Lyon is a city synonymous with the silk industry, the French Resistance and a reputation as the 'gastronomic capital of the world'. It is located between the Rhone and the Saône rivers in the southwest of France. Lyon is home to some of the finest restaurants and chefs in the country and forms the second largest metropolitan area in France, after Paris.
Besides the many restaurants, bistros and cafés that entice people to this endearing city, Lyon boasts three large city parks, some 30 museums and countless monuments symbolising Lyon's development through the ages. It is home to the world-famous Lyon Opera House, whose orchestra's reputation has travelled far beyond French borders.
UNESCO lists Lyon as a World Heritage site due to its rich and diverse 2,000-year history, evident in the awe-inspiring Romanesque architecture and medieval buildings in Old Lyon, including the Primatiale St-Jean Cathedral, and the 16th-century Hôtel du Chamarier.
To the west, Fourviere Hill offers panoramic views of the city, and its own attractions include the Ancient Theatre of Fourvière, and the Musée de la Civilisation Gallo-Romaine.
By day Lyon can be viewed by boat on a trip down its rivers, and at night dinner cruises add an element of fantasy to the city. Lyon is a city rich in food, history and culture, making it a hidden treasure in the French landscape. It certainly lives up to its Roman name, Lugdunum, meaning 'the hill of light'.
This 300-year old structure's glass dome has become a landmark attraction in Lyon, situated between the City Hall and the Rhone River. The first five levels of the Lyon Opera House are underground while the six higher levels are encased in vaulted glass. The hall seats 1,200 people and boasts six vertically-stacked balconies overlooking the orchestra level. This Italian-style hall is lined with black wood and gold detail, and is home to the Lyon Opera Ballet company and the world-renown Opera House Orchestra. The acoustics are so good that it currently makes more recordings than any other French opera house, and has released award-winning opera CDs including 12 world premieres, ballets and symphony performances. The views from the dance studio, with its huge windows, are spectacular and it is worth popping in just to see them, even if you are not a fan of the performing arts. There are guided tours of the opera house available. Of course, the best way to experience the structure is by catching a show. Although some people still dress up, it is not a requirement so visitors need not panic if they don't have formal outfits.
To the right of the river Saône lies the Hôtel Gadagne, one of the most prestigious Renaissance mansions in Lyon. It was built between 1511 and 1527 for the two sons of a spice merchant but fell into the hands of the prominent Gadagne family in 1545. Being rich Florentine bankers, they threw many extravagant parties, infamously linking their name to the mansion. In 1902 the city of Lyon bought the mansion and in 1921 the Historical Museum was installed on the premises. It wasn't until 1950 that the International Puppet Museum became an additional attraction.
The Gadagne Museum houses paintings, sculptures and furniture, as well as archaeological relics dating back from the Middle Ages to the 19th century, illustrating Lyon's vast history. The International Puppet Museum displays hand puppets, stick puppets, marionette puppets and sliding bar puppets originating from countries such as Japan, Cambodia, England, Italy, Belgium, Czechoslovakia and Russia. The museums are both rewarding for visitors and kids in particular will love the puppets. The mansion itself is wonderful to explore and one can just imagine the wild parties it is famous for...
The ancient theatre in Lyon is the oldest in France, dating back to the year 17 BC. Built by the Emperor Augustus, it was originally used for theatre, pageants, musical shows, and poetry competitions. There are actually two theatres on the site: the massive Grand Theatre, which once seated up to 10,000 people; and the smaller Odeon below it on the hillside, which once seated 3,500 people and was used for more intimate performances like poetry readings. While much of the rich decorations are gone, decorated floors of inlaid marble and porphyry are still visible and the state of preservation of the place in general is astounding. Now it is primarily a tourist site, but the Nuits de Fourvière festival is held here every year. Nearby one can also see the ruins of a temple dedicated to the goddess Cybele, as well as some burial sites and an ancient Roman aqueduct. To really explore the site one has to do a fair bit of walking and climbing so be sure to wear comfy shoes and bring a water bottle. The Ancient Theatre of Fourviere is beautifully situated and promises many great photo opportunities.
Lyon has a humid subtropical climate influenced by its position in the Rhône Valley. The cold winds blowing in from the Alps are tempered by the warm Mediterranean breezes from the south to create a relatively mild climate. Winters (December to February) are cold, with average temperatures around 36°F (2°C) and biting winds that make the temperature seem lower. Snow and freezing rain are common. Summers (June to August) are warm and sunny, with average temperatures between 57°F (14°C) and 82°F (28°C), although temperatures can occasionally climb as high as 95°F (35°C). Precipitation is fairly steady throughout the year, with an average of 8-10 rainy days per month, although Lyon receives nearly 2,000 hours of sunshine per year. The best time to visit Lyon is on either side of the peak summer months (June and September), to avoid extreme temperatures and large crowds.
This restaurant seems tiny from the street, but there is plenty of room inside. Chez Mounier has the traditional atmosphere of a Lyonnais bouchon, with regional dishes like quenelle de brochet (dumpling in crayfish sauce) and herring salad. Locals and tourists alike love Chez Mounier for its unpretentious atmosphere and cheap food. Open Tuesday to Saturday.
The oldest brasserie in Lyon, La Georges has been serving Lyonnais delicacies since 1836. Since then it has hosted notable celebrities like Edith Piaf, Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway, and the Dalai Lama. The restaurant also brews its own beer. Its location can appear a bit seedy, but the large dining area means you can usually get a table without reservation unless dining at peak hours on the weekend. The restaurant is entirely no smoking. Open weekdays 11:30am-11:15pm, and Fridays and Saturdays 11:30am-12:15am.
This Michelin-starred restaurant is near to the heart of Lyon, located in a charming 17th-century inn on the tiny island of Île Barbe. It has a pretty ivy-covered courtyard and more intimate indoor dining area where you can sample dishes like meat stew mille feuille or red tuna tartare with quail and salmon eggs.
Getting around in Lyon is easy and fairly cheap compared to other European cities. Lyon takes full advantage of the Rhone Valley's roads and rivers, and transport routes into and out of the city are numerous. Air-rail links are made simple with Lyon Saint-Exupéry International Airport's TGV high-speed train station, as well as the highly developed TGV network and freeway system. The urban transport network consists of over 130 bus lines, two funiculars, four metro lines and five tramway lines. Tickets can be used across all modes of transport. A single ticket is valid for an hour and allows for multiple changes across the different forms of transport, but not a return journey. The City Card is ideal for sightseeing as you can get to most places in the city with it and receive free entry to some sites. The metro runs from 5am to midnight and night buses are available thereafter. Taxis are widely available. Commuters should make sure the meter has been reset before travelling and that the meter is on during the journey. If there is no meter then agree on a fee before setting off. Lyon's Old Town is a charming part of the city to explore on foot, and bicycles can also be rented.
Attractions in Lyon will delight visitors. This charming city is still not nearly as touristy as Paris, despite its rich heritage. As a result it is less crowded and less expensive and still feels very authentic. The majority of things to see and do in Lyon revolve around the city's magnificent Romanesque, medieval and Renaissance architecture, as well as its famous gastronomic offerings.
The ideal starting point for a trip to Lyon is a stroll around Vieux Lyon, the old part of town, where many of the most beautiful buildings can be found. Visitors will stumble across gems like the 16th-century Hôtel du Chamarier, and the breathtaking Cathedral Saint Jean Baptiste, a 12th-century Gothic cathedral. Another popular attraction in Vieux Lyon is the 300-year-old Lyon National Opera House, a magnificent place to catch a ballet or opera. This area is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is full of quaint courtyards and lovely outdoor restaurants.
Another area which must be explored is Fourviere Hill. One of Lyon's most famous attractions is the ancient Roman theatre of Fourviere which dates back to 17 BC, making it the oldest theatre in France. The preservation of the site is astounding and it is a fascinating place to visit, stroll around and picnic with stunning views of the city. The Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere, a wonderful 19th-century church, can also be found on this lovely hill, as can the interesting Musee de la Civilisation Gallo-Romaine.
Lyon has three large city parks. The best of them is the Parc de la Tete d'Or which is spacious and has a lovely rose garden, an ornamental lake, a small zoo, walking and running trails, and even a playground for children. The city also boasts some incredible museums such as the Musee des Miniatures et Decors de Cinema and the The Historical Museum, guaranteed to keep the whole family occupied.
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