Lyon may not mean much to many of you, you might have heard of its football team Olympique Lyonnais, driven through it on the way to the Alps or simply know that it’s located in France. Well, that was about the extent of my knowledge one year and a half ago. However, after living there for eight months last year, I fell in love with its chilled out atmosphere, cobbled Renaissance quarter, the plethora of restaurants and its cultural vibe.
Often described as a smaller version of Paris, it is situated in the East-Central area of France (but is southern enough for it to reach upwards of 30°c) and is dissected by two rivers, La Saône and Le Rhône. There are also two hills overlooking the city, Fourviere leads to an impressive church and roman amphitheater, whilst Les Pentes de la Croix Rousse have become home to the hipster dwellings of the city. Moreover, the latter is where you’ll find most of the city’s vintage shops, art galleries and various nightclubs. What’s more, with four major universities there’s a vibrant student population in the city, which is reflected through the numerous cultural events filling up the calendar.
While the fact that I was only working twelve hours a week and could essentially spend my time simply being french…drinking at cafés, wandering around markets and drinking copious amounts of wine, undoubtably impacted the success of my experience, I really think Lyon is one of my favourite cities. So if you’re ever in town these are my must-dos:
1. On a nice day it’s often busy with rollerskaters, strollers and runners, however for good reason. The walk from along the Rhône up to La Parc de la Tête d’Or gives some of the best views the city has to offer. There are plenty of opportunities to stop for a drink in the numerous restaurants, cafés and bars on riverboats along the banks of the Rhône. In the park, depending on what takes your fancy, there’s a zoo, botanical garden and velodrome. However, my favorite is the island in the middle of the lake that has a memorial dedicated to fallen soldiers and can be reached by an underground passageway beneath it.
2. Lyon does not disappoint the night owls. Whether it’s the alternative bars scattered throughout Les Pentes de la Croix Rousse, the Irish pubs in Vieux Lyon or the riverboat clubs, it has an offering for everyone and every taste. One of my personal favorites is La Marquise on the riverside of Le Rhône. Despite it’s fairly small dancing space, the panoramic views out over the top of the river and it’s mixture of funk, soul and electronic music ensure the dance floor is always heaving. For those that dread the end of the night, the Renaissance quarter, Vieux Lyon, has many all-nighter bars. However, many are clandestine, with closed and unmarked doors, so its best to have a local leading you the right way. Probably one of the most frequented, and easily found, is the Melting Pub. It’s guaranteed to be packed at the weekend until 8am and is shrouded with smoke, thanks to the most illicit and very French activity occurring in these bars; the permission to smoke indoors.
3. One festival that you simply can’t miss out on, which takes over the whole city in month of May, is Les Nuits Sonores. Consisting of various free music events in different venues across the city for the week and larger events in an abandoned factory, it attracts brilliant artists and is the highlight of the year for all the music loving Lyonnais natives. In a similar vein to the Warehouse Project in Manchester, the festival is impressive to attend simply for it’s surreal atmosphere and the sheer enormity of the evening venue.
4. Last but certainly not the least, I couldn’t write about Lyon without mentioning the food. Whilst you’d be hard pushed to find a French city that doesn’t have a passion for food, Lyon is the gastronomical capital of France. To begin with, it’s the home of famous chef Paul Bocuse. His market Les Halles de Lyon is open all days of the week providing the best, and often most expensive, produce the city has to offer. Not for the faint-hearted or vegetarians, Lyon also has its own typical cuisine. Served in Bouchons, the meals consist of enormous quantities of food, often in several courses, generally of pork in its various forms. L’Epicerie is a restaurant serving much simpler food, in fact just tartines, which is basically toast with various toppings. Yet, its lively atmosphere and charismatic staff guarantee you’ll have a fantastic experience and meal even if you’re not eating Andouillette.
This barely scratches the surface of what Lyon has to offer, but it does provide a glimpse into the eight months I spent there and a few features of the city I loved the most.