Situated close to where the Rhone River meets its tributary the Saone, Lyon is a popular destination for river cruises exploring either or both of these famous French rivers. With around 2,000 years of history to draw upon, France’s third largest city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with good reason. The former capital of Gaul, it started off life as the location of a Roman colony. Lyon came under French control in the 14th century, played a significant role in the French Revolution, emerged as silk trade power during the Renaissance and was a stronghold for the resistance during the Second World War. As one of France’s most historically diverse cities, it provides an excellent overview of the many stages in the country’s past to thousands of visiting river cruisers.
The city is home to many historic religious buildings, but visiting one of its most famous ones allows you to experience some of its other attractions, too. In existence since 1900, the funicular railway line which scales Fourviere Hill is a truly historic way to travel to the Basilque Notre Dame de Fourviere, which is home to a number of stunning stained glass installations, mosaics and stone carvings. Another beautiful church to visit is the Cathedral Saint Jean Baptiste, where an astronomical clock performs a fascinating five-minute show on the hour.
Unique to the city and a true journey back in time are the Traboules. Hidden away in the old town, they are a network of old passageways which link buildings and streets and a number of the properties are still populated by some of the city’s citizens. Make sure you travel with a guide to get the most out of your visit, as if you explore on your own, you’re unlikely to be able to find some of the doors.
Lyon is a city of neighbourhoods, each of which offers a journey through a different period of its history. The slopes of Croix-Rousse silk district, the Presquile District, which has buildings which date back to the 12th century, and the Renaissance district Vieux Lyon are all worth exploring if you have the time. Not so much a neighbourhood but a compelling look at one of the city’s most ancient chapters, the Theatres Romains de Fourviere are the ruins of two Roman amphitheatres, each over 2,000 years old and utterly compelling. They’re also conveniently accessible by way of the funicular railway.
For an excellent overview of the city’s past if you don’t have as much time to explore, a trip to one of its museums is certainly a good option. The subject of the Museum of Gall-Roman Civilisation speaks for itself but there are some fascinating artefacts on display. Lyon also boasts a number specialist museums, including the family home of the Lumiere brothers, famed inventors of the Cinematograph and the Beaux Arts Museum which contains a wealth of works and which is located in a truly beautiful setting.
France is famed for its cuisine and Lyon certainly offers a rewarding culinary experience in any one of its traditional bouchons, where you won’t pay over the odds. Typical local dishes include Lyonnaise salad and saucisson chaud.