It’s that time of year again, when bloggers and journalists compile lists of the top things to do, restaurants to eat in, and cities to visit for the coming year. Here are the Top 10 Reasons to Visit Lyon in 2019
It goes without saying that you should book one of my Lyon Wine Tastings!
For the first time ever, Lyon has been named by the New York Times as one of its top 52 destinations for 2019. About time! I fell in love with Lyon the summer of 2017, and I love it more every day. There are so many reasons this city is magical, and here are ten of them.
Top 10 Reasons to Visit Lyon
1. The Rivers in Lyon
From the north comes the Saône, flowing down through Burgundy to reach the ancient stone quays of Lyon.
From the east, the Rhône river gushes out from Lake Geneva, meeting the Saône at the southern tip of Lyon and then sculpting a monumental valley through the south of France.
Both rivers carve their way through the city, and provide endless beauty and entertainment for citizens and visitors alike.
From the péniche river boat nightclubs to the Quai Saint Antoine market, from riverside jogs to summer picnics, both rivers provide a juxtaposition of activity and tranquility.
Lyon is home to 45 bridges and footbridges that span both rivers and show off everything from ancient to modern bridge design.
Where they connect at La Confluence sits the stunning modern Musée des Confluences, Lyon’s science and anthropology museum.
2. The Hills
What can I say? I’m a sucker for city staircases.
Ever since I stayed in Montmartre for a week back in 2008 I have been in love with little windy staircases that creep and crawl over city hills.
Like with its rivers, Lyon has two hills. The hill that prays, the Fourviére, and the hill that works, the Croix-Rousse.
This makes for a delightful quantity of tiny staircases, and also gives the city a beautiful depth. Fun fact: the Fourviére has the world’s oldest active funicular!
Both hills are littered with Roman ruins, and give the city visual charm as well as providing outlets for daily exercise.
I live in the Croix-Rousse and am very biased — it’s the best neighborhood and the most wonderful place in the whole wide world. I love living on top of the hill and getting magical views whenever I walk anywhere, and the feeling of strength and pride when I return home after hiking back up the hill.
3. The Food: Makers
This city is bursting with incredible food producers. From bakeries to butchers, chocolatiers to coffee roasters, we have it all. This by itself is a reason to visit Lyon!
I am lucky enough to live right around the corner from one of the city’s undisputedly best bakeries, Partisan Boulanger. To be able to just wake up and get the most delicious, slow fermented, traditionally made bread is such a joy and a privilege.
Any ingredient you want, you can get. While there are plenty of international markets in the Guillotière neighborhood of the 3rd arrondissement, even up on top of my hill in the Croix-Rousse there’s a little épicerie selling international ingredients from all over the world. I can get my mirin and my canned chipotles at the same store!
4. The Food: Markets
Oh the market, how I love the market so!
According to the city’s website, there are 35 different food markets in Lyon. When you visit Lyon, you have to go to the market!
Most of them are one day a week, but at least two are every day except for Monday. My own market in the Croix-Rousse is open every day except Monday, year round.
Doing my daily food shopping at the market is one of the greatest pleasures of my life.
I basically never have anything in my fridge, because I shop, and then I cook! Developing relationships with the purveyors has been a joy, and I feel such a strong sense of community every time I visit the market (so pretty much every day).
It’s hard to overstate how important shopping this way has become to me. It is a way of life and a gift. The French get what’s important, and connecting with your neighbors and the people who make your food is valuable indeed.
5. The Food: Eating Out
And of course we have amazing restaurants! Everyone always talks about the bouchons and sure they’re a thing, but since tripe and tiny wine glasses don’t particularly interest me let’s talk about contemporary food.
Lyon is a city for young chefs.
Since it’s the culinary capital of France and also a hell of a lot cheaper than Paris, Lyon has been a haven for aspiring chefs to come and train at the epic fine dining institutions like those of Paul Bocuse’s empire before setting out to do their own thing.
I am still exploring, but have a few favorites, like Le Kitchen Café in the 7th arrondissement and L’Ébauche in the 1st.
There is so much more for me to discover and it’s thrilling to see what kind of creative and modern food people are coming up with.
6. The Wine
Now we get to the wine! One of the biggest reasons I moved here, and the reason I am able to have my business doing wine tastings, is because we are smack dab in the middle of some of the world’s most celebrated wine regions. Want to arrange your own wine tour? Here’s how!
If I left the house right now I could drive to Côte-Rôtie in 35 minutes. I am not kidding. Seriously. Beaujolais is 45 minutes north, Burgundy starts at about an hour north, and Beaune is an hour and a half away. On a visit to Lyon, its easy to discover so many wines.
There is so much wine flowing through this city that Beaujolais is referred to as the “third river of Lyon”.
7. The History
I love history, I studied archaeology & anthropology for my undergrad at Oxford and am a big nerd for all things ancient.
Lyon’s history is totally epic.
Founded by the Romans in 43 BCE, the city has been a melting pot for trade and production throughout its over two thousand-year-old history.
This valley is a gateway that connects the north of France to the south. It is where people and goods flowed through at the beginning or end of a journey through the Alps to the lands beyond. People from far and wide have been visiting Lyon for millenia!
This was always a merchant town, technologically advanced, and ready to accept influences as they came through.
Wine flowed from Burgundy down to the pope in Avignon, lubricating international politics. Printing presses were big business in the 15th Century and Lyon was a center for publishing.
Of course the city is now and was always famous for its silk production. Silk weaving was a top industry here for centuries, culminating in the 19th century silk boom with the introduction of the Jacquard loom, which was responsible for the building of my hill-top neighborhood to house the workers and their looms.
Lyon was occupied by the Nazis during WW2 and was the home to a powerful resistance movement. There is so much history here and I learn more about it every day!
8. The Mystery
Lyon is covered in tunnels and secret passageways.
Traboules are secret passageways that connect streets on either side of blocks of housing. They’re all over Vieux Lyon, our medieval town, and allowed people to cut through the big city blocks.
We have plenty of them up in the Croix-Rousse too, where you can turn a corner and find some stairs that will bring you into a secret courtyard before spitting you back out onto the street.
There are also tunnels that connect to traboules and lead down to the river, so people could transport their silks without getting them wet in the rain.
Les Pentes de la Croix-Rousse, or the hillside that leads up to my neighborhood is also covered in ancient tunnels that were very likely the Roman treasury.
Les Arêtes de Poisson, or the fishbones, are crazy tunnels under the hill that have never been properly studied because they are so insanely dangerous.
You can get into them if you really want to, but I never have and doubt I ever will. There are loads of conspiracy theories surrounding them which is also delightful!
9. Proximity to Everything
The TGV train is 2 hours to Paris, and we can even get a train directly to Charles de Gaulle airport.
The Lyon airport is well connected within Europe but doesn’t have the long haul flights (yet).
It’s 2 hours to Marseille by train, and it’s 2 and a half hours to drive to the best resorts in the French Alps. There is skiing much closer, as well.
We are so connected to everything here in Lyon, and you can feel it. From the top of any building or hill, you can see straight east to the Alps.
On a clear day, you can even see Mont Blanc!
We have tall apartment buildings like Paris, but with mediterranean terra-cotta tiled rooftops that give Lyon a warm architectural feeling all its own.
A visit to Lyon for any length of time should absolutely include a day or overnight trip to some of our gorgeous surrounding countryside!
10. The People
From the cheesemongers at the market to the owner of my local craft beer store, everyone here is so nice!
People are into community and they are happy to see a smiling face. It didn’t take me long to know everyone in my neighborhood, and I take such joy in knowing my neighbors and my local merchants.
The Lyonnais are proud of their city, and they love to share that with expats and visitors alike. Speaking of expats, I have met the most wonderful, interesting, kind, funny, and smart people here.
The other foreigners who choose to call this place home love it for many of the same reasons I do — we all came here and then felt a pull towards this magnificent place. There is an openness, a willingness to make new friends, try new things, and make the most of our shared experience here.
I feel so much gratitude for the incredible people that I’ve met here, the other female entrepreneurs, the moms who packed up their kids and brought them to France, and the people who followed someone else here and now live the French dream.
The tourists who have already come through my door for their wine tastings have been kind, interesting, and curious about my beautiful city.
The French have been willing to help me settle in, make phone calls for me, assist me with paperwork, or just enjoy long walks and chats throughout Lyon.
The people here, foreign, French, resident, visitor, are incredible.
When you visit Lyon, you will be welcomed, and you will revise any opinions you may have had about “French people”.
I loved writing this post because I love this city so much, and I hope that you loved reading it and will come and visit me in 2019!