The greatness of Lyon's past is truly matched by its present-day cultural dynamism and diversity. Its location, at the meeting point of two great rivers, was always a guarantee of prominence, and today Lyon (usually spelt Lyons in English) is France's second city. Many would agree that for the visitor, Lyon offers so much more than Paris...of course, many would also disagree.
© Lyon Tourisme et Congrès
Lyon's geography is dominated by the Rhône and Saône rivers that converge to the south of the historic centre forming a peninsula or "Presqu'île"; two large hills, one to the west and one to the north of the historic city centre; and a large plain which sprawls eastward from the historic city centre.
© Lyon Tourisme et Congrès
The original medieval city (Vieux Lyon) was built on the west bank of the Saône river at the foot of the Fourvière hill, west of the Presqu'île. This area, along with portions of the Presqu'île and much of the Croix-Rousse is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. To the west is Fourvière, the location of the basilica of Notre-Dame, several convents, the Tour métallique (a TV tower that replicates the uppermost stage of the Eiffel Tower) and a funicular railway. To the north is the Croix-Rousse, traditionally home to many small silk workshops, an industry for which the city was once renowned.
© ATOUT FRANCE/Hélène Moulonguet
Place Bellecour is located on the Presqu'île between the two rivers and is the third largest public square in France. The broad, pedestrian-only Rue de la République leads north from Place Bellecour. East of the Rhône from the Presqu'île is a large area of flat ground on which sits much of modern Lyon and most of the city's population. Situated in this area is the urban centre of Part-Dieu, which clusters the Tour Part-Dieu (nicknamed "The Pencil"), the Tour Oxygène, the Tour Swiss Life, a shopping centre, and one of Lyon's two major rail terminals, Lyon Part-Dieu.
North of this Part-Dieu is the relatively wealthy 6th arrondissement, which is home to the Parc de la Tête d'Or, one of Europe's largest urban parks, the prestigious Lycée du Parc to the south of the park, and Interpol's world headquarters on the park's western edge. The park contains a free zoo.
Lyon was historically known as an important area for the production and weaving of silk and in modern times has developed a reputation as the capital of gastronomy in France, due to the presence here of many of France's foremost chefs.
© Lyon Tourisme et Congrès
Take a look around Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon).
No visit to Lyon would be complete without a journey into Vieux Lyon, approaching, preferably, from the north-east, past the Marché des Bouquinistes along the quai de la Pêcherie, over the pont La Feuille and then either forward to place Saint Paul or down along the true right bank of the river, where artisanal stallholders offer fine jewellery, paintings, sculptures, fabrics, knitwear and boundless opportunities to improve your colloquial French with a bit of eavesdropping or stallholder banter.
The old part of Lyon lies between Fourvière and the river Saône, and was formerly the hub of Lyon, and the focus of its silk working industry with as many as 18,000 looms in operation in the mid 16th century. Many of the city's wealthy inhabitants lived here, in magnificent town houses, more than 300 of which still stand. Space, however was at a premium, so this led to the construction of a number of narrow alleyways, known as traboules. They are a fascination not to be missed, incontournables in the local parlance. Built perpendicular to the Saône, they were the solution to lack of sufficient space in which to develop a conventional network of streets, by linking the various buildings together.
Get a different perspective, from Fourvière Hill.
The Fourvière district lies on the hill of the same name, overlooking the city. The energetic will visit on foot, climbing the numerous 'montées', a series of winding flights of steps and steep streets, all of which provide superb views across the city. It's not for the faint-hearted; if you plan to visit, allow a full day to explore fully.
And, while you are on Fourvière hill, why not dip into Lyon's past at the Musée Gallo-Roman de Fourvière?
17 rue Cléberg, 69005 Lyon. Tel: 04 72 38 49 30.
OPEN: MUSEUM: all year, daily (except Mon), 1000-1800. Closed 1 January, 1 May, 1 November and 25 December; ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE: daily, mid April-mid September, 0700-2100; mid September to mid April, 0700-1900.
© ATOUT FRANCE/Jean François Tripelon-Jarry
Enjoy a stroll through the Parc de la Tête d'Or.
Situated on the banks of the Rhone, the Parc de la Tête d'Or covers an area of 105 hectares, and was modelled on the archetypal English garden. It includes a 16-hectare lake created in an arm of the Rhône. The park also includes the Botanical Garden of Lyon, created originally in 1796 on the slopes of the Croix-Rousse, and transferred to the park in 1857; it is the largest botanical garden in France.
A pedestrian tour of Presqu'ile.
Presqu'ile is the modern face of Lyon, centred on the peninsula between the Rhône and the Saône, with Place Bellecour at its heart. Along the Rue de la République there are numerous shops, department stores, cinemas, restaurants, cafes, bistros, set against a backdrop of architecture that is typically 19th-century Lyon.
At the very end of Presqu'ile is Lyon's newest attraction, the Musée des Confluences, a magnificent new museum both architecturally and in its content, which sets off to explain, well, the history of everything...or so it seems. Do not miss this stunning experience, but do allow a good few hours, including lunch, to get the best from the experience.
Marvel at the grandeur of Place Bellecour.
This huge square is quite magnificent, unless you've parked your car in the car park beneath it, and can't remember which entrance to use! This heart of Presqu'ile is overlooked by the dominating basilica of Fourvière Hill. At the centre of the square is the Dominicans' Fountain. Place Bellecour is undoubtedly the centre of city life.
Wile away a few quiet hours in the Musée des Beaux-Arts.
20 Place des Terreaux 69001 Lyon. Tel: 04 72 10 17 40; www.mba-lyon.fr.
OPEN: daily except Tuesday and public holidays, 1000-1800 (Friday, 1030-1800) - partial closure between 1230 and 1400.
© ATOUT FRANCE/Maurice Subervie
19 place Bellecour, 69214 LYON
Tel: 04 72 77 69 69
The journey to Lyon is far from complicated. Excellent rail services operate between London to Lyon, via Lille, or direct from Paris.
All rail services throughout France can be arranged through Voyages-SNCF in the UK:
Telephone: 0844 848 4070, or call into the Travel Centre,193 Piccadilly, London W1J 9EU.
There are direct flights from London Heathrow and Gatwick to Lyon - Saint-Exupéry airport.
The underground metro is the best way of getting round, and is especially adapted to the needs of tourists.
Buy a 1-day Ticket for unlimited travel on all forms of transport.
A Lyon City Card gains admission to museums, sights and
transport, as well as reductions in theatres.
With only one day in which to explore Lyon, then focus on Old Lyon.
Two days is a much better prospect and gives time to explore outwards from the city centre, perhaps take an organised tour or a boat trip on the Bateaux-mouches (April-October).
Three days gives you time to breathe and eat!