Do you like food? Do you like food A LOT? If so, then you may want to consider Lyon as your next travel destination. Besides the food, there are wonderful museums, shops, and parks. On top of that there is the wonderful Fete des Lumieres in the winter season. It is a wonderful, working French city. The people are friendly, the food is fantastic, the city is clean, beautiful, and unlike other European cities; Lyon functions. It functions incredibly well. I seriously recommend Lyon for a France vacation. It's lovely.
Lyon is set up like many other cities that sit on a river. It just so happens to sit where the Rhone and Saone come together and much like NYC. Its old city sits where Manhattan would be. If you are on the Rhone side, you're in Queens/Brooklyn. Once you get to the island, you're in Manhattan...and when you go to Vieux Lyon...you're in NJ. Makes it much easier when you're trying to get around...oh, yeah...the "grittier" part of Lyon...just happens to coincide with the Bronx.
Why are you going to love Lyon?
- It is the gastronomy capital of France
- It's a UNESCO World Heritage site
- Really cool museums
- If you're a member of the house Lannister, you'll love this city...it's full of lions
- The city just works
- Its Festival of Lights is one of the most amazing spectacles I have ever experienced.
Gastronomy (Stuff you'll want to eat when you're in Lyon)
You say you like to eat? Then you need to go to Lyon. It all started in the 19th Century. At that time the city's economy depended on silk workers. These silk workers would recharge in "bouchons" simple, modest establishments that served hearty cuisine to help them get through the long days. Lyon first made its mark on the French culinary scene in the 19th century, when the city was the center of the booming silk industry. Hungry silk workers clustered in tiny bistros, called “bouchons” to consume the robust, cheap fare necessary to carry them through their 18-hour work days. Then, bouchons were bare-bones, family-run establishments, sorely lacking in style and décor, but infused with a welcoming, home-style atmosphere (you can read more about it here). At this time the kitchens were mostly run by us girls. It took until the middle of the 20th Century for the men to take hold.
If you're a carnivore, you'll love Lyonnais bouchons. If you are a gastronaut, you'll adore them. I'm Colombian, and as such, I am well accustomed to eating brains, intestines, tongue...I love all those wiggly little bits. The Lyonnais are not shy when it comes to offal. At your typical bouchon you can expect:
- Andouille (grilled chitterlings sausage)
- Boudin noir (blood sausage - very different than Colombian Morcilla, but just as tasty)
- Cervelle de canut “brains of the silk-weaver” made of cream cheese, garlic, and chives.
- Gateau de volaille (chicken liver "cake")
- Groins d'âne ("donkey snout" salad)
- Quenelles (flour, egg and cream dumplings usually filled with fish like Pike)
- Tripe (pig or cow’s stomach).
When you go to your first Bouchon, just order the Lyonnaise plate. It will come with a selection of these delicious bits...and you can gross out your travel companion.
If you aren't as adventurous as I am, you don't need to worry. Paul Bocuse is king in Lyon and Nouvelle Cuisine is his queen. He made French Cuisine elegant, lighter, and more refined. Heck, the Bocuse d'Or which is the most coveted award for chefs in the world is named after him. And, lucky for you and me, Bocuse is still alive and cooking, so you can head to one of his restaurants and have the meal of a lifetime. On top of this, you can head over to Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse. This is the mother of all food markets. I went there on an almost daily basis when I was in Lyon (Seriously, you can check my Foursquare check ins). It is located near the Part Dieu train station and you can fill almost all your stomach's desires there (if you want a proper accounting of everything you can get here, check out this post). If you have a kitchen, you can pick up goodies to make stuff at home. If you don't just pick one of the many restaurants in Les Halles. You won't go wrong.
You can also check out the Farmer's market, it takes place on Saturday mornings along the Saône river in Vieux Lyon. You can enjoy some very well priced oysters, lots of produce, and go home full and happy.
****YOU MUST GET FOIE GRAS MACAROONS AT LES HALLES - YOUR MIND WILL BE BLOWN!
Affordable Restaurants in Lyon
You need to dine out while you are in Lyon. Start saving up. While there are some lovely and inexpensive places, if you are in the Culinary capital of the world...you may as well eat at the best restaurants. That being said...unless you're Mark Zuckerberg, I recommend these lovely establishments for the best budget food Lyon France (and I've included their estimated pricing):
- Le Garage - 29 Rue de Bonel - 3rd Arrondisement - 20€ lunch, 26€ Menu Lyonnaise - recommended dish fricassée de rognons de veau façon Grand-Mère (a fricasee of liver made like grandma would make).
- L’Ame Soeur - 209 Rue Dugesclin - 44€ Dinner (5 courses), but they run daily specials that are less expensive. The Magret de canard is outstanding.
- Le Jean Moulin - 22 Rue Gentil - 2nd Arrondisement - 20€ Lunch - The chef here is young, but he is incredibly skilled. The atmosphere is welcoming, but upscale.
- Brasserie Léon de Lyon - 1 Rue Pleney - 1st Arrondisement - 21€ Lunch - It's family owned and been around forever. It's a classic brasserie and a must visit in Lyon. Great quenelles.
- L'Ourson qui Boit - 23 Rue Royale - 1st Arrondisement - 14€ Lunch - When you have a Japanese chef using La technique, it is hard to go wrong. This restaurant is awesome!
- Les Halles de Paul Bocuse - 102 Cours Lafayette - Pricing will vary depending on where you eat. You will not go wrong with any restaurant here. Click this link for my super long write up on everything I loved there.
- L'Institut - 20 Place Bellecour - This is a new restaurant in the city and it is affiliated with the Paul Bocuse cooking school. You're basically eating a 3 star michelin star meal for the cost of a regular meal in the city. Yeah, it's not "cheap", but in truth...it's one of the best value restaurants in Lyon.
Gallo Roman Ruins UNESCO Site in Lyon
I love UNESCO sites. Every UNESCO site that I have visited, I have loved. Lyon was made a UNESCO site in 1998. Lyon was originally a Roman city (there are ruins there that you can visit). UNESCO says that Lyon was inducted "by virtue of the special way in which it has developed spatially, Lyon illustrates in an exceptional way the progress and evolution of architectural design and town planning over many centuries."
This is my favorite time to visit Lyon. It's cold (like US winter cold), but the city bustles with excitement. The Feast celebrates a miracle performed by the Virgin Mary (she saved the city from the plague). Early on, people lit a candle in their window in thanks. Now the city is enveloped in lights and puts on the most amazing light displays. The city gets pretty packed, but unlike festivals in other countries, everything here is orderly and nice. You can drink Vin Chaud on the street get yourself a garlic sausage sandwich and spend all night trying to see the light displays. If you do during this time, make dinner reservations wayyyyy ahead of time.
Transportation in Lyon
Lyon has awesome an transportation system
- Métro (A.K.A. TLC) - There are four lines which makes it particularly easy to navigate.
- Trams & Trolleys - These are awesome. They are clean, fast and easy to take. There are four lines. When you hop on, make sure to validate your ticket.
- Funicular - There are only 2 funiculars in Lyon. You'll most likely use the line to Fourvière
- Bus - These are meant more for going out of Lyon. I'd skip these if possible. Besides, I almost got killed by one last time I was in Lyon.
- Velo’v - It's Lyon's bike share system. Super fun and really convenient. There are Velo'v stations almost everywhere.
Lyon has some kick ass museums. My favorite is the Musee Gadagne. It is a puppet/marionette museum. So freakin' cool. It is in this amazing Renaissance building and holds some of the coolest Marionettes I have ever seen. This to me is not to be missed. There is also the Gallo-Roman museum. If you're into Roman art and history (like I am), this is your spot. There are way more museums in Lyon, but these are two you should not miss.
Lyon works. The city is safe, beautiful, and full of character. It is a "young" city, and its youth is happy and functional. Unlike other French cities, the internet is quite fast. You can easily get from a-b without effort. This is an easy city to settle into, you'll see.
How to get to Lyon
Planes: Fly to Paris. Hang out there for a few days and let the jet lag work its way out of your system. Then you can either fly to Lyon's airport (Saint-Exupéry Airport) takes about an hour. You can also take a TVG train to Lyon's Gare (takes about 2 hours and it is way more pleasant).
Where to Stay in Lyon
I do not like hotels in Lyon. They are fine, but meh. I found a lovely apartment a few blocks from Les Halles on Airbnb. It was in walking distance to everything. Fantastic hosts. Just don't try to book it during my next trip or we'll have some issues.
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