The French city of Lyon is a den of historic gems and gastronomic pleasures. Thousands of years of architectural expansion has left France’s third-largest city with a legacy of cobblestone streets, cathedrals and museums. Wandering around the UNESCO World Heritage city of Lyon, you can’t help thinking that you could be strolling through the pages of a picture-book. Here are things to do in Lyon you should not miss.
1- Dine in a Michelin Star restaurant
Lyon’s treasure chest of historic gems makes it a destination worth including on any European itinerary. But the street conversations and shop windows filled with meat, bread, wine and cheese, also highlight Lyon’s other main attraction. Food.
Oh yes, Lyon is undoubtedly a destination for foodies.
In 2010 there were 15 Lyon restaurants with Michelin stars. And the city is home to France’s king of cuisine, Paul Bocuse. Bocuse’s influence is everywhere in Lyon including his flagship three-star Michelin restaurant, L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges, hotel management school, Institut Paul Bocuse, and four brasseries in the city.
The brasseries reflect regional cooking: L’Est is influenced by Alsace cuisine, Le Nord leans towards Lyonnaise and L’Ouest is a nod to Asia.
At Le Sud, Mediterranean and North African dishes such as lasagne, couscous and tagines are on the menu.
Aspiring chefs from around the world are taught Bocuse’s techniques at Institut Paul Bocuse. The institute also manages Le Royal, a delightful boutique hotel where students from the institute gain first-hand experience.
Le Royal has a cosy ambience of a grand family mansion. Rooms are decorated in red or blue themes and ornamented with wall hangings and trinkets that convey a feeling of homey luxury. Staying there feels like you’re visiting the home of a wealthy uncle.
At Le Royal’s restaurant, I take a seat at the long dining table in the centre of the room and feast on foie gras, boeuf bourguignon and pain perdu, the local version of French toast. The table has a view of an area designed to look like a family kitchen in a luxury mansion.
Another delightful dining experience is at the institute’s Saisons Teaching Restaurant, where a three-course menu is prepared and served by students at the institute, which occupies a handsome 19th-century chateau.
Dishes are works of art delivered with faultless service in a grand chandeliered dining room. Saisons is a popular local haunt and the room is buzzing with well-dressed locals lingering over a long lunch.
I discover more treats at Halles de Lyon – Paul Bocuse. The contemporary market named after Bocuse is filled with stalls selling sausages, oysters, chocolate and cheese.
The market also has several bouchons, friendly bistros that serve traditional Lyonnais fare.
At the convivial Restaurant Les Halles, my lunch of Lyonnais salad, escargot, andouillete (a tasty tripe sausage) and boudin noir (blood sausage) is enough to feed a whole family.
Tripe and blood sausages are not my idea of a perfect meal but Lyon’s chefs seem to have perfected the art of preparing tasty sausages.
More things to do in Lyon
When you’re not sampling the region’s culinary delights, here are some other things to do in Lyon:
2- Wander Lyon’s Cobblestone streets
Soak in the fairytale atmosphere of Lyon’s old town while wandering around the cobblestone streets.
Vieux Lyon is one of Europe’s largest Renaissance quarters with Gothic churches, narrow lanes, museums and over 300 Renaissance mansions.
The historic buildings are filled with gift shops, fashion boutiques, delis, restaurants and cafes.
3- Visit Notre-Dame
Take the funicular from Vieux Lyon up Fourvière hill to the ornate 19th century Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourviere. The terrace beside Notre-Dame has one of the best panoramic views over the city, second only to the view after climbing 287 steps to the basilica’s observatory.
4- Learn about silk at the Museum of Textiles
Lyon became France’s capital of silk weaving when Francis I granted the city a silk trade monopoly in 1536.
Visit the Museum of Textiles and Decorative Arts (www.musee-des-tissus.com) to delve into the history of silk weaving.
There are displays of tapestries, textiles, carpets, cabinets of 18th to 20th century Lyon silk and patterns for Lyon-made fabrics created for the royal courts of Europe.
5- Discover Secret passages in Lyon
One of the fun Lyon attractions to discover are the traboules, or passageways, that thread their way through the slopes of Croix Rousse.
Croix-Rousse is the district where the canuts, or silk-workers, lived and worked during Lyon’s silk-making heyday.
In the 19th century there were 100,000 silk looms operating in Lyon. See weaving demonstrations at Maison des Canuts or join a two-hour guided walking tour exploring the traboules.
6- Discover Lyon’s mural magic
Lyon’s three-dimensional “trompe l’oeil” painted walls are definitely worth seeking out. The Mur des Canuts (silk weavers’ wall) in the Croix-Rousse is spectacular.
The Tony Garnier Urban Museum has 24 trompe l’oeil murals.
La Fresque des Lyonnais is a stunning mural of Lyon’s famous figures from Roman emperor Claudius, who was born when Lyon was a Roman city called Lugdunum in Gaul, to the inventor of the Jacquard loom, Joseph-Marie Jacquar, and chef Paul Bocuse.
7- See a puppet show
Lyon is the birthplace of Guignol, a witty marionette that has entertained French families since the 19th century.
Watch the Lyonnais version of Punch and Judy at Theatre Le Guignol de Lyon, visit the Museum of Animated Puppets and the International Puppet Museum in the old town.
How to get to Lyon
Several airlines fly to Paris, including Air France. Air France’s Premium Voyageur cabin offers seats with 40% more space than in economy. Travel to Lyon on the TGV, which departs daily from Gare de Lyon in Paris. The train journey takes two hours.
Getting around Lyon
A Lyon City Card provides unlimited rides on the Metro and entry to many museums.
Where to stay in Lyon
Le Royal Lyon has excellent food and is conveniently located on a corner opposite Lyon’s main square. The cosy decor has a warm feel and the hotel was the first hotel to have an electric lift in Lyon.”