The picturesque old town of Lyon at the foot of Mont Fourvière, with its impressive churches and magnificent mansions, is often described as one of the most beautiful Renaissance quarters in Europe.
The Vieux Lyon district, or "Old Lyon", was once the first site in France to be protected as cultural cities by the Malraux Law in 1954. In 1998, UNESCO declared Old Lyon a World Heritage Site as one of the largest preserved Renaissance quarters in all of Europe. It also has a permanent place on our list of the top 10 sights of France.
Lyon's old town, which covers a good 400 hectares, stretches picturesquely between the two hills of Croix Rousse and Fourvière to the banks of the Saône and can be reached via the D metro line.
A stroll through the old town of Lyon reveals magnificent mansions, over 300 in number, which still characterise the special atmosphere of Vieux Lyon.
The most beautiful residences, with their ornate arcades and turrets, are those in the High Renaissance style, but magnificent monuments have also been built in the other predominant styles of Flamboyant, Early Classicism and French Renaissance.
Tip: With the Lyon City Card, tourists can use all of Lyon's public transport for free and benefit from reduced entrance fees to over 20 museums, among other discounts.
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On Lyon's city hill, visible from afar, the Roman camp of Lugdunum was founded in 43 BC, from which Lyon developed. Remains of it can still be seen on the south side of the hill.
Lyon's birthplace beckons with magnificent views, the majestic 19th century Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière and the Tour Métallique. The metal tower was commissioned as a rival to the Eiffel Tower in Paris and was also built by Gustave Eiffel.
Saint Jean Cathedral
Saint-Jean Cathedral stands in the district of the same name in Lyon, the best-known and most famous part of Lyon's old town. The Gothic cathedral was already the religious centre of Lyon in the Middle Ages and is still the seat of the archbishop today. It has been a listed building since 1862 and is one of our 10 most beautiful churches in France.
Right next to it is the Manécanterie, one of the most beautiful Romanesque buildings in Lyon. Once a choir school, it now houses a museum of church treasures.
Place des Terreaux and Lyon City Hall
The famous Place des Terreaux is located in the district of the same name on the peninsula between the Saône and Rhône rivers and is an ideal starting point for exploring the city.
The magnificent square is dominated by the imposing Lyon City Hall. The magnificent Hôtel de Ville between the Place des Terreaux and the Opéra Nouvel is one of Lyon's largest and most impressive historical monuments.
The Lyon Town Hall was built between 1645 and 1651 and is particularly fascinating for its richly decorated façade. The relief painting below the bell tower depicts the French King Henry IV.
Before the French Revolution, the image of the Sun King was emblazoned here. Also on Place Terreaux is the imposing Palais St. Pierre, which today houses the Musée des Beaux Arts.
Place Bellecour is probably the most beautiful square in the city and is one of the largest squares in France. At 500 by 280 metres, it was the largest square in Europe before the Place de la Concorde in Paris, which was completed in 1755.
Despite its huge surface area, it is reserved exclusively for pedestrians, who stroll leisurely past the impressive equestrian monument to Louis XIV. In winter, Place Bellecour is transformed into a huge ice-skating rink and is otherwise used for events and demonstrations.
Shopping around the Place de Bellecour
Tourists gather in Place Bellecour not only because of its fame, but also because Lyon's two biggest shopping streets meet here.
Rue de la République runs north from Place de Bellecour to the Hôtel de Ville, Lyon's city hall. Here you will find mainly international fashion chains and numerous designer boutiques in the side streets.
Rue Victor Hugo leads south, not quite as powerful and grand as Rue de la République, but with boutiques, souvenir shops, nice cafés and restaurants also worth a detour.
Shopaholics will also find a huge bookshop with around 80,000 volumes directly on Place de Bellecour and numerous luxury shops in the streets of Carré d'Or.
Institute Lumière (Cinema Museum)
In Lyon there is the "Rue de Prèmier Film", "Street of the First Film". This is not just a name, because the cinema museum located there was actually the birthplace of the cinema film. The first film in history was shot here in 1895 by the Lumière brothers.
In what was soon to become the world's largest photo plate factory, over 100-year-old photos, film posters and cameras are on display today. In the in-house cinema hall, old films are also shown - which can be described as a real antique in terms of film history.
Saint George district
St. George's Church, which gave the district its name, was built by Pierre Bossan, as was the Basilica Notre Dame de Fourvière on Mont Fouvière. In neo-Gothic style, it still sits enthroned on the banks of the Saône.
This area used to be home to the silk weavers of Lyon before they moved to Croix Rousse hill in the 19th century. At peak times, 18,000 looms were operated here.
The pedestrian bridge "Passarelle St. Georges", which leads over the Saône, is a particularly picturesque postcard motif.
Saint Paul district
Saint Paul was once the neighbourhood of wealthy bankers and merchants, mostly from Italy, who built their residences here in the 15th and 16th centuries. Among the finest examples of the mansions of that time are the Hôtel Bullioud and the Hôtel de Gadagne, which today houses the Lyon Historical Museum and the Marionette Museum.
This district is also dominated by an important sacred building, Saint Paul's Church, with its imposing bell tower. The cathedral originally dates from 549, but was destroyed by the Saracens and rebuilt in the 12th century.
Labyrinth City Lyon
Lyon's Saint George district is also where the first so-called "traboules" were built. These alleys, galleries and stairways through picturesque Renaissance courtyards and under houses still connect the streets of Vieux Lyon that run parallel to the river.
As an inseparable part of the city's history, they keep some historical details and architectural features hidden.
For example, one of these traboules is the famous Tour Rose, the pink tower. Today it is part of a hotel and restaurant and is one of Lyon's landmarks.
Gourmet city Lyon
As the "culinary capital of France", you will encounter restaurants at every turn in Lyon. Overall, the city has one of the highest densities of local restaurants in Europe. The so-called "Bouchons Lyonnais", which were run in the 19th century by female cooks in a very familiar setting, know how to tempt every gourmet with delicious specialities.
Paul Bocuse, whose restaurant Collonges was awarded three stars by the Michelin Guide, conjures up particularly unique taste experiences.
Also something for gourmets is the mint-green sweet "Coussin de Lyon". The "cushions of Lyon" are made of chocolate, marzipan and Curaçao liqueur and can be bought in almost any shop.
Lyon City of Lights
The old town of Lyon is particularly impressive at night, when more than 200 sights are artfully illuminated thanks to the so-called Plan Lumière. On a sightseeing tour through Lyon at night, you can be guided to the most beautiful places even without a map.
Lyon is also a luminous city on the night of Mary's Conception in December, when all the windows of the old town are lit up with candles. Fête des Lumières tradition, all the windows in the old town are lit up with candles.
Discover Lyon - with an audio guide or the Lyon City Greeters
MP3 audio guides in five different languages (English, French, German, Spanish and Italian) are available at the tourist offices for visiting the entire old town of Lyon.
Lyon's visitors receive even more personal attention from the so-called Lyon City Greeters. They can be booked online and guide tourists through the district in which they live - on a voluntary basis and completely free of charge. They reveal the most beautiful corners, the best shopping addresses and numerous gastronomic insider tips.
PICTURES: Old Town of Lyon