My Next Memory loves to give you real feedback from a French destination and tell you how it’s really like to travel there. So buckle up, and come with us. This month, we take you to Lyon!
If Paris could be described as a crazy and bursting musical, Lyon would be a slow and graceful blues’ song! The second largest city of France is known for its relaxed vibe and one of the best qualities of life in the country. And whether you look at the city from the top of Fourvière hill or you just wander through the streets, you will notice that it somehow keeps a feeling of countryside and laidback atmosphere.
The Rhone and the Saône rivers meet slowly, gently, and everything feels leisurely: from the old town streets and buildings to the nicely renovated Rhone River banks where families and young people come to have drink, walk or just sit and chat every day.
So Lyon might not be about stunning architectural or visual beauty all over the town, but it’s all about enjoying the French lifestyle experience! Parks, traditional markets, great food and wine and plenty of festivals and activities to discover, will all make you feel very cozy ! Follow us though our heritage, food, wandering tips and accommodation sections!
Major historical sights not be missed in Lyon
The old city, or “Vieux Lyon” is the best way to start! Located on the west side of the Saone River, this is the historical heart of the City: with streets and architecture dating back to the 15th century and listed as UNESCO world heritage, it takes you back to the times of European Renaissance! We suggest you wander through the old streets, in particular the XX street and also visit the magnificent 12th century Cathedrale Saint Jean Baptiste. A wonderful and rare example of roman and gothic architecture blend, the Cathedral features in particular a 15th century clock, still ringing every hour between 12pm and 4pm. The building also serves as a backdrop for spectacular light shows at the Lyon Lumiere festival in early December!
Fourviere Hill is a major landmark and one of the most iconic places in the heart of Lyon people. Hosting the stunning Notre-Dame Basilica right on the hill top, it is a like the light of a lighthouse you can see from almost anywhere in Lyon. The basilica is a blend of Byzantine and medieval styles with a variety of complex and beautiful ornaments, offering amazing views over the City. Really outstanding are the two towers on top of the building, giving it a medieval feeling but strongly contrasting with the exterior white marble walls and the detailed interior decorations with very sophisticated windows, murals and painting artworks! Crowning Fourviere is the Virgin Mary’s golden statue on top of the Basilica, which is said to have protected the citizens of Lyon from the terrible 1643 plague. Every year on December 8, locals still light candles to commemorate the inauguration of the Basilica. This tradition gave birth to the Lights festival (Festival des Lumieres) now hold every December and opening on that day!
Quartier des Canuts or Croix-Rousse is a very original place to visit, and something completely unique to Lyon ! This neighborhood is now home to several walking tours, taking you through the hill streets and incredible buildings from where the French silk processing industry originated. We recommend you take the time to learn about the history of the place and how the workers used to live, with huge manufacturing workshops hosted below the communal living quarters and all connected to each other thanks to smart stairs and secret walkways!
La Table de France
There are good reasons for Lyon to deserve its nickname of “the Table of France”. The city and its region are not only famous for its traditional French dishes, but it is also home to some of the best Chefs in the world. In particular Paul Bocuse, who is still considered as one of the founding fathers of the French modern cuisine. Bocuse is a real celebrity here, thanks notably to its Culinary Academy providing some of the most sought-after cooking training programmes, and of course with its world-famous restaurant L’Auberge, recognized with three Michelin stars since 1965.
In Lyon, gastronomy and cuisine are everywhere and particularly enjoyed in some of the hundreds of neighborhood restaurants, also called “bouchons”, serving typical specialties, seldom found elsewhere in France. Let’s take a look at some examples!
Old Lyon cuisine did not cater much to vegetarians. Though this is changing in everyday life, Lyon’s traditional cooking is pretty much about meat and about giblets (yes, the internal organs). Sausages such as “boudin” or “andouillette”, which are cooked intestine meats, are known for their strong smell, taste and flavors. Other strange specialties include the “tablier de sapeur”, which is made by marinating tripes overnight into white wine and then frying it with bread crumbs. Much easier to eat are the famous cold cuts, and in particular the Rosette, literally meaning “pinkette” due to its light pink color once cut. Typically enjoyed with Beaujolais light red wine, Rosette is ubiquitous in Lyon!
Quenelles are also not to be missed: local Lyon people eat this delicacy, a fish cake made from a river fish, eggs, flour, and lots nice seasoning, and served with a creamy sauce. It has the freshness of seafood dishes with the mellow flavor of milk / cream sauce. Rumor says it is so good that some local people have it almost everyday!
Last but not least, the “cervelle de canut” should not stop you because of its weird name. Literally translated as “silk worker’s brain” because of its look, it actually is a delicious cheese product made from white cheese mixed with spices, salt, olive oil and vinegar! And it goes perfectly with a glass of red wine.
And talking about wines, amateurs know that Lyon is the starting point to the Northern Rhone Valley wines, including the highly looked upon Condrieu and Côte-Rôtie or Saint Joseph appellations…
Wandering through Lyon
As mentioned before, Lyon is really the perfect location to enjoy a relaxed and authentic French atmosphere. You may head for example to the “Parc de la Tete d ‘or”, one of France largest urban parks! It consists of a botanical garden, a zoo and a big lake, which are all nicely intertwined through a network of paths. Go there for a casual walk or rent a bicycle and watch the local life pass by.
Make sure you also do not miss some of the local markets. Not only does Lyon has wonderful food markets, usually hold during the week end (including the one of the Rhone River bank!) but it is also very famous for its second hand markets, including antics, books and vintage clothes!
A note on accommodation
Lyon has a large range of offers when it comes to hotels and accommodation. This is also due to the fact that it is very busy business city for the French, so you will never run out of options and generally speaking, the prices are much lower than in Paris!
There are two main pieces of advice we could give you. Location-wise, we recommend staying close to the Bellecour square or near the river. Not only is it convenient to explore the City, you may also enjoy the beautiful scenery outside the window.
Also, it is worth finding some traditional courtyard hotel in the “Vieux Lyon” to go back to the middle-ages and stay in a historical, beautiful house !
In a nutshell
Only 2-hours away from Paris with the high-speed train, Lyon is an easy-going destination where plenty of opportunities to visit and relax are offered within a concentrated space. It is an escape we particularly recommend for the travelers wondering what French life is like outside of Paris, or for the hedonist wanting to enjoy some wonderful food and wine experience!