Show Notes for Episode 113: Top Attractions in Lyon

Category: Lyon Area

Discussed in this Episode

  • Musings on how to select a hotel in a large city [2:43]
  • Answers to a listener question on health care in France [11:50]
  • The 6 most salient points in the history of Lyon [27:28]
  • The capital of the Roman Gaul [31:04]
  • Commercial hub during the Renaissance [35:36]
  • Lyon under the French Revolution and Napoleon [38:41]
  • Jacquard weave [40:19]
  • Frères Lumière [41:29]
  • Lyon and the Resistance [42:06]
  • Booking a tour at the Tourist Office on Place Bellecour [46:00]
  • Traboules [46:46]
  • Bouchons and Lyon Gastronomy (some we loved others not so much!) [51:30]
  • La Fourvière Basilica [55:13]
  • Night-life in Lyon [1:06:57]
  • The Alps and the Auvergne are nearby! [1:10:32]

Lyon, Second Largest City in France

Musings on How to Select a Hotel in a Large City

Annie and Elyse start the show by discussing how they go about choosing a hotel when visiting a large city such as Paris (or Lyon).
The criteria that we like to use when choosing a hotel in France:
• Annie likes a central location close to a metro station. But can it be any metro station? Probably not. Some metro lines are a better choice than others, depending on where you will spend most of your visiting time.
• Not having to change metros is also a big deal because some changes are a pain.
• Annie also likes to stay at Ibis or Ibis Styles because the level of service is good and dogs are always accepted (but I suspect you won’t bring your pooch on vacation from North America or Australia, so that won’t matter to most listeners).
• Proximity to a specific metro line, if you already know that you’ll have to go back to a specific spot many times (for instance to meet friends).
French Tip of the Week: what does the lion say in French? Roah! Which sounds like the word “roi”, the king of the beasts. Trust me, this will come in handy when you play with a French child!

Answer to Listener Questions

What do French People Think About Their Healthcare?

It’s a complicated issue. In general, the answer is a resounding yes. The French system is a universal health care system (meaning everybody who lives and works in France gets to use it, even if they are unemployed or student, etc.) French people do complain bitterly about tiny rate increases of a euro or two on specific medications or a doctor’s visit. But French people have no idea how cheap health care is in France compared to the US. In France health care is not a political issue at all. It doesn’t matter if you’re left or right on the political spectrum, we all agree that everyone should have health care insurance, and that health care costs should be tightly controlled. French people do not demand fabulous looking medical facilities. More details in the episode where we go on at length about this!

Do French people get different coverage depending if they are on a salary or on hourly wages?

The answer is no, everyone gets the same basic health insurance.

After a few trips to Paris, which city should be next on my list if I want good public transportation and a lots of street-life?

Elyse says Toulouse and Bordeaux come to mind first. Annie says Montpellier or Lyon. All the major French University cities fit that bill: Rennes, Nantes, Bordeaux, Lyon, Toulouse, Montpellier, and Strasbourg. Both Annie and Elyse would avoid Marseille if you’re into night-life because the city is rougher around the edges and is also very disperse.

The Six Most Salient Points in the History of Lyon

Today Lyon is the 3rd largest metropolitan area in France with 2.4 million people. For reference, the Paris metropolitan area has 12 million inhabitants, which is 19% of the French population. To qualify as a “big city” in France, half a million is enough.
Lyon is pretty much in the center of France. Two rivers flow through Lyon: the Rhone and the Saône. The Alps are east of Lyon and Massif Central is to the west

#1 Lyon was the capital of Roman Gaul

In the days of the Romans Paris was a small unimportant town. The Romans built roads that start at the Mediterranean and go all the way the Rhone Valley to what they called Lugdunum, Lyon today. Then, Lyon became a major center of Christianity. It attracted more people on account of religion than commerce for a time.

#2 Lyon Became a Commercial Hub During the Renaissance

Lyon was the home of major trade fairs in the Middle Ages. Fairs brought commerce from far away vendors and a lively exchange of goods and money. This led to Lyon becoming the capital of silk-making, banking and printing during the Renaissance. Then, during the French wars of religion, many of the bankers and printers who were protestant and therefore persecuted in France, went over to the other side of the Alps into Switzerland and established a brisk business there.

#3 Lyon During the French Revolution

Lyon was mostly a loyalist city and many of the people of Lyon were punished for their lack of support for the Revolution. After the Revolution came Napoleon Bonaparte who was interested in restarting the silk and printing industries. Joseph Marie Charles, dit Jacquard invented a major improvement to weaving machines that automated the production of the pattern. Following this invention everyone wanted to buy the intricate cloth one could make with this process and this brought a lot of work and wealth to Lyon as well.

#4 Lyon Today

Today Lyon is the French capital of high-tech industrial production such as pharmacy and bio engineering. As such it is still a rich and lively city, one of the most expensive real-estate markets in the country as well.

#5 Auguste and Louis Lumière

Auguste and Louis Lumière were brothers who invented the movie “cinématographe” which could display moving pictures to a whole room of people but also made the first movies ever. There is a Lumières Museum in Lyon, we have not visited so we can’t recommend it. Online reviews are mixed, but it is probably a must-do if you’re a photography/cinema buff.

#6 Lyon and the Resistance During WWII

As part of the French “Free Zone”, Lyon was a the heart of the French Resistance during WWII. This is where many groups organized and spread through the country to oppose German occupation all over France.
Annie’s Visit to Lyon
Annie took two guided tours in Lyon, but both were with big groups and she didn’t listen carefully enough to repeat any of what she heard. Isn’t that how it always goes? Nonetheless, Lyon is a lovely city.

Traboules in Lyon

A Traboule is a passageway between parallel streets. Some of them are private, others are public. They are not well-marked in order to reduce foot traffic and noise. Tour guides will take you through, but since they are public, it’s also fine for you to follow a group in, so long as it’s a group of tourists, not a family going home through their private access.

Gastonomy in Lyon

Les Bouchons

A “Bouchon” (the word means cork in French) is a restaurant where the traditional cuisine of Lyon is served. This is an official appellation for which restaurants need to apply and it guarantees that local specialties are served. Specialties are heavy on pork products (Andouillettes for example), cream, butter, and all sorts of fattening things.


Quenelles are often Pike fish flavored, but not fishy at all. You will spend between 35 € and 50 € for a nice dinner.


This local specialty didn’t agree with Annie at all. It is called “fritons” in Toulouse and Grattons in Lyon, it’s breaded animal fat.

Cervelle de Canuts

The Cervelle de Canuts was the local cheese we tried, it was really nice. The salade lyonnaise is very good too.

Restaurant Recommendations in Lyon

Annie and David ate at Daniel & Denise in the Saint-Jean neighborhood on a recommendation from their hotel and the food was very nice, but it was a little bit too crowded for Annie’s taste. Definitely reserve in advance if you’d like to try it!

Our second Bouchon, the Restaurant de la Fourvière was up near the Fourvière Basilica. The atmosphere was a lot more relaxed and pleasant to our taste.

The Fourvière Basilica

Absolutely beautiful inside and out, take the funicular to go up there, but look-out for the funicular closing time or you may have to walk down the hill in the dark!

A Few Other Highlights About Lyon

The Fête des Lumières in Lyon is in December and is very popular with visitors.
The modern building (or Gehry-looking building that Annie mentioned) is the Musée des Confluences.

What Can You Visit Nearby?

The Alps are nearby. You could stay in Lyon as your base then branch out from there. For instance you can go visit Saint Etienne, gorgeous and little-known, Chamonix is 2 hours away, Geneva is also nearby,m Chambery is 1h15 minutes away from Lyon. Beaune is 1h40 minutes north of Lyon. Vienne is just a little south of Lyon, Pérouges is a big village known for its crafts people. The genuine Poulet de Bresse and Bleu de Bresse are just south of Lyon.


Food, wine, beautiful downtown, and a friendly atmosphere. Lyon has the stuff that great vacations are made of.

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Category: Lyon Area