France is without a doubt one of my favorite countries on earth. (At least, ones that I’ve already visited!) And while I’d say my most dominant obsession is anglophilia, there’s definitely a bit of a francophile in me, too. I’ve been lucky enough to visit Paris several times, to the point where I feel pretty comfortable navigating myself around the city and have favorite spots I like to visit when I’m in town. I’ve seen more of the country throughout my trips over the years: I’ve been on a tour of the Loire Vallery, visited Strasbourg and Giverny, did a few days in Nice, Avignon and Aix-en-Provence and even did a day trip to Chamonix when I was studying abroad.
But still, I feel like I’m only scratched the surface when it comes to what there is to see in France. (In fact, I’d love to rent a car and drive around the country for a month, stopping at every chateau I can!) And with a friend living in Paris for six months last year, it seemed like the perfect time to visit. I took the train from Brussels to Paris, where I met up with my friend (and another visiting friend!) at her apartment. I just spent a day in Paris before heading to Lyon on Friday morning, the majority of which was spent either in line for or at the Christian Dior Couturier du Rêve exhibit at Le Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Sadly, it just closed, but it was incredible and well worth the two hour wait!
On Friday morning, we caught an early train to Lyon direct from Paris. It was an easy two hour trip on the TGV (France’s high speed train) and we were in the city before noon. We stayed in this AirBnB in the first arrondissement, and I couldn’t recommend it more. Not only was it beautifully decorated, it was well located and in a large building, so it felt very safe!
After a wonderful lunch at a restaurant, near our apartment (sorry, I can’t remember the name!), we set off on a walk through the city. Two rivers — the Rhône and the Saône, run through the city. Our apartment sat in the spot of land in between the two rivers, so first we went left towards the Saône. The sun was shining and it was absolutely beautiful. The river is lined with candy-colored buildings and it just looks so perfectly European.
On the other side of the Saône is my favorite area of Lyon, Vieux Lyon, or the city’s old quarter. It’s a bit touristy, with lots of restaurants and souvenir shops around, but the architecture is just gorgeous. Cobblestone streets lined with yellow, orange and tan buildings. We spent a couple hours just wandering the streets here!
That night, we went for a very traditional Lyonnaise meal at Le Café Des Fédérations, a bouchon in the city. Eating dinner at a bouchon is a quintessential Lyon experience, and one I wanted to have, but I honestly can’t say I was a huge fan of it. It’s pretty affordable, at 20 euros for a three course meal, but the food just isn’t really to my taste. It’s basically consists of meats with very thick, heavy sauces. I had the sausage with red wine sauce and I just didn’t love it. However, it could be more your thing, and it is very Lyonnaise, so I think it’s worth a shot to try it!
We spent the next day in Annecy, about two hours away and closer to the Swiss border. That’ll be my last post recapping this trip, so for now I’ll skip to our second day in Lyon. We started off with brunch, which as I learned, is more of a buffet affair in France. It’s pretty epic — lots of cheese, quiches, pastries and breads. We also paid a visit to Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, a food hall filled with lots of stalls to visit. We just got macarons, but it would be a cool spot to sit down for a quick meal or afternoon snack if you have a chance!
Next we headed back over to the Saône side to take the funicular up to the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière, a massive and beautiful white church at the top of a hill. Also at the top of the hill are the remains of a Roman theater. And as you might imagine, the views from the top of the hill are pretty incredible, too!
A note: We used Lyon’s metro system throughout the day, and it was fairly easy (aside from one mistake switch — make sure you pay attention to what direction train you’re getting on!) to use and very affordable. The funicular is a part of the metro system, although you do have to buy a different ticket to access it.
My friend Alison had to leave to head back to Paris that afternoon, so I went off to the Institut Lumière, a museum about the Lumière brothers, who invented the film camera and essentially, movies as we know it. I’m sure this museum would have been great if you spoke French, but as my high school French is rusty (to say the least) I really couldn’t fully appreciate it. They do offer audio guides in English, but I just prefer to read so it wasn’t the ideal museum experience.
I actually found Lyon to be more unfriendly to English speakers than almost any other city I’ve visited. I don’t mean this in a negative way, it was clearly just less touristy than a city like Paris.
On my last morning in Lyon, I visited the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, which is sometimes nicknamed the Mini Louvre. They have a gorgeous collection of paintings and sculptures, and it didn’t take too long — about two hours — for me to get through. I then had an incredible lunch at L’Entrecote. They serve only steak and fries, and oh boy, they were the best steak and fries of my life! Definitely worth a stop if you’re in the city.
Another thing to see in Lyon: All the passageways and frescos that dot the streets! They feel like something out of another era, and it’s a cool way to spend an hour or so poking your head around to get a peek at them. Lyon is truly beautiful, and a wonderful alternative if you’re looking to see a bit more of France!
Next up, Annecy!