I am in love with Lyon and not surprised it happened. Lyon is a city that I’d been wanting to visit for ages, having been told that it’s a more chill and manageable alternative to Paris. Last month we hopped on a TGV – it’s only two hours from Paris – and spent a sunny weekend exploring the city for the first but definitely not the last time.
We stayed in an SNCF train driver hotel next to the Perrache station, in the 2nd arrondissement, because my partner is a train driver. As soon as we arrived, the first thing I noticed in Lyon is that it is a lot cleaner and friendlier than Paris and the atmosphere is super chilled.
Lyon is ridiculously pretty and the traffic is relatively quiet for a major city; especially compared to Paris. This is perhaps because the public transport in Lyon is cheap, efficient and clean (the big three) but it is calm and a manageable size so walking around the city is best, then taking the transport when you are exhausted. We spent most of our first day wandering around the pretty streets, squares like Place des Jacobins and Place du Change, and admiring the street art at Le Mur Des Canuts.
Of course, records and beer were a priority so we checked out some of Lyon’s ample craft bars, shops, and record stores. Sofa is a gem of an independent record shop for African, South American and Asian music and for The 405 is a good stop for beer as they have an interesting and vast selection – both in the 1st arrondissement.
Lyon is a foodies’ dream, it is known as the gastronomy capital of France after all, and one thing to note is that Lyonnaise food is very hearty so working up an appetite is a must. We went to a Bouchon next to our hotel called Brasserie Georges where I enjoyed a Lyonnaise salad if you can call something so rich and creamy a salad. Then pistachio sausage and tripe, which was scary but actually delicious. I finished my feast with some Cervelle de canut, which means ‘silk worker’s brains’. Don’t panic it wasn’t more offal, it’s actually fromage blanc with chopped herbs and is so fresh and tasty. Also, when pretty much in the Cotes du Rhone region it would have been rude not to drink Cote du Rhone right. Needless to say, we slept well that night.
One of the less touristy but most characterful areas is the district of La Croix-Rousse and we spent a lot of time exploring the winding streets. It’s to the North East was the center of the silk-weaving industry that tied the city to Renaissance Italy. This area has a village-like charm with many bars and beer cellars. It is a trek up to La Croix-Rousse from the 1st arrondissement but you will pass some charming streets and Kraspek Myzik – an independent record shop by day and concert venue by night.
Here we happened upon Rue Bodin where there is a plaque dedicated to the suffragette movement in the UK. Many streets in Lyon – Rue Bodin, Place Morel, Rue Flesselles, Rue de La Tourette were renamed with the names of women engaged in fighting for women’s rights and sit next to pink signs paying homage to women’s movements. There is more information on this here.
In La Croix-Rousse there are many quirky shops and bars such as Dikkenek Café, Fanfan and the very local and dog-friendly Cafe L’Ivry. There are also the covered alleyways, called Traboules, and secret stairways that once linked courtyards and homes to the river so residents and silk weavers could easily access the water. They were also used as escape routes during German occupation. You could spend a whole day exploring these. We were also lucky enough to be there during a flea market which was a real hustle and bustle of locals.
We also went to the impressive Musée des Confluences, being hailed as Lyon’s answer to Bilbao’s Guggenheim – designed by Coop Himmelb(l)au. The museum is huge and tells the story of mankind through a collection of two million objects, including a 1,000 year-old mummy and a piece of moon rock. It is in the newly revitalised industrial area on a tongue of land between the rivers Saône and Rhône south of Perrache station in the 2nd, where we were staying. This area is modern and full of architectural gems – I love the cheese building – and the project is very impressive; intended to be a sustainable neighborhood for all. With its starchitecture, media centers, tech start-ups, and warehouses – one’s home to rave parties like La Sucrière – in a former sugar factory – this is a fresh and modern Lyon that contrasts with the cities history of gastronomy, silk and Gauls.
Lyon offers variety; a sympathetic and alluring concoction of old and new. For something more than a bit older and equally as stunning there’s the famous Vieux Lyon across the Saône in the 5th. Part of a Unesco World Heritage Site, this is where the original silk weavers settled in the 16th century before moving across to Croix-Rousse. The medieval and renaissance streets are oozing with history, home to the gothic St Jean Cathedral and overlooked by The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière. Prepare to gasp.
Across the city is the Parc de la Tête d’Or. It is a huge park and breathtakingly pretty, containing a lake, ornamental gardens and petanque courts. We headed there in the heat to chill by the lake but sadly we couldn’t visit the zoo as it was closed because of a lovely charity event for disabled children. We will be back though because there is a lot more to see in Lyon.
It was a short trip and my poor boy cracked a rib – man vs shower and man lost situation – but we had such a relaxing, delicious and fun time in Lyon. Next time we plan to visit the Musée des Beaux-Arts, the covered market Les Halles Paul Bocuse and I really want to visit the open-air swimming pool on the Quai Claude Bernard by the river Rhône too. Can’t wait to go back!