Why you should visit Lyon when in France

Lyon is often overlooked when visiting France because its name does not hold the same impact of some other French cities.  It is not known as the love and fashion capital of Paris, nor for the French Riviera glamour of Nice.  There is a long history in Lyon, but it does not hold the historical significance of Normandy.  While there are great wines that can be found, it is not as well-known as the Loire Valley.  Lyon is the third largest city in France and I could easily spend a month exploring this city.  Instead of travelling to the west coast, I got to experience Lyon, albeit for two days, and it was one of the best trade-offs of my journey.

The view from the river Rhône
The view from the river Rhône

Years ago, the owners of a piece of land on a hill in Fourvière wanted Lyon to become more like Paris.  In an attempt to capture tourists to the city, the Metallic tower of Fourvière, a copy of the Eiffel Tower, was constructed.  Paris is a popular vacation spot, it has a tower.  We must have a tower as well!  Surprisingly, the tower did not bring more tourists.  However, the view on Fourvière is stunning!  If you are looking for 5 star hotels, catered meals and glamour, Lyon will disappoint.  However, if you are looking for a place for discovery, culture, and a homely French meal, Lyon may be the place to go.  Just one thing…the menus are entirely in French.

If Lyon were a person, she would be unusual with many lovable quirks.  She stays hidden behind the large crowds and is sometimes forgotten.  Lyon is just a little bit hipster and probably works as a cook, artist, writer, or something entrepreneurial.  Lyon is never the most popular and she is comfortable when not the center of attention.  She is charming and grows to love the select people that get to know her.

Lyon’s quirks extends to the streets of the old city, which are the home of the traboules – doors of different colors and sizes that lead to hidden passageways.  Part of the adventure is pulling on a handle, unknowingly opening a path through aged homes or looking a little foolish when the door turns out to be locked.  I wandered up stone stairwells, across dilapidated courtyards and through another door to a different street to enter into the maze again through another traboule.  There isn’t a clear route or method to ensure that you see a particular traboule, rather it is an experience brought by exploring.

One of the many doors I wandered through
One of the many doors I wandered through

Lyon offers a little bit for everyone, including nature-lovers who can enjoy Le Parc de la Tête d’Or, the largest urban park in France.  In the center of the park is a publicly funded zoo that is free to the public.  On a bike ride, I stopped at the several well-kept exhibits, free for the public and quite popular with children.  For the art lovers, there are also several murals in Lyon that depict famous historical and fictional French figures that cover a breadth of disciplines.  The murals are of a building along the side of a building, so if you are scanning from afar, you are likely to miss the masterpieces.  The murals seem realistic, as if the figures were going to engage you in a friendly hello, or ignore you as you went about your daily life.  Best of all, visiting the murals are free and for many of the murals, it is only a short walk from the metro.

Fresque des Lyonnais - 50 well-known French figures are included in this mural. The side of the building looks so real!
Fresque des Lyonnais – 50 well-known French figures are included in this mural. The side of the building looks so real!

Giraffes hanging at the free zoo

— Giraffes hanging at the free zoo

In old Lyon, I visited the Musee Miniature et Cinema that held movie props, miniature sets, and special effects.  I have a deep appreciation for museums that are dedicated to notable local and international artists, but the impact of each museum began to dull.  This was a refreshing break from history to delve into a fun collection.  At the entrance, you are greeted with life-sized statues from iRobot and The Planet of the Apes.  The collection includes a robotic Predator, and actual props from box office hits like X-men, Harry Potter, and Batman.  There are rooms that boasted miniature sets with intricate details no bigger than a shoebox.  The movie nerd in me got way too excited.

Wolverine's actual claws used in X Men
Wolverine’s actual claws used in X Men

There is a rivalry between Paris and Lyon, one that deeply affects residents of each city.  The battle extends to the gastronomic sphere and to the names of the restaurants; Paris is the home of the bistro, while Lyon is proud of the bouchon.  Lyonnais cuisine is uncomplicated and excels in bringing a wholesome simple flavor of food.  At one of Lyon’s bouchons, I tasted quenelle, a dish of creamed fish smothered in sauce, and cervelas de Lyon, a specialty sausage.  Both these dishes were accompanied with the region’s specialty: Lyonnais potatoes.  The ingredients were not complex and the dishes were not fancy, but it would be one of my most satisfying meals in France.  With a little research, great tasting food in Lyon is not hard to find.

Quenelle - creamed fish in sauce with a side of Lyonnais potatoes
Quenelle – creamed fish in sauce with a side of Lyonnais potatoes

Lyon has many markets, ranging from the expensive Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse (everywhere is named after Paul Bocuse), to more reasonably priced markets.  Walking through the Halles de Lyon, I was be amazed at the prices of the best quality meats, oils, and wines.  I also noticed an abundance of praline-influenced goods, from pastries to candies.  The praline tarts were too sweet for my taste and the filling was unexpectedly runny.  I sampled a little bit of everything, from savory pasta to expensive artisan ice cream.  These two days gave me a taste of all that Lyon could offer.  I would definitely return to this city if given the opportunity.

Praline Desserts
Praline Desserts
Halles de Lyon and the meats
Halles de Lyon and the meats
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