It only took a few minutes to convince me that flying to Lyon for a weekend was a great idea.
There are a lot of things to see, ranging from the remains of the old Roman city to the modern architecture buildings at the confluence of the rivers Rhône and Saône.
Lyon in a nutshell
The following is an interactive map. The blue pins mark the main points of interest of the city. The other main sights are divided by topic: religious buildings, parks, modern architecture, and museums.
Finally, the black pinks mark the Central Station, the Part Dieu Station (for those coming from the airport), and the cable railway stations leading to the hills of Lyon.
In my opinion, the city is easy to visit both on foot and by public transport. But moving only on foot can be a little tiring because you have to walk long stairways or fairly steep streets to reach the hills around the center. I used, for example, the cable railway, thus saving time and a little energy.
My itinerary was pretty simple:
- On the first day, I explored the area between the two rivers, starting more or less from the central station and going northwards for about 3-4 km.
- On the second day, I went to the Confluence in the morning, and to the old city center over the Saône River (Vieux Lyon and the Fourvière Hill) in the afternoon.
It is the largest square in Lyon and one of the largest in France (and in Europe). It can be reached in a few minutes on foot from the central station or by subway. From here, you can clearly see the Fourvière Hill and the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière. In the middle of the square stands the equestrian statue of King Louis XIV of France.
Place des Jacobins
It is a beautiful small square surrounded by buildings of different styles and with a beautiful fountain in the middle. I recommend going there in the morning, in fact, 12 roads converge here, and it quickly gets busy and crowded.
Place des Terreaux
Moving north from the Place des Jacobins, we reach the Saint Nicetius’ Church and then arrive at one of the most famous places in Lyon: Place des Terreaux.
Around the square (it was in 2019 under renovation), there are some of the most famous monuments of Lyon.
Hôtel de Ville (City Hall)
Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon
Nouvel Opera House
Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls
It is a medium-sized Roman amphitheater which now hosts events and shows. It can be easily reached on foot from Place des Terreaux or in a few minutes from the Croix-Paquet metro station. Nearby is one of the most famous traboules in Lyon. The traboules are the “hidden” passages that allow crossing the buildings without having to go around them.
The graffiti and murals in Lyon are impressive in number, size, and quality. Among the most famous are the Mur des Canuts and the Fresque des Lyonnais, and for those interested, there is a long list of addresses here. The link is only in French but should be easy to understand anyway.
One of the architectural elements that made Lyon so famous. The traboules are pedestrian crossings that allow the pedestrians to pass through entire buildings through their internal courtyard. Their name probably comes from the Latin trabulare/transambulare, which means “to cross”.
These passages are of different types and sizes, and they are all privately owned. Some are freely accessible, others only to residents.
Among the most famous traboules are the Cour des Voraces, not far from the Amphitheater of the Three Gauls (mentioned above), and all the elegant traboules under the Fourvière Hill. I marked this area with a black layer on my interactive map above. Finally, here there is a map with a recommended traboules route.
The Lyon Cathedral is located right in the heart of Old Lyon (Vieux Lyon), in the middle of a Medieval and Renaissance district, and not far from the famous traboules.
The Cathedral was completed at the end of the 1400s and has two souls: Gothic outside, Romanesque inside.
Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière
The cable railway station Vieux Lyon is only a few meters from the Cathedral. From here you can choose between two destinations: the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, or the Ancient Theatre of Fourvière. I used it to reach the Basilica, walked down the road to the Roman Theater, and finally took the funicular to go back to Vieux Lyon.
Ancient Theatre of Fourvière
This archaeological site also includes the Roman Odeon and the Lugdunum (Gallo-Roman Museum of Lyon-Fourvière). Today the location is also used for concerts, festivals, and events.
Musée des Confluences and modern architecture
South of the central station, several modern architecture buildings slowly replace the old abandoned warehouses and hangars.
The Museum of the Confluence was designed by the renowned architectural studio Coop Himme(l)bau and is the most famous building in this area.
Other interesting modern architecture examples include the Rhone-Alpes County Council Hall by Christian de Portzamparc, Le Cube Orange and the Green Cube (Euronews headquarters) by Jakob + Macfarlane Architects, and Le Monolithe (the monolith).
If you have extra time
In only two days, I wasn’t able to explore the eastern part of Lyon, the one beyond the banks of the Rhone River. I think that at least the following attractions are worth mentioning:
- Parc de la Tête d’or (Park of the Golden Head). It can be easily reached by subway (Charpennes – Charles Hernu station).
- Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse (Market Hall). It can be easily reached by subway, (Gare Part-Dieu – Vivier Merle station).
- Lumière Museum and Lumière Institute. One next to the other, their aim is the promotion and preservation of French film making.