Lyon (Fr. Lyon) is the third-largest city and second-largest urban area of France. It is located at the confluence of the rivers Rhône and Saône, about 470 km south-east of Paris, 320 km north of Marseille and 56 km (35 mi) northeast of Saint-Étienne. Inhabitants of the city are called Lyonnais.
Lyon is located at the geographical crossroads of the country, to the north of the Rhône corridor that runs from Lyon to Marseille. Located between the Massif Central to the west and the Alpine massif to the east, the city of Lyon occupies a strategic position for north-south traffic in Europe.
Former capital of Gaul during the time of the Roman Empire, Lyon is the seat of an archbishopric whose holder bears the title of Primate of the Gauls. Lyon became a very commercial city and a first-class financial centre during the Renaissance. Its economic prosperity was carried successively by the silk industry, then by the appearance of industries, in particular textiles, chemicals.
Lyon, historically an industrial city, has hosted many petrochemical industries to the south of the city along the Rhône, known as the chemical corridor. After the departure and closure of the textile industries, Lyon gradually refocused on advanced technical sectors of activity, such as pharmaceuticals and biotechnologies. Lyon is also the second largest student city in France, with four universities and several grandes écoles. Finally, the city has preserved an important architectural heritage ranging from Roman times to the twentieth century through the Renaissance and, as such, the districts of Vieux Lyon, the Fourvière hill, the Presqu’île and the slopes, de la Croix-Rousse are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
With six million tourists per year, Lyon is the second tourist city in France.
Tourism, which is very intense in France, benefits Lyon in particular a lot: it generated more than 1 billion euros in economic benefits in 2019 for an average stay of one to two days (in total, 3.5 million overnight stays in 2019). 60% of tourism turnover comes from business tourism and 40% from leisure tourism. 54% of tourists are foreigners. In January 2009, Lyon won first place in the French hotel market.
Regarding business tourism, about 60 international events were organized in 2019. The city occupies second place in the French ranking for the number of international events (UAI ranking 2006, behind Paris and ahead of Strasbourg and Nice). Still according to this ranking, the city occupies thirtieth place in the world ahead of Hong Kong, Sydney, Chicago and Shanghai (over 47 places compared to the 2004 ranking). A business tourist spends an average of €200 per day. 250 artistic meetings took place during the summer of 2019.
Lyon has a remarkable historical, architectural, cultural and gastronomic heritage, as evidenced by the many official or unofficial titles awarded to the city:
- capital of the Gauls (this title was retained by the city after the founding of France);
- world capital of gastronomy (thanks to its local specialties and to its world-famous chefs);
- capital of the Resistance (because of its important role in occupied France: underground newspapers, resistance networks, arrest of Jean Moulin in the suburbs of Lyon in 1943, trial of Klaus Barbie);
- capital of silk;
- capital of roses;
- capital of cinema (invention of the cinematograph by the brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière).
The Historic Site of Lyon was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. In its designation, UNESCO cited the “exceptional testimony to the continuity of urban settlement over more than two millennia on a site of great commercial and strategic significance.” The specific regions comprising the Historic Site include the Roman district and Fourvière, the Renaissance district (Vieux Lyon), the silk district (slopes of Croix-Rousse), and the Presqu’île, which features architecture from the 12th century to modern times. Both Vieux Lyon and the slopes of Croix-Rousse are known for their narrow passageways (named traboules) that pass through buildings and link streets on either side. The first examples of traboules are thought to have been built in Lyon in the 4th century. The traboules allowed the inhabitants to get from their homes to the Saône quickly and allowed the canuts on the Croix-Rousse hill to get from their workshops to the textile merchants at the foot of the hill.
TOP attractions must see in Lyon:
The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière is a minor basilica in Lyon. It was built with private funds between 1872 and 1884 in a dominant position overlooking the city. The site it occupies was once the Roman forum of Trajan, the forum vetus (old forum), thus its name (as an inverted corruption of the French Vieux-Forum). Fourvière is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, to whom is attributed the salvation of the city of Lyon from the bubonic plague that swept Europe in 1643.
Lyon Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church located on Place Saint-Jean in Lyon. The cathedral is dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, and is the seat of the Archbishop of Lyon. The cathedral was founded by Saint Pothinus and Saint Irenaeus, the first two bishops of Lyon. The cathedral is also known as a “Primatiale” because in 1079 the Pope granted to the archbishop of Lyon the title of Primate of All the Gauls with the legal supremacy over the principal archbishops of the kingdom.
The Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls of Lugdunum (Lyon) was part of the Sanctuary of the Three Gauls dedicated to the cult of Rome and Augustus celebrated by the 60 Gallic tribes when they gathered at Lugdunum. In 1961, it was classified as a monument historique. The amphitheatre was built at the foot of the La Croix-Rousse hill at what was then the confluence of the Rhône and Saône.
The Church of Saint-Nizier is a church in the Presqu’ile district of Lyon, in the 2nd arrondissement, between the Place des Terreaux and the Place des Jacobins. Its name refers to Nicetius of Lyon, a bishop of the city during the 6th century. The first religious building on the site of the present church was a Roman monument, perhaps a temple of Attis, whose worship was probably the cause of the Christian persecution in Lyon from 177.
The Hôtel de Ville de Lyon is the city hall of the City of Lyon and one of the largest historic buildings in the city, located between the Place des Terreaux and the Place de la Comédie, in front of the Opera Nouvel. Since 12 July 1886, the building has been classified as a Monument historique.
In the 17th century, Lyon was developed and the Presqu’île became the city center with the place des Terreaux.
The Lyon City Hall was built between 1645 and 1651 by Simon Maupin.
Hôtel-Dieu de Lyon was a hospital of historical significance situated on the west bank of the Rhone river, on the “Presque-isle” (the Peninsula between the Saône and Rhone rivers which run through the city center). It has been out of use since 2010. First erected in medieval times, the building originally served as the “Confrérie des frères pontifes” (est. 1184), a pontifical meeting-place and refuge for both traveling and local members of the clergy.
La Place Bellecour is a large square in the centre of Lyon, to the north of the Ainay district. Measuring 312 m by 200 m (62,000 m² or 15 acres), it is one of the largest open squares (i.e. without any patches of greenery or trees) in Europe, and the third biggest square in France, behind the Place des Quinconces in Bordeaux (126,000 m²) and the Place de la Concorde in Paris (86,400 m²).
The Opéra Nouvel (Nouvel Opera House) is the home of the Opéra National de Lyon. The original opera house was re-designed by the distinguished French architect, Jean Nouvel between 1985 and 1993 in association with the agency of scenography dUCKS scéno and the acoustician Peutz. Serge Dorny was appointed general director in 2003.
The Tour métallique de Fourvière (“Metallic tower of Fourvière”), a landmark of Lyon, is a steel framework tower which bears a striking resemblance to the Eiffel Tower, which predates it by three years. With a height of 85.9 metres and weight of 210 tons, the “metallic tower” was built between 1892 and 1894.
The Palais de la Bourse or Palais du Commerce is a building located in the quarter Les Cordeliers, in 2nd arrondissement of Lyon. In 1994, the building was classified as monument historique.
The Place des Jacobins is a square located in the 2nd arrondissement of Lyon. It was created in 1556 and a fountain was added in 1856. The square belongs to the zone classified as World Heritage Site by UNESCO. This square is one of the most famous in Lyon, because of its location and its heavy traffic, as 12 streets lead here.
The Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon. Located near Place des Terreaux, it is housed in a former Benedictine convent which was active during the 17th and 18th centuries. It was restored between 1988 and 1998, remaining open to visitors throughout this time despite the restoration works. Its collections range from ancient Egyptian antiquities to the Modern art period, making the museum one of the most important in Europe. It also hosts important exhibitions of art, for example the exhibitions of works by Georges Braque and Henri Laurens in the second half of 2005, and another one – the exhibitions of Théodore Géricault from April to July 2006.
It is one of the largest art museums in France.
Lugdunum, formerly known as the Gallo-Roman Museum of Lyon-Fourvière, is a museum of Gallo-Roman civilisation in Lyon (Roman Lugdunum). Previously presented at the Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon and the Antiquarium, the municipal Gallo-Roman collection was transferred to a new building designed by Bernard Zehrfuss and opened in 1975 near the city’s Roman theatre and odeon, on a hill Fourvière, located in the heart of the Roman city.
The Musée des Confluences is a science centre and anthropology museum which opened on 20 December 2014 in the 2nd arrondissement of Lyon, (Rhône). The deconstructivist architectural design, said to resemble a floating crystal cloud of stainless steel and glass, was created by the Austrian firm Coop Himmelblau.
The Musée des Automates is a museum with a collection of 250 automatic puppets, all of them moving and made in the building’s workshop. Seven rooms and 20 animated scenes reflect the heritage and tradition of Lyon.
The Lumière Institute is a 1901 law association created in Lyon in 1982. It devotes its activity to the dissemination and conservation of cinematographic heritage. The institute runs the Lumiere museum installed in the Villa Lumière, a mansion that Antoine Lumière, inspirer of his two sons, had built in 1899 on the Place de Monplaisir, not far from the premises of the Lumière company.
The Miniature and Cinema Museum, formerly the museum of miniatures and movie sets, is a private museum founded in 2005 by the miniaturist artist Dan Ohlmann.
Lyon has a cultural and artistic heritage of great value. Indeed, two arts were born in Lyon: the cinema, invented by the Lumière brothers, and the theatre of Guignol, whose characters of Guignol and his friend Gnafron were invented by Laurent Mourguet. Lyon is also a centre of rock music, because several groups from Lyon have been influential in France (Rock in Lyon).
The city has modern and renowned cultural infrastructures, such as the Maison de la danse de Lyon, the Auditorium in the Part-Dieu district, which is home to the National Orchestra of Lyon, the Célestins theatre and the National Opera of Lyon, where the greatest opera singers have performed.
In addition, Lyon, birthplace of the composer Jean-Marie Leclair (1697-1764), is the only French city with Paris to have two permanent orchestras: a symphonic and another lyric, constituting a rare cultural privilege. Today artistic creativity is still present with the National Conservatory of Music and Dance of Lyon, with teaching at the National School of Fine Arts at Subsistances (former military warehouses converted into an artistic creation laboratory devoted to new languages of performing arts), but also through numerous exhibitions in the various museums of the city or the organization of major cultural events.
The Villa Gillet is an international observatory of contemporary languages.
It is also in Lyon that we can see an early work by the artist Guillaume Bottazzi, a painting of 12 meters by 8 meters, made in 2006.
Many cultural events punctuate the life of the inhabitants, sometimes of international fame such as the traditional Festival of Lights (or Illuminations) which is held there for four days around 8 December and the nearest weekend, during which the Lyonnais illuminate their windows with candles on the evening of 8 December. The origins of this festival date back to the nineteenth century and are linked to the inauguration of the golden virgin placed at the top of the Saint-Thomas de Fourvière chapel. It is said that the Virgin Mary would have saved the city from the plague in 1643 and that the inhabitants of Lyon would have, at the time of the inauguration of the statue commemorating a long attachment to the Marian cult, lit candles in their windows after the sudden stop of the storm that disrupted the planned festivities.
Today, it has taken on a tourist dimension with the burning of the city’s monuments by professional technicians from all over the world for this occasion. This festival is now stretched over four days with the evening of 8 December as its epicentre, but the Lyonnais remain attached to tradition with the illuminated windows and strolls on the evening of 8 December. Today, the festival is international in scope and attracts nearly four million visitors each year.
Apart from the Festival of Lights which is the emblematic event of the year, other large-scale events punctuate cultural life in Lyon:
Quais du thriller, literary festival which takes place every year at the end of March. Event dedicated to the detective genre, which revolves around a detective story fair, meetings with authors, debates, conference, film screening. The “Quais du Polar” readers’ prize is awarded during the festival; the Nuits Sonores, a festival of electronic and independent music taking place every year around Ascension Thursday. In ten years, this event has become a benchmark festival in Europe both in terms of the quality of the musical programming and the originality of the concept: for five days, the festival invests in more than 40 emblematic places of the city: streets, museums, brownfields, riverbanks.
Les Nuits de Fourvière is a multidisciplinary festival (music, theatre, dance …) which is the cultural event of the summer. The sixty or so performances have been taking place every evening in the grandiose setting of the ancient theatre of Fourvière since 1946.
The Dance Biennale created in 1984, is a contemporary dance festival which takes place in even years, in September. The highlight is the choreographic parade which brings together 4,500 participants under the eyes of 300,000 spectators gathered all along the route between Terreaux and Bellecour.
The Contemporary Art Biennale created in 1991, is an art exhibition that takes place in odd-numbered years. The event brings together artists from all over the world whose works are shown in four main locations: La Sucrière, the Musée d’art contemporain de Lyon, the Bullukian Foundation and the Usine Tase in Vaulx-en-Velin.
The Lumière de Lyon Festival, which takes place in October, is a film festival organized by the Lumière Institute and the Greater Lyon. The Lumière Prize is awarded to a personality of the seventh art, in tribute to all of his work and his contribution to the cinema, in the same city where the cinematograph was invented by Auguste and Louis Lumière in 1895.
The Original Festival, which takes place at the beginning of April, is a hip-hop breakdance and graffiti competition festival, with many concerts by legendary artists from the rap movement. Its goal is to introduce urban art to as many people as possible for five days.
OctoGones, the game and imagination convention, organized by the Rhône-Alpes Federation of Gaming and Imagination Associations (FAJIRA) 173 takes place during the first weekend of October: for the year 2020, its eleventh edition will be held from 2 to 4 October.
On 5 September 2004, Fernando Alonso and Franck Montagny of the Renault F1 Team drove their single seaters. From 13 to 18 October 2009, the first edition of the Film Festival will take place. Since 2003, Place aux livres has been organized, the Salon du Livre de Lyon, which is also the national fair for independent publishers from the different regions of France. In 2015, Lyon hosted the World Rose Convention.
Cuisine, gastronomy, restaurants
Gastronomy has been treated as an art form here since the Antiquity era. It is the ideal terroir, with 80 AOC wines (geographically protected labels) in the region and 340 farms dotted throughout the surrounding metropolitan area (not to mention 39,000 in the entire region!).
Lyon has over 4,000 restaurants: a record in France! About 20 of the city’s chefs are star-rated in the 2019 Michelin guide (with a total of 23 stars, making it the fourth most star-rated city in Europe).
It has been internationally acknowledged as being the No.1 gastronomic destination in France (The Times UK 2015) and the fifth greatest worldwide (National Geographic 2015).
Its cuisine is open to outside influences (40 countries are represented among its specialty restaurants). Its cuisine focuses on quality and health. Additionally, nutrition research is highly active in the area.
The city already hosts many events on the same theme: SIRHA, BIG!, Lyon Street Food Festival, in addition to several wine and gastronomy trade fairs.
What to taste:
Lyonnaise salad, quenelle (Giraudet who knows how to develop the quenelle), pork (Lyonnaise sausage, rosette and jesus) and offal (Andouillette, sapper’s apron …), cardoon gratins, canut brain, bugnes, praline tart, chocolate makers (the papillote was created in Lyon).
Where to taste the best:
Chez Abel, Daniel and Denise, Chez Chabert, Le Poêlon d´Or, and others.
Bellecour is the heart of the presqu’île in Lyon 2. Consequentially, many big brands have chosen to set up shops there. There are plenty of shops for bargain lovers and fans of haute couture alike. Head to Rue de la République if you’re looking for high street brands such as FNAC, H&M or Brandy Melville (just off Rue de la République at 14 Rue Confort).
Or if you’re looking for some more upmarket shops, they are dotted around the streets surrounding Place Bellecour (rues Victor-Hugo, Emile-Zola, Edouard-Herriot, rue de la République…). Examples include Sandro (16 Rue Emile Zola), Gant (4 Rue Jean de Tournes, 69002), and Louis Vuitton (94 Rue du Président Édouard Herriot, 69002).
Located just off Bellecour square, the Grand Hôtel Dieu is home to many upmarket brands. Check out feminine clothing brand Marie Sixtine, expert in essential oils Aroma-Zone, and high quality furniture store OBBO design. The Grand Hôtel Dieu is also home to the brand new Hotel Intercontinental and a smaller version of les Halles de Part-Dieu.
Confluences shopping centre is one of the newest shopping centre in central Lyon. A stone’s throw from the sparkling new Confluences museum, the Confluences shopping centre matches the museum in its modern architecture.
Old Lyon’s streets are dotted with lots of little boutiques: from ancient bookshops to souvenir shops. But for fashion lovers, the real joy is wandering around the independent silk shops, or ‘soieries’ in French.
Les Puces du Canal (flea market) – Four universes dedicated to vintage, flea market and antiquities. Come and meet the 200 permanent merchants and 400 unpackers and make a stop at one of the 7 restaurants.
Transport and how to get to?
Lyon–Saint-Exupéry Airport, located east of Lyon, serves as a base for domestic and international flights. It is a key transport facility for the entire Rhône-Alpes region, with coach links to other cities in the area. The in-house train station Gare de Lyon Saint-Exupéry connects the airport to the nationwide TGV network.
The city is at the point of a dense road network and is located at the meeting point of several highways: A6 (to Paris); A7 (to Marseille); A42 (to Geneva); and A43 (to Grenoble). The city is now bypassed by the A46. A double motorway tunnel passes under Fourvière, connecting the A6 and the A7 autoroutes, both forming the “Autoroute du Soleil”.
Distance by car to the main cities around:
From Biarritz (tolls): 7 hr 16 min (749 km) via A89
From Nantes (tolls): 6 hr 34 min (685 km) via A85 and A71
From Bordeaux (tolls): 5 hr 30 min (556 km) via A89
From Toulouse (tolls): 5 hr 10 min (538 km) via A61, A9 and A7
From Monaco (tolls): 4 hr 50 min (493 km) via A8 and A7
From Marseille (tolls): 3 hr 11 min (314 km) via A7
From Andorra (tolls): 7 hr 3 min (664 km) via A9 and A7
Area: 47.9 sq. km
Population: 516 100
Time: Central European UTC +1
GPS coordinates: 45°46′N 4°50′E