Lyon – the City of Light

Hello dear friends! Finally, after 3 months I’m back to my website introducing to you the beautiful places of the world! About 1 week ago I went to the third biggest city in France – Lyon. What do you know about Lyon? The city of light? The birthplace of cinema? The gastronomic capital of the world? UNESCO World Heritage? Yes, Lyon deserves all the titles.

I stayed here for 2 nights and visited the city for two whole days. Enough time? Absolutely not. I suggest if you want to take a close look at Lyon you need to give it at least 3 days. What’s especially worth mentioning is the tourism industry in Lyon. The Lyon card gives you a lot of advantages to explore the city. For me, I bough a Lyon card for 2 days for 33 Euros. It gives you access to the public transportation, most museums, the little train ride, guided tours, tourist buses and boat cruises. Trust me, it’s absolutely worth it.

I suggest the first stop you should go when you arrive at Lyon is the Lyon tourism office (Office du Tourisme et des Congrès du Grand Lyon), located at Place Bellecour. You can ask for tourism info, travel advices, buy the Lyon card etc. When I was there, the girl was so warm-hearted and helpful. She basically helped me to make my personal travel plan, based on what I am interested in and what I like,  for the two days. She helped me to book the guided tours, told me where to visit in the day and where to visit at night. This is my first experience of such good tourism advising service. To make full use of my two days in Lyon, I joined a guided tour by the little train to explore Croix-Rousse, a guided tour to the roof of La Basilica de Fourvière, a boat cruise on river La Saône, and a guided tour in Lyon old town (Renaissance Vieux-Lyon, cathedral, courtyards and traboules). I also visited the Art Museum, Miniature Museum and Theater, Musée Lumière. All the tickets to the tours and museums are included in the Lyon card. Of course, in the city of light, I took a night walk by the rivers and in the city according to the route designed by the tourism office.

Trust me, for two days, the activities I mentioned above are more than enough. However, that’s definitely not the whole Lyon. I’ll introduce to you the museums and guided tours that I visited and joined and you can decide for yourself whether you’re interested or not. If not, why not asking the tourism office to give you more options?

1. Guided tour by little train to explore Croix-Rousse

Driving through the narrow streets of Croix-Rousse, I learnt a lot about the “silk road” in Lyon. Introduced from old China, silk industry has had its days in Lyon. If you are interested, this tour will definitely provide you with enough information. On your way up, you will discover a lot of platforms, which give a wonderful overview of the city, rivers and ancient roman sites such as theaters. However, do pay attention to the fresco called Mur des Canuts, a huge fresco of a neighborhood of silk workers who rebelled against working conditions in the 1800s. I didn’t realize the whole group of buildings are actually a painting on a wall until I went really close. This is really an amazing piece of art.

The whole tour took around 1 hour and the train plays french songs from time to time when there were no explanations. I felt deeply relaxed when I was just sitting in the train, which drove through the narrow old streets, listening to some french songs, waving at the people who live or work here. To be honest, since I started living in Switzerland, going to Germany, France or Italy does not make me feel I am going to another country that much anymore. However, this little train experience did make me feel I was traveling in France.

2. Guided tour to the roof of the La Basilica de Fourvière

The most amazing and unforgettable experience of my trip to Lyon this time is probably getting to the roof of La Basilica de Fourvière. This tour gave me a brand new angle of looking at the church and I believe the last time I looked at the inside of a church from above was in St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican city. I walked inside the towers, looked at the church from above, walked on the corridor of the facade, visited the grand tribune, the architects’ cabinet, the gallery of angels caryatid, the carillon, the metal frame, and most impressively, the roof of the basilica.

One thing you should be careful with though. The tour is only in french and if you don’t understand french at all, it could be a disaster… For example, I could not understand a thing, but considering I like the pronunciation of french, I did not get too bored. The tour was supposed to last 1 hour 15 mins but the guider was really hardworking and our tour lasted almost two hours… What I can assure you is, the view is absolutely wonderful (you can check my pics above and below) and this experience is truly unforgettable. However, if you can’t survive listening to a language without understanding anything, you need to think twice whether to join or not.

The starting point of the tour and the entrance to the tower is located on the right side of the main entrance to the basilica. When I visited Lyon, the tour takes place only on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 14:30 and 16:30. I suggest you consult the tourism office when you visit Lyon about the frequency and time of the tours. Unfortunately, you can not make reservations and the only way to join the tour is to stand in the line and wait. The guider will start letting people in when the time is right and only sharp 19 people will be let in. You can either pay by cash or use the Lyon card, but remember you can’t pay by card.

I learnt in the guided tour of the old town that this church is a private church and no wedding or funerals can be held here, which makes this experience even more precious. I’d like to emphasize again that the walking on the roof is really a walk to remember. If you see beautiful views on your way but don’t have enough time to take pictures, don’t worry. The climax is at the end when you are on the very top of one of the towers. I was really breathless when I climbed to the top. (not because I couldn’t catch my breath but because the view was breath-taking). I’m pretty sure this is the only place and only chance that makes you feel you are the king or the queen overlooking the whole Lyon city.

As you can see from the roof of La Basilica de Fourvière, the Roman theater is also a cool place to hangout and enjoy the sun. it’s about 5-min walking distance from La Basilica de Fourvière so if you have time, I suggest you could also visit it.

3. Boat cruise on river La Saône

There are two river in the city Lyon, La Saône and La Rhône and there are in general four boat cruise routes excluding lunch or dinner cruises. As for me, I didn’t have time to explore the modern area of Lyon – the Confluence area so I took the boat cruise which goes to Lyon Confluence and comes back. By the way, if you are looking for the ONLY LYON sign (similar to the sign I AMSTERDAM) for a photo, it’s located in the garden of Confluence Museum (Jardin du Musée des Confluences).

As for me, except that that day was really cold and I was almost frozen on the boat, the general experience was rather pleasant. I took the first route, which is called Promenade Lyon Autrement and its a round trip going up to Pont du Maréchal König in the north and Confluence Museum in the south. I saw both the old town and the modern district with bold and creative buildings. It felt like transferring from the medieval time to the 21th century. There was a tourist guider explaining the buildings which of course represent the culture and history of Lyon over the centuries. The guide was in both french and English and for me it was rather interesting.

The tour lasted about an hour and the ticket office is located closely to the departure point of all the cruises. Down below the eastern end of the Passerelle du Palais de Justice, you will see the ticket office and the starting point. After the ticket office opens, you can book the cruise tickets of the same day. If you wanna know more about the different routes, departure hours etc you can contact either the tourism office I mentioned above or send me an email. I still have the brochure and I’ll try my best to provide you as much information as possible. The ticket price starts from 12.9 euros and is also included in the Lyon card.

After you have bought your tickets, you will get a leaflet telling you what the buildings along the rivers are and what meanings they possess and convey, so if you can’t understand what the guider talks about or you can’t hear clearly, you can still read and look by yourself. However, I can assure you that you would be hearing him or her clearly because it was so windy and yet I could still gear the guider clearly. In my opinion, listening to the guider and reading the leaflet at the same time is the best way to understand the city.

4. Guided tour in Lyon old town (Renaissance Vieux-Lyon, cathedral, courtyards and traboules)

Fortunately this tour was in English (of course you can book it either in English or in French) and I did enjoy it a lot. To be honest, The view or the pictures I took during this tour are not the most important. For me, the meaning, the culture and the history that I learnt from the guider is truly beneficial. How many times were the Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste destroyed and reconstructed? How long did it take to build such a masterpiece? Why are the statues on the facade beheaded? Why are there four rose windows in this cathedral instead of 3, which is normally the case in other cathedrals? How does the clock in this cathedral work and why is there a person (or god) beyond god? Why does blue arches represent richness and why the more windows the richer the family is? What’s the purpose of building a rose tower which goes above the usual apartments? To have a better view of the city? Isn’t that inconvenient for the family to climb up so high? In order to find out the answers, I guess you will have to join a tour and follow the guider closely (of course you can write me as well lol).

The most important thing that you have to experience here in Lyon either in a guided tour or by yourself is to traboule through the buildings. Traboules are the passages in the buildings with doors. They allow the traders to transfer goods from one street to another quickly and safely. Even in rainy days, precious goods such as silk (which made the economy in Lyon prosperous) can be delivered without getting wet. The courtyards, or even the small statues on the streets show the history of Lyon and without the guider, it’s impossible to figure out what these inconspicuous subjects are trying to tell us.

You can book the guided tours directly in the tourism office and the price is included in the Lyon card. However, make sure to make a reservation in advance as the tours can be quite popular and crowded. There are of course tours of other themes in french or English. After you make your reservation, they will print out a confirmation voucher telling you when and where to meet and the guider will be there on time handing out earphones and speakers. If I had more time I definitely would have booked more tours as they are really the great lessons that you can learn about Lyon.

5. Miniature Museum and Theater

This is truly the most interesting museum in Lyon in my opinion. When I first entered this museum I was immediately attracted by the smell of rose. There are about 7 setting in total and the first one is without any doubt my favorite. Why? Because the first setting features the movie “Perfume – the story of a murderer”. This is one of my favorite movies because Ben Whishaw plays the main role in it haha. Every movie prop on show in the museum is the original item used in the shooting of mentioned movies (studio from the USA and Europe). It just felt so magical when I visited the real scenes of the movie that I love with the aroma of rose in the air.

More than this, I was really surprised when I saw the letter sent to Harry Potter “in the cupboard under the stairs”, inviting him to join the Hogwarts’ School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Additionally, I saw the original resin magic wand used by Daniel Radcliffe in the action scenes of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”. Those two are indeed what interest me the most in this museum. Nevertheless, there are also original items used in “Da Vinci Code”, “V for Vendetta”, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, “X-MEN 3: The Last Stand”, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”, “The Mask”, “Spiderman”, “Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark”, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”, “Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World”, “Men in Black”, “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace”, “The Chronicles of Narnia 2″etc etc.

This museum is right behind the palace of justice and is quite easy to find. The ticket is also included in the Lyon card and I suggest around 2 hours for visiting. However, if you just wanna have a glance it takes probably much less time. If you are a movie fan, it takes you quite a lot of time to go through all the items and the introduction cards, which demonstrate to you in which movie and which scene the item was used.

Besides the original items used in the shooting of mentioned scenes, the miniature scenes are another highlight in this museum. The miniatures windows are stunning and should not be missed. As you can see below, can you tell they are no bigger than your head and yet in the photos they are so vivid and real? If you have time, take a close look at each window, and you will be shocked how detailed and beautiful these mini items are. In one word, this museum is a hidden gem in the city.

6. Night walk by the rivers

As the city of light, how can you miss a night walk along the rivers and inside the city, illuminated by thousands and thousands of light? Basically the whole city is beautifully lit at night but where to go to make sure you won’t miss the most splendid scenes? I suggest you can ask the tourism office about a route to explore Lyon at night. They suggested one for me and I really liked it. (If you wanna plan everything in advance before arriving at Lyon, you can also write mr an e-mail so I can take a pic of the route on the map and send it to you.)

In general, what you should not miss are the place de la République, place des Jacobins, place des Célestins, Eglise St-Nizier, place des Terreaux, place de la Comédie (where the Hotel Ville and Opera house are), place de la Bourse, etc., and of course, don’t forget to take a walk along the rivers. The reflection of the lights on the rivers just make the city brighter. It seems like there are so many places to go and to see, but don’t worry. If the route is well planned, a round trip would include all the spots. If you don’t have enough time or you don’t wanna walk much, , I strongly recommend a spot, which is the passerelle du Palais de Justice. There you would have a wonderful view of Cathédrale St-Jean, Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière, Palais de Justice and so on across the river. Next to the bridge there’s also a bar, where you can have a few drinks and chat with your friends.

7. Art Museum

To be honest, compared to the big museums I have been to in Paris, Milan, Florence, London, Rome, New York or Washington D.C, this art museum in Lyon isn’t so impressive either in size or in its collection. However, each museum has its own collections that you can never see in any other places, so I would suggest you check the collection beforehand and if you are interested in some specific artworks, it wouldn’t be a waste of time.

For your reference, the masterpieces here are “The Temptation of Saint Anthony” by Auguste Rodin, “Temple Gate from Medamud”, “Kore”, “The Annunciation”, “The Treasure of Terreaux”, “Bedroom of Madame Guimard”, “Bathsheba Bathing” by Paolo Veronese, “Saint Dominic and Saint Francis Protecting the World from Christ’s Wrath” by Peter-Paul Rubens, “Nave Nave Mahana” by Paul Gauguin and “Woman Seated on the Beach” by Pablo Picasso.

If you have time, why not spending an hour or so to take a look, maybe you will find something of your taste here. The price is included in the Lyon card and upon getting your ticket you can ask for a brochure of the description of the masterpieces in english (if you don’t speak french). It helps you to better understand the artworks here.

By the way, this museum is also very close to the opera house and the departure point of the Lyon city train tour.

8. Musée Lumière

Lyon is also famous for being the birth place of cinema. It was not until their father retired in 1892 that the Lumière brothers began to create moving pictures. In this museum you will see the first film, which shows workers leaving the Lumière factory. If you are a fan of motion pictures or a fan of the history of it, this is a place you need to visit. However, for me, this museum is a bit far from the city centre and the equipments didn’t attract me that much. This is just my personal point of view as I’m not really a technology person. The exhibition is mainly in french so if you don’t understand it you should ask for a leaflet of description when you buy or exchange your ticket. There are some interactive devices or programs in this museum, but if you are not really interested in the film industry, it would take you less than an hour to visit it.

Unfortunately, when I was there, the wind was so strong that the Parc de la Tête d’Or was closed. I read from many reviews that the park together with the botanical garden is really worth visiting so hopefully when I’m in Lyon again I’d have the chance to wander in it along the lake. The other thing I want to mention is the french cuisine here in Lyon. As the gastronomic capital of the world, restaurants are all over the city. Some people in the guided tour group asked the guider to recommend some good restaurants and she said, the competition is so strong here that basically there are no bad restaurants left. I always went to a street called Rue Mercière to have lunch or dinner and so far I’m satisfied with the quality of the food. However, on weekend nights this place is crazy crowded and although the whole street is made up of restaurants, it’s very likely that you won’t even get table. In this case, if you are going out on a Friday or Saturday night, I suggest you’d better make a reservation.

Lyon – the City of Light was last modified: May 11th, 2017 by Dong

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