City Guide



Introduction to Lyon

Lyon is a sprawl of urbanisation which lies on the banks of two major rivers; the Rhône and the Saône, only coming to a head at their convergence which has formed a peninsula (presqu’ile) between the two. Lyon’s wealth and its development over the years is largely thanks to the silk trade. Through the cobbled streets of Vieux Lyon (the old quarter) can be found many hidden passages ‘Les Traboules’ which intertwine amongst buildings and courtyards. The traboules were engineered to facilitate the transportation of the silk up from the river (Saône) to the workshops, factories and outlets in order to minimise exposure to the polluted air and keep the silk in its purest form.

The presqu’ile is the heart of Lyon’s thriving affluence with Bellecour, an enormous square home to a fantastic statue of Louis XIV, the centre piece. From Bellecour leads la Rue de la République, a pedestrianised road which constitutes the main shopping area in Lyon. At the other end of this magnificently wide boulevarde littered with Renaissance architecture lies l’Hotel de Ville, the famous ‘Marmite’ opera house (you either love it or hate it), and la Place des Terreaux in the centre of which can be found a truly amazing water feature – a statue of a half-naked goddess harnessing the power of four raging stallions, which depicts the Rhône and its four tributaries.

Lyon is geographically in a fantastic location. On a good day you can see Mont Blanc from the top of Fourvière. You can be in the centre of the French Alps in a few hours on the train, so it's an ideal location if you are looking to make the most of a cold French winter. When the summer roles in you are also only a couple of hours from the French Riviera and the beauty of the south thanks to an excellent TGV service.

For museum lovers, there is the Museum of Fine Arts (Le Musée des Beaux Arts), a Resistance museum, a puppet museum, and an African museum, as well as several places paying remembrance to the Lumière Brothers who invented the motion picture in 1895.

La Quai du Rhône is the site for bars and clubs on boats, such as Sirius, le Platforme and la Marquise, and book fairs and flea markets at weekends. Sunbathe, skateboard, cycle or walk along ‘les berges du Rhône’ at Guillotière, which in summer reminds you of the artificial beach in Paris, complete with a seasonal open air swimming pool! At night, ‘les berges du Rhône’ at Guillotière come alive with a lively environment of people chatting and enjoying a few aperitifs.

Parc de la Tête d’Or, north-central Lyon close to Massena, is where the Lyonnais people come out to play at the weekends and is a great place to relax in the sun when it is less busy during the week. It offers a zoo and safari park, a good place to jog, four-person bicycle carts, pedal boats and rowing boats on the lake, acres of grass for a kick-about and plenty of spots to picnic. Pebble beaches can be found on the River Rhône in the north of the city, close to the INSA engineering school campus (Tramway T1 northbound).

Take one of the oldest funiculars still in function today anywhere in the world to Croix-Rousse on a Sunday to get your groceries from the huge fresh produce market, then walk through the ‘traboules’ (interlinking pedestrian tunnels) down hill towards the old town, via a Scientology church, stopping in on a few of the remaining silk workshops that funded so much of the growth of the city in past times. There are some great gift ideas and silk ties to be purchased! (Guided walking tours through the traboules, used by the Resistance during the Second World War to avoid the Nazi officers, and workshop tours are available.)