The third largest city in France (after Paris and Marseille) but 2nd only to Paris in terms of “metropolitan area”, Lyon holds an important position in the country and in Europe overall. This is a city with a long, proud history, an economy that has evolved with the times and a relatively central location that makes it easily accessible. Add to that the amazing restaurant scene and cultural activities and you’ll see why this city is not to be missed.
Why to go: Known as a center of gastronomy, there’s actually a lot more to this cultural city than just food (although the dining is a great reason to go!). Lyon’s economy started with the silk industry (which can still be found in certain locations and various museums) and has successfully progressed over time keeping the city relevant through the ages.
When to go: Lyon has a four season climate with hot summers and cool winters. Rain is common and relatively unpredictable and will usually be in the form of light snow during the winter (heavier snow can be found in the mountains not far from the city making skiing a good winter activity). May and September are good months to visit because of the more mild temperatures. However, if you want to participate in the city’s biggest festival, you need to plan to be there on December 8 for the Festival of Lights (Fête des Lumières). What started as a small religious celebration in 1852, has turned into an international event featuring massive sound and light shows across buildings throughout the city, drawing crowds of over 4 million people each year.
What to see/do: Despite the size of the metropolitan area, the center of the city is small enough for visiting on foot and much of the sightseeing is free. One of the highlights is Vieux Lyon – the oldest part of the city, dating back to the Renaissance. Here, you’ll find a maze of quaint, narrow, cobblestone pedestrian streets winding past craftsmen (and souvenir) shops. As you wander through this area, don’t forget to peak through doorways at the beautiful courtyards hidden within and don’t miss the corridors that connect them which are unique to Lyon, called traboules. For a beautiful view of the city from above, take the funicular up to place de Fourvière where there’s a panoramic overlook. While you’re up there, take the opportunity to visit the massive, white marble Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière. And to round out your trip, visit the Parc de la Tête d’Or. This huge park is a beautiful refuge from the bustle of the city. Here, you can wander, visit greenhouses, gardens and the “African plains” where animals roam. You can also join the others out on the little lake within the park using rented paddle boats.
What to eat/drink: The traditional restaurants in Lyon, called “bouchons”, are where you’ll find the local dishes which include various meat specialties. Lyon is also a great city for exploring the tasty regional wines of Beaujolais, Burgundy and the Rhone Valley.
Where to make a detour: Lyon’s central location makes it convenient to visit other nearby cities. Geneva, Switzerland is an easy 2 hour drive away. Or you can be in Turino, Italy in about 3 ½ hours. Within France, the college town of Grenoble is only about 1 hour away or the charming town of Annecy (known as the “Venice of France”) or Avignon (home of the famous “Pont d’Avignon”) are each more or less 2 hours from Lyon.