Not many cities can boast about having a style of cuisine named for them but Lyon definitely deserves that fame. Lyonnais cuisine is legendary; many say to dine there is to sample some of the best of French cooking. However, there is much more to Lyon than the restaurants.
In spite of being the third largest city in the country, Lyon is often overlooked by visitors to France. A visit to Lyon takes one away from the mainstream of tourist travel.
The city lies at the confluence of the Saone and Rhone rivers and is dominated by Fourviere hill. Vieux (old) Lyon is a tangle of narrow streets at the base of the hill lined with grand houses from the 15th and 16th centuries. Small passageways, called traboules, cut between parallel streets allowing locals easy access and providing corridors for visitors to explore. Wander through this area to get a sense of how the medieval aristocracy lived.
Cable cars climb from Vieux Lyon to the top of Fourviere. Perched more than 500 feet above the bank of Saone River, the Notre Dame de Fourviere Basilica offers stunning views of the city. The terrace of the restaurant is a great place to enjoy a drink or meal and survey the activity below. The hill is also the site of the original Roman settlement. A massive Roman amphitheater cut into the hillside a short walk from the Basilica and the wonderful exhibits in the nearby Museum of Gallo-Roman Civilization bring that period of Lyon’s history to life.
Squeezed between the Saone and Rhone rivers, the peninsula know as Presqu’ile is the commercial center of the city. The traffic-free Rue de la Republic, stretching through the core of the area and lined with shops, is the heart of the shopping district. In addition to shopping, this area is home to many intriguing museums. The first books printed in French were produced in Lyon and the Printing Museum traces the history of printing from those early days. Exhibits illustrate the evolution of the printing process over the past five centuries and include rare books, manuscripts and engravings. Lyon was also the center of the French silk industry and the nearby Textiles Museum contains fine displays of silk and other fabrics, tapestries and clothing from Europe and the Middle East. The oldest fabrics in the collection date to the second and third centuries A.D. The adjoining Museum of Decorative Arts features furniture, tapestries, wallpaper and ceramics from the 18th century.
Museums thrive in Lyon. The Fine Arts Museum has one of the finest art collections in France outside of Paris. The Lumiere Museum, dedicated to the pioneers of photography, offers a large collection of photography, films and videos. Other interesting museums include the Contemporary Art Museum, the African Mission Museum and the International Puppets Museum.
With a rich history, beautiful architecture, impressive museums, this gastronomic capital of France is a great destination for visitors seeking a different side of the country. Lyon is easy to reach from anywhere in Europe. Many regional airlines serve Lyon. It is ninety minutes by train from Geneva, Switzerland and only two hours from Paris on the high speed rail.