I’ll never find the words to capture how magical and vibrant Lyon is. It stole my heart in 2013, when I first moved to France. Living in the countryside, I'd spend each weekend on a pilgrimage to the "big city." My friends and I would quench our thirst at watering holes right on the water from peniches (boats) and jam-pack our days on land with art and history, from 2,000 year old Roman amphitheaters to exhibitions in converted sugar factories.
In 2021, I moved to Lyon. Mont Blanc is visible on clear days from Fourvière, the city’s spiked basilica, and the proximity to the Alps is tangible. I firmly believe that there’s no better place to live or visit.
Seasons are extremely pronounced: Expect clear, cold winters and often stifling summers.
If you only have time for one thing, make it Fourvière Basilica.
Begin with a climb through the Jardin de la Roseraie that zigzags steeply uphill to 19th-century Fourvière Basilica and the Roman Amphitheater (or take the funicular). Spend time inside the basilica—the painted ceiling gives the Sistine Chapel a run for its money. On a guided tour you can access the roof.
Next, descend to Vieux Lyon, the city’s old quarter. Cathedrale du Saint Jean is unmissable. While there, try to spot France’s only Muslim gargoyle, carved in the image of the stonemason who worked on the cathedral, and explore the quaint little shops. The herboriste (pharmaceutical shop) on Place Saint-Jean is pretty.
It’s time to explore the Presqu’île, the "almost island" peninsula that marks Lyon’s city center. Skip Bellecour square and instead head to Place des Terreaux to see the golden-gilded Hôtel de Ville. Keep a keen eye on the walls of the buildings—not all of them are what they seem. Trompe l‘oeil, or optical illusions, are painted on the sides of many of the tall townhouses. Wander up the steep steps of Croix-Rousse afterwards to enjoy contemporary street art: painted staircases, mosaic tiles, and disembodied legs diving into walls.
If you’ve had your fill of the mishmash of Roman, Gothic, baroque, and Renaissance architecture that defines Lyon's city center, it’s time to head to Villeurbanne, known for its art deco buildings and skyscrapers. It's where the coolest new bars are springing up alongside community-run beer house collectives and café-theaters. You’re conveniently placed to visit Parc de la Tête d’Or, France’s largest urban park, with resident giraffes.