In France, it seems that Paris gets all of the attention. Mind you, the fashion capital and sparkling eiffel tower are strong reasons to visit this renowned city, but it tends to leave the smaller metropolitans stifled under it’s shadow. Although I was excited to visit this glowing capital of France (I’m human, aren’t I?), I was more intrigued with it’s little sister, Lyon. Although the online reviews I read about this city left me shrugging my shoulders, I knew we had to give it a chance on our way across the country. Ultimately, it appears that Lyon might be one of the most underrated cities I’ve visited. A mix of modern urban structures with artifacts and landmarks from 2,000 years ago creates a gorgeously evolved land. Located on the Rhône and Saône rivers, each sidewalk and corner tells a story. Sometimes literally, with poetic wall murals and detailed graffiti designs decorating the pathways. The city is extremely walkable when viewed on a map, but be forewarned that part of the charm of this place is the views. And, well, you can’t have views without sweating your butt off to get to the top of the hills. So, grab your best walking shoes and check out the top sites (and tastes!) you need to experience in Lyon, France.
While our hotel, Quality Suites Lyon Confluence, was across the water from Old Lyon, we were easily able to walk along the river to go back and forth between the sites. There is an accommodating public transportation system that’s easy to use, but we wanted to embrace all the warm weather we could.
We started our day heading into Fourvière, a popular district in Lyon that houses numerous attractions. We traveled off the main road to find some beverages and soak in the afternoon warmth. Given our late start, we didn’t arrive to 2pm and had a lot to get too… like two giant mugs of beer . #priorities #vacation. When we were refueled, we wandered the alleys of this part of the city to ultimately head to the main event, climbing to the top of the mountain overlooking the city.The streets were narrow and often included stairways along the roads given how steep the landscape was. Because of its crooked layout, there really was no direct route to get anywhere. Which, as a visitor, made the trek all the more magical. Though, I can imagine as a local it might be less than convenient. We meandered through the streets and just kept heading upwards in the direction of the gold monument above. We eventually reached a point where we thought we were lost, only to stumble onto our next sight!
Théâtre antique de Lyon
I didn’t think we’d have time to fit this place in, but low and behold, we walked directly into it without even realizing it. It’s incredible how much the city embraced the heritage it was constructed upon. Rather than fencing it away from the public and charging a fortune to enter, it was free for all to explore. Beginning around 15 B.C., this theater was built and would end up holding nearly 10,000 people. It’s even still used today for various cultural festivals. We walked through the aisles and spent some time sitting the rows imaging the history that occurred over so many centuries. We finally made our way up another thousand (exaggeration) steps to exit from the top.
Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière
Luckily, the height of the amphitheater got us that much closer to the Basilica. With a few more twists and turns we reached the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière. Built on the highest point of the city, it’s easy to see from nearly every building below. It’s sparkling gold embellishments made it even more visible from miles away. Once used as the Roman forum of Trajan, this structure was built in 1872 to the Virgin Mary for Lyon’s salvation from the plague. While you can go in and wander the basilica when there aren’t services, the real treat is on the backside. The overlook is where you’ll truly get a sense of the Lyon’s majestic nature. Directly below your view is the old village, our next stop!
As the largest Renaissance district of Lyon, it would take years to adventure through every street. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, the cobbled alleyways and gothic buildings are protected from being torn down or updated. It was upon entering this oldest part of the city that I knew Lyon would steal my heart. Boutique shops lined each road and restaurants set out their tables all through the streets as most cars were banned in the majority of the area. We spent out time in and out of shops and picking up gifts for family and friends back home. It wasn’t long before we could refrain from the sweet treats on the bakeries every ten feet. Given that dinner wouldn’t be until around 8pm (ugh Europe, why so late?!) we enjoyed a selection of only the best macaroons ever. That tide us over until we found a well-reviewed restaurant for fish, flan and local wine.
Place de Archives
After a long day of exploring, we made our way back to the hotel, stopping at this park along the way. A large park with various statues and water fountains that was popular with locals. Many people had set up picnic areas with their kids and dogs and were enjoying the warm evening and the late sunset. After enjoying our wine buzz to the fullest, we immediately got to sleep to be ready for tomorrow’s adventure!
Have you ever been to Lyon? What’s your favorite European city?