Second only to Paris in terms of that classic French ambience and big city cultural heftiness, Lyon is often overlooked by visitors to France in favour of the capital, the alpine regions, the castles and the relentless and sumptuous vineyards. It’s true, France does have an incredible amount to offer, and for many a second historic, seductive, powerhouse city simply isn’t on the agenda. Given how enjoyable Lyon can be, though, most who do make the effort would agree that’s their loss.
You could argue that Lyon is more the kind of city to spend a month in than a few days, but as most travellers don’t have that luxury, it’s best to get straight into the thick of the sights. Start with the extensive UNESCO protected areas, like Fourviere, where you’ll find Roman amphitheatres, a basilica and views down to the city that are worth the funicular ride to the top in their own right. Just below the hill you’ll find the more traditional areas of Lyon, where tiny alleyways dating back to the renaissance period - once the manic homes of an array of bumbling local silkworker - are now a crumbling yet attractive local district.
Like Paris, of course, Lyon also has an utter fixation with all things high brow and artistic. Many of the restaurants here are exceptionally high end, and spending an evening staring from the window of a one at the towering, under-lit buildings of the city centre is an essential if costly Lyon experience. Elsewhere you can indulge in sensual tones at the Opera House, explore museums focusing on topics as diverse as the North African Grand Mosquee de Lyon Museum or the Contemporary Art Museum, explore the 11th century Cathedral of St Jean and enjoy a diverse range of petit galleries and classy boutiques.
If it wasn’t for the incomparable delights of Paris, Lyon would be a city of impressive international acclaim. As it is, France’s second city sits on the periphery of tourist knowledge, and grasps only a fraction of the attention it deserves; all the more reason to sneak it into your European itinerary.