Why Lyon, France, should be on your travel wish list

Why Lyon, France, should be on your travel wish list


The magnificent Lyon Cathedral rises high above the city’s historic Old Town. Photo / Getty Images

Lyon is an easy-to-reach place with two millennia worth of history. It’s a fascinating mixture of tradition and innovation, writes Brett Atkinson.

What to see

In Vieux Lyon’s Unesco World Heritage-listed city center, you will find the Cathedrale St-Jean Baptiste. Romanesque meets Gothic splendour in this labyrinth.

Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere is another ecclesiastical landmark you should see. It is located on the hill where the Romans established Lugdunum in 43 BC. It offers spectacular views of Lyon’s position on a peninsula in Rhone River. From the Vieux Lyon metro station, a funicular takes you up Fourviere hill.

Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere offers superb views across the Rhone River. Photo / Getty Images
Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere offers superb views across the Rhone River. Photo / Getty Photos

Fourviere’s Musee Gallo-Roman is a great museum to visit. It focuses on the city’s Roman origins and features works by Picasso, Rodin, Monet, and Monet at the Musee des Beaux-Arts. Lyon’s Musee Lumiere houses the fascinating Art Nouveau villa of Antoine Lumiere and showcases the origins cinema. Auguste Lumiere and Louis Lumiere, Lumiere’s two sons, trained their Cinematographe camera to workers leaving a Lyon factory for lunch in 1895. This was the first motion picture ever made.

What to do

Lyon’s 50km-long network traboules (secret passages), originally constructed in 19th century to transport merchandise from a booming silk business, traverses buildings and apartment blocks, detours below ground, and travels through small courtyards in the old town. Download the free iPhone app at traboules.lyon.fr to navigate the confusing urban collage of tunnels, zigzags or join a guided tour by Visiter Lyon.

Where to eat

Bouchons, small family-owned bistros serving up delicious multi-course Lyon classics, is the classic Lyon restaurant experience. Lunch is often more affordable and can include quenelles (egg, cream dumplings with meat and fish) or poulet au vinaigre. This is chicken that has been marinated in vinegar. Entrees and mains are often bookended by a Communard cocktail – blending creme de cassis with Beaujolais wine – and a cheese board and dessert. The service is casual, red and white-checked tablecloths almost mandatory, and you may find yourself sharing a meal with Lyonnais locals at old-school places such as Cafe des Federations, Le Musee, and Cafe des Federations.

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Lyon boasts a lively mixrture of Michelin star restaurants and small, family-owned bistros. Photo / Getty Images
Lyon is home to a vibrant mix of Michelin-starred restaurants and family-owned bistros. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Lyon’s other traditional destination is Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse. It is named after the famous French chef, who lived in Lyon until his death in 2018. The market opened its doors in 1971. It now hosts more than 50 stalls. You can pick up local cheeses and charcuterie for a riverside picnic or dine at Maison Russeau for the best seafood. Visit the market on a weekday to beat the crowds, or join a guided tour by Lyon Food Tour to meet some of these vendors.

Lyon is not only known for its culinary heritage, but it is also a city that is known for its innovative dining. L’Agastache, one block east of the river on Lyon’s Rive Gauche, is among more than 20 Michelin-starred establishments. Two young Lyon chefs opened the restaurant in 2020. Highlights of their ever-changing menu, which is informed by local suppliers, include lamb in a cocoa mint crust and lobster bisque risotto.

Where to drink

Lyon is the gateway to the centuries-old vineyards in the northern Rhone Valley. This area is especially south of Vienne, where you will find the Condrieu appellations and the Cote Rotie appellations. Lyon wine bars Odessa Comptoir or Le Vitis offer excellent local varietals such as viognier, syrah, and other varieties. Both places also offer wines from the Beaujolais region north of Lyon. A private tasting session with Caroline Conner, Lyon Wine Tastings (@lyonwinetastings) is a great way to learn more about the local winemaking scene. You can also enjoy a variety of local cheeses and charcuterie during your tastings.

Lyon is home of more than 30 universities and is a top city for craft beer. Ninkasi, a local brewery named after the Sumerian goddess of beer, has nine locations throughout the city. Their Guillotiere riverside location is the most popular. This is a great spot to try their gourmet burgers or craft whiskey. A string of peniches (floating bars) is located north of Ninkasi on Quai Victor Augagneur. They’re a good spot for late afternoon apero drinks – the French equivalent of Italy’s aperitivo pre-dinner ritual – and later at night morph into pumping nightclubs with DJs and global beats.

The city's river pathways are ideal for wandering. Photo / Getty Images
Wandering along the city’s riverways is a great way to get around. Photo / Getty Images

Where to stay

OKKO is a French hotel chain with 13 locations in France. The Pont Lafayette branch in Lyon features stylish and affordable rooms overlooking the Rhone River. From late afternoon, buffet breakfasts are served with local and organic food.

Getting there

Fly direct from Dubai with Emirates to Lyon for New Zealanders. The city is connected to Paris Gare de Lyon by France’s high speed TGV train network (two-hours), and also via direct trains from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (also two hours). Eurostar departures from London St Pancras require around six hours due to the need for a change of trains in Paris.

See here for more information visiterlyon.com.

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