Lyon is one of the biggest cities in France and renowned for its historical and architectural landmarks, so much so that 500 acres of the city has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Visit between the 8th and 12th of December and you’ll catch the Fête des Lumieres,
when citizens put candles in their windows to give thanks to the Virgin Mary for saving the city from the plague in medieval times. Four districts, in particular, sketch the rich history of Lyons: Fourvière, for its Gallic-Roman monuments; Old Lyon, for its medieval links; La Croix-Rousse, for being one of the world’s most important silk-producing districts; and Presqu’île, for its 19th-century architecture.
Start your day by climbing Fourvière, also known as ‘the hill that prays’ for magical views across the city. This is where the Romans first settled when they founded the city, then known as Lugdunum back in 43BC. It’s here that you’ll find the Basilica of Fourvière
and the golden statue of Mary. Also here is La Tour Métallique, built to rival the Eiffel Tower and the highest point in Lyons. Walk south and you’ll find the ruins of a Roman theatre, as well as the ancient Roman baths. Concerts are held here during the summer. The site also has an interesting museum. Leave Fourvière via one of the two funicular lines – the oldest operating railway of its kind in the world today.
At the foot of Fourvière hill is Old Lyon on the west bank of the Saône river. The area is divided into three sections: the Saint Jean quarter, the Saint-Paul district and the Saint Georges section.
The Saint Jean quarter is arguably the most interesting with the Cathedral of St Jean
and its astronomical clock – a good example of Gothic architecture. The Manécanterie, or Choir School, adjoining the cathedral, is an ancient Roman memorial that now contains many old artefacts. Saint-Paul is home to the Lyon Historical Museum
, while the Saint Georges district is named after the church here and is criss-crossed by intriguing passageways and corridors where you just might stumble across a hidden gallery.
Named after a cross erected on the hill by Christians in the 16th century, La Croix-Rousse is important for its links with the silk industry. Silk has been manufactured in Lyon for some 400 years and Atelier de Soierie
on rue Romarin is dedicated to the industry, with a silk workshop, displays, and live demonstrations.
At the foot of La Croix-Rousse, where the Rhône and the Saône converge, lies the relatively modern district of Presqu’île. The Museum of Printing
is here, housed in the former Hôtel de la Couronne. The Place des Terreaux is an impressive square, especially at night when its two main structures, the City Hall and the Saint Pierre Palace, are illuminated. The palace here is of particular note as it now contains the Museum of Fine Arts
. The public garden attached to it has some famous sculptures and is a fine place to unwind and reflect on your day’s sightseeing.