With a history stretching back more than 2000 years, the city of Lyon has been shaped by the passing centuries.

Today, visitors will find districts with a unique character that reflect the city’s evolution.

Since it was founded by the Romans on Fourvière hill, in 43 BCE, the city has spread from west to east, taking advantage of its two hills and two rivers.
Covering an area of 500 hectares and listed as UNESCO World Heritage since 1998, Lyon’s four historical districts offer a chance to travel back through time. Follow the guide, from Antiquity to the present day! 

Last updated date : 04/04/2022

Fourvière 

Colline de Fourvière, théâtre romain et basilique

On the hill where Lyon was first built, the remains of Lugdunum, the capital of the Gauls under Roman rule, have been preserved. Two ancient theatres stand as a reminder of Lyon’s earliest days: the “Grand Theatre”, which was built in the first century BCE and expanded in the first century CE, was dedicated to theatre and could hold up to 10,000 spectators. The small theatre, known as the “Odeon”, was built in the first century CE to host public readings and recitals. At the nearby Lugdunum Museum you will find exhibits of archaeological finds made in our city. In Lyon, remains can be found everywhere you dig!

Standing proudly on top of the hill, Fourvière basilica, which was designed by architect Pierre Bossan and built between 1872 and 1896, is a symbol of Lyon. When you enter, you are greeted by its splendid interior, with Byzantine influences visible in the gold of its mosaics. 

From the esplanade of the basilica, you can take in the stunning panoramic view of Lyon, before making your way back down the hill via the ‘Jardins du Rosaire’, gardens that are notably home to collections of heirloom roses.

Must-see sites on Fourvière hill:

  • Notre-Dame de Fourvière Basilica
  • LUGDUNUM - Museum and Roman Theatres
  • Jardins du Rosaire, on the hillside beneath Fourvière basilica

Vieux-Lyon

Place de la Basoche, Vieux-Lyon © Romain Biard / Shutterstock _1041637660

Between Fourvière hill and the river Saône, Vieux-Lyon (Old Lyon) has preserved all the charm of its narrow Renaissance streets.

Journey back to a time when Lyon was famous for its fairs that attracted traders from all corners of Europe. Its fifteenth and sixteenth-century buildings were home to rich families of Italian, German and Flemish traders and bankers. 
The secrets and mysteries of Vieux-Lyon are hidden behind doors, where ‘traboules’ (hidden passageways linking streets through buildings) and inner courtyards reveal the richness of their former owners.

While the facades of the buildings may seem simple, they make the decorations that are revealed to curious visitors who open their doors even more special!

Next to the Gothic-style Saint-Jean Cathedral, Rue Saint-Jean is home to many restaurants and shops. On Rue du Bœuf, shops run by independent designers are interspersed with Michelin-starred restaurants. Don’t hesitate to explore the cobbled streets of this district. 

Must-see sites in Vieux-Lyon:

  • Saint-Jean Cathedral and its astronomical clock
  • The churches Saint-Georges (nineteenth century) and Saint-Paul (eleventh to nineteenth century)
  • The Gadagne museums, devoted to the history of Lyon and the art of puppetry, housed in Lyon’s largest Renaissance building.
  • Musée Cinéma et Miniature, where you can discover miniature scenes and Hollywood film sets!
  • Place de la Trinité and its charming old buildings
  • Place du Change and its former stock exchange which became a protestant temple.
  • Inner courtyards and traboules: the Tourist Office on Place Bellecour provides a free map that shows the location of courtyards and traboules that are open to the public. Come and visit us!

Further information on Vieux-Lyon

Croix-Rousse

La Montée de la Grande Côte à la Croix-Rousse © Keitma / Shutterstock.com

Lyon’s second hill offers visitors an amazing sight, with buildings all the way up its slopes. Since the nineteenth century, the Croix-Rousse has been known as ‘la colline qui travaille’ (the hill that works), in contrast to Fourvière, ‘la colline qui prie’ (the hill that prays). As an important centre of silk production in Lyon, in the nineteenth century it was filled with the sounds of ‘bistanclaques’, as the locals called the weaving looms.

30,000 ‘Canuts’ (the name given to silk-workers by locals) made the district a hub of activity and turned Lyon into a major European centre of textiles. Explore the ‘traboules’ (hidden passageways) and stairways, as you discover the spirit of this district, with its high-ceilinged buildings designed specially to house the large weaving looms. You will find a lively atmosphere and village feel that make the residents very proud to be ‘Croix-Roussiens’.

Past and present are mingled, with traditional silk-weaving workshop tours and trendy shops run by young independent designers, who keep the spirit of the Canuts alive. Also, Maison Hermès still produces its famous silk scarves near Lyon! Once a working class district, Croix-Rousse is now a hub of art, where street art can be found on every street corner. It was also a major centre of the French Resistance during the Second World War and has kept the rebellious spirit of the Canuts alive! 

Must-see sites on Croix-Rousse hill:

  • Silk weaving workshops: Maison des Canuts, Soierie Vivante (passementerie workshop and municipal weaving workshop), l'Atelier de Soierie
  • Montée de la Grande Côte (a pedestrian street that runs down the slope of the hill)
  • The Roman remains of the Amphithéâtre des Trois-Gaules (Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls). 
  • Traboules and stairways: the Tourist Office provides a free map that shows the location of courtyards and traboules that are open to the public. Come and visit us!
  • Place Bellevue: panoramic view on the left bank of the Rhône
  • Jardin des Chartreux: view of the river Saône and Fourvière

Further information on Croix-Rousse district 

Presqu'île

This is the beating heart of Lyon, located between the rivers Rhône and Saône. It is filled with busy shopping streets and luxury brands.

The Presqu’île district was first urbanized during the Renaissance and has since been expanded several times. Take a stroll along Rue Mercière to see the traces of this past and enjoy the buzzing nightlife.

The district underwent a major transformation in the nineteenth century. It stretches from Place Bellecour, the largest pedestrian square in Europe, to Place des Terreaux, where you will find the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) and Musée des Beaux-arts (Museum of Fine Arts). The nineteenth-century buildings reflect the affluence of Lyon’s bourgeoisie. When night falls, the main fountains and monuments are lit up, offering a chance to rediscover Lyon in a new light.

Theatres, cultural venues and restaurants make the Presqu’île a lively place in the evening, while to the south, the Lyon of tomorrow is being built in the contemporary Confluence district.

Hôtel de Ville de Lyon © www.b.rob.fr/ ONLYLYON Tourisme et Congrès

Must-see sites in the Presqu’île district:

  • Place des Terreaux: : the City Hall and Museum of Fine Arts 
  • The Lyon Opera House
  • The Fresque des Lyonnais Célèbres’: a trompe l'oeil mural that depicts famous local figures.
  • The Gothic style church of Saint-Nizier
  • City-centre shopping streets: Rue de la République and Rue Edouard Herriot
  • Passage de l’Argue: a nineteenth-century covered shopping arcade that is home to old establishments.
  • Place des Célestins and its theatre
  • The fountain on Place des Jacobins
  • Place Bellecour 
  • The basilica of Saint-Martin d'Ainay: Lyon’s only Romanesque church

Further information on Presqu'île district 

The Tourist Office provides guided tours in French and English to discover the UNESCO World Heritage site. 
further information on https://en.visiterlyon.com.

You can also download audio-guides (French and English) to discover Lyon at your own pace, at visiterlyon.com or the Tourist Office on Place Bellecour (the building with the flags).

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