Lyon

Lyon is the capital of the Rhône-Alpes region and the Rhône département in France. A city of half a million, Lyon alone is the country's third-largest city, but its metropolitan area is only second in population to Paris. Lyon is mostly known as an economic centre with many corporate headquarters and bustling financial, IT and natural science industries, but it is also rich in historic and architectural heritage, and has a very vivid cultural life. It is also considered the gastronomic epicentre of France.

Fourvière basilica from the river Saône, illuminated at night.

Understand

Founded by the Romans, with many preserved historical areas, Lyon is the archetype of the heritage city, as recognised by UNESCO. Lyon is a vibrant metropolis which starts to make the most out of its unique architectural, cultural and gastronomic heritage, its dynamic demographics and economy and its strategic location between Northern and Southern Europe. It is more and more open to the world, with an increasing number of students and international events.

The city itself has about 470,000 inhabitants. However, the direct influence of the city extends well over its administrative borders. The figure which should be compared to the population of other major metropolises is the population of Greater Lyon (which includes 57 towns or communes): about 1,200,000. Lyon and its metropolitan area are rapidly growing and getting younger, because of their economic attractiveness.

Districts

Lyon is shaped by its two rivers, the Rhône (to the East) and the Saône (to the West), which both run North-South. The main areas of interest are:

Main districts of interest in Lyon with arrondissement numbers and borders
Fourvière hill
Also known as "the hill that prays" due to the numerous churches and religious institutions it hosts. The hill was also the place where the Romans settled.
Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon)
The Renaissance area, along the right bank of the Saône.
Presqu'île
Between the two rivers, the real heart of the city.
Croix-Rousse
North of Presqu'île between the two rivers, it is known as "the hill that works" because it was home to the silk workers (canuts) until the 19th century. This industry has shaped the unique architecture of the area.
Confluence
An emerging district with great contemporary architecture in a former industrial area.
Part-Dieu
The main business district and home to the main train station of Lyon.
Brotteaux
The wealthiest district, next to the beautiful Tête d'Or park.
Guillotière
A picturesque district with a large immigrant population.
Etats-Unis
An interesting 1920s housing project.
Vaise
Another developing district.

Fourvière, Vieux Lyon, Croix-Rousse and a large part of Presqu'île are classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Lyon has nine administrative subdivisions called arrondissements, which are designated by numbers. They correspond approximately to the following neighbourhoods:

Zip codes for Lyon begin with 69 for the Rhône département and end with the number of the arrondissement: 69004 is therefore the zip code for the 4th arrondissement. Special zip codes may be used for businesses.

History

All periods of Lyon's 2,000-year history have left visible traces in the city's architectural and cultural heritage, from Roman ruins to Renaissance palaces to contemporary skyscrapers. It never went through a major disaster (earthquake, fire, extensive bombing...) or a complete redesign by urban planners. Very few cities in the world boast such diversity in their urban structure and architecture.

The Roman theatre in Fourvière, the most important remain of the Roman city of Lugdunum.

Early traces of settlement date back to 12,000 BC but there is no evidence of continuous occupation prior to the Roman era. Lugdunum, the Roman name of the city, was officially founded in 43 BC by Lucius Munatius Plancus, then Governor of Gaul. The first Roman settlements were on Fourvière hill, and the first inhabitants were probably veterans of Caesar's war campaigns. The development of the city was boosted by its strategic location and it was promoted Capital of Gauls in 27 BC by General Agrippa, emperor Augustus's son-in-law and minister. Large carriageways were then built, providing easy access from all parts of Gaul. Lugdunum became one of the most prominent administrative, economic and financial centres in Gaul, along with Narbonne. Emperor Claudius, who reigned from 41 to 54 AD, was born here, on 10 BC, when his father Drusus was Governor of Gaul. The main period of peace and prosperity of the Roman city was between 69 and 192 AD. The population at that time is estimated between 50,000 and 80,000. Lugdunum consisted of four populated areas: the top of Fourvière hill, the slopes of Croix-Rousse around the Amphithéâtre des Trois Gaules, the Canabae (around where Place Bellecour is today) and the right bank of the Saône river, mainly in what is today St Georges neighbourhood.

Lugdunum was the place where the first Christian communities of Gaul appeared. It was also where the first martyrdoms took place, most notably in 177 AD when the young slave Blandine was killed in the Amphithéâtre des Trois Gaules, along with 47 other martyrs.

The city lost its status of Capital of Gauls in 297 AD. Then, in the early years of the 4th century, the aqueducts which brought water to the top of Fourvière suddenly stopped functioning. This was due to a lack of funds for their maintenance and security; the lead pipes which carried the water were stolen and could not be replaced. The city was completely deprived of water overnight. This triggered the end of the Roman Lugdunum, which lost a large part of its population and was reorganised around the Saône.

In the Middle Ages, the city developed on both banks of the Saône. The name "Lion" or "Lyon" appeared in the 13th century. The early Middle Ages were very troubled politically. Since the political geography of France kept changing, the city belonged successively to multiple provinces. It then belonged to the Holy Roman Empire from 1018 to 1312, when it was given to France at the Vienna Council. At that time, the city was still of limited size but had a large religious influence; in 1078, Pope Gregory VII made the Archbishop of Lyon the highest Catholic dignitary in the former Gaul (Primat des Gaules).

In the Renaissance, fiscal advantages and the organisation of numerous trade fairs attracted bankers from Florence and merchants from all over Europe; the city became more and more prosperous and experienced a second golden age. The main industries were silk weaving, introduced in 1536, and printing. Lyon became one of Europe's largest cities and its first financial place, helped by the advantages given by King François I who even considered, at one time, making Lyon the capital of France. Around 1530, the population of Lyon reached 50,000.

Banks of the Saône river in Lyon in the 18th century

In the following centuries, Lyon was hurt by the religious wars but remained a major industrial and intellectual centre, while the financial activity moved to Geneva and Switzerland. In the 18th century, half of the inhabitants were silk workers (canuts).

The eastern bank of the Rhône was not urbanised before the 18th century, when the swamps (called Brotteaux) were dried out to allow construction. Those massive works were led by engineer Morand. In the meantime, works conducted by Perrache doubled the area of the Presqu'île. The extension works were halted by the French revolution but started again in the early 19th century.

During the Revolution, in 1793, Lyon took sides against the central power of the Convention (Parliament), which caused a severe repression from the army. Over 2,000 people were executed.

In the early 19th century, the silk industry was still developing, notably thanks to Jacquard's loom which made the weaving work more efficient. Social crises, however, occurred: in 1831, the first revolt of the canuts was harshly repressed. The workers were protesting against the introduction of new technology, which was likely to cause unemployment. Other riots took place in 1834, 1848 and 1849, especially in the Croix-Rousse neighbourhood. From 1848, the Presqu'île area was redesigned in a way similar to Haussmann's works in Paris. In 1852, the neighbouring towns of Vaise, Croix-Rousse and Guillotière were made districts of Lyon. The traditional silk industry disappeared at the end of the century because of diseases affecting the French silk worms and the opening of the Suez Canal which reduced the price of imported silk from Asia. Various other industries developed at that time; the most famous entrepreneurs of the late 19th century were the Lumière brothers, who invented cinema in Lyon in 1895.

Edouard Herriot was elected mayor in 1905 and governed the city until his death in 1957. He initiated a number of important urban projects, most notably in partnership with his favourite architect Tony Garnier: Grange Blanche hospital (today named after Herriot), Gerland slaughterhouses (now Halle Tony Garnier) and stadium, the États-Unis neighbourhood, etc.

During World War II, Lyon was close to the border between the "free zone" and the occupied zone and was therefore a key strategic place for the Germans and the French Resistance alike. Jean Moulin, head of the Resistance, was arrested in Caluire (North suburb of Lyon). On 26 May 1944, Lyon was bombed by the Allied aviation. The Liberation of Lyon occurred on 3 September.

The Saint-Jean fort and Saône river.

In the 1960s, the construction of the business district of Part-Dieu began; its symbol is the "pencil" tower, the tallest building in Lyon. Meanwhile, the association "Renaissance du Vieux Lyon" (Rebirth of the Old Lyon) managed to have this Renaissance area classified by the government as the first preserved landmark in France, while it was threatened by a highway project defended by mayor Louis Pradel. Pradel was a convinced "modernist" and supporter of the automobile. He also backed the construction of the Fourvière tunnel, opened in 1971 and of the A6/A7 freeway through Presqu'île, near Perrache station, a decision later described as "the screw-up of the century" by mayor Michel Noir, in the 1990s. In 1974, the first line of the metro was opened. In 1981, Lyon was linked to Paris by the first TGV (high speed train) line. In the 1980s and 1990s, a huge number of buildings in Vieux Lyon and Croix-Rousse were renovated. The landscape of Lyon is still evolving, notably with the new Rhône banks promenade or the construction of new skyscrapers in Part-Dieu.

In the future, the banks of the Saône should also be given a second youth. The completion of the Lyon beltway on the western side should relieve the central areas from some of the traffic. A high-performance train network serving exurban areas (like the RER around Paris) is also planned.

Politics

A city of merchants and industry, Lyon has a long tradition of centre-right governments and mayors, even if some neighbourhoods, most notably Croix-Rousse, have a very strong left-wing inclination. In 2001, however, Gérard Collomb, a member of the moderate left-wing Socialist party, was elected mayor. Although many controversies initially surrounded Collomb, he now enjoys broad popularity and has been reelected twice. He adopted a pro-business strategy and launched several public infrastructure projects and urban renewal operations.

Economy

Skyline of the Part-Dieu business district.

The silk industry was the main activity for centuries. Since the end of the 19th century, it has been successfully replaced by a number of others. Feyzin, a southern suburb, is home to a major oil refinery and a large number of chemical plants are also located along the Rhône river south of Lyon. Pharmaceutics and biotechnology are also important; they were historically fueled by Lyon's prominence in medical research, and the local authorities are trying to maintain an international leadership in these industries. The southeastern suburbs of Vénissieux and St Priest host large automotive plants, such as Renault's truck and bus factories. But as in most Western metropolises, the service industry is now dominant. Many large banking and insurance companies have important offices in Lyon, and the IT services industry is also well developed. From an economic point of view, Lyon is the most attractive and dynamic city in France. This may be explained by the easy access from all over Europe (probably second only to Paris in the country), the availability of qualified workforce and research centres, and cheaper real estate prices compared to the capital.

Climate

Lyon has a "semi-continental" climate. Winters are cold but temperatures under -5°C (23°F) remain rare. You can, however, experience an awful freezing sensation when northerly winds blow. Snowfalls happen but snow-covered streets are generally not seen for more than a few days every winter. Summers can be hot; temperatures around 35°C (95°F) are not exceptional in July and August. Precipitations are moderate and happen throughout the year; the mountains to the west (Massif central) protect the area against perturbations from the Atlantic. During the summer, especially in August, precipitations often take the form of thunderstorms whereas in winter, lighter but more continuous rain is more common. Spring and early autumn are usually enjoyable.

Events

Festival of Lights.
The Lyon II university building illuminated at night.

When to visit

Of course, the Festival of Lights is a thrilling experience. However, depending on your expectations, this may not be the best time to visit the city, given the weather and the overcrowding. If you are particularly interested in one of the city's events, then go for it. Otherwise, avoid coming in August, especially during the first two or three weeks, unless you are only interested in things that don't take holidays like traboules or churches. The city is deserted, nothing really interesting happens and it is very difficult to find a decent restaurant. In July, the activity is close to normal but the weather may be unpleasantly hot. May–June and September are probably the best times: the weather is usually nice and warm and you can enjoy quite long daylight hours.

Language

The language of the city is French. The local dialect (patois, basically French with a number of typical local words or expressions) has practically disappeared since one out of two inhabitants were born outside the Rhône département.

Hotels, tourist attractions and restaurants in popular areas generally have staff capable of working in English. You could, however, experience difficulties in more remote areas. The transportation system also has little information written in English. On the street, many people (especially young people) speak at least basic English, but they will appreciate a little effort in French. Using basic words and phrases like bonjour (hello), s'il vous plaît (please), merci (thank you) or excusez-moi (excuse me) will certainly make people even more friendly and willing to help you.

Smoking

As everywhere in France, smoking is prohibited in all closed public places, including bars, restaurants and night clubs.

Tourist information

Get in

By plane

Overview

LYS airport seen from above

Lyon's Saint-Exupéry Airport (IATA: LYS) (formerly known as Satolas), some 25 km east of Lyon, is a rapidly developing airport. It still hosts few intercontinental flights (Dubai, North Africa...), but can easily be reached via a European hub (Paris, London, Frankfurt...). Air France serves most airports in France and major European airports. EasyJet serves a number of destinations in Europe, including London, Berlin, Brussels, Rome, Edinburgh and Madrid, along with a few domestic destinations which are not easily reached by train (Bordeaux, Toulouse, Nice). Most other major European airlines also operate flights between Lyon and their respective hubs.

Leaving the airport

A Rhônexpress tram

The airport is linked to the city centre through a light rail line called Rhônexpress. This is the fastest (30 min) and most convenient way to reach Lyon, but it is also the most expensive. While faster and more reliable than the former bus shuttles (which no longer run), it is definitely aimed at business travellers given the upscale onboard service for a tram (including power sockets at each seat). Rhônexpress connects in the city at the main Lyon Part-Dieu station. There are two stops along the way, including one connecting with the metro (line A) at Vaulx-en-Velin La Soie (second stop), which is convenient if you are staying in Presqu'île or Villeurbanne. Trains run between 4:25AM and 12PM and depart every 15 min (6AM-9PM) to 30 min, every day of the year. To find the station, follow the red signs in the airport terminals. You have to walk through the TGV station, which can be as long as 10 minutes if you arrive at Terminal 3 (low-cost airlines). As of September 2015, a ticket costs as much as €15.80 for a single journey and €27.40 for a return trip. Admission is free for children below age 12. Tickets can be bought onboard, at vending machines located on the platforms, or as 'e-tickets' on the operator's website, the latter option being slightly less expensive. Rhônexpress is operated independently from the city's public transportation network (TCL), which means you will have to buy separate tickets if you want to use both.

If you are looking for a cheaper alternative, there is the bus 30 of the TCL network. The bus departs from Terminal 1 and goes to the Meyzieu industrial park in less than 25 minutes. From there, you are a short walk away from the Meyzieu ZI tram station, where you can take a tram to Lyon (tram route T3). The T3 trams then follow the same route as the Rhônexpress, albeit more slowly. There is a bus every hour, and service stops after 10PM.

If you don't want to bother with public transportation, you can take a taxi. A taxi to Lyon costs around €40-50 depending on the exact destination, so if you are a group of four people this could be an option. Ask to be dropped at one of the metro stations located on the eastern side of town (Vaulx-en-Velin La Soie, Mermoz-Pinel) to save money. Taxis are found outside Terminal 1 (follow the signs).

Other regional airports

Grenoble airport (IATA: GNB) is actually about midway between Lyon and Grenoble and is served by some low-cost airlines. There are bus services to Lyon from there.

Another possibility is to fly to Geneva (IATA: GVA), which can save you money if you use low-cost airlines. Then Lyon can be reached by train, but it takes about two hours (€21.50 for under 26s).

Finally, an interesting option for intercontinental visitors may be to fly to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport (CDG) and take a TGV (high-speed train) to Lyon Part-Dieu station directly from the CDG train station. In some cases, this makes the journey faster and more convenient (no need to go from LYS to the city). Trains run every hour or so; be sure to buy an exchangeable ticket to be able to catch the first available train after you land.

By train

Part-Dieu station

From the rest of France, train is generally the most convenient way to reach the city, except for some regions, the Southwest for example. Lyon has three main train stations serving national and regional destinations:

There are also smaller stations serving suburban and regional destinations: St Paul (B: C3-Gare St Paul), Vaise (M: Gare de Vaise), Jean Macé (M: Jean Macé), Vénissieux (M: Gare de Vénissieux) and Gorge de Loup (M: Gorge de Loup).

Lyon is linked by TGV (fast trains) to Paris (two hours) and Marseille (1 hr 36 min). Many other domestic destinations are served directly, and there are several direct services to Brussels every day (4 hr). Other international destinations include Barcelona, Frankfurt, Basel and Geneva. As a general rule, TGVs to and from Paris serve both Perrache and Part-Dieu stations; other TGVs generally serve only Part-Dieu.

Coming to Lyon from London by Eurostar may be interesting. It is faster and easier to change trains in Lille rather than Paris. Hence, if you are traveling from London, the best way would be to take Eurostar from St Pancras Station to Gare de Lille Europe and take High Speed Train TGV. If you prefer Paris Gare de Nord, you would need to take RER D to Gare de Lyon Station. The total journey time from London to Lyon will be approx 5h30m. From Paris, you will find other local trains as well to reach Lyon.

For schedules, fares and bookings, see the SNCF website.

By bus

International bus services are operated by most major companies such as Eurolines, Starshipper, Ouibus, Flixbus... ans serve most major European cities. Buses usually stop at the Perrache bus station, which is located next to Perrache railway station.

By car

Highways around Lyon

Lyon is a major automotive hub for central and southern France:

These highways are linked around the city on the east by a ring road (Périphérique) that is toll-free except in its northern portion (Périphérique Nord). Toll costs €2.20, but it is a good alternative to the always-congested Fourvière tunnel on the A6.

Real-time information about traffic jams, scheduled tunnel closures, weather alerts, etc. can be found on the Onlymoov' website maintained by the local authorities.

If you are coming for a one-day trip, it is advisable to leave your car in one of the many park-and-ride parks located around the city. Follow the blue P+R signs from the highway. P+R parks are operated by the local public transportation company TCL and are located next to major metro or tram lines. They are closed after 1AM, so you cannot leave your car for the night.

The city has many underground car parks, where you can safely leave your car for a hefty price. Most of them are operated by Lyon Parc Auto.

By bike

You can access Lyon by bike using the ViaRhôna route, a 750km bike path linking Geneva to the Mediterranean coast along the Rhône river.

Get around

On foot

The city centre is not so big and most attractions can be reached from each other on foot. The walk from Place des Terreaux to Place Bellecour, for example, is about 20 min. The rule of thumb is that metro stations are generally about 10 min walk apart.

Be careful when crossing major axes: traffic is dense and running red lights is a very popular sport.

You can also visit Lyon in footing. Jogg'in City offers several sightjogging tours of Lyon.

By public transport

Map of the major public transport lines.

Lyon's public transportation system, known as TCL, is regarded as one of the most efficient in the country. Central areas are very well served; so are the campuses and eastern suburbs, where many jobs are concentrated. The western suburbs are more residential and can be difficult to reach. As everywhere in France, the network can be perturbed by strikes from time to time.

There are four métro (subway) lines (A to D). The first line of the network was line C in 1974 (lines A and B were already planned but line C took less time to complete because it used an existing funicular tunnel). Line A opened in 1978. Trains generally run every 2 to 10 minutes, depending on the line and the time. Information screens above the platforms display the waiting times for the next two trains and useful information such as delays, upcoming closures, etc. (in French).

The metro is generally reliable, clean and comfortable. Besides the classical metro, two funiculars run from Vieux Lyon metro station to Saint-Just and Fourvière respectively.

Tram line T1

There are also five tram lines (T1 to T5). But for providing a direct connection between Lyon’s two major train stations (Perrache and Part-Dieu, both on the T1), they are not very interesting if you stay within the city centre; they are most useful to reach campuses and suburban areas.

A Cristalis trolley bus

With more than 130 bus lines, you should be able to go virtually anywhere reasonably far away from the centre. Some of them use trolley (electric) buses; Lyon is one of the few cities in France which still use this system. There are three special bus lines: C1, C2 and C3, where you will find big articulated trolley buses which run very frequently. These are sometimes referred to as Cristalis (actually the brand name of the vehicles) but people do not really use, or even know about this name.

Metros and trams run approximately from 5AM to midnight. Some bus lines do not run after 9PM. Check the TCL website for details :

Maps can be found online on the TCL website:

A ticket for a single journey costs €1.80 (valid for 1 hour after the first use on buses, trams, metro and funiculars, unlimited number of transfers, return travel allowed), or you can buy a carnet of 10 tickets for €15.90 (10 tickets for the price of 8.8) or €14 for students. A day pass costs €5.50. Tickets can be purchased from electronic vending machines located at the stations, but it is important to note that they do not accept paper money (only coins) and foreign credit cards without chips (magnetic stripe only) are likely to be rejected. Tobacco shops and newsagents showing a "TCL" sign also sell tickets. Single tickets can be purchased from bus drivers but the price is € 2 in that case. Group tickets are available from the tourist office, as is the Lyon City Pass, which gives unlimited travel and free admission to many museums. Weekly and monthly passes are only available to residents.

Tickets can also be purchased at TCL offices (agences TCL) located near the major metro stations. To find the one at Part-Dieu, exit the railway station through the Rhône gate (follow the metro B signs), cross the plaza and turn right, then walk past the restaurant terraces.

Make sure to validate your ticket every time you board a bus or tram, even when transferring, or else you could be fined. Look for a grey machine near the doors.

For general information on the network you can call the TCL hotline ☎ +33 4 26 10 12 12. They are open every day until 12PM and have English-speaking staff.

NOTE: In the directions given in this article, M stands for metro, F for funicular, T for tram and B for bus (line(s) and stop are indicated).

By bicycle

Lyon has an increasing number of safe cycling routes. Problematic points remain, especially when it comes to crossing major roads. Also keep in mind that there are two hills with steep slopes. A map of cycling routes is available online: .

Public bicycle service Vélo'v

Since May 2005, Lyon has also had a public bicycle service called Vélo'v which allows travellers, after registering a credit card, to pick up, and drop cycles to and from over 300 points around the city. You need a credit card (Visa/MC/French CB) to make use of the service. It is very cheap:

30 min is generally more than enough if you stay close to the city centre.

If you have taken a bike and realize that it has a problem (broken chains, warped wheels, flat tyres or even missing pedals are commonplace), just put it back into its place and repeat the procedure to take another one. Recent improvements to the system have made this operation fast and easy.

Note that the system only works with a European credit/debit card. Otherwise the transaction is aborted, no explanations given on the terminal. It is supposed to accept all cards with a chip, but those with foreign cards could experience difficulties. You will need to pre-authorise a € 150 deposit that will be refunded (minus your fare) as long as you return your bike properly and within 24 hours. You need to have a sufficient balance on your bank account.

Also note that you must rent a bike immediately after purchasing a temporary pass or the ticket will become inactive (this is only true for the first rental). The terminals have only limited English translation making it a rough start, but once you get to know the system, it is a great way to move around the city. There are so many bikes that it can sometimes be a problem to return them.

When returning a bike, listen for two short beeps and make sure the green light on the pole is on. This indicates that it has been returned and locked. A long, continuous beep and no status light means that something went wrong. Try again by lifting the bike out by the saddle and pushing it back in – it can be a bit fiddly to get it right.

There is an iPhone app called Vélo which can help you find a bike or a free parking slot.

A classic bike rental service is available from:

By car

Traffic is dense, parking is either very difficult or quite expensive, and there are quite few directional signs. Avoid driving within the city if you can. For the city center, look for signs reading "Presqu'île". In the Presqu'île and other central neighbourhoods, it is strongly advised not to park in 'prohibited parking' areas; you could be towed. Tickets for unpaid parking are also commonplace; a specific brigade of the city police is in charge of checking parking payments in the city centre. The penalty for unpaid parking is €11 (you might get several tickets in the same day in central neighbourhoods); the penalty for parking in a prohibited area is €35. If you park in a dangerous place (e.g., you block an emergency exit), the fine can be up to €135.

The minimum age to rent a car is 21 and an additional charge may be required for drivers under 25 years old. Major rental companies have offices at Part-Dieu and Perrache railway stations, and at the airport. Best to hire from Part-Dieu, as the subsequent navigation is much easier.

Taxis

Taxis are quite pricey. The fares are fixed by the authorities: €2 when you board, then per km: €1.34 (daytime, 7AM-7PM) or €2.02 (night, Sundays, holidays). The driver may charge a minimum of €6 for any trip. There are also a number of possible extra charges: €1.41 for the 4th passenger, €0.91 per animal or large piece of luggage, €1.41 for a pickup at a train station or airport.

Taxis cannot be hailed on the street; you need to go to a taxi station or to call for one. The major taxi companies are:

Executive and VIP Service with personal welcome at Lyon Airports and Train stations. City tours. Ski resort transfers, free Wifi on board.

See

Lyon may not have world-famous monuments such as the Eiffel tower or the Statue of Liberty, but it offers very diverse neighbourhoods which are interesting to walk around in and which hide architectural marvels. As time goes by, the city also becomes more and more welcoming for pedestrians and cyclists. So a good way to explore it may be to get lost somewhere and enjoy what comes up, and not to always follow the guide...

A good point for visitors is that most attractions will not cost you a cent: churches, traboules, parks, etc. For those intending to visit several museums (which are almost the only attractions you cannot see for free), the Lyon City Card may be of interest. Available from the Tourist office and some hotels, it costs €21 for one day, €31 for 2 days and €41 for 3 days. It includes unlimited rides on the public transport network, free or reduced entry fee to major museums and exhibitions and one guided tour per day per person (Vieux Lyon, Croix-Rousse, etc.). The price is still a bit high, so count before you buy to see if this is a good deal considering your plans.

Do not hesitate to buy a detailed map with a street index from a book shop or a newsagent; many places of interest or good restaurants are located in small streets you will not find on simplified maps, such as the ones you can get from the Tourist office.

Whatever the time of year (except for the Fête des Lumières), tourists are not very numerous yet, but they concentrate in a few small areas, especially Fourvière and Vieux Lyon, where the pedestrian streets are just as crowded as the Champs-Élysées sidewalks on sunny weekends.

Highlights

The classics:

Off the beaten path:

Vieux Lyon

Old Lyon
The astronomical clock in St Jean cathedral.

After Venice, the Old Lyon, a narrow strip along the right bank of the Saône, is the largest Renaissance area in Europe (well, it's actually far behind Venice). Its current organization, with narrow streets mainly parallel to the river, dates back to the Middle Ages. The buildings were erected between the 15th and the 17th centuries, notably by wealthy Italian, Flemish and German merchants who settled in Lyon where four fairs were held each year. At that time, the buildings of Lyon were said to be the highest in Europe. The area was entirely refurbished in the 1980s and 1990s. It now offers the visitor colorful, narrow cobblestone streets; there are some interesting craftmen's shops but also many tourist traps.

It is divided into three parts which are named after their respective churches:

The area is generally crowded in the afternoon, especially at weekends. To really enjoy its architectural beauties, the best time is therefore the morning. Around lunchtime, the streets somewhat disappear behind restaurant terraces, postcard racks and the crowd of tourists.

Guided tours in several languages, including English, are available from the tourist office (€9, ).

NOTE: The buildings are inhabited. As everybody, people who live there like to sleep on Sunday mornings, or may work at night, or simply prefer not being disturbed, so please be as quiet as possible, regardless of whether you are in an 'officially open' or in a 'normally closed' traboule. It is best to whisper when talking because the small courtyards amplify the sound of voices, and even normal conversation can be quite disturbing for the inhabitants.
Rue St Jean.
Old courthouse

Fourvière, Saint-Just

Take the funicular up the hill from Vieux Lyon metro station, or if you are fit, walk up Montée des Chazeaux (starts at the southern end of Rue du Boeuf), Montée St Barthélémy (from St Paul station) or Montée du Gourguillon (from the northern end of Rue St Georges, behind Vieux Lyon metro station). This is a 150 m (500 ft) vertical ascent approximately.

Fourvière was the original location of the Roman Lugdunum. In the 19th century, it became the religious centre of the city, with the basilica and the Archbishop's offices.

To go down from there, you can take Montée Cardinal Decourtray, then Rue Cléberg and Rue de l'Antiquaille which lead to the Roman theatres, or walk down through the Jardins du Rosaire, a nice garden; then stairways lead to Rue du Boeuf in Vieux Lyon. Of course, you can also take the funicular.

Saint-Just neighbourhood, south-west of the Roman theatres, has less famous but also interesting historical sites.

Croix-Rousse

The area, especially the traboules, may be worth taking a guided tour (available from the tourist office).

Croix-Rousse is known as the "working hill" but for centuries, it had been as much of a "praying hill" as Fourvière. On the slopes was the Roman Federal Sanctuary of the Three Gauls, which comprised the amphitheatre (built in 19) and an altar (built in 12 BC). This sanctuary was abandoned at the end of the 2nd century. In the Middle Ages, the hill, then called Montagne St Sébastien, was not part of the free town of Lyon but of the Franc-Lyonnais province, which was independent and protected by the King. The slopes were then dedicated to agriculture, mostly vineyards. In 1512, a fortified wall was built at the top of the hill, approximately where Boulevard de la Croix-Rousse is today. The pentes (slopes) and the plateau were therefore separated. The slopes became then part of Lyon while the plateau was outside the borders of the city. Up to thirteen religious congregations then settled on the slopes and acquired vast pieces of land. Their possessions were seized and many buildings destroyed during the French Revolution.

Croix-Rousse is known as the main silk production area, but the industry did not exist on the hill until the early 19th century and the introduction of new weaving technology; at that time, silk had already been produced in Lyon for over 250 years. The industry gave birth to a unique architecture: the canuts' apartments had very high ceilings to accommodate the newly introduced Jacquard looms, which were up to 4 metres high; tall windows gave the necessary natural lighting for the delicate work; and mezzanines provided space for family life. The neighbourhood is still one of the most densely populated in Europe. The first revolt of the canuts in 1831 is regarded as one of the first social conflicts of the industrial era. It gave the hill its reputation of a "rebel" neighbourhood. In 1852, the commune (town) of Croix-Rousse, actually the plateau, was made a district of Lyon. Local people still talk about "going to Lyon" when they go down to the city centre. Then important works were undertaken, such as the construction of the first funicular in the world, linking the plateau to central Lyon (it started in Rue Terme; the tunnel is now a road tunnel), or the creation of the Croix-Rousse hospital.

Nowadays the plateau keeps a "village" mood, the slopes still have a "rebel" spirit, with many artists and associations based there, but the sociology of the neighbourhood has considerably evolved with the renovation works and the subsequent rise in real estate prices and massive arrival of upper-middle-class families (bobos). Local authorities, however, are committed to preserving social diversity.

The name "Croix-Rousse" comes from a limestone cross which was erected at the top of the hill in the beginning of the 16th century. It was then destroyed and rebuilt several times. A replica installed in 1994 can be seen on Place Joannès Ambre (between the hospital and Croix-Rousse theatre).

  • 7 rue Mottet-de-Gérando <> 8 rue Bodin
  • 9 place Colbert <> 14 bis montée St Sébastien: the beautiful Cour des Voraces.
  • 14 bis montée Saint-Sébastien <> 29 rue Imbert-Colomès
  • 20 rue Imbert Colomès <> 55 rue Tables Claudiennes
  • 30 bis rue Burdeau <> 17 rue René Leynaud (passage Thiaffait)
  • 6 rue des Capucins <> 1 rue Sainte Marie des Terreaux
  • 12 rue Sainte-Catherine <> 6 place des Terreaux

Presqu'île

For the people of Lyon, Presqu'île is the place to go for shopping, dining or clubbing. It also represents a large part of the city's economic activity.

This narrow peninsula between the Rhône and Saône rivers was largely shaped by man. When the first inhabitants settled on what was then called Canabae, the junction of the river was located near the current site of St Martin d'Ainay basilica. South of this point was an island. From 1772, titanic works led by engineer Antoine-Michel Perrache reunited the island to the mainland. The swamps which existed there were then dried out, which allowed the construction of Perrache station, opened in 1846. Northern Presqu'île was largely redesigned from 1848; the only remaining Renaissance part is around rue Mercière.

Most of the action on Presqu'île actually takes place between Terreaux and Bellecour. Between Bellecour and Perrache, the neighbourhood of Ainay is traditionally home to the Catholic bourgeoisie. Perrache station and its "exchange centre" (freeway interchange, car parks, metro and bus station) are a very important border; going from one side to the other is a challenge, be it on foot or by car. The area south of Perrache is dealt with in the next section.

City Hall on place des Terreaux.
Place Bellecour seen from the hill of Fourvière

Confluence

The area south of Perrache is turning from a mostly industrial area into one of the most interesting neighbourhoods in the city. There were until very recently two prisons (closed down Apr 2009), a wholesale food market (recently moved to Corbas in the southern suburbs) and large warehouses and workshops belonging the national railway company SNCF. One of the largest development plans in Europe was put under way a few years ago with the construction of a new tram line and the opening of a cultural centre (La Sucrière). The Western side of the area now boasts a number of new buildings, most of which are interesting pieces of contemporary architecture. The new headquarters for the government of Rhône-Alpes region has just been put into service, and a new mall is well under way. A new phase of the project is about to start with the demolition of the huge former wholesale market.

So far there is one major attraction: the "Musée des Confluences", which opened in 2014 and is becoming a must-see for its architectural audacity and its art collections. Otherwise, it is interesting to take a walk or a bicycle ride there to see how Lyon can still be evolving after 2000 years of history.

Other areas

Cité Internationale, from the park side.

Museums and Galleries

Museum of Contemporary Art.

Parks and Gardens

The large greenhouses in Parc de la Tête d'Or.

Do

Cultural events are listed by two weekly magazines: Le Petit Bulletin (free, available in cinemas, theatres, some bars, etc. and online ) and Lyon Poche (from newsagents or online ).

Early booking is often necessary for the major institutions (Auditorium, opera house, Célestins and Croix-Rousse theatres). The big names sell out months in advance. Unlike London or New York, there is no place in Lyon where you can buy reduced-price tickets for same day shows. (There used to be one but it was very short-lived, possibly because it had too few seats to sell.)

Music, dancing and opera

Theatre

Lyon has a large number of theatres ranging from tiny "cafés-théâtres" to big municipal institutions. You can enjoy any type of show from comedy to classical drama to avant-garde productions.

There are also a number of small independent theatres. Check out Les Ateliers, Espace 44, Théâtre des Clochards Célestes.

"Café-théâtre" is a very nice way to spend an evening with a show (usually comedy), drinks and food. Here is a small selection:

Guignol and the gendarme

The 200-year-old Guignol is a very famous character of puppet theatre. This irreverent canut who frequently challenges the law in his adventures was created by Laurent Mourguet, a canut himself, in 1808. The main side characters in Guignol shows are his wife Madelon, his Beaujolais-drinking friend Gnafron and the policeman, who always ends up being ridiculous. It was only in the 1950s that Guignol became a children's favourite. Nowadays, a few theatres perpetuate the tradition for children and adults.

Cinemas

Sports

Learn

Lyon is an important university center. French language courses are available at Inflexyon, Alliance Francaise, Lyon-Bleu, École Interculturelle de Francais. If you look for an immersion program, you can have a look at Alpadia Language School, formerly known an ESL schools groups Learn French in Lyon.

Work

Money can be made by giving private English lessons. Most French are keen to speak English. There are some schools which accept non-TEFL qualified teachers, but obviously a qualification helps. Try Berlitz or Demos. There are several anglophone pubs which employ young anglophone workers, occasionally with limited French. Speaking French to a reasonable level is often a must, even though bar vocabulary is limited. There is an ANPE next to the Opera on Rue de la Republique. Just go in, you don't have to book, and there are lots of job vacancies to be found. Also search for a shelf with black folders on it. They contain details of better paid jobs.

Buy

The usual hours for downtown shopping are 10AM-7PM, Monday to Saturday. Some larger places close a bit later (7:30PM). Shops are closed on Sundays, except in December and in Vieux Lyon where Sunday is the busiest day of the week!

Food

St Antoine market on a Sunday morning.

Wine

Eat

Restaurants have their menus with prices displayed outside. As everywhere in France, the prices always include service, bread and tap water (ask for a carafe of water). Tipping is rare and only expected if you are particularly satisfied with the service. This is especially true in budget or mid-range restaurants, maybe less so in expensive places where it may be considered more appropriate; nothing is compulsory, though. Typical tips depend, of course, on the price of the menu and your level of satisfaction but they are generally not as high as in the US, for example. If you pay by credit card and wish to add a tip, you can tell the person in charge how much he/she should charge your card.

Meal times are generally 12PM-2PM for lunch and 7:30PM-10PM for dinner. Visitors from areas such as North America and Northern Europe might be surprised to find many places still closed at their usual dinner times. Places offering all-day service are located in tourist areas, and are unlikely to serve quality fresh food. Late-night service is quite rare in quality restaurants, but you can always get the usual fast-food or kebab.

A plate of Grattons and saucisson.

The traditional restaurants in Lyon are called bouchons; the origin of the word is unclear (it literally means "cork"). They appeared at the end of the 19th century and flourished in the 1930s, when the economic crisis forced wealthy families to fire their cooks, who opened their own restaurants for a working-class clientele. These women are referred to as mères (mothers); the most famous of them, Eugénie Brazier, became one of the first chefs to be awarded three stars (the highest ranking) by the famous Michelin gastronomic guide. She also had a young apprentice called Paul Bocuse. Eating in a good bouchon is certainly a must-do. They serve the typical local dishes:

These dishes are very tasty. They were originally workers' food, so they are generally fat and the portions are usually quite big. The quality is very variable since the bouchons are one of the main tourist attractions of the city. A good tip: never trust big signs reading "Véritable bouchon lyonnais" (genuine bouchon) or with a list of typical dishes on the front window. Those who need to write this are most often tourist traps. In tourist areas, most notably Rue St Jean, pay extra care and stick to trustworthy recommendations if possible. And if someone on the street tries to get you into a restaurant, run. A good bouchon, however, offers very good value for money.

Good bouchons?

A local association awarded the "Authentique bouchon lyonnais" label to 22 restaurants all over town (but mostly on Presqu'île), considering the quality of their food and wine, the typicity of their decor and the owner's strong personality. They have a metal plate on their façade representing Gnafron, Guignol's friend, with his glass of Beaujolais.

In bouchons and other lower- to mid-range restaurants, basic wines can be served by the pot, a typical bottle containing 46 cl and filled from a cask or wine box. The smaller fillette (little girl) contains 28 cl. This is definitely cheaper than a 75 cl bottle, but the quality is not always guaranteed...

Lyon was named "capital of gastronomy" by the great gastronomic writer Curnonsky in 1935; at that time there were no exotic restaurants, no diets and nobody was talking about fusion cuisine or bistronomy. Fortunately, the local gastronomy has considerably evolved since then and there is now far more to dining in Lyon than the bouchons. Kebab shops, Asian food, bistros, three-star restaurants: Lyon has them all.

The locals are generally fond of eating out and the best places get known quickly by word of mouth. Moreover, the restaurants are quite small on average. It is strongly advised to book a table, especially for dinner, otherwise you may end up in one of the multiple tourist traps. Since many good local chefs seem to enjoy a good family weekend, there are a lot more interesting options on weekdays.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Ice cream, pastries, brunch

Drink

Lyon offers some nice nightlife. A good starting point is Place des Terreaux and then upwards towards the Croix Rousse. In the streets that climb the hill there are many nice places.

English/Irish pubs

Foreign students often gather in English or Irish pubs, which are more particularly concentrated in the Vieux Lyon area. English-speaking staff everywhere of course...

Live music

Others

Boats

At the quai Albert Augagneur is another centre of Lyon nightlife. Along the Rhone river are several out of duty riverboats (péniches) that serve as nightclubs or bars.

Wine bars

Beaujolais wine: is it really that bad?

The region of Beaujolais, north of Lyon, is famed worldwide for the "Beaujolais nouveau", released on the 3rd Thursday of November each year. The average quality is terrible and due to this, the region is quite ill-reputed among French consumers. But there is far more to Beaujolais than nouveau. Look for the best winemakers in the ten crus, most notably Juliénas, Fleurie, Morgon, Chénas and Moulin-à-Vent. Their value for money is excellent and the best wines tend to acquire a "Burgundian" taste with age. Winemakers are usually very welcoming and the area is very beautiful.

Lyon is certainly a great starting point to explore the French vineyards: Beaujolais, Burgundy, Rhône Valley and the less known Jura, Savoie and Bugey are all within two hours drive. It is therefore unsurprising to see an increasing number of wine bars in Lyon. Here are a few addresses.

Sleep

It is generally not difficult to find a hotel room in Lyon, except for the Fête des Lumières and during some important professional trade shows like SIRHA (food, hotels and restaurants) and POLLUTEC (environment technology), when every last room in and around Lyon is booked. The dates of those events can be found on the exhibition centre's website. You can find hotels from the major chains, such as Sofitel, Hilton, Best Western, Accor, as well as many independent hotels.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Connect

There are 42 other post offices distributed throughout all neighbourhoods of Lyon.

Most internet cafés and call shops are in the Guillotière neighbourhood (M: Guillotière) and behind Place des Terreaux (Rue Ste Catherine, Rue Romarin, M: Hôtel de Ville), because of the large population of immigrants living there.

To make a telephone call from abroad, dial the international access code appropriate to your location, followed by the IDD access code for France 33, followed by the regional code (ignoring the 0 prefix) followed by the local number.

To call abroad from France, dial the international access code 00, followed by the international destination IDD country code, followed by the regional code (ignoring the 0 prefix) followed by the local number.

The regional (city) code for Lyon is 04. A telephone number in Lyon looks like this; (04) XX XX XX XX. In international format it looks like this;+33 4 XX XX XX XX.

Stay safe

Real security problems in the Lyon center are rare, but the usual advice applies.

Rue Ste Catherine, behind Place des Terreaux, is locally famous for its bars; on weekend nights there are a lot of drunk people on the street, who might be violent. The police keep a close watch but it is probably better to avoid the area if you are on your own, especially after 3AM when the bars are closed. Similar problems may be encountered in Vieux Lyon.

In populated places such as Rue de la République or outside Part-Dieu station, you may come across people advertising for charities; they can be recognised by their specific, coloured clothing. They will not ask you for money but rather give you information documents which encourage you to donate. Homeless people sell newspapers such as Macadam or Sans-abri which help them making some money without begging; they should have an ID card issued by the editors. But there are also people trying to con you and get money for some imaginary charity, sometimes by selling postcards or other items. Never give money directly to someone on the street who claims to be working for charity and does not have official documents, or if the documents look doubtful.

Emergency numbers

The European emergency number ☎ 112 should be used on mobile phones.

Cope

Consulates

Go next

Thanks to its central geographical position and its historical role as a trading hub, Lyon is at the center of a dense communications hub and thus is a great starting point to explore southeastern France. Most destinations around Lyon are served by regional trains of the TER Rhône-Alpes network. The extensive highway network in the region also allows for quick and efficient travel. Plenty of intersting cities, attractions and natural sites can be reached in less than 2 hours of travel! A more detailed listing can be found at the regional tourist office.

Nearby

A beach in Miribel-Jonage

The Grand parc de Miribel-Jonage, located just outside Lyon, is a large park (6000+ acres) including a lake near the Rhône river where you can indulge in many recreational (hiking, horse riding, biking, golf...) and nautical activities (rowing, swimming, windsurfing, boating...). There are several beaches, large stretches of forest, plenty of picnic and barbecue spots. It is a popular destination for locals, especially during summer when it gets too hot in the city. Entrance is free. Access is possible by bike from Lyon, using the bike path that runs along the Rhône (it takes about 20min from the Tête d'Or park - follow the ViaRhôna signs). Also, during the spring and summer months, the area is served by bus line 83 of the TCL, from the Vaulx-en-Velin La Soie station (metro line A, tram T3).

North of Lyon lies the Dombes region of the Ain département. Its many lakes and ponds provide a nice setting for hiking and birdwatching. The main attractions are the bird park of Villars-les-Dombes, featuring a large collection of exotic birds, and Pérouges, a small medieval village. Its buildings all date to the Middle Ages and it's a popular weekend destination for people who live in Lyon.

Beaujolais wineyards

The famous wineyards of the Beaujolais stretch all the way to the north of the département. There are many castles and you can buy Beaujolais wine directly from independent winemakers. Festive celebrations are organized during the Beaujolais nouveau season in november. The local villages have an interesting typical architecture, their buildings being made with a local yellow limestone called pierres dorées. Take the A6 highway north of Lyon to Belleville then follow some smaller roads. Interesting spots in Oingt, Villié-Morgon.

Some other attractions:

Further away

Val Thorens in winter

Go skiing from Lyon.

In winter, the nearest ski resorts are less than two hours away. Several travel agencies sell day "packages" (journey by coach and ski pass); the coaches depart from Lyon between 6 and 7AM and come back around 8PM. This is a convenient and inexpensive way to go skiing; these one-day trips cost €30-40, excluding equipment hire and food. This is about the regular price of the ski pass alone! , , .

The French Alps offer an extraordinary natural setting with gorgeous landscapes and numerous opportunities for outdoors activities: hiking, mountainnering, rock climbing, ski, snowboard... All this only a couple of hours away from Lyon! Plenty of natural parks and ski resorts, from the upscale to the family-oriented. There are also many interesting cities to discover : Annecy, the "Venice of Savoie" with its beautiful lake and canals, Chambéry (historical capital of Savoy), Aix-les-Bains (thermal city overlooking the lake Bourget), Chamonix (gateway to the Mont Blanc), Grenoble (the "French Silicon Valley", with its high-tech industries and its vibrant student life), with plenty of museums, local culinary specialities and historical sites to make a nice daytrip. Access is easy by highway, from Lyon using the A43 highway. Regional trains serve all the major cities of the Alps from Lyon, often in less than 2hrs. However, most popular ski and mountain resorts (except Chamonix) have no railway station. There are some intercity bus lines, but service is often poor and not always reliable. Having a car may thus be highly desirable but if you dont have one, some local travel agencies sell day or week-end skiing packages to major ski resorts including transportation from Lyon (see box on the right).

Some other nice spots:

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Wednesday, October 28, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.