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Things To Do In Lyon
Lyon is a city located on the east-central part of France, at the confluence of the two major rivers in the region – Rhone and Saone. A big chunk of Lyon has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with the origin, history and monuments of the city dating back to centuries ago. Majority of Lyon’s fortune was built on its silk trade, which flourished during the Renaissance period and put Lyon at the heart of the French textile trade. Remnants of this industry can still be seen today in the old town of Lyon and visiting them should definitely be one of the top things on your itinerary. Apart from a rich cultural heritage, travellers also get to choose from a variety of brilliant museums, a thriving nightclub scene and amazing shopping and dining options to enjoy a quintessential Lyon experience. Here is our list of the topmost recommended things to do in Lyon.
Wander through the Traboules - Lyon’s Hidden Labyrinth
A significant part of the two neighbourhoods Vieux Lyon and Croix Rousse - traboules, is the unique architectural feature – dark, secret passageways that wind through apartment blocks and under the streets, towards the direction of the Saone river. Most of these traboules were constructed around the 19th century by Lyon’s silk weavers to help them transport their goods quickly and conveniently with direct access to the river, without being affected by the harms of the weather. With a combined length of almost 50 km, there are around 315 passageways linking 230 streets; only about 40 are open to the public today. Since most of these passages are a part of residential properties, it is advisable to move quietly through them.
Explore Lyon’s Murals
One of Lyon’s most defining characteristics is the vista of wall murals spread around the city. There are more than 100 of these paintings in various parts of Lyon that have been created by joint efforts of architects, landscape artists and painters who are part of a company known as CiteCreation. This mural art movement began more than 40 years ago when a group of local students decided to liven up Lyon’s dull façade by bringing art out of the galleries and museums and into the open, making it available to ordinary working-class masses. This is why most of these paintings can be seen localised in the social housing areas; places you wouldn’t normally visit on your trip to Lyon.
The most famous of these paintings is the 13000 sq. ft. mural Mur des Canuts painted in trompe l’oeil style on the front surface of a large plain building. It depicts a normal day setting in the life of the Croix Rousse neighbourhood. Then there is Fresque des Lyonnais, in which well-known Lyonnais historical figures and contemporary personalities are depicted in various positions.
Watch a Performance at the Opéra Nouvel
Constructed in neoclassical style in 1830, Opera Nouvel has been named after the French architect Jean Nouvel, who redesigned the opera house in 1993 and modernised it by adding a striking a semi-cylindrical glass roof to the remodelled structure. The company Opera de Lyon performs mostly in this theatre and has affiliations like the Lyon Opera Ballet and a children’s choir La Maitrise.
Eat at Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse
Named after one of France’s most famed culinary geniuses Paul Bocuse, this indoor food market features dozens of stalls selling indefinite varieties of gourmet delights and is a food lover’s dream spot. Whether you’re looking to shop for local ingredients or enjoy a traditional Lyonnais meal, this is the place to be. Like all street food markets, the stalls are best visited during the early hours of the day to find the best produce and ingredients available. Food merchants and vendors sell a variety of fruits, vegetables, cheese and charcuterie, apart from delicious shellfish that can be enjoyed on the spot with options of local wine.
Visit the Silk Workshops
Lyon has long been associated with the production and weaving of silk and has been an intricate part of the French textile trade. La Maison des Canuts is a 19th Century mansion where visitors can gain significant insight into Lyon’s history with silk. Regular exhibitions here showcase the silk looms producing thread, the evolution of the silk industry over the years and the lives of the workers that are part of the silk industry. Atelier de Tissage is another workshop with looms that produce large fabrics. Visitors are allowed only when accompanied with a guided tour. Atelier de Passementerie is a workshop that functioned until 1979; there is an attached boutique here today where you can browse through the fabrics on display or see the looms at work on a 30-minute tour.
Explore Lyon’s Music Scene
The jazz scene in Lyon is quite diverse and live music can be enjoyed in various clubs spread across the city. Hot Club de Lyon is the most impressive jazz club in the city that was started way back in 1948. Here, live bands perform in an intimate atmosphere that can best be described as cave-like; bands take the stage at around 9 pm. La Clef de Voute features an excellent line-up of live jazz in an aged setting of stone walls and candle-lit cellar.
The shows usually start at 8.30 pm. ‘Bemol 5’ is another spot with live jazz performances, albeit in a more modern and comfortable setting. ‘Peristyle’ features free summer concerts with performances that range from funk to blues to jazz. Most of these clubs also serve some excellent food and drink options that make these live performances even more enjoyable.
Boating in Parc de la Tête d'Or
The largest park in Lyon, and probably even France, Parc de la Tete d’Or is a green haven for all kinds of nature lovers. It dates back to sometime in the 19th-century and is spread over an area of 290 acres. Since there aren’t many parks or gardens in Lyon, this particular one receives large crowds on a regular basis. The park consists of four separate rose gardens, a botanical garden, a zoo and cycling tracks for the more active groups. While the rose gardens are a delight to visit during spring season, the botanical garden will interest nature lovers with over 20000 plant species and splendid 19th-century greenhouses. The chief attraction for kids is the zoo, which houses elephants, giraffes, deer, and other mammals from around the world. “The African Plain” opened in 2006 and brought in 130 more animals; some of them being rare and protected species from the continent.
One of the key highlights of the park however, is the lake situated in the very centre of the park. During the summer season, this lake becomes a hub for boating activities and is packed with tourists and locals of all age groups.
Ride the Ferris Wheel on Place Bellecour
Place Bellecour is widely known as one of the largest public squares in Europe and is best recognised by an iconic equestrian statue of King Louis XIV. Also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is often the location of various local events and concerts. Every winter between the months of December and March, a 60-meter high Ferris wheel is installed in the square, which attracts locals as much as tourists and makes for a great vantage point for a brilliant view of the city from the top.
Watch a Puppet Show at the Theatre Le Guignol de Lyon
Theatre le Guignol is the most famous puppet theatre in Lyon, which features the locally popular puppet Guignol. Representing the workers of France’s silk industry, Guignol is supposed to be a form of entertainment for kids, but his sharp wit and humour regales adults just as much. There are more than 300 puppets in the shows performed in this theatre; shows usually last less than an hour and visitors are also allowed to go backstage for a peek at the props and the puppets.
Gyropode Segway Tour
ComhiC is a tourism company in Lyon that offers travellers a unique way of exploring the city. The Gyropode Segway Tour is designed to help you make the most out of your trip to Lyon without exhausting yourself with the fatigue of excessive walking. With the help of a tour guide, visitors are taken around the city on a Segway where they explore most of Lyon’s outdoor attractions – monuments, old town squares – and other fun cultural spots. The tour can be accessed all days of the week between 9 am and 7 pm. The well-informed guides are an added bonus who help you explore the city in a time-efficient manner.
Attend Nuits de Fourviere at the Ancient Theatre of Fourviere
The ancient Roman theatre of Fourviere situated on its namesake hill is the oldest theatre in France, dating back to almost 2000 years. Despite its antiquity, the theatre is still in a shape that is good enough to host the Nuits de Fourviere drama festival each year in June and July. The event encompasses dance, opera and circus performances and is a major celebration in the city. During its prime, the arena would have held more than 10000 spectators. Today, however, it holds about 2600-4400 seats. Even on occasions when there is no event being organised here, it is a popular tourist site for its historic and cultural significance.