It may come as a surprise to those unacquainted with the city that, outside of Paris, Lyon has earned a reputation as France’s “other” cultural capital. Spend a little time exploring, however, and you’ll quickly discover why. Home to around 30 museums (including ones dedicated to fine arts, natural history and contemporary works), an internationally acclaimed opera and orchestra, a wide variety of artistic festivals and over 2,000 years of integrated urban expansion and architecture, it’s safe to say this city of lights and traboules (old covered passages that you really should spend some time exploring) packs something of a cultural wallop. Let’s take a looksee, shall we?
Fourviere Hill is a good place to start. Site of the original Roman colony of Lugdunum, it provides access to ancient ruins, Lyon’s famous Notre Dame Basilica and a tower not too dissimilar to the one standing in Paris’ Champ de Mars. Once you’re done sightseeing from above, you can take in a Picasso or Van Gogh at the Fine Arts Museum (one of the most important in Europe, mind you), check out a concert or art exhibition at Garnier Hall (Europe’s largest enclosed space sans-pillars), or marvel at the recently renovated interior of the historic Theatre des Celestins. There’s even a section of the city (the working class Croix-Rousse neighborhood) dedicated to Lyon’s former silk “empire,” ideal for checking out the bohemian trends of the city’s young artists and designers.
If public spaces are your thing, you’d do yourself a disservice missing the giant Parc de la Tête d'or in the northeast, which offers a scenic escape from the daily grind of city living (think lake, zoo, rose garden and the like). You’ll also want to check out the slightly toursity Old Lyon, situated near the Saone River, which offers a plethora of shops and cafes in a milieu that has gone to great lengths to preserve its medieval heritage. Pair all of this with an incredible stage festival in the summer, film festival in the fall and a nationally renowned Festival of Lights in December and you’re left with a city that makes a profound cultural impression no matter what time of year decide to you visit.