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Meet Lyon: France’s Second City


Modified: January 3, 2024

by Vickie Kruse



Welcome to Lyon, France’s second-largest city and a treasure trove of arts, culture, and history. Nestled along the banks of the picturesque Rhône and Saône rivers, Lyon offers a unique blend of old-world charm and modern vibrancy. With its fascinating past, stunning architecture, world-renowned cuisine, and thriving cultural scene, Lyon is a must-visit destination for art enthusiasts and lovers of all things cultural.


Steeped in rich history, Lyon has been an important city since Roman times. Throughout the centuries, it has evolved into a hub of innovation, becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. Its architecture showcases a mesmerizing mix of Roman ruins, medieval landmarks, and Renaissance masterpieces. The city’s strategic location at the confluence of major rivers and its proximity to the Alps and Provence make it a gateway to some of France’s most breathtaking natural landscapes.


Visitors to Lyon will be captivated by its cultural landmarks, such as the magnificent Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, perched on a hill offering panoramic views of the city. The old town, known as Vieux Lyon, boasts narrow medieval streets, hidden traboules (passageways), and well-preserved Renaissance buildings. The Presqu’île neighborhood, with its elegant 19th-century architecture, is perfect for leisurely strolls and shopping in upscale boutiques. Lyon’s modern district, La Confluence, showcases contemporary architectural marvels and trendy eateries.


One cannot talk about Lyon without mentioning its gastronomy. Renowned as the gastronomic capital of France, Lyon tempts visitors with its bouchons—a type of traditional Lyonnais restaurant—serving hearty dishes like coq au vin, quenelles, and the famous Lyonnais sausage. A visit to Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, a covered food market named after the legendary French chef, is a must for culinary enthusiasts.


Furthermore, Lyon holds great economic importance as a center for industries such as pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, and digital innovation. The city is also home to several prestigious educational and research institutions, attracting students and scholars from around the world.


Whether you come to Lyon for its historical sites, its vibrant cultural scene, or its culinary delights, you will find a city that effortlessly blends tradition and modernity, offering something for everyone. Join us as we explore the beauty and charm of Lyon, an arts and culture haven that will leave an indelible mark on your heart.


History of Lyon

The history of Lyon stretches back over two millennia, with evidence of human habitation dating back to prehistoric times. Originally founded by the Romans in 43 BC, Lyon, known as Lugdunum, quickly became an important strategic and commercial hub within the Roman Empire. As the capital of the Gauls, Lyon played a crucial role in the expansion and governance of the region.


Throughout its history, Lyon has witnessed significant events and transformations. During the Middle Ages, the city flourished as a center of trade, particularly in silk production. Lyon became known as the “Capital of Silk,” with its skilled craftsmen producing luxurious fabrics desired by royalty and aristocracy across Europe.


Religious conflicts and political struggles in the 16th century brought turmoil to Lyon. The city became a battleground between Catholic and Protestant factions, leading to periods of instability and unrest. However, Lyon eventually overcame these challenges and emerged as a prosperous city during the Renaissance, with its architecture reflecting the artistic and cultural trends of the time.


In the 19th century, Lyon experienced significant industrialization, particularly in the textile industry. The city became a major center for manufacturing and trade, attracting workers from all over France and beyond. This period of growth and prosperity led to the expansion of Lyon’s urban landscape, as evidenced by the construction of the beautiful boulevards and grand buildings that still grace the city today.


During World War II, Lyon played a vital role in the French Resistance. The city served as a hub for intelligence gathering and sabotage activities against Nazi occupation forces. Lyon paid a high price for its resistance efforts, with parts of the city severely damaged during the war.


After the war, Lyon experienced a renaissance as it rebuilt and revitalized itself. The city shifted its focus towards becoming a center for commerce, culture, and education. Today, Lyon is internationally recognized for its contributions to the arts, gastronomy, and innovation.


With its rich historical legacy and continuous reinvention, Lyon stands as a testament to the resilience and spirit of its people. As you explore the city, you will be reminded of its storied past, reflected in its architectural treasures, vibrant neighborhoods, and a deep sense of cultural heritage that permeates every street and corner.


Geographical Location

Lyon is strategically located in the southeastern part of France, in the region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. Situated at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers, Lyon benefits from a unique and picturesque setting. Its geographical position has played a significant role in shaping the city’s history, culture, and economic importance.


The Rhône River, flowing from the Swiss Alps, passes through Lyon, dividing the city into distinct halves. To the west of the Rhône lies the Presqu’île, a narrow strip of land that is the heart of Lyon’s commercial and social activity. To the east, the hilly terrain rises, offering stunning panoramic views of the city and the surrounding landscapes.


The Saône River, originating in the Vosges Mountains, joins the Rhône in Lyon, creating a natural boundary that contributes to the charm and visual appeal of the city. The banks of both rivers are lined with green spaces, promenades, and quays, providing residents and visitors with scenic spots for leisure and relaxation.


Lyon’s location at the crossroads of Europe has long made it a crucial transportation hub. The city is well-connected by a comprehensive network of roads, making it easily accessible from other major French cities and neighboring countries. Additionally, Lyon has a high-speed train station, serving as a vital link for travelers heading to and from Paris, Marseille, and other destinations across Europe.


The city’s position in between the Alps and Provence also makes it an ideal gateway for exploring the natural wonders of these regions. Within a short distance from Lyon, one can venture into the pristine beauty of the French Alps, with its majestic peaks, pristine lakes, and charming alpine villages. Alternatively, heading south, visitors can immerse themselves in the enchanting landscapes of Provence, with its lavender fields, vineyards, and historic towns.


Beyond its natural surroundings, Lyon’s location has also shaped its culinary scene. The convergence of various regional cuisines and ingredients adds to the city’s gastronomic diversity. Lyon’s proximity to fertile farmlands, vineyards, and seafood-rich coastal areas ensures a bounty of fresh ingredients for chefs and food lovers.


In summary, Lyon’s geographical location makes it an enticing destination for both nature enthusiasts and city explorers. Its position at the juncture of major rivers, its accessibility to neighboring regions, and its proximity to both the Alps and Provence all contribute to Lyon’s allure and make it an ideal base for further exploration of the surrounding areas.


Cultural and Architectural Landmarks

Lyon is a city steeped in history and boasts an impressive array of cultural and architectural landmarks that reflect its rich heritage. From ancient Roman ruins to magnificent Renaissance structures, Lyon offers visitors a journey through time, showcasing the city’s fascinating evolution.


One of Lyon’s most iconic landmarks is the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière. Perched atop Fourvière Hill, this stunning basilica can be seen from almost every corner of the city. Its architecture is a blend of Byzantine and Gothic styles, adorned with intricate mosaics and stained glass windows. Inside, visitors will be awed by the grandeur of its interior and the breathtaking panoramic views of Lyon.


Located in the heart of Vieux Lyon, the Cathedral of Saint-Jean is another architectural gem. Dating back to the 12th century, it is a masterpiece of Gothic art, with its soaring ceilings, intricate stone carvings, and beautiful stained glass windows. Climbing to the top of the cathedral’s tower provides visitors with a splendid view of the old town.


Exploring Vieux Lyon itself is a treat for architecture enthusiasts. This UNESCO World Heritage-listed area is characterized by its well-preserved Renaissance buildings, narrow cobblestone streets, and hidden traboules. Traboules are secret passageways that provide shortcuts through buildings and courtyards, offering a glimpse into Lyon’s architectural history. Wandering through the lanes of Vieux Lyon feels like stepping back in time to a bygone era.


The Place Bellecour, located in the Presqu’île, is one of Lyon’s most significant squares and the third-largest square in France. It is dominated by a statue of Louis XIV on horseback and is surrounded by elegant buildings. The square’s vastness and architectural beauty make it a popular gathering place for locals and tourists alike.


Just across the river from Place Bellecour, the Musée des Beaux-Arts showcases Lyon’s rich artistic heritage. Housed in a former 17th-century Benedictine convent, the museum boasts an extensive collection of paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts. From ancient Egyptian artifacts to works by renowned European masters, the Musée des Beaux-Arts offers a journey through artistic treasures from various periods.


Adding to Lyon’s architectural allure is the modern district of La Confluence. This revitalized area showcases contemporary architectural marvels, such as the Musée des Confluences. Designed by architect Coop Himmelb(l)au, this visually striking museum stands at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers, symbolizing Lyon’s past meeting its present. With its innovative design and impressive collections, the Musée des Confluences has become a cultural landmark in its own right.


In every corner of Lyon, there are countless other architectural and cultural gems waiting to be discovered, from ancient Roman amphitheaters to grand Haussmannian boulevards. As you explore the city, take the time to immerse yourself in Lyon’s world of art, architecture, and culture, and witness firsthand the beauty and diversity that make this city truly exceptional.


Gastronomy and Culinary Delights

When it comes to gastronomy, Lyon proudly holds the title of France’s culinary capital. The city is renowned for its bouchons, traditional Lyonnais restaurants that offer a taste of authentic regional cuisine. Lyon’s culinary scene is a true celebration of bold flavors, hearty dishes, and a deep reverence for culinary traditions.


Visiting Lyon means embarking on a culinary adventure, where you can indulge in a feast of local delights. One of Lyon’s signature dishes is coq au vin, tender chicken slowly cooked in red wine, accompanied by mushrooms and served with buttery mashed potatoes. This rustic dish represents the essence of Lyonnais cuisine—simple yet incredibly flavorful.


Another must-try dish is quenelles de brochet, delicate dumplings made from pike fish, served in a creamy sauce. These light and airy dumplings, often paired with a rich Nantua sauce, are a beloved specialty of Lyon and reflect the city’s culinary finesse.


No gastronomic journey in Lyon would be complete without savoring the famous Lyonnais sausage. This hearty sausage is made from a blend of pork, beef, and local herbs, resulting in a robust and flavorful delicacy. It is often served with lentils, creating a comforting and satisfying combination.


Lyon’s passion for food extends beyond its main courses. The city is also known for its delectable desserts. The tarte à la praline is a local favorite—a crispy pastry shell filled with a sweet, pink praline filling. The pink color is said to represent the energy and vibrancy of the city.


To fully immerse yourself in Lyon’s gastronomy, a visit to Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse is a must. This covered food market is named after the legendary French chef and showcases the best products from local artisans and producers. Browse through stalls filled with farm-fresh fruits and vegetables, artisanal cheeses, fragrant bread, and an incredible selection of meats and charcuterie. It’s a food lover’s paradise.


In Lyon, food isn’t just about sustenance—it’s a way of life. The city’s culinary culture is celebrated through lively food festivals, such as the Les Nuits Sonores, a festival that combines music and gastronomy, and the Fête des Lumières, a dazzling event where the city is illuminated in celebration.


As you explore Lyon’s culinary delights, make sure to pair your meals with local wines. Lyon is situated in a region known for its vineyards, producing exceptional wines such as Côtes du Rhône and Beaujolais. The city is also home to the Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences, showcasing its dedication to the art of winemaking.


Whether you’re a seasoned foodie or just looking to immerse yourself in the flavors of Lyon, the city’s gastronomy and culinary delights are sure to leave a lasting impression. From traditional bouchons to vibrant food markets, Lyon offers a culinary experience that is both delicious and unforgettable.


Economic Importance

Lyon is not only a cultural and gastronomic hotspot, but it also holds great economic significance within France and on the global stage. The city has a diverse and thriving economy, encompassing various sectors that contribute to its growth and prosperity.


One of Lyon’s key economic drivers is its role as a center for industries and innovation. The city is a hub for pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, attracting major players in these fields. Lyon’s renowned research centers and laboratories foster collaboration and provide a conducive environment for groundbreaking discoveries and advancements in these sectors.


In addition to healthcare and biotechnology, Lyon has established itself as a leader in digital innovation. The city is home to a burgeoning tech industry, with a vibrant startup ecosystem. Lyon’s digital sector continues to grow, attracting investment and talent, and positioning the city as a pioneer in the digital economy.


Lyon’s geographical location and excellent transportation infrastructure make it a strategic logistics hub. The city benefits from its proximity to major highways and an extensive railway network, facilitating the efficient flow of goods and services. Lyon’s logistics sector plays a crucial role in supporting the region’s economy and enhancing its competitiveness in international markets.


Furthermore, Lyon is a center for commerce and trade. The city hosts numerous trade fairs and exhibitions, attracting businesses from around the world. Lyon’s reputation as a business-friendly environment, coupled with its vibrant cultural scene and high quality of life, makes it an appealing destination for professionals and entrepreneurs.


Economically, Lyon is a powerhouse within the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region and contributes significantly to France’s overall GDP. The city’s diverse economy provides employment opportunities across various sectors, fostering economic stability and growth. Lyon’s strong entrepreneurial spirit and innovative mindset continue to attract investment, driving the city’s economic development forward.


Moreover, Lyon is home to several higher education institutions, including prestigious universities and research centers. These institutions serve as key drivers of innovation, producing highly skilled professionals who contribute to Lyon’s knowledge-based economy. The city has a strong emphasis on education and lifelong learning, ensuring a steady supply of talent and expertise.


In summary, Lyon’s economic importance is underscored by its thriving industries, digital innovation, logistics excellence, and dynamic business environment. The city continues to attract investment, nurture entrepreneurship, and capitalize on its strengths to sustain economic growth and enhance its global standing. Lyon’s economic success is a testament to its ability to combine tradition and innovation, making it a dynamic and resilient economic powerhouse.


Education and Research Centers

Lyon is not only a city of great cultural and economic importance but also renowned for its excellence in education and research. The city is home to several prestigious institutions that attract students and scholars from around the world, making Lyon a hub of knowledge and innovation.


One of the most renowned educational institutions in Lyon is the Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1. As one of France’s leading universities, Lyon 1 offers a wide range of academic disciplines, including science, medicine, pharmaceutical sciences, and engineering. The university’s research centers are actively involved in cutting-edge research, making significant contributions to various fields.


Lyon’s academic landscape is further enriched by the presence of École Normale Supérieure de Lyon, a leading institution for higher education and research. ENS Lyon is known for its rigorous academic programs and its nurturing of intellectual and scientific excellence.


Another prominent research center in Lyon is the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique, or INSA Lyon. This prestigious institution focuses on engineering and technology and is ranked among the top engineering schools in France. INSA Lyon’s research efforts contribute to advancements in various fields, including energy, materials science, and information technology.


Additionally, Lyon is proud to be the home of the LyonTech-la Doua campus, which brings together universities and research centers dedicated to the fields of engineering, science, and technology. This collaborative campus fosters interdisciplinary research and innovation, creating a dynamic ecosystem for scientific advancement.


With a strong emphasis on research and development, Lyon is also known for its numerous specialized research institutes. These institutes focus on various disciplines, including biotechnology, healthcare, digital innovation, and environmental sciences. The presence of these research centers not only attracts top talent but also fosters collaboration and innovation between academia and industry.


Moreover, Lyon is home to renowned institutes dedicated to specific fields. For example, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an agency of the World Health Organization, is headquartered in Lyon. This institute plays a crucial role in global efforts to understand and combat cancer.


Furthermore, Lyon’s commitment to education extends beyond higher education institutions. The city’s primary and secondary schools maintain high standards of education, ensuring that students receive a strong foundation for their academic journey. Lyon’s dedication to learning at all levels contributes to a well-rounded educational ecosystem.


Whether in the fields of science, technology, medicine, or the humanities, Lyon’s educational and research centers offer exceptional opportunities for students, researchers, and scholars to expand their knowledge and make groundbreaking discoveries. Through their relentless pursuit of excellence, these institutions contribute to Lyon’s reputation as an intellectual and research-driven city.


Transportation and Infrastructure

Lyon boasts a well-developed transportation system and modern infrastructure, making it easily accessible and highly connected within the region and beyond. The city’s efficient transportation network, including public transit, roadways, and railways, ensures smooth mobility for residents and visitors alike.


Lyon’s public transportation system is known for its reliability and convenience. The city is served by an extensive network of buses, trams, and metro lines operated by TCL (Transports en Commun Lyonnais). The metro system provides efficient transportation throughout the city, connecting various neighborhoods and key landmarks. Trams and buses complement the metro lines, offering comprehensive coverage that allows for easy navigation within Lyon.


For those who prefer to cycle, Lyon offers an extensive bike-sharing system known as Vélo’v. With numerous docking stations spread across the city, residents and visitors can conveniently rent bicycles and explore Lyon at their own pace. Lyon’s bike-friendly infrastructure, including dedicated bike lanes and bike-friendly streets, makes cycling an enjoyable and eco-friendly option for getting around the city.


Lyon’s transportation infrastructure extends beyond the city limits. The city’s high-speed train station, Gare de Lyon Part-Dieu, is a major transportation hub that connects Lyon to other cities in France and neighboring countries. The high-speed TGV trains offer quick and convenient travel to Paris, Marseille, and other major destinations in France. Lyon’s well-connected rail network allows for seamless travel and easy exploration of the surrounding areas.


In terms of road infrastructure, Lyon benefits from its strategic location at the crossroads of major highways. The Autoroute du Soleil, also known as the A6, links Lyon to Paris in the north and Marseille in the south, making long-distance travel convenient and efficient. Lyon’s extensive road network also connects the city to other major French cities, ensuring easy access for both personal and commercial transportation.


When it comes to air travel, Lyon is served by the Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airport. This international airport offers numerous domestic and international flights, connecting Lyon to destinations across Europe and beyond. The airport’s modern facilities and efficient operations make air travel a convenient and accessible option for travelers visiting or departing from Lyon.


Lyon’s commitment to sustainable transportation is evident in its efforts to reduce carbon emissions and promote eco-friendly modes of transportation. The city continues to invest in expanding its public transportation system, creating more bike-friendly infrastructure, and implementing initiatives to encourage car-sharing and electric vehicle usage. These efforts contribute to Lyon’s status as a forward-thinking and environmentally conscious city.


In summary, Lyon’s transportation and infrastructure are a testament to the city’s commitment to convenience, accessibility, and sustainability. The well-developed public transportation system, efficient roadways, extensive rail connections, and a modern airport ensure that residents and visitors can navigate Lyon and enjoy seamless travel experiences. Whether traveling within the city or venturing beyond its borders, Lyon’s transportation options make it a highly connected and easily accessible destination.


Festivals and Events

Lyon is a city that loves to celebrate, and throughout the year, it hosts a vibrant array of festivals and events that showcase its rich cultural heritage, artistic talents, and community spirit. From traditional religious processions to contemporary music festivals, there is always something exciting happening in Lyon.


One of the city’s most renowned events is the Fête des Lumières, or Festival of Lights. Held every December, this dazzling festival attracts millions of visitors from around the world. Buildings, monuments, and streets are adorned with stunning light installations, creating a magical atmosphere throughout the city. The festival pays homage to Lyon’s tradition of placing candles in windows to honor the Virgin Mary. The Fête des Lumières is a visual spectacle that encapsulates Lyon’s creativity and passion for artistic expression.


Another significant event is the Nuits Sonores festival, an annual celebration of electronic music and digital arts. International and local artists come together to perform at various venues across the city, including clubs, rooftops, and outdoor spaces. The festival attracts music enthusiasts and electronic music lovers who gather to experience Lyon’s vibrant nightlife and immerse themselves in its cutting-edge music scene.


Lyon also pays tribute to its historical and cultural roots with traditional festivals. The Fête de la Lumière is a religious celebration that takes place on December 8th, where residents place candles in windows and process through the streets with religious icons. The Carnival of Lyon is another cherished event, with colorful parades featuring elaborate floats, costumes, and lively music. These traditional festivals provide a glimpse into Lyon’s unique customs and traditions.


For theater and performing arts enthusiasts, the Lyon Biennial is a must-attend event. Held every two years, this international contemporary art festival showcases groundbreaking works of art across various disciplines, including visual arts, dance, theater, and music. The Biennial transforms the city into a stage for creativity, encouraging dialogue and exploration of new artistic expressions.


Lyon also celebrates its rich gastronomic heritage with events like Les Nuits de Fourvière. This summer festival combines music, theater, and dance performances against the stunning backdrop of the ancient Roman theaters of Fourvière. Attendees can enjoy world-class performances while indulging in Lyon’s culinary delights.


Furthermore, Lyon hosts a variety of cultural events throughout the year, including film festivals, jazz festivals, and street art exhibitions. These events showcase Lyon’s commitment to fostering creativity, promoting diversity, and nurturing the arts in all its forms.


Attending these festivals and events not only offers a chance to experience Lyon’s vibrant culture but also provides an opportunity to mingle with locals and share in their joy and enthusiasm. The festive atmosphere that permeates the city during these events creates a sense of unity and belonging, making visitors feel like they are part of Lyon’s dynamic community.


Whether you are a music aficionado, art enthusiast, or simply looking to immerse yourself in Lyon’s vibrant cultural scene, there is a festival or event to suit every taste. From ancient traditions to contemporary expressions, Lyon’s festivals and events are a testament to the city’s creativity, passion, and commitment to celebrating its rich heritage.



Lyon, with its rich arts and culture, historical significance, and thriving economy, is a city that effortlessly weaves tradition and modernity together. From its ancient Roman ruins to its magnificent Renaissance architecture, Lyon is a unique destination that offers a captivating blend of the old and the new.


The city’s cultural and architectural landmarks, including the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière and the charming streets of Vieux Lyon, showcase Lyon’s fascinating history and architectural beauty. Exploring Lyon’s vibrant neighborhoods, such as the Presqu’île and La Confluence, is a journey through time and a testament to Lyon’s commitment to innovation and urban development.


But Lyon is much more than its historical and architectural treasures. The city is a culinary paradise, renowned for its bouchons and traditional Lyonnais cuisine. From indulging in the iconic coq au vin to exploring the delights of Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, Lyon’s gastronomy will tantalize your taste buds and leave you craving for more.


Additionally, Lyon’s economic importance cannot be overlooked. The city’s industries, including pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, and digital innovation, contribute to Lyon’s reputation as a hub of innovation and research. Lyon’s commitment to education and research is evident through its renowned universities and research centers, attracting talented individuals from around the world.


Transportation and infrastructure in Lyon are well-developed, ensuring easy accessibility and seamless connectivity. The city’s efficient public transportation system, extensive roadways, and high-speed train connections make Lyon a convenient and accessible destination for both residents and visitors.


Throughout the year, Lyon comes alive with festivals and events that celebrate the city’s culture, art, and community spirit. From the enchanting Fête des Lumières to the captivating Lyon Biennial, these events showcase Lyon’s artistic vibrancy and bring people together in joyous celebration.


In conclusion, Lyon is a city that has it all—history, culture, gastronomy, and innovation. It offers a unique and enriching experience for visitors, through its architectural wonders, culinary delights, and vibrant cultural scene. Lyon’s commitment to progress, sustainability, and creativity ensure that it remains a city that continues to captivate and inspire all who visit.