Lyon: Three Reasons to Visit

Sweet, delicious smells waft out of shops and a giant flower tree with a flair of whimsy is how I was first introduced to Lyon. My short, two hour train ride from Paris landed me in France’s third largest city. I was immediately struck by how it exuded a small town feel. With couples strolling arm in arm along the River Rhône, Lyon was more casual and relaxed, compared to her high fashion, quick paced sister to the north.

Lyon has much to offer, from a very rich and long history to one of France’s most beautiful basilicas. And may I add, December is a fabulous time to visit! Looking for a winter city break? Then Lyon is the place to be for enchantment and fabulous festivities. While there are countless reasons to visit Lyon, here are my top three.

Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls

Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls

1. History

Lyon reflects 2,000 years of history, and was once home to Romans. There are two Roman sites in the city. The Ancient Theatre of Fourviére was built in the second century. This is a huge complex that includes a grand theatre that seated 10,000 people, and a small theatre where poets and musicians presented their works. You can find it behind the Fourviére Hill.

The second site is lesser known. And when I visited last summer there was no one around. The Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls is located in the 1st arrondissement. This fare sized theatre was used by the Romans for shows and executions.

Old Lyon, known as Le Vieux Lyon, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And is a great place to wander. Its medieval streets and narrow passageways just beg to be explored. It’s also home to fabulous shops and great dining options. There are also approximately 500 traboules here. Traboules are pedestrian passages that run through buildings and link one street to another.

There’s even an app to help you discover Lyon’s traboules.

Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviére

2. Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviére

I stopped, dead still, and craned my neck around. A lady working there approached me, breaking my trance. “Are you religious?” she asked. “No, but I know when I see beauty,” I said with a warm smile. And I must admit, the Basilica is one of the most breath-taking churches I’ve ever laid eyes on. I grew even more fond of it when the lady told me its story.

The Basilica was built between 1872 and 1884, overlooking Lyon on Fourviére Hill. As the story goes, the people of Lyon always went up to the top of the hill to pray, it was dubbed the Praying Hill. During the 17th century the citizens went up the hill to pray to the Virgin Mary to save them from the bubonic plague that was sweeping across Europe. And they were spared. When the cholera epidemic of 1832 lurked, the people went to the top of the hill again to pray for protection. And again, they were saved. When the Prussian invasion was threatening them in 1870, once more they took to the hill to pray. But this time they made a vow. If they were saved again they would build a church in her honor atop that very hill. The people of Lyon were again saved.

The Basilica is actually two churches. The lower one is very simple. While the upper one is incredibly ornate. Its home to stunning stain glass and six huge wall mosaics showing Mary throughout history. Everywhere you look seems to sparkle and glisten. Built in the Romanesque and Byzantine architecture, it outside is surrounded by angels.

Festival of Lights

© Talvi Wasp Gataca

3. Festival of Lights

Also known as Fête des Lumières, Lyon’s Festival of Lights is a magical experience. The city has been celebrating the feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th, when darkness falls, since 1852. At the time they would decorate their windows with multi-coloured glasses lit by candle light. But it has now mutated into a fantastic show that attracts millions every year, and stretches over several days. When darkness descends on the city its buildings, monuments, fountains and bridges all come to life with intense light displays and music to accompany. There are also tons of light installations across the city, created by fantastic artists.

Back in 2014, Talvi Wasp Gataca, from My Pretty Baltics, visited Lyon’s Festival of Lights. Her photo above is of a galaxy projection on Antonin Poncet’s Square. The photos they used were real images from NASA. How incredible is that?

There’s an app for the Festival of Lights too! With an interactive map, information and route options to help best enjoy your experience.

Have you visited Lyon?

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3 Reasons to Visit Lyon


I'm a Canadian gal with a passion for wildlife, the great outdoors and travel and hope to inspire others to feel the same way! Travelling mostly solo I love to explore Ontario Gems in my own backyard as well as exotic cities around the world.

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10 Responses

  1. Emiy says:

    I agree with all of these, Lyon is an amazing city!!

  2. I can’t believe that I’ve still not made it to Lyon! I’ve seen pictures of the Festival of Lights before but I can only imagine that they must be so much more impressive in person!

    • Stephanie says:

      It’s such a beautiful city! I sadly haven’t visited during the Festival of Lights but its on my bucket list! It must be unreal!

  3. Festival of lights sounds like magic! On my list now 🙂

  4. What an interesting looking city! I’ve not yet been to France but it is on our list. How does it compare with the other spots in your opinion? If we had limited time, would Lyon be top of our list? Thanks so much!

    • Stephanie says:

      It really has a lot to offer and if you’re visiting France during December I’d definitely put it atop your must list!

  5. Lora by Lora says:

    I love lyon. One of my favourite cities in Europe. I love going back whenever I can. I still remember my first fetes de la lumière. It was magic.

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