Tourist Attraction Ideas For Visitors To Lyon, France

A sample itinerary for visitors to Lyon, France including the old town, markets, museums, shopping, Roman remains and the nearby wine region.

Many visitors come to Lyon, France's third largest city, in search of good food. The city has developed a reputation as a destination known for gourmet restaurants, and indeed has more fine restaurants than any other European city except Paris. But even if you can't quite afford the fancy dining establishments - where the chef may be a celebrity - Lyon also offers cozy cafes and bistros, specialist food shops and markets. One of the best sights in the city is a food-lovers delight - the main produce market, Les Halles des Lyons, which offers everything from wild mushrooms, oysters and caviar to stalls selling over 150 different varieties of cheese.

The center of Lyon is the area known as the old town, on the west bank of the river Saone. The old town sprang up as a result of the thriving silk industry which bought wealth to the city. This neighborhood has some of the best preserved Renaissance buildings in Europe and is a maze of mansions, narrow cobblestone streets, and even narrower passageways. The passages, which are unique to Lyon, were originally built for silk weavers to easily deliver their goods between shops; more recently the French resistance used the passages to hide from the Germans during World War II.

In the center of the old quarter is the Cathedral of St Jean, parts of which date from the 12th century. The cathedral offers spectacular stained glass windows as well as a 14th century astronomical clock complete with mechanical figures reenacting the Annunciation. Perhaps the most interesting street in the old town is Rue du Boeuf, which has several lovely old houses with spiral staircases, turrets and intimate courtyards. Some of the houses here have decorative coats of arms, and there is an imposing sculpture of a bull, from which the street takes its name.



In contrast to the narrow streets of the old town, on the opposite bank of the River Saone is another area worth exploring, known as Presqu'ile. This more modern part of the city has 19th century buildings and squares, fashionable shops, cafes and galleries. The center of this area is the huge square called Place Bellecour, one of Europe's most imposing city squares. Running south from the square are several streets whose specialty is antique and period furnishing shops, as well as designer fashion shops. And you can find some of the city's small - and expensive - gourmet food stores in this area as well.

Lyon has several museums that document the history of the city. The Silk Museum highlights Lyon's importance as a center of the silk industry during the ages; there are colorful collections of tapestries and carpets from all over the world, including some from as early as the 4th century. The smaller Silk Weaver's Museum also tells the story of the city's silk industry and has some historic Jacquard looms which are still in working order. Another element in Lyon's history is depicted in the Museum of the Resistance, which tells the story of the role the city played during the German occupation in World War II.

Lyon also has some of the best Roman remains in France. At one time the city was the second largest in the Roman Empire, after Rome itself and the spectacular remains of two Roman theaters on their site high above the city can be visited. The Grand Theater seats 10,000 people and is still used for concerts and plays - to experience a play here with the wonderful acoustics is an unforgettable experience. The smaller Odeon theater has well preserved geometric floor tiling. Nearby there is a museum of Roman civilization housed in an unusual subterranean building, with many mosaics, statues and other ornaments from the surrounding area.

Finally, if you need something to wash down all that good food, take a short trip north from the city along the Saone River Valley into the rolling landscape of wine country. An hour's drive from the center of Lyon will take you to miles of vineyards lining both sides of the river. This area is where some of France's best wine is produced - the celebrated Beaujolais vintage. The tourist office in Lyon issues a map and guidebook detailing the wine region. In addition to the larger commercial vineyards there are many small vineyards and farms where you can often taste the wine before buying. This part of the Saone Valley is also dotted with picturesque small towns and villages - it all seems to be a far cry from the bustle of nearby Lyon.

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