin de la Mère Richard fill the air and will make your mouth water.
Floral fragrances abound in the Ilot d’Amaranthes garden at the junction of Rue d’Anvers and Rue de la Thibaudière, designed by artist Emmanuel Louisgrand. Once a vacant plot between two buildings, it’s now become a unique community space and boasts some amazing roses.