Another free-of-work weekend, another chance to leave and discover a little piece of the world, and this time we chose a French city: Lyon!
Lyon is the third largest city of France and its center is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, it offers a wide choice of museums, churches and historical palaces, plus a huge selection of pubs, cafes and bistros when you are tired to sight-see.
Considering also that Lyon is not that distant from the Italian border, it looked like the perfect city for a weekend getaway (and, IT WAS!)
Here’s other great reasons to spend a couple of days in Lyon:
– the majority of the highlights are in a walking distance from the city center, so stroll through Lyon’s streets is the best way to visit, explore and discover the city and its hidden corners
– the tourist life (accommodation, culture and food) is cheaper than in other European cities
– this city has a particular vibe that will make you fall in love with it
WHAT TO SEE
Vieux-Lyon (5th arrondissement) is the oldest district in the city with a fascinating atmosphere: narrow cobblestones streets, magnificent buildings, the Traboules (covered passageways between buildings), Bouchons Lyonnais (typical restaurants) and a lot of people that fill up the streets at any hour of the day.
This district is located on the west side of the city and river Saône and it’s composed by many neighborhoods, but its true heart is Saint-Jean: here you’ll find the Cathedral, Rue Saint-Jean with all the pubs, shops and restaurants, the Musée Miniature et Cinema, the Palais de Justice Historique and the views on the Basilica Notre-Dame de Fourvière.
The Peninsula between the Rhône and the Saône houses the actual city center, with wide boulevards, grand squares and elegant buildings, most of them situated in the Bellecour neighborhood (2nd arrondissement).
From south to north you’ll encounter Place Bellecour, with the equestrian monument and the view on the Basilica, Place des Jacobins surrounded with Reinassance palaces and a lovely fountain in the middle, and in the end Place des Terraux, with the City Hall and Bartholdi’s Fountain (now – end of 2016 – not visible due to renovation works).
Others highlights of the district are the Hôtel-Dieu de Lyon, that now is undergoing a major restoration to transform the palace in a 5 star hotel opening at the end of 2017, l’Arbre à Fleurs, a Flower Tree sculpture on the east side of Place Bellecour, the Opera’s Palace made by different architectural styles, and Rue Mercière, a lively street perfect for night life.
Located a bit north of Bellecour nighborhood, in the 1st arrondissement, there’s another main attraction of Lyon: La Fresque des Lyonnais, an enormous murales that occupies the entire façade of a tall building, representing Lyon’s 31 famous residents.
Not far from there, there’s another giant murals, the Mur de Canuts, describing the life in the Croix-Rouge neighborhood, but unfortunately we didn’t have the time to have a look at it.
Here’s other murals that we came across just wandering in Lyon
La Confluence Neighborhood
At the extremity of the peninsula lays La Confluence neighborhood, a residential/business district with many innovative buildings that will make the day of every architect in town.
This district was quite a surprise for us, because during my research on the city highlights, I did not find a page, a post or a quote that was talking about it.
Reading the brochure of the Tourist Office, Ale (my husband) saw a picture of The Orange Cube, a famous (for architects, at least!) modern building, and he absolutely wanted to have a look at it in person.
It was one of the best discover we made in Lyon: a pleasant promenade that follow the Saône shore with this views on modern and renewed buildings and lots of people that strolled by, had breakfast or jogged by the river, just a few meters north of the Confluence Museum.
So, if you want to take a relaxing walk just before visit the Museum, you are in the right place!
I must say that not all the district is that well looking, its east side is quite unpleasant, with prostitutes also in the clear light of the morning and garbage at street sides: the district is actually undergoing a massive urban renewing and, so far, involved “only” 41 hectares on 150.
Confronting it with its other half, by the way, is the best way to appreciate the great work done there: good job Lyon!
Textile Museum and Museum of Decorative Arts
The Musée des Tissus et des Arts Décoratifs is located in two elegant buildings that face the same courtyard and house respectively the first collection in the world of textile specimens (Lyon has an important historical role in silk trade) and a collection of ceramics, clocks and silverware.
If you are wondering why we decided to visit this museum, I have to admit that I completely misunderstood the focus of the two exhibit!
I was expecting a collection of dresses, purses, shoes and hats in the Textile Museum, and more or less a design collection in the Museum of Decorative Arts.
Both museums are certainly interesting and well set up, but I would suggest them only to people who has a strong interest in those themes.
Musée Miniature et Cinéma
The Musée Miniature et Cinéma is a must see for all cinema lovers.
It’s divided in three section: on ground floor there’s the original sets of “Perfume – the Story of a Murderer” movie, on the second floor there’s a collection of dioramas and miniatures made or collected by Dan Ohlmann (that is also the curator of the museum), but in my opinion, the best exhibit is the collection of memorabilia at the first floor that comes from the making of various movies, like Minority Report, V for Vendetta, Gremlins, Mrs. Doubtfire, Jurassic Park, Alien, the X-Files…. with models, costumes, stage objects and many other pieces.
The location of the Museum is also something you shouldn’t miss: the Legal Chamber (Maison des Avocats), an historical building that is now an UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Musée des Confluences is housed in a modern and innovative building, the “Crystal and Cloud”, located in a public garden at the end of the peninsula, a few meters before the confluence of the two city rivers.
The permanent exhibitions are a “confluence” between natural history, earth sciences, ethnography, spirituality and philosophy and each exhibit offers two or more approaches to the theme represented; in that way everyone can choose the deepness of his visit among the artifacts and the objects on display.
We really loved this museum, it’s a true gem, so, if you can, don’t miss it!
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
The Primatiale Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste is the main church of Lyon and the center of the historic part of the 5th arrondissement.
The Cathedral interior is solemn and spacious, with a wide central nave, high arches and colorful windows in the aisles. The highlight here is the astronomical clock with its complex and elaborate carved decorations.
The visit of the church don’t takes long, so if you are nearby, have a quick look inside and then take your time to relax in one of the many cafes in Rue Saint-Jean.
Notre-Dame de Fourviére is one of Lyon’s symbols, a must see for anyone visiting the city for the first time.
Located atop of the Fourviére hill, this church is also one of the most famous and most beautiful churches in France.
I assure you that at the exact moment you’ll make the first step inside, your jaw will drop: the interior is sumptuous, the walls and the ceiling are covered with golden mosaics, the windows are bright and colorful and there are sculptures and statues that decorate every corner.
To better enjoy your time in the Basilica, two different guided tours are available: one explores the highlights of the building (daily and free), the other one explores the secrets of the basilica, plus the rooftops, for a unique view on the city landscape (different schedules for every month, 7€ or free with the Lyon City Card)
We had the bad luck to arrive at the church at Mass time, so we didn’t have the chance to visit properly: a good reason to come back!
There are different ways to get to the Basilica but I suggest to take one of the two Funicolar lines: the astonishment at the exit of the station is guaranteed!
On the top of the Fourviére hill there’s also the Metallic Tower, a television tower that resemble the Eiffel Tower and another landmark of the city.
Botanical Garden & Parc de la Tête d’Or
The Parc de la Tête d’Or is the biggest park of Lyon, in the north of the city.
It was the end of October and the park was packed with people, so I can’t really imagine it during a warmer season, because it seems that
during the summer this park is one of the most popular places in Lyon.
We decided to visit the park despite its distance from the city center because of the Botanical Garden, but (as we found out later) all the park is wort a visit: inside there’s a free Zoo, some rose gardens, a big central lake, a couple of bistros, plus the Botanical Garden and its greenhouses.
Too bad we had only a hour to discover the garden and the park, because I could easily spend half a day there without getting bored or tired!
We visited all the places listed above, but trust me, Lyon has much and much more to see and discover!
To better enjoy the vibe of the city and have time to focus better on the major highlights and also on the “minor” attractions, the curiosities and many of the shops, bistros and museums you inevitably leave behind, you’ll need at least another day (at least! Because four probably is better).
As you can see, we are not big fan of arts museums, but if that’s what you like, Lyon has plenty of them: you can check on the Lyon Tourism Website the complete list of museums and other notable highlights.
Lyon City Card
Just after our arrive in Lyon, we went to the Tourism Office in Place Bellecour to pick up our Two Days City Cards, that we bought on-line (29,90€/each, thanks web promo!).
Lyon City Card includes the free access to 22 museums, a dozen Lyon guided tours (some free, some discounted) and many entertainment options (a few free, most discounted) plus a daily pass for the public transportation.
I found the City Card affordable and useful, also for only two days: we visited three museums and just with their price we nearly reached the cost of the Card, in that way we had the 2 days public transportation pass only for 1€ each, a real bargain!
Having the City Card came in handy also on Sunday, when we visited the Confluence Museum: the queue when we arrived there was endless, but thanks to our card in less than 10 minutes we collected our tickets and started our visit.
Not everywhere the City Card is truly a cheaper solution for your visit, especially for short getaways, so before buying any of them, do your homework and check if it suits your trip.
– Place Bellecour
– Musée des Tissus et des Arts Décoratifs
– Flower Tree + Hotel Dieu
– Place des Jacobins + Rue Mercière
– Cathedral + Saint-Jean
– Musée Miniature et Cinéma
– Place des Terraux, the Opera and the Hôtel de Ville
– La Confluence neighborhood
– Musée des Confluences
– Botanical Garden & Parc de la Tête d’Or
– Murales “La Fresque des Lyonnais”
– Fourviére Basilica + Metallic Tower
FOODS & GOODS
Where do you want to eat?
Informal bars, wooden pubs, cozy bakeries, elegant tea rooms, ethnic eateries, fine restaurants… At any corner of the city you can find a place that will delight your taste.
Those listed below are the ones where we have been, but they are also an infinitesimal amount compared to those we wanted to try!
Busy and informal, with a great choice between croissants, cakes, fruit salads, sandwiches, quiches and bread.
Perfect for a quick breakfast before start the visit of the city.
We found this patisserie in Rue Saint-Jean, near the Cathedral. Ice cream is their top product, but being at the end of October, we opted for a warmer hot chocolate with cream, caramel and pecan nuts. Wow!
Wandering around Lyon we saw a small Chinese restaurant where there was this woman making noodles in front of the window: when evening came, we wanted to eat there, but we wasn’t able to find it again.
So we ended up in the Fiston restaurant, in Rue Mercière.
It is an elegant but crowded reastaurant in the middle of Lyon night’s life. The food there is amazing!
We tried some typical cheese, the Foie Gras and the Fondue, and everything was delicious!
WHERE TO SLEEP
For our stay in Lyon I searched for an accommodation with breakfast and parking included in the price of the room.
We had to book with short advance and unfortunately we found that many hotels of the city center had no vacancy (later we discovered that in the same weekend Lyon hosted EquitaLyon – a horse fair with loooot of public!), so our choice fall on a hotel between the neighborhoods Perrache and Confluence, a little detached from the center but well connected to it.
The Ibis Styles Lyon Confluence is….. an Ibis! So it comes with all the classic Ibis features: a double bed, no wardrobe, a desk, a TV, Air Con and an en-suite bathroom.
We stayed in a few Ibis (classic – the red one – and budget – the blue one) during those years, mostly in Germany and in France, and we always were satisfied with our experience, but I have to say, this Ibis Styles (the green one) win over all of them!
First of all, the bed and the pillows: wonderful! Firm just the right the first, perfectly soft the seconds. No noise in the room. The shower had the right water pressure, stayed hot for all the time we need it and… it was a double shower: just great.
The room was clean, the staff was nice and the breakfast had a good choice of food and beverages. The parking was a little bit narrow but did its job.
I know, it’s not the Grand Hotel, but we are really pleased with this Hotel and we surely recommend it.
IN THE END
Lyon proved to be a great weekend getaway destination.
Beyond the city landmarks, Lyon has an unique vibe, is full of young and cheerful people and its streets are lively and colorful.
We spent there two splendid days (despite the weather!) and if we will be in the surrounding again we will gladly spend there another day or two.