Lyon Attractions

If you like the medieval Marais district in Paris, you'll love Vieux Lyon. The pink-and-ochre Old Town is Europe's largest Renaissance quarter. The cobbled streets, Italianate courtyards and maze of hidden passageways are fascinating to explore. These alleyways and passageways are known as traboules. Their original purpose was to provide shelter from the weather for the silk-weavers as they moved their delicate pieces of work from one part of the manufacturing process to another. Officially the traboules of La Croix Rousse and Vieux Lyon are public thoroughfares during daylight hours. The tourist office distributes a free map of the traboules of the Old Town.

The Cathédrale St-Jean was built between the 12th and 15th centuries. The 13th century stained glass above the altar and in the rose windows of the transepts is in perfect condition. In the northern transept is a 14th century astronomical clock, whose original mechanism has been covered by a lavish Baroque casing - it's capable of computing moveable feast days (such as Easter) until the year 2019. On most days on the strike of noon, 2pm and 3pm, the figures of the Annunciation go through an automated set piece. The cathedral treasury contains religious artefacts ranging from Byzantine to the 19th century.

From Vieux Lyon, walk or take the funicular to hilltop Fourvière, home to the Basilica and Roman ruins. The Romans left behind several antiquities. There are two ruined theatres dug into the hillside, the larger of which was built by Augustus and extended in the 2nd century by Hadrian to seat 10,000 spectators. In summer shows are performed beneath the stars at the Amphitheatre. Discover the city's 2,000-year-old history at the Musée de la Civilisation Gallo-Romaine (Museum of Gallo-Roman Civilization). There is a mosaic illustrating various Roman games, bronze inscriptions detailing economic, legal and administrative matters and models aiding the imagination in reconstructing the theatres outside.

From the museum, it's just a moment's walk to the Basilique de Fourvière, a church built (like the Sacré-Coeur in Paris), in the aftermath of the 1871 Commune to emphasize the defeat of the socialists. From here there is a magnificent view of the city below. If you have taken the funicular up, its worthwhile walking back down along the montée St-Barthélemy footpath, which winds back to Vieux Lyon through the hanging gardens below the church.

In the Presq'île (Peninsula district), between the rivers Rhône and Saône, don't miss Impressionist art at the Musée des Beaux-Arts (Fine Arts Museum). Housed in a former Benedictine abbey, the collections of the museum are second in France only to those in the Louvre. The museum is organized roughly by genre, with 19th and 20th century sculpture, represented by Canova, Barye and Rodin. Medieval sculpture is on the first floor along with antiquities and objets d'art, including a fine collection of 6th to 19th century Japanese, Korean and Chinese ceramics used in traditional tea ceremonies. The 20th century painting collection features works by Picasso and Matisse. The museum also includes paintings by Rubens, Zurbarán, El Greco and Tintoretto.

From the 16th century up until the postwar dominance of metalworks and chemicals, silk was the city's main industry, generating the wealth which left behind the multitude of Renaissance buildings. Lyon´s best museum, the Musée des Tissus (Textile Museum) unravels the story of Lyon's silk industry in a 17th century mansion. It also houses collections from certain periods. Most notable are 3rd century Greek-influenced and 6th century Coptic tapestries, and woven silk and painted linen from Egypt. There are also beautiful silks from Baghdad and carpets from Iran, Turkey, India and China.

La Croix Rousse is the old silk-weavers' district and spreads up the steep slopes of the hill above the northern end of the Presqu'île. A couple of dozen people operate the modern high-speed computerized looms that are kept in business by the restoration and maintenance of France's palaces and châteaux. You can watch traditional looms in mesmerizing action at La Maison des Canuts and see rare and beautiful cloths, including silk, damask and brocade, produced by this ancient home-weavers' co-operative.

Lyon is the capital of the French gastronomy and the cuisine is a big drawcard for both French and international tourists. Besides the many Michelin-starred restaurants in the city, there are also lots of very small restaurants (the so-called "Bouchons") which are affordable and excellent value for money.