Recognised around the world as the “Capital of Gastronomy,” Lyon, France, is a cosmopolitan metropolis where French tradition meets modernity. First and foremost a university town, the eastern French city, situated in the Rhône-Alpes region, offers a pleasing rhythm and unique experiences.
Formerly the capital of Gaul, Lugdunum (as it was originally named) benefited from its geographical and political position at the crossroads of Gallic and Roman culture. This rich history has contributed to the city in many ways, most notably in its culinary and artistic reputations.
From Renaissance institutions such as the Primatiale Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste to annual events that draw millions of visitors—the Festival of Lights every December is just one—to 20 Michelin-starred restaurants, the City of Lights offers myriad things to see and do.
After food critics Curnonsky and Marcel E. Grancher published “Lyon, the World Capital of Gastronomy” in 1935, the city became a mecca for food and wine. Visitors far and wide made the pilgrimage to try Lyon’s simple but fresh cuisine. Today, millions of tourists each year taste their way through the city. Lyon is best known for its cheese and sausage—specifically cervelle de canut and cervelas de Lyon, respectively—as well as its Lyonnais and Beaujolais wines.
Everywhere you look you’ll find the “Bouchons Lyonnais,” restaurants typical of the area, certified by the culinary gods for their adherence to regional cooking traditions. Don’t expect swanky hipster havens. Most of these institutions are modest in appearance yet offer mouthwatering local dishes. Start your gastronomic adventure with a Lyonnaise salad, made up of croutons, smoked bacon and a poached egg. Follow that with a plate of quenelles Lyonnaise, thick, flour-based dumplings smothered in tomato sauce.
Les Fines Gueules at 16 rue Lainerie in the Old Town serves traditional cuisine in a relaxing atmosphere. Expect rustic wooden tables, checkered tablecloths and a well-heeled crowd of locals seeking Lyonnaise dishes with a twist. Opt for the bluefin tuna tartare, a specialty of the house, as you sip on a local varietal. The restaurant is the place to go for a light repast and a bottle of wine.
If you are looking for a more extravagant dining experience head to Les Halles de Lyon-Paul Bocuse. The late chef was a culinary titan and local hero who put Lyonnaise cuisine on the map. The expansive, posh market hall features restaurants, cafes, butcher shops, cheesemongers and the like—50 in all—serving and selling their wares. Head to one of the patisseries for fresh bugnes, fried donuts dusted with powdered sugar. Before you leave, grab a helping of the aforementioned cervelle de canut or cervelas de Lyon as a souvenir.
At Halles de Lyon-Paul Bocuse, entremets are made from fresh salmon, lobster, scallops and foie gras mousse. Credit: Halles de Lyon-Paul Bocuse Try the stuffed mussels at La Maison Rousseau, a Bouchon Lyonnais. Credit: Halles de Lyon-Paul Bocuse
Cradled by two rivers, the Rhône and the Saône, Lyon offers a picturesque setting where you can enjoy a variety of activities while contemplating a landscape that merges nature with cityscapes.
Nearly every architecture style is represented here—medieval, Art Nouveau, and Renaissance to name a few. In addition to its culinary reputation, Lyon is an art mecca, second only to Paris. The Museum of Fine Arts, once a Benedectine convent, boasts the works of Ruben, Delacroix and Gauguin. Savour a moment of reflection in the lush courtyard garden where sculptures such as Rodin’s “The Shadow” dance attendance.
Did you know that Lyon is the birthplace of film? Cinephiles learn about the history of their favourite artform at the Lumière Museum, named for the brothers who made the first motion picture in 1895.
Locals flock to the Berges du Rhône, a three-mile-long quay near the river for a respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. Take advantage of the many walking and cycling paths and admire the architectural beauty of the Hôtel Dieu and Jean Moulin Lyon 3 University. Once night falls, spend the evening contemplating the lights on the river on one of the pontoons.
The terrace at Notre-Dame de Fourvière Basilica affords guests the most Instagram-worthy view of the city. Take the funicular from Vieux-Lyon directly to the top. No matter your religious persuasion, don’t skip visiting the interior of the basilica. It offers nooks and crannies to meditate in silence as well as impressive mosaics and stained glass.
Now that you’ve spent the day touring the sites, it’s time to let loose. La Péniche La Marquise, a club located on the Rhône river, is the hip place to dance into the early hours. Summer festivals abound in Lyon, with “Les Nuits de Fourvière” at the top of everyone’s list. Enjoy live acts at The Amphitheater of the Three Gauls, the ancient Roman arena.
Every December, Lyon gets overrun with visitors thanks to the Festival of Lights. Every part of the city, be it the Old Town or the university area, is lit up like a Christmas tree for a few days. Films are projected onto iconic monuments. Don’t miss the illuminations at Place Bellecour!
Notre-Dame de Fourvière Basilica sits above the city. Credit: Nathan J./Unsplash The Beaux Arts museum’s garden is a perfect place to breathe. Credit: Shutterstock Stunning views await along the Saône river. Credit: Hugues de Buyer-Mimeure/Unsplash Need some fresh air? Head to Parc de la Tête d’Or. Credit: Mike Benna/Unsplash
Looking for a hip place to stay? Mama Shelter, located in the Guillotière district, affords guests colourful interiors and a vibrant atmosphere where it’s easy to meet locals and other tourists.
Rooms are small but inviting, with brightly hued wardrobes. Fans of classic Warner Bros. cartoons might chuckle when they see the Tweety Bird and Sylvester face masks sitting happily adjacent on the cosy beds. Each room has a TV, Wi-Fi, minibar and desk and XL and XXL rooms feature an inviting sitting area and terrace.
The restaurant is open for brunch, lunch and dinner and the bar features a selection of tasty wines and cocktails by the glass. If the weather is nice, head out on the terrace for a pre-dinner drink.
Mama Shelter’s comfy rooms with modern touches are the best way to relax after a day full of discoveries. Credit: Booking.com Enjoy a drink or two at Mama Shelter’s colorful bar. Credit: Booking.com
The Fourvière hotel, situated above the city and located next to the Notre-Dame de Fourvière Basilica, boasts modern interiors in a historic structure. Once a convent, the hotel has retained some of its original flavour—the reception area once housed the chapel. Spread across three flights, the 75 rooms and suites offer all the creature comforts of home. “Cell” rooms once housed the nuns and loft rooms feature floor-to-ceiling windows, hardwood floors and an expansive sitting room.
The hotel boasts a traditional Bouchon Lyonnais and the restaurant Les Téléphones is the perfect spot for outdoor dinners under ornate arches. A heated swimming pool, spa, hammam and jacuzzi round out the amenities.
Fourvière Hotel boasts an outdoor heated pool, spa with jacuzzi. Credit: Booking.com Called “cells,” Fourvière Hotel’s rooms are comfy and modern. Credit: Booking.com