France’s dynamic city of Lyon tends to be overshadowed by tales of the Parisian dream. Yet, spending time in France’s gastronomic capital, one begins to unravel the many facets of Lyon and its people. The beauty of Lyon lies in its duality, its eclectic mix of old and new. Find quarters steeped in history coexisting harmoniously alongside those that are newly evolving. Tradition meets modernity in everything, from the city’s cuisine to its seasonal festivals. Lyon is certainly a city in which you could spend weeks unraveling, but if you’re only stopping by, here are a few of the must-dos.
- The stomach of France
Do not leave Lyon until you have indulged in a traditional bouchon. Lyon is renowned for being France’s gastronomic capital, however, for all the opulence this implies, the essence of Lyonnais cuisine lies in the humble traditions and rustic authenticity of the bouchon. Rooted in the 18th century, they were founded by mères (mothers) with home cooking at the heart of their philosophy. Indulge in Lyonnais delicacies, based on the rich and the bloody, in the bouchons’ bustling, down to earth ambiance. And if you’re looking for haute cuisine, Lyon has plenty of that too.
- Funicular to Fourvière
In the heart of Old Lyon lies the mysterious looking funicular. Hop on and discover an entirely different world. Look down on the entirety of Lyon from the top of the Fourvière hill and read its chronicle from west to east as you witness a physical embodiment of the formation of Lyon, from the 1st to the 21st century. Find here the impressive Fourvière basilica and the Roman remnants of ruined amphitheaters, harking back to Lyon’s era as capital of Gaul under the Roman Empire. If you’re in town in the summer, make sure you experience Nuits de Fourvière, surely one of the few festivals to take place in Roman ruins.
- Twisting Traboules
Lyon is unique in its architectural beauty of the traboules. Trail the network of underground, covered passageways through the heart of Old Lyon. While easy to miss, find a wooden door and stumble across buildings the everyday tourist doesn’t get to discover. Walk in the footsteps of Lyon’s famous canuts (silk workers) and unearth this coveted web, integral to the city’s narrative and history.
- Parc de la Tête d’Or
It is rare for cities to have such expansive green spaces, and this park is perfect for a summer’s day. Bustle amongst French families and experience everything from merry-go-rounds, giraffes at the zoo and a beautiful botanical garden. And if you need some time to relax, there’s always sunbathing and a pedalo ride on the stunning lake.
- The Painted Walls
Rivaling Berlin, Lyon is one of Europe’s largest mural capitals. With over 150 wall paintings, you would think that they would be difficult to miss. However, les murs peints blend art and reality so intricately that it is easy to be deceived until you take a closer look. Trail the murals and find homages to Lyon’s history all over the city.
With this and so much more to uncover, the quiet pride emanating from the Lyonnais becomes all the more palpable the longer you stay. Humble and entirely undervalued, make a change from Paris when you next visit France.