FRANCE RHONE-ALPS RHONE Le Rhône et LyonLyon is an attractively cosmopolitan city. Having been the centre of commercial, industrial and financial activities in the past, Lyon has managed to uphold its importance for the past 500 years. Today, it still remains an important administrative centre, as it is the capital of the Rhône-Alpes region and the smaller Rhône department. The urban metropolis is filled with a perpetual business grind and has an active get-up-and-go vibe. It has also been the headquarters of the international police agency, Interpol, since 1989.

However, Lyon is not all work and no play-the city is also known as the culinary capital of France, home to a large congregation of international chefs. It is densely populated with numerous restaurants in almost every street corner, most famous for serving pork delicacies. The city has also long been known for its silk industry, which is still alive today with old weaver’s workshops lying next to modern silk boutiques. Another notable aspect of Lyon is that, this was the very city where the Lumière brothers shot and screened their first motion picture-Sortie des Usines Lumière à Lyon (Workers leaving the Lumière factory). Hence, Lyon also boasts a dynamic cultural life, which is reflected in its landscape that encompasses a good blend of traditional and modern structures. The city sheathes a well-preserved old town quarter as evidence of its rich history, amidst a bustling club scene and a growing university student population.

FRANCE RHONE-ALPS RHONE lyon statue of Munatius Plancus by Rama
The city of Lyon was first founded as a Roman colony by Munatius Plancus (Caesar’s lieutenant), in 43BC. Founded on the Fourviére hill, Lyon was then named Lugdunum- meaning ‘hill of lights/prayers’. Its strategic location quickly made it a Gaul capital, the centre of trade. Lyon’s Gaul association continues today, as the city’s archbishop is still known as Primat des Gaules.

Many religious and territorial scuffles plagued the colony for years to come and Lyon eventually became part of the French constitution in the 14th century. Prosperity struck Lyon soon after, with the arrival of movable type. This technology propelled Lyon’s economy, making the city one of Europe’s leading publishing centres. At its height, Lyon was home to hundreds of resident printers.

During this time, Lyon had already become an established textile trading centre as well. The introduction of silk manufacturing in the 1500s, gave Lyon an extra boost to its economy. The manufacturing technique that entered France from Italy grew exponentially; and by the mid-18th century, almost 40% of Lyon’s total workforce comprised of silk weavers. Lyon was now known as the silk weaving capital of Europe. These silk weavers, also called canuts, staged two major uprisings in 1830-31 and 1834, against their menial pay despite working 14-20 hours a day. This protest, unfortunately, only resulted in numerous deaths.

More bloodshed was to be seen in Lyon as the years went on, as the city became a centre for the occupying Germans as well as the resultant French Resistance, during the Second World War. Over 4000 people were killed and 7500 were deported to Nazi camps by the Gestapo chief, Klaus Barbie aka the ‘Butcher of Lyon’. Despite having been sentenced to death twice after the war, the court only managed to arrest him in 1987. He was then sentenced to life imprisonment at the age of 72; and died in his cell 3 years later.

Lyon is a well-organised city with neatly packed grid network streets. The entire city is divided into 9 arrondissements (suburbs), each with a number and recognisable neighbourhoods. These suburbs are broadly divided into 3 groups, by the Saône and Rhône rivers that cut through the city. So at first glance, Lyon seems to comprise of 3 snaky land masses.

The city centre is located at Presqu’ile (the middle arrondissement group)- a peninsula, bordered by the two rivers. Its public squares are located in the north and south, at Place de la Croix Rousse, Place Louis Pradel, Place des Terreraux and Place de la République. Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon; see photo below) lies on the Saône River’s western bank, close to the Fourvière hill.

You can arrive at Lyon by flying in at the Lyon St-Exupéry Airport or via regional buses, at the Perrache Complex (at the centre of Presqu’ile). You can also arrive via train at either one of the two train stations- Gare de la Part-Dieu [1 Place Charles Béraudier] and Gare de Perrache [along Cours Charlemagne].




Lyon Events
If you visit Lyon at the right time of the year, you will be able to partake in their one of their many cultural celebrations, such as the Le Nuits de Fourviére that is held in the Fourviére hills, Théâtre Romaine. Open air concerts are held in this historic venue from early June to August. Lyon is also known for its Biennale festivals with the Biennale d’Art Contemporain and the Biennale de la Danse being held alternatively, each year. However one of the most famous festivals of Lyon is its Fête des Lumières which is held in December. This festival sees the light-up of significant buildings in Lyon (especially along Place des Terraux) with light and sound shows. The festival marks the Feast of Immaculate Conception and most houses around Lyon light up candles on their window sills, at night. It is a truly memorable sight.



CENTRAL LYON:   1. Tourism Office  2. Hôtel de Ville  3. Train Station (Gare de Perrache)  4. Train Station (Gare de la Part-Dieu)  5. Place des Terreraux 6. Musée des Beaux-Arts  7. Fresque des Lyonnais  8. Musée de l’Imprimerie  9. Musée des Tissus & Musée arts décoratifs de Lyon 

: 10. Musée Gadagne  11. Musée des Miniatures et Décors du Cinéma  12. 12. Palais de Justice  13. Cathédrale St-Jean  14. Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière  15. Roman Amphitheatres and  Musée de la Civilisation Gallo-Romaine (underground)   Note:  The red lines show the fenicular routes.

CROIX-ROUSSE 16. Mur des Canuts fresco  17. Jardin Rosa Mir  18. Amphithéâtre des Trois Gaules  19. église et du quartier des pentes de la Croix-Rousse 

RIVE GAUCHE:  20. Parc de la Tête d’Or  21.Cité Internationale & Musée d’art Contemporain 22. Musée des Confluences 

SOUTH LYON:  23. Centre d'Histoire de la Résistance et de la Déportation  24.  Musée Lumiére

NORTH LYON:  25. Musée Henri Malartre 

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FRANCE RHONE-ALPS RHONE Place des Terreaux - LyonThe Lyon city centre- Presqu’ile (comprising of the 1st, 2nd and 4th arrondissements), is beautifully decorated by its central street- Place des Terraraux. In the middle of this street is the 19th century fountain, sculpted by Frédéric Auguste-Bartholdi (Statue of Liberty fame), out of 21 tonnes of lead. It is adorned by galloping horses that symbolise the city’s rivers flowing towards the sea.

Just nearby is the Lyon town hall. The ornate Hôtel de Ville (see photo) was built in 1655, with much of its intricate façade works being completed in 1705. However, the best feature of the town hall is not the building itself- rather, it is the maze of 69 granite fountains that have been embedded in the town hall’s main square. When these fountains are been turned on, water gushes in and out of them at short intervals, threatening to soak anyone who remains oblivious. It is good fun and is a definite place to visit if you have kids on tow, during summer.

RHONE ALPS Lyon Musee Beau Arts Gericault 'La Monomane de l'envie dite aussi La Hyène de la Salpêtrière' The central arrondissement group is also home to the reputable Musée des Beaux-Arts [20 place des Terreaux , +33 472101740 ad/ch €7/4]. This museum is one of the few outside of Paris, to have a stellar collection of European artworks distinguishing the various artistic periods. It is a definite must-see for art-buffs. The neighbouring cloister garden is also good for a relaxing walkabout or a cheerful picnic.  Lyon also has its own iconic opera house, built in 1832. Erected by Jean Nouvel, this structure is a sleek, contemporary feature in the city’s skyline, with its futuristic glass dome roof.  

West of Perrache, you will sight the 7 storey high Fresque des Lyonnais- a large mural that features a host of well-known Lyonnais personalities, peeking out of ‘open’ French doors and windows. This grand mural that spans over 600m² is a life-sized work of art, which proudly displays the city’s historical figures such as loom inventor Joseph-Marie Jacquard, poet Maurice Scéve and Chef Paul Bocuse.

Some other museums within the vicinity are the Musée de l’Imprimerie [13, rue de la poulaillerie +33 478376598 ad/ch €5/Free] that pays homage to the printing industry that took off in Lyon during the 15th century; and the Musée des Tissus [34 rue de la Charité, +33 478384200 combined entry ad/ch €7/Free] that has an international collection of hallmark fabrics such as Chinese silk, Iranian carpets and tapestries with Greek and Coptic influences. The building in which the museum stands, also houses the neighbouring Musée arts décoratifs de Lyon - featuring ancient French furniture and pottery.


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Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon) is home to numerous medieval and Renaissance houses. The antique city quarter is split into three sections- St Paul, St Jean and St Georges. St-Jean is the mid-section of Old Lyon and was once the main street of the old city centre. The place was Lyon’s financial hub as it was home to banks and money changers. It was also the centre of the Lyon silk trade. Many streets in St-Jean are named after the trade that they were associated with. These street names still apply and many shops in the vicinity still retain the old iron signs outside their doors. This section is also home to Cathédrale St-Jean [70 Rue Saint-Jean, +33 478547621] – a partly Romanesque Cathedral that was built between the 11th and 16th centuries. It was the seat of Lyon’s 133rd bishop and it features a Flamboyant Gothic façade as well- most notable of these are its portals that have been decorated with 280 square stones. The cathedral is also home to a huge astronomical clock in its north transept.

FRANCE RHONE-ALPS RHONE Façade du Musée GadagneAlso within this section, are the Musée des Miniatures et Décors du Cinéma [Maison des Avocats 60 rue St-Jean +33 472002477 ad/ch €7/5.50] and the Musée Gadagne [1 place du petit Collège, +33 478420361 combined ticket ad/ch €8/Free, separate ticket ad/ch €6/Free]. The Miniature Museum is a rather unusual sight as it depicts cinematic special effects and recreates movie sets using miniatures. The museum was created by Dan Ohlman, a cabinetmaker and sculptor who had a passion for theatre and operas. He created this place to provide visitors with a realistic mini-‘behind-the-scenes’ experience of famous movies. The museum holds permanent exhibitions for popular films such as Star Trek, Terminator and Titanic. Some ghoulish exhibits might not be suitable for kids. Housed in an iconic Renaissance building, Musée Gadagne is filled with heavy doors and hidden pathways. This building is home to the Lyon History Museum and the International Puppet Museum. The history museum takes you all the way back to Lyon’s pre-Roman roots, comprising of over 80 00 relics that tell the tale of the city’s social, political, economic and religious life. While the Puppet Museum, is home to over 2000 puppets, tracing the evolution of this art down to its contemporary counterparts. The International Puppet Museum is the only French Museum dedicated exclusively to the art of puppetry.  

FRANCE RHONE-ALPS RHONE Lyon The tower-lantern Eglise St-Paul

The St-Paul section is also home to many historical buildings, most notably the Église Saint Paul [3 Place Gerson, +33 478283445]. Having been built in 549, this church is one of the oldest in Lyon and was erected by the Saint Sacerdos. Like the St-Jean Cathedral, the Saint-Paul Church is also a Romanesque-Gothic structure, known for its octagonal tower-lantern and frieze of animal heads in the chancel.

Other roads and/or streets within Old Lyon, which are worth checking out, are rue de Bœuf and rue des Trois Maries. These streets are filled with traboules- secret passageways under streets that were primarily used by silk weavers to get to their merchants. It is said that there are over 315 traboules in Lyon, linking 230 streets with a combined length of 50km. Other interesting features include courtyards, spiral staircases, as well as many lovely antique buildings.

FRANCE RHONE-ALPS RHONE Basilica lyon fourviere

Located within the same arrondissement, northeast of the old city, are the iconic slopes of Lyon - the Fourvière Hills, on which the city first sprouted on. Once home to the Roman city of Lugdunum over 2 millennia ago, the hills are now marked by the Tour Métallique and a basilica. The Tour Métallique is a large structure, created in 1893, subsequently used as a TV transmitter. The tall edifice can be scaled on foot or by boarding a funicular from Place Edouard Commette. Once on top, you will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the city and the rivers below. However, the crown jewel of the hill is still the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière [8 place Fourviere +33 478258098]. This basilica was built in the 19th century by Pierre Bossan and St Marie Perrin, after the Franco-Prussian war. It was erected when the anticlerical Third Republic rose in power and has an exaggerated Byzantine façade. It is 66m long, 19m wide and 27m high, and its interior is filled with marble, gilt and mosaics. The basilica’s rooftops, however, are its most intriguing features, as it comprises of several sculpted stone roofs, as well as an observatory tower, which gives panoramic views of Lyon. Scheduling a rooftop tour in your itinerary would be worth it. The basilica also runs many other themed tours all year round.  

FRANCE RHONE ALPS Lyon Musée d’Art Religieux

Other traditional buildings within the Fourvière hills, are the Musée d’Art Religieux (located within the basilica)[+33 478258619 ad/ch €6/Free] and the Musée de la Civilisation Gallo-Romaine [17 rue Cléberg +33 472384930 ad/ch €7/Free]. The Religious Art Museum sheathes local treasures and sacred artworks, with a good collection of temporary and permanent exhibits. The Civilisation Museum on the other hand, houses several precious artefacts, dug up from the Rhône Valley region. This museum is located on the slopes of the Fourviére hills, which were once the centre of Lugdunum, with the huge Théâtre Romain and Odéon (the central stage for ancient performances) lying next to it.




Croix Rousse
FRANCE RHONE-ALPS RHONE lyon croix rousseCroix Rousse is the northernmost arrondissement of Presqui’le and is known for having a somewhat bohemian vibe, thanks to its hilly location and cultural content. The area has been nicknamed the ‘hill of works’ as it was once heavily marked by the local silk industry with many canuts setting their workshops here, upon the invention of the Jacquard loom. These workshops feature large windows and wood-beamed ceilings, more than 4m high (to house the large machines). Today, the workshops function as stylish loft apartments.

The town remembers its silk weaving tradition with the Mur des Canuts fresco [Blvd des Canuts] - a large mural that covers 1200m², depicting the life of the hardworking canuts.  More information regarding their labour-intensive lives, staged uprisings and the evolution of the silk weaving industry in Europe, can be found at the Maison des Canuts [10&12 rue d'Ivry +33 478286204 ad/ch €6/Free], where the traditional Jacquard loom still operates. If you would like to get your hands on some of the local silk, you can head on to the string of silk-related galleries and workshops that also feature other crafts such as stained glass paintings, which are all lined up along Montée de la Grande Côte.  

FRANCE RHONE-ALPS RHONE Jardin Rosa Mir by Aurelie Chaumat
Located north of this, is one of Croix Rousse’s hidden gems- the Jardins Rosa Mir [83 Grande rue de la Croix-Rousse]. The creation of this garden spanned over 25 laborious years, and was envisioned by Jules Senis- a tile and bricklayer artisan. Senis was also a Spanish anarchist exile so it may be no surprise that his labour of love is a remarkable outcome.  He started creating the garden upon recovering from serious illnesses and began this ambitious project by planting the courtyard with ancient trees and plants such as geraniums and lemon trees. The highlight of the garden, are its walls that have been richly decorated with hundreds of seashells.The garden is dedicated to his motherer after who it is named.

Rive Gauche
Across the
Rhône River, east of Croix-Rousse, lie the remaining four arrondissements of Lyon and in its north-eastern corner lies the iconic Parc de la Tête d’Or [Bdvd des Belges +33 478890203 Free]- meaning Golden Head Park. This park was named as such; as legends claim that the golden head of Christ is buried in this very place. The park has remained the same throughout the years, since its inception in 1856. It comprises of lakeshore gardens, a zoological park, as well as a botanical garden. The area is a good place for couples to stroll about and to bring the family, as kids will enjoy the pony rides.

At the northernmost head of the park, on the Rhône riverbanks lies the Cité Internationale and the Musée d’art Contemporain [81 quai Charles de Gaulle , +33 472691717 ad/ch €6/Free]. The Cité Internationale is a brick and glass structure designed by Italian architect, Renzo Piano for the G7 summit in 1996. This futuristic building was then later revamped with the addition of a Roman-style amphitheatre and a Congress Centre in 2006. It is currently home to many shops, a casino and numerous hotels, as well as the Contemporary Art Museum. The museum displays the works of living artists, whose art pieces reflect the current trends and practices of modern art. Be prepared for some intriguing pieces.

At the southern border of the park, lies the recently opened Musée des Confluences [28 boulevard des Belges , +33 478373000 Free]. This museum is worth a visit as it attempts to answer questions about our existence with the use of exhibits regarding physical and social sciences.

Further down south, is the Centre d'Histoire de la Résistance et de la Déportation [Espace Berthelot, +33 478722311 ad/ch €4/Free]. This was the old WWII headquarters of Gestapo commander, Klaus Barbie. The cellars of the building, which once housed the Gestapo victims, act as the temporary exhibition halls. The permanent exhibitions in the centre document the history of the Occupation Years, recalling Nazi activities as well as the retaliation of French Resistance fighters.

East Lyon
East of the centre, lies another iconic sight of Lyon (though less sombre) - the Musée Lumiére [25 rue du Premier-Film +33 478781895 ad/ch €6/5]. Located in the historic area where the Lumiére brothers shot their first motion picture, the building known as the Lumiére Institute, houses the cinematic museum. The museum exhibits photoramas, film reels as well as educational displays that document the evolution of filmmaking technology. Visit their website if you would like to watch the Lumiére brothers’ first films. A mural, Mur du Cinéma, paying homage to Lyon’s cinematic tradition is also located close by, at the corner of Cours Gambetta and Grande rue de la Guillotière.

North Lyon
Motor-heads can head to the fascinating Musée Henri Malartre [645 rue du Musée, Rochetaillée-sur-Saône +33 478221880 ad/ch €6/Free] situated just north or Lyon's borders. This museum traces the history of automotive vehicles, featuring historically significant ones such as Hitler’s Mercedes and Jean-Paul II’s Renault Espace. The museum is rightfully housed in a 15th century château, giving you a traditional ambience, suitable for flashbacks.