Lyon was not my favorite city in France.
I feel like a traitor francophile for admitting I’m not a great fan of the nation’s third largest metropolis. While studying abroad in Le Mans, I visited the city over a long weekend I had off from school. I stayed with a friend, seeing all the typical tourist attractions as well as the local side, but while the city is fun to explore, for me it didn’t have the beauty of smaller French towns nor the many charms of Paris.
Still, you could do worse than a weekend in Lyon. It is France and not without its pleasures. My favorite was the Parc de la Tête d’Or. It wasn’t quite in bloom in early December when I visited, but I still enjoyed the botanic garden, the scenic lake and the small zoo.
I also rather liked the unique Musée Miniature et Cinéma. The museum includes more than 100 art pieces fashioned by world-famous miniaturists as well as an exhibition revealing the secrets of movie magic. It’s a trifle surreal but a great place to visit for something a little out of the ordinary.
For history lovers, there’s plenty of ancient Roman artifacts, including the ruins of an amphitheater, one of the oldest Roman archeology sites in the country.
In fact, the city is faintly reminiscent of Rome in some ways with grand fountains in the square and imposing cathedrals. (Unfortunately, Rome was not one of my favorite cities either, you know.) I do enjoy culture and architecture, and Lyon has plenty of both, including UNESCO World Heritage Sites in its historic center.
Vieux Lyon is a bustling place, rich in history and not slight on shopping either. Wander the quaint, narrow cobblestone streets and you might be able to lose some of the crowds that flock here in summer. In the early winter, the crowds thin, though you’ll find the shops just as ready to get into the Christmas spirit with holiday decor and sales — no need for Thanksgiving to usher in the season at all.
Perhaps Lyon’s most iconic site is the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière rising above the cosmopolitan city. Sadly, I visited after dusk and couldn’t capture the shot, though I did enjoy nighttime views of the city from Fourvière hill.
All in all, if you love big cities and are passing near, by all means, give Lyon a turn for a few days. Really, you can’t go wrong anywhere inside L’Hexagone.