Lyon sits at the center of France’s second largest metropolitan area (after the Paris metro, of course). As the cultural and economic center of the Rhone Alpes region of Eastern France, Lyon is a major destination for both Francophiles and tourists who are looking for an urban alternative to cities like Paris and Marseille. In fact, many travelers who dislike Paris because of its size, crowds, and attitude will find Lyon a welcome contrast. While it does not have the same famous attractions as its larger sister, Lyon does have world class restaurants and a host of itinerary-worthy attractions. Some of the best sites in the city do not cost anything to experience, meaning that visitors can save their travel budget for the Lyon’s restaurants and boutiques. Here are the ten best free attractions in France’s second city.
1. Parc de la Tete d’Or
This park in central Lyon sees a large number of visitors, both local and foreign, each year. In addition to being the city’s most prominent green-space, Tete d’Or houses a zoo, lake, and various types of sports facilities. Plants are an important part of the landscape, with several rose gardens, a large greenhouse and a botanical garden located within the park’s 290 acres. Statues, a carousel, and a 100-year-old wrought-iron gate round out the attractive list of features at Tete d’Or.
2. Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon)
Medieval and Renaissance-era architecture dominate Lyon’s historic Old Quarter. Many of the buildings in this district have been restored and renovated over the past few decades. In addition to the architectural sights, there are noteworthy restaurants, hotels, and boutiques in Vieux Lyon. These, of course, are not free, but simply strolling around enjoying the architecture and experiencing the atmosphere of Old Lyon does not cost a single Euro.
3. Notre Dame de Fourviere
Notre Dame is a basilica that sits on a hill overlooking Lyon. The area surrounding the building, called Fourviere, offers stunning views of the lower parts of the city. Fourviere has a long history. It was an important strategic point for Roman provincial leaders who oversaw the area nearly 2,000 years ago.
4. Fresque des Lyonnais
A non nondescript building holds one the the most stunning murals in Lyon, a city known for its public wall paintings. At first, the place where the Fresque is located appears to be a normal multi-storey structure. However, part of it is not architecture at all, but a mural painted to look like it is part of the building. A closer look reveals a detailed scene of life in a building and on the street outside of it.
5. Chinatown Lyon
Lyon’s Chinatown is the largest in France outside of Paris. It stretches for two blocks and features restaurants and shops. Because of its relatively small size, it can be easily explored in an afternoon.
6. Cathedrale St. Jean (Cathedral of Saint John)
The cathedral the main church in Lyon. It was built in the 15th Century, though construction began much earlier and the site had previous religious structures that dated back to the 6th Century. Aside from its architecture, the cathedral houses an astrological clock from the 1300s and two crosses from the 13th Century.
7. Fete des Lumieres (Festival of Lights)
This holiday in early December lasts for several days. As the name suggests, lights are set out throughout the city, with most residences lighting candles to mark the event (which was originally a religious festival). The Fete has become popular, with more than a million visitors coming to Lyon to experience the visual spectacle each winter.
8. Explore the Traboules
Traboules are tunnel-like passages through buildings. They are mainly found in Lyon, though some other French towns have similar walkways. Some of the passages lead to courtyards and gardens. Though many of these historic structures are now blocked off or used for other purposes (storage or maintenance access), several dozen remain open to the public and can be visited for free. These tunnels also have historic significance. They are credited with helping the French resistance defend the city from Germans during World War II.
9. Place des Terreaux
This is the central square in Lyon. The buildings surrounding the square, including Lyon’s City Hall and the Lyon Fine Arts Museum, are lit at night, creating one of the city’s best visual experiences. The square was redesigned during the 1990s and boasts statues and fountains as well as an unbeatable atmosphere, which is especially memorable in the evenings and at night.
10. Banks of the Rhone
The Rhone is one of Europe’s major rivers. Lyon is the largest city that it flows through. Another major French river, the Saone, flows into the Rhone at Lyon. The riverside features a promenade. Though not as visually stunning as the Seine and its bridges in Paris, the Rhone-Saone confluence is nonetheless a worthwhile sightseeing spot for tourists.
Lyon is a great city to visit on a budget because many of its best attractions can be visited for free. It proves that Paris is not the only worthwhile urban destination in France. In fact, some people who choose to stop in Lyon will find it more user-friendly and attractive than Paris.
What are some of your favorite free places to visit in Lyon? Let us know in the comment section below!