Lyon France is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site which offers Roman ruins, a historic industrial districts, captivating wall art, beautiful cathedrals, maze-like neighborhoods, and a 19th-century Prequ’ile quarter. Lyon France is known as the world’s culinary capital with delectable French restaurants and large open markets.
The famous French chef, Paul Bocuse, was based in Lyon and is referred to as a god of French cuisine. Backpackers have many places to visit on a budget from museums to historic walking tours. Here are 10 things to do while visiting Lyon France.
The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere is an incredible church set at the top of Fourviere hill. It is one of many beautiful hill-top churches built in major French cities during the late 19th century. The basilica gleams over the city where it can be seen from several vantage points. It has four main towers and a belltower with the Virgin Mary statue perched at the top.
The inside features fine mosaics, beautiful stained glass, and a crypt of Saint Joseph. It offers guided tours and contains the Museum of Sacred Art which receives over 2 million visitors annually. The north tower of the basilica can be climbed offering 180-degree views of Lyon France and Mont Blanc at a distance which is the highest point in Europe. The basilica was designed by Pierre Bossan who draws from both Romanesque and Byzantine architecture which are two non-gothic models.
Odeon of Lyon
Near the summit of the Fourviere hill is a small ancient Roman theatre called the Odeon of Lyon which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was built in the 2nd century and is still used for cultural events today. Initially, it was used for musical performances and reading public rather than theatrical performances.
It is paired with the Gallo Roman Theatre and is a stunning example of the ancient city of Lyon France . The theatre seats around 3,000 people and includes a floor made from marble sourced from Italy, Greece, Turkey, Tunisia, and Egypt. Every year, the Nuits de Fourviere festival is held in the theatre which includes circus, music, dance and film presentations. The site is free to explore offering beautiful views of Lyon.
Parc de la Tete d’Or
The largest urban park in France is Le Parc de la Tete d’Or which is influenced by the style of an English garden. It includes a boating lake, botanical gardens, a zoo, and a miniature railway. It was created in 1857 by Brother Denis and Eugene Buhler in the same year as New York’s Central Park.
Impressive glasshouses contain species of plants and flowers from all over the world along with rose gardens featuring 30,000 rose bushes of 350 different types. It is a commonplace for people to relax and have a picnic while taking paddle boats out onto the blue lake. It is home to the second public zoo in France which contains almost 400 different animals divided into 64 species.
Museum Of Fine Arts
In the heart of the historic center is the Museum of Fine Arts. This building holds one of the most important collections of works of art from Europe. It is one of France’s largest fine art museums housed in a former abbey from the 1600s. Its collections include ancient Egypt artifacts, sculptures, and paintings from the 1300s to 1900s filling more than 70 rooms.
Works from famous artists include Degas, Van Goh, Renoir, Cezanne, El Greco, Canaletto, Picasso, and more. The museum hosts a variety of temporary art exhibitions which has included the work of Georges Braque and Henri Laurens. The Antiquities department displays more than 600 Ancient Egyptian artifacts which include reliefs, busts, statuettes, and sarcophagi.
Lyon France Cathedral
The Cathedral St-Jean otherwise known as the Lyon Cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Lyon who holds the title “Primate of the Gouls.” The medieval exterior has a solid and somber appearance with mostly gothic construction built in the 12th century.
The majority of the original stained glass windows are intact from the 1300s. They were dismantled during times of warfare. However, the most unique feature in the cathedral is the astronomical clock standing nine meters tall in the north transept. It is a miraculous object of its age which chimes different times of the day while a rooster crows and angels herald.
Every December Lyon holds the Festival of Lights which includes a choreographed lighting display decorating the exterior of the cathedral. It is a tradition dating back to 1643 where the people of Lyon France would place candles in their windows.
La Place Bellecour
The largest pedestrian square in Europe is La Place Bellecour found in the center of Lyon France . It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site situated between the Saone and Rhone in the 2nd district of Lyon. The square is surrounded by linden trees, wild cherries, and gorgeous Napoleonic buildings. Also, the iconic statue of Louis XIV on horseback sits in the center of the square.
Another statue sits by its side representing the Little Prince and the notorious Lyonnais Antione de Saint-Exupery; a proud writer, aviator, and poet of the city. It was constructed in the year 2000 to mark one hundred years since his birth.
Leading from the square are a variety of historic streets including rue Victor Hugo, a popular shopping area. Connected to this road is Place Carnot; another charming square known for its restaurants, bars, and shops with views of five and six-story 19th-century buildings.
Lyon France’s Murals
The city of Lyon is filled with nearly 150 large wall paintings often found in working-class neighborhoods. The mural began in the early 1970s when a group of local students brought their art out from the confines of galleries and onto the streets. By doing this, they reached out to ordinary people and eventually formed the movement called CiteCreation. Additionally, the Etats-Unis is an outdoor museum that contains 25 murals made in the 1980s. It depicts the work of the architect, Tony Garnier, who planned the city in the 1920s.
The murals tell stories most of which are very tall tales. Some serve as examples of trompe l’oeil which are depictions of historical events or famous people. Another group of murals is the Fresque des Lyonnais. It consists of 24 historic figures and six contemporary people significant to the city.
Known as the hub of creativity for young designers and artists is the La Croix-Rousse neighborhood; a major hub of textiles in Europe. Also known as “the hill that works,” as it sits on a hill with slopes, it was formerly the neighborhood of Lyon’s silk manufactures. More than 30,000 silk workers were employed there. It winds you through maze-like streets and secret passageways called traboules that are filled with former workshops.
The Croix-Rousse market is a large open-air produce market and is usually held four days a week. It has fresh and local products including olives, cheeses, and gourmet patisseries from over 100 producers. At La Valise d’Elise, you will also find vintage decorative items from the early part of the century. It showcases the work from the various silk workers.
Musee Miniature et Cinema
A museum filled with the smallest and exquisite miniature models depicting everyday life and movie scenes is the Musee Miniature et Cinema. Here, all displayed works are made by the world’s best miniaturists. It was founded by artist Dan Ohlmann and holds over 1000 pieces of downscaled locations. Some of these locations include school rooms and houses drawn with exceptional detail. The site includes tiny tchotchkes as carved matchsticks, chiseled eggshells, and micro-origami.
Also, recreations of real-life locations include Maxim’s Restaurant in Paris and everyday French scenes from days gone by. The museum also focuses on special effects and creatures found in fictional films. Some of these films include I Robot, Stuart Little, X-men, Robocop, gremlins, and Hellboy. A cinema exhibition is included with more than 300 props, artifacts, and models from movies over the last 50 years.
Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse
Known as “heaven for foodies,” is a food market named after one of France’s culinary giants, Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse. It is the city’s premier indoor food market which includes more than 50 vendors with numerous bars and restaurants. A wide variety of local foods can be found such as cheese, truffles, cured meats, spices, fruits, vegetables, and more.
Also, the market is open from 7 AM to 7 PM Tuesday through Sunday; located a five-minute walk from Gare de Lyon-Part-Dieu. It is also recommended to visit early in the morning to beat some of the larger crowds. Not only that but by going early, you get to choose from the best selection of fresh produce before stalls close for lunch.