My trip to Lyon can be best described as rushed. I’d originally planned to spend at least two days exploring this city, but the train timetables and the huge price differences in tickets meant I ended up with only a day in Lyon.
This 24 hours only became shorter when my Macbook charger unexpectedly died. Hence I had to spend almost the whole morning of my only day in Lyon going to the Apple Store, waiting for a free Genius appointment and getting a replacement charger. It wasn’t much fun given that I was already feeling a little queasy from all the Polish vodka I had drank with my Polish couchsurfing host the night before.
On a sidenote Apple Customer Service is excellent and one of the main reasons I choose to use Apple products is that I can get them serviced in every part of the world. They replaced it for me for free, and luckily enough only one part of the charger was broken and that part wasn’t my Australian plug, so I didn’t find myself suddenly with a European charger.
But by the time I left the Apple Store it was close to lunchtime. Hence I shortened my trip to Lyon to just see the highlights that had been recommended to me by my couchsurfing host the night before.
Lyon isn’t a small city. Unlike Avignon, or Aixe-en-Provence, it isn’t easy to see all of the city on foot. But luckily Lyon is a city well connected by a metro system and other means of public transport.
A Day in Lyon: Croix-Rousse
I started my official sightseeing in Lyon by heading to one of the highest points in the city; Croix-Rousse. Croix-Rousse used to be the home of the silk industry that was so famous in Lyon in the 18th century.
The affects of this industry are still present in Croix-Rousse today, with many of the old buildings here having been built with high ceilings and rafters that were needed in silk factories.
But the highlight of Croix-Rousse is the views that you can get over the rest of Lyon. I choose to walk down from Croix-Rousse to the centre of the city. From here I caught some great views over Lyon, and I loved the little streets I passed along the way.
A Day in Lyon: Presqu’ile
It’s quite easy to walk from Croix Rousse back into either Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon) or the Presqu’ile. The Presqu’ile is the heart of Lyon and the central business district. But you won’t just find shops and businesses here, passing through this district on my way to grab lunch, I stumbled along some beautiful old buildings and monuments.
The first surprise was the beautiful Hotel de Ville at Places des Terreaux. In this square I also found the beautiful La Fontaine Bartholdi, a fountain sculpted by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the same sculptor that designed the Statute of Liberty.
Not far from the Place des Terreaux, I discovered Saint-Nizier Church which was also very pretty.
But my favourite building in the Presqu’ile is the Palais de la Bourse. It’s really stunning and much like all of the old buildings in France, magnificently preserved. It had clearly been cleaned and well maintained, most likely because it still houses the Chambers of Commerce and the Commercial Court of Lyon.
A Day in Lyon: Where to Eat in Lyon
Since I found myself in the Cordoliers district, it seemed like an appropriate time to get some lunch. Lyon is often referred to as the ‘stomach of France’ and I was very keen to eat at a local Lyonese bistro. I’m still not so sure whether ‘stomach of France’ refers to the good food in Lyon, or rather the offal that is so typical of Lyonese cuisine.
Not being into offal of any type, I was not keen to be eating this type of Lyonese food. But even if you aren’t eating traditional offal dishes, Lyon still offers some of the best food in France. The meal I had while here was without exception, the best meal I had in France.
Unfortunately the place I wanted to eat at was fully booked, so I wandered around Cordeliers for a while before I stumbled on a newly opened bistro called Bistrot D’Abel.
I decided since Lyon is so famous for French food, I should go all out. Hence I ordered a three course meal.
Entrée was a terrine made with beef and mostly carrot. I’ve talked before about how terrine doesn’t do much for me. The slimy fatty texture just isn’t really my thing, particularly considering I’m the sort of person that has to cut every inch of fat off her meat.
But despite the texture I could still admire the balance of flavour in this dish; other terrines I had previously had were far too salty.
The main was two pieces of meat; a smoked ham and a confit piece of beef. This was seriously some of the best meat I’ve eaten during my whole five months of travel. I was curious about the combination of two meats but they worked so well together.
The ham had me feeling less sad about missing Mum’s amazing Christmas ham; it was smoky, smooth and delicious. But what made this dish so fantastic was that amazing jus circling around the smoothest mashed potatoes I’ve ever had. It wasn’t a dish I could fault in the slightest!
I’ve spoken before how French cuisine has everyone else beat when it comes to dessert. They just simply rock dessert, and the dessert I got that day was no exception.
I’ve been in love with mille-feuille (or French vanilla slice as it’s typically called in Australia) for years. Bistrot D’Abel had a hazelnut mille-feuille on the menu and despite how full I was from the first two courses, I could not resist ordering it.
If I believed in heaven at all, I’d say it’s where you can eat this dish all day, everyday. The hazelnut flavour took the dish to another level. Unlike the many soggy mille-feuille I’ve had before, this pastry was crunchy on the outside and buttery in the inside; basically perfection. And just look how pretty it looked!
The whole three courses came to the really reasonable price of €25!
After all of that indulgence, more exploring was in order. There was so much more to see of Lyon!
A Day in Lyon: Vieux Lyon
The next stop was Vieux Lyon, the old town of the city. From Cordeliers it’s very easy to walk across the river to this part of Lyon. From the bridge you’ll also get a stunning preview of the quaint little buildings that make up Vieux Lyon.
Like many of the old towns in France, the best way to see Vieux Lyon is with no plan. I wandered around the small streets that make up this district, stopping only to visit the Lyon Cathedral that is located here. I found the prettiest little squares and the cutest little tea shop.
A Day in Lyon: Fourviere
But the church looming on the hill overlooking Vieux Lyon was calling my name. Even from the bottom it was a formidable sight and I wanted to make sure I got to visit before catching my train to Switzerland.
With more time, it would have been easy enough to walk up the hill but if you are either time poor or energy poor (I was feeling both that day) you can take the funicular up to the top of the hill which is known as the Fourviere district. A ride in the furnicular is just like any other ride on the metro system in Lyon; there is no extra fee. So if you have a daily pass or a multiple ride ticket you can just use that.
It might have looked beautiful from the bottom, but you won’t experience the full beauty of La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere until you arrive at the top. Many of the beautiful old cathedrals and basilicas in French have the same sort of architecture. The Notre Dames I’ve seen in many French towns just look like smaller versions of the Notre Dame of Paris .
But Fourviere has a more unique appearance, most likely due to its combination of Byzantine (very evident I think) and Romanesque architecture. The locals affectionately refer to it as the upside down elephant because its four bell towers look like the four legs of an elephant. I’m not sure I see it, but it’s kind of a cute nickname!
Fourviere was my last stop in Lyon. After visiting the church (it’s free to enter) and admiring the beautiful view of the whole city of Lyon, I headed back to my host’s place to get ready to leave.
I would have loved to see more of the city, but I can really only blame myself for that. Next time I visit France I’ll be sure to schedule more time in Lyon, even if just to eat at more of the amazing bistros!