Lyon is a large city in east central France. It is home to just under a half million people that share a sprawling urban area that encompasses 368 square miles. There are many historic and architectural landmarks that makes Lyon a point of interest for tourists from around the world. For this reason, the city of Lyon has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city has proved instrumental in the history of cinema in recent times whereas historically, it was known for its silk production and weaving. Lyon is also a very important part of France’s economy by being a major contributor to the banking, biotech, chemistry and software industries.
Tourists flock to Lyon in droves each year to experience the beauty and magic of the city. One of the most popular tourist draws is the Fete des Lumieres or Festival of Lights in December. It’s a four day celebration that commemorates the legend that the Virgin Mary protected the city from Black Death and in thanks, the residents of the town put a lighted candle in every window on the day that a statue was erected in her honor. Of course, the Festival of Lights isn’t the only thing tourists go to Lyon for. There are many, many locations worth visiting in the city and we’re going to outline some of the best in this article.
Places To Visit In Lyon
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The Traboules of the Croix-Rousse – The Traboules of the Croix-Rousse is a series of passages that wind along the hillside of Croix-Rousse. It’s estimated that some 30,000 silk weavers lived here in the 19th century. Today, live silk weaving and printing demonstrations show visitors how this age old handicraft is still practiced in Lyon just as it has been for centuries.
The Murals – Downtown Lyon is an artist’s landscape, with hundreds of murals dotting the buildings and structures around town. Most of them are in the every popular “Trompe l’œil” style and there are many frescoes as well. This is an open air gallery like you’ve never seen before and a truly do-not-miss destination.
Maison des Canuts – Maison des Canuts or The Silkmaker’s House is another site dedicated to the preservation of Lyon’s art for silk weaving. It’s located in the heart of the Silk District – along the Croix-Rousse – and offers an in depth glimpse of the silk making and weaving process – from the silk worms that spin it to the centuries old looms used to weave it.
Gargoyle Hunting – On nearly every piece of architecture in Lyon, you’re going to find some degree or variation of a gargoyle. Maybe a dog, lion, dragon – or something more sinister – all you have to do is look around. They’re everywhere! And a walking tour to sight-see and ‘hunt’ them all is a popular pastime with tourists in Lyon.
Museum of Animated Puppets – Two hundred animated puppets filling seven spacious room wait to greet you in this museum like none other in the world! You’ll see common varieties of puppets as well as those depicting famous people like poets, writers and musicians. Puppet artists will show you in detail how the puppets are made and what all goes into bringing them to life. This is a great destination for families traveling with children.
Marché aux Bouquinistes – Every Saturday and Sunday, Lyon residents come together to put on a massive used book sale. Here you can find treasured classics, old favorites and new favorites alike. You could spend literally hours perusing all the titles on display.
Marché de la Création – Sunday mornings are also a popular time for the artistic community in Lyon. It’s when local artists, sculptors, painters and musicians congregate to discuss ideas, socialize and showcase their work. If you’re an artist or just an art enthusiast, this is a great place to explore and meet new people.
Amphitheater of the Three Gauls – The Amphitheater of the Three Gauls was constructed in 19 BC as part of a Gallic settlement. This massive structure had a seating capacity of 20,000. It was the site of many events of religious significance in Lyon, but mainly where Christian martyrs were thrown to the lions – and subsequently their deaths. One such martyr – a woman by the name of Blandine – was tossed to the lions here, but was unharmed. A bull was then placed in the amphitheater with her, but it, too – did not hurt her. Roman soldiers ultimately killed the seemingly invincible woman with their swords.
Théâtres Romains – The Théâtres Romains is an ancient Roman theater/temple complex dating back to 17 BC. It was once the site of a variety of performances and political events during the Roman Era and is open for public tours, looking much the same as it did all those centuries ago. A fantastic way to step back in time!
Le Carré d’Or – If you’re prepared to spend some serious money – or would rather save some serious money and just window shop – , a visit to Lyon’s Le Carré d’Or is in order. Dior, Cartier, Louis Vuitton and Hermes are just a few of the big names you’ll find attached to the boutiques in this district.
Part Dieu 11 – While you’re in the shopping mood, you might as well head over to the largest mall in Europe – Part Dieu. It features some 260+ stores, 14 screen cinema and a long and varied list of restaurants, clubs, pubs and other venues on site.
The Dombes – The Dombes is one of the best kept natural secrets in Lyon. It’s a wonderful nature land surrounded by lakes that offers biking/hiking/walking trails as well as a bird park that offers some of the best bird watching environments in all of France.
Winter Sports – Lyon is a popular destination for winter sports enthusiasts due to its close proximity to Rhône-Alpes mountain region, which offers more than 200 resort properties with skiing accommodations for every ability of skier. Along with the resorts and world class skiing opportunities, there are restaurants and quaint little villages to explore as well.
Summer Adventure – The same area of Lyon that brought you winter sports doubles as a playground in the summer. Hot air balloon rides, jet skiing, para-sailing, rock climbing and fishing are just a few of the warm weather activities you can partake in during the summer months in Lyon’s mountain region.
The Marché aux Puces de Villeurbanne – On Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, Lyon is crawling with antique hunters that begin their search by candle or flashlight at 6am. Even though there are more than a thousand full-time antique dealers in the city, this local’s market has proven to be a treasure trove of French antiques at amazing prices so there’s no way you want to miss a chance to check it out!
Most people in Lyon, of course, speak French. However, in the metro areas you’re very likely to find people speaking English, especially in the service industries like hotels and restaurants. As you travel from the city to more remote locations, English will become less used and you’ll have to reply on your own knowledge of French to communicate. That said, very little street information and few public signs are in English so if you don’t have a mediocre grasp on French, you might run into a little trouble in that aspect.
The French are very social people and they do like to congregate and mingle with others. Drinking is fine, but smoking is rather frowned upon and is banned from any enclosed public place in the country. This includes bars and clubs as well as restaurants. So if you’re a smoker, this is something to keep in mind as you plan you evenings out. Being that Lyon is such a hustling bustling city with so much to do, we don’t think you’ll have time to even notice that restriction on smoking. Enjoy!