One of the capitals of French heritage, Lyon invites the travellers for a quiet yet culturally rich weekend.
Sandwiched between the rivers Rhône and Saône lies Lyon, a city declared World Heritage Site, home of the French aristocrat and writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and the place where cinema was invented. Modest and kind, each neighbourhood has its own village vibe and tells its own story. Far from the hub of metropolis, one can breathe the joie de vivre here. Take a bike and follow us as we explore a new French perspective on a spring weekend.
An accomplished city
On arriving Lyon by train, one may think of it as another cosmopolitan city, filled with skyscrapers and malls. It is, however, not completely untrue as Lyon’s business district has the three European references – the Gare Part Dieu, Europe’s largest train station (gare means station) in terms of transit passengers, the Part Dieu mall, France’s third most-visited shopping centre and one of the biggest ones in Europe, and last but not the least, the Part Dieu Tour, a 41-story building with a conical top holds a bar and viewpoint. Not only it is one of France’s highest hotels, but also the first tall tower outside Paris.
But do not let yourself be impressed by such extents and modernity. Lyon comprises of numerous neighbourhoods, each with a unique charm. Bourgeois Brotteaux, for instance, has elegant buildings and a beautiful art gallery located at the old train station dating back to the 19th century, or the Guillotière, a labyrinth of narrow streets characterised by its social and ethnic mixture. Montplaisir, where the Lumière brothers invented the cinematograph that allows us to enjoy the cinema today, is a district worth visiting! From its dedicated metro station to their local house that is now a museum, it’s a delight for art lovers.
Stepping out of Part Dieu, it is good to start the morning with history and the best views of the city: the Fourvière basilica. Although tramway and funicular are best and interesting ways to get there, those high on energy and adrenaline can go up on foot or even walk all the way to the old church. Indeed, one of Lyon’s many advantages is that despite being a fairly big city, it is still very walk-able. Tramway, thanks to its controlled speed and high windows that allows you to sit and enjoy the views, is a good means of transportation. If you don’t have much time, the metro is very efficient too.
The hill overlooks a magnificent view of basilica, built in 12 years from 1872 to 1884, that is also city’s point of reference and both the building and the crypt can be visited. Behind it, people take breaks and relax while observing the territory from its highest point. From the edge can be seen the city in all its extension, with its two rivers sneaking through major landmarks and the Alps at the backdrop.
Further down the hillside is the antique Roman theatre of Lugdunum built in around 15BC. Conserved in the early 20th century and a part of the UNESCO world heritage site of Lyon, the amphitheater had the capacity to accommodate 10,000 people at once. Sitting on the steps and imagining the how must it be like to perform in that era is one of the favourite pastimes for the visitors. To recreate the feeling, each summer one can enjoy the music festival Fourvière Nights, a national event that has received worldrenowned international artists such as Bob Dylan, Gilberto Gil, Lou Reed, Sting… A must see if you are visiting during summer!
A descent to the heart of the old town takes you to the neighborhood, also part of the World Heritage Site since 1998, with ornate cathedrals and renaissance buildings that hides incredible secrets in is streets. The most curious are the traboules or the traditional passages built under or through buildings that connect several streets. The best way to understand their use and go deep into these remains of history without getting lost is to hire a local guide and take a guided tour. As the kind guide explains to us, many obscure and mysterious corridors from the 4th century are closed to the public now, but people continue to live in the buildings above them and some of them can still be visited thanks to their kindness. The only condition is to not disturb them!
The streets of Vieux Lyon are always packed with people and burst with small and traditional restaurants that envelop the passerby through aroma from their kitchens. Terrace of a local crêperie, is an ideal place to eat a light lunch before continuing the stroll. An undoubted recommendation would be bouchons Lyonnais, the restaurants that serve typical food such as quenelles, an oval dumpling made with breadcrumbs, butter and eggs, among others, and added fish, chicken, meat or vegetables. You will not only taste one of the most delicious and typical Lyonnais dishes, but also a bit of history, as it is assumed the original recipes were created in 1830!
Presqu’île: art and shopping at once
Crossing the bridge to the Presqu’île (the area located right between the Rhône and Saône rivers), the guides take the visitors around to admire the famous painted walls around Lyon. At the corner of La Platière street is the first one: the Writer’s wall where the works of over 300 writers can be marveled. Amongst the writings can be spotted an extract from The Little Prince!
Continuing the walk down the river, in springtime, water has a special colour and the sun shines without burning, making it the perfect moment to stretch the legs. Merely five minutes later you will find yourself in front of the most well-known wall in Lyon, the Lyonnais. 31 personalities from Lyon appear represented in this façade; such homage to the city and its locals is worth an admiration! There are more than 60 painted walls in Lyon that may require several days to observe and admire.
As it starts to get dark city lightens little by little, making it an ideal time to visit two of the most emblematic places: the town hall and the Opera building. Located one behind the other, you could spend hours just staring at their elegant beauty. The majestic Opera, with its top statues and its red lights is a work of art. From here departs one of the main streets that later will ends into a pedestrian, the Republic street. Perfect for a shopping spree, every item of necessity could be found here: from the famous electronic and cultural-centered department store Fnac, to chic local and world known boutiques, dotted with small cafeterias. Whether you are in the mood for buying or just window-shopping, this road allows you to experience the real Lyonnais life. Eventually, the street leads to one of the biggest rectangular squares in Europe: Bellecour. This square is packed at any time of the day or night and in its center reigns the statue of Louis XIV. One of its corners is devoted to Antoine de Saint Exupéry, father of the Little Prince and pioneer aviator who also got the local airport named after him. Of course, the one spot that cannot be missed is the giant wheel: if you are not afraid of heights, let yourself be seduced by a ride to admire the views, especially at night!
A Sunday in Lyon
Sunday in Lyon is a splendid occasion to take time and enjoy the city in a slower pace, especially during spring or summer. Rapidly forgetting previous night’s fuss on the streets, businessmen and daily routines give way to visitors, families and runners who go out to enjoy a day in the sun.
A generous brunch in town is a good way to start the day. There are several restaurants that offer all-youcan- eat brunches on Sunday, and if you love to wake up late and start the day mixing sweet and salty food, these are the places to be. If you prefer to have breakfast in your hotel or apartment room, some new brunch-delivery companies that offer to bring brunch to doorsteps are becoming increasingly popular.
Post the delicious and early meal; riverside is the next destination. The Berges or Quais du Rhone are an ensemble of routes that border the Rhone. Its most visited part lasts for about 12 kilometers, from Gallieni bridge to Raymond Poincaré Bridge, and it makes for a spectacular stroll whether you are walking, skating or renting a bike. It is irresistible to try one of Lyon’s most intelligent and ecological systems of transportation: Velo’v. With more than 300 Velo’v stations around Lyon and its surrounding neighborhoods, you will always find one near you. The system is very simple and it has already been implemented in other cities, such as Paris: for a small fee, you can pick up a bike at any station, ride it to wherever you want to go, then park it at another station. Genius.
Biking the brunch out, you arrive at one of the seven impressive gates of the famous Tête d’Or park. Created following the models of English gardens, it forms the joy and pride of locals, who come here every day to picnic, run or simply enjoy a family day or afternoon.
The lung of the city extends for about 105 hectares, divided by different themes where everyone can find something to admire. While a magnificent lake acquires 16 hectares that also offers boat rentals, another 10 hectares are dedicated to a zoological garden, where you can freely explore and discover more than 60 species: giraffes, pink flamingos or even crocodiles and lions! Flower lovers will undoubtedly enjoy the 30,000 rose bushes with 350 varieties of roses, and the botanical garden where badges identify each plant and flower.
A museum tour post the exploration outside satisfies the need to turn towards the culture. The newly-opened Confluences museum offers an answer. While waiting in line to enter, you learn interesting facts about the place: it is fully operational since December 2015, but its construction was very controversial due to a 10 year delay because of the problems related to the initial budget that ended being of five times the original figures. However, it has swiftly paid off for itself; the first impressive detail of this natural history museum is its architecture, breathtaking both from the outside and the inside.
The permanent exhibitions are impressive. From a scientific point of view, they tell the story of life, from the beginning of the world and its first species to the establishment of societies, ending with some considerations about death and how humans deal with it in different cultures. The Origins of Species room shows the evolution during seven different eras using scientific but playful explanations, and the visitors can see (and sometimes touch!) skeletons and skulls from a mammoth or a camarasaurus.
Another room is dedicated to Time and Space, and if you like to learn about the Universe and its origins, you will particularly enjoy a video explaining how the Earth was formed.
A perfect ending to the weekend; make sure to touch and feel some stardust and a rock fragment of the moon!
How to reach
Saint Exupéry airport is well connected to the main European capitals and international destinations. Direct or connecting trains to/from Switzerland, Spain, Belgium or even London are available daily.
Urban: Part Dieu shopping centre is located in the Part Dieu district, right next to the train station.
Traditional: Rue de la République and Rue Victor Hugo: The two main pedestrian streets are any fashionista’s paradise!
Carré de Soie/Confluence: both located on opposite sides of the city, these open-air shopping centers are delight for a family afternoon.
Special Mention: Foodies will truly enjoy a visit to Les Halles de Lyon – Paul Bocuse. Named after the world-renowned chef, Paul Bocuse, which also has a restaurant near Lyon, this two-story indoor market has a wide variety of gourmet products.
An event for everyone
Festival of Lights: Experience a magical pre- Christmas fairy tale each December 8. Every house places a candle on their windows and the city lightens up all its monuments, squares and even the inside of some buildings.
Nuits Sonores: May 13-17, 2015. Urban and independent electronic music festival.
Nuits de Fourvière: June-July. Live theater, music and other events.
Biennale de la danse/Biennale de l’art contemporain: In even-numbered years, enjoy 20 days of music, dance and parades from troupes around the world. In odd-numbered years, enjoy some months of extraordinary contemporary art exhibitions all over the city.