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Lyon Introduction Walk (Self Guided), Lyon

The city of Lyon, found at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers in what is today the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of France, has been around for 2,000 years. The city center breathes history set in stone of the Roman Amphitheatre des Trois Gaules, medieval and Renaissance architecture in Vieux (Old) Lyon, and Traboules de la Croix Rousse. If you wish to explore some of the most notable attractions of Lyon, follow this orientation walk.
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Lyon Introduction Walk Map

Guide Name: Lyon Introduction Walk
Guide Location: France » Lyon (See other walking tours in Lyon)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 14
Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.0 Km or 2.5 Miles
Author: emily
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Place Bellecour (Bellecour Square)
  • Theatre des Celestins
  • Place des Jacobins
  • Ancien Palais de Justice
  • Lyon Cathedral
  • Rue du Bœuf
  • Maison Thomassin
  • Fresque des Lyonnais
  • Ancient Theatre of Fourvière (Amphitheatre Gallo-Romain)
  • Traboules de la Croix Rousse
  • Hotel de Ville
  • Bartholdi Fountain
  • Lyon Opera House
  • Rue de la Republique
Place Bellecour (Bellecour Square)

1) Place Bellecour (Bellecour Square) (must see)

The Place Bellecour is the third largest square in France, the largest square in Europe that is entirely pedestrian and the focal center of Lyon.

In Gallo-Roman times it was an island made of earth and sand left by flood water; it was used for military and commercial purposes. In the 12th century, the Archbishop of Lyon had a vineyard installed – for “medicinal reasons”. When the vineyard was abandoned the area became a large swamp.

In 1562 the Baron des Adrets stationed his troops here after attacking the city and after draining the area it became pastureland. In 1604 King Henry 3rd ordered the city to create a public square, but for some reason the current archbishop was against the idea and the resulting legal wrangle between the monarchy and the clergy went on for over 100 years.

Eventually, in 1708 King Louis 14th won the day and the resulting square, opened in 1715 was called Louis-le-Grand. During the Revolution a guillotine was set up on the square.

In the center of the square, there is an equestrian statue of Louis 14th by Lemor. It was installed in 1825 to replace an earlier statue destroyed in 1793. At the foot of the statue are two allegorical figures representing the Saône and the Rhône rivers. At the west end of the square are statues of Antoine de St Exupery and the Little Prince.

There are two pavilions on the square, one housing the Tourist Office the other an art gallery. There is a small play area for children, a fountain and two bars. On several occasions a huge Ferris wheel is set up on the square.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Theatre des Celestins

2) Theatre des Celestins

This theater is considered to be one of the most interesting of Italian-style theaters. It's one of the main Lyon's landmarks. The theater was built between 1872 and 1877.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Place des Jacobins

3) Place des Jacobins

Place des Jacobins lies at the center where twelve streets meet, but in spite of the heaving traffic roaring by, you should go and see this historic square.

The Jacobins had their convent, church and monastery on this site in the late 13th century and the area, that is now the square, was a walled-off market. In 1556 the walls were removed and it became a triangular public square.

Some of the buildings were pulled down in 1562 when the rue St Dominique was created. A small fountain was installed in the square and locals used to meet there to idle their time away in gossip. The square was renamed Place du Comfort, but the fountain was too small to be of much use to the growing population and eventually had to be removed.

In 1609 a pyramidal obelisk was erected, topped by a cross and with the name of God engraved in 24 languages around the base. This was destroyed during the Revolution. The church was rebuilt in 1689 and the convent restored in 1714. In 1818 the church was destroyed and the convent housed the Préfecture until 1852.

The fountain that you see today was built in 1878 by André. The four statues, representing Audran, Coustou, de l’Orme and Flandrin, were sculpted by Degeorges and installed in 1885. A plaque near the fountain, retracing the square’s history, was placed there in 2004.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Ancien Palais de Justice

4) Ancien Palais de Justice

The Ancien Palais de Justice is perhaps the most impressive building in Lyon and should definitely be on your “must visit” list.

It stands on a site where courts of justice have stood since the 14th century, although the present building was constructed in 1842 by Baltard. It is rectangular in shape, with a central courtyard. It is one of the best Neo-classical buildings in France, with its 24 Corinthian columns.

Today it only houses the Cour d’Appel and the Cour d’Assises, but in the past it was the scene of famous trials, the most noted being that of Klaus Barbie in 1987, when the notorious torturer was sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity.

The Salle des Pas Perdus – the main entrance hall where lawyers and witnesses wait to be summoned by the judges – is beautifully decorated with tall marble columns, rich stucco work, vaulted ceilings and three cupolas. The red-carpeted “Escalier d’honneur” leads to the upper chambers and the visitors’ gallery.

The Cour d’Assises is reached by a short flight of marble steps. The courtroom has windows set high on the walls, just beneath the ornate gilded ceiling. The entrances to the Tribunal Civil and the Cour d’Appel are fronted by four columns. The chamber of the Cour d’Appel has a semi-circular Judge’s area in wood paneling and semi-circular windows just below the gilded coffered ceiling.
Lyon Cathedral

5) Lyon Cathedral (must see)

Lyon Cathedral (French: Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon) is the archbishopric church of Lyon and therefore the main church in the city of Lyon.

It was built between 1165 and 1480 on the site of the ancient Sainte Croix and Etienne churches, whose vestiges can be seen in the nearby archaeological gardens.

Because of the time it took to build the cathedral, it has two distinct architectural styles: the eastern end containing the apse and the choir is in the Romanesque style while the nave and the facade are in the Gothic style. Above the main portal are several medallions representing the signs of the Zodiac, the Creation and the life of Saint Jean.

While the church might seem austere if you have visited the Basilique de Fourvière, in the choir you will see lovely 13th century stained glass windows and on the left and right of the main altar are two crosses that date back to 1274. You can admire several paintings, including the “Adoration des Mages” by Houyez, “La Circoncision” by Vignon and “Le Christ et la cananéenne” by de Plattemontagne.

The most compelling item in the cathedral is the magnificent astronomical clock in the north transept. Built in the 14th century, it is a marvel of technology for the era and it still works today. When it chimes on the hours of 12, 2, 3 and 4, a cock crows and the angels make a triumphant sound – reminding us of St Peter denying Christ before dawn and His subsequent entrance into heaven.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Rue du Bœuf

6) Rue du Bœuf

The Rue du Bœuf is a 188-metre cobbled pedestrian street of the Vieux Lyon quarter, located in the 5th arrondissement of Lyon. Very representative of the Renaissance architecture of the neighborhood, it is lined only with old houses from the 16th or 17th century. The street connects the rue de Gadagne which it continues after the Place du Petit Collège and the intersection of the rue du Chemin Neuf, the rue de la Bombarde and the rue Tramassac which prolongs it. It has many traboules, but are not open to the public. The most notable and longest of Vieux Lyon is at No. 27 and crosses four houses to reach the rue Saint-Jean, at No. 54. The street belongs to the zone classified as World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Maison Thomassin

7) Maison Thomassin

You will find the Maison Thomassin in the Place du Change. It is one of the oldest buildings in the area and is well worth a visit.

The Place du Change was the commercial centre for the cloth industry, with three or four trade fairs held there every year, bringing merchants from Italy and Belgium. Many merchants made fortunes during that time and the Thomassin family was one of them.

The house on the square had stood there since 1298; Thomassin bought it in 1493 and had a Gothic style façade built over the existing building. The house was renovated in the 18th and 20th centuries.

The first floor has mullioned windows surmounted by a rather crumbling frieze of the signs of the Zodiac. On the second floor, the twin bays of mullioned windows are embellished by two trefoil arcs, surmounted by an ogival arc bearing the coats of arms of the Dauphin (a fish), of King Charles 8th (a fleur de Lys) and Queen Anne of Bretagne (an ermine).

Of the original house, only a painted ceiling on the 1st floor remains. This was discovered during renovations in 1964. Made of wood and bearing the coats of arms of the original owner, Fuers, of St Louis and Blanche de Castille, it is one of the oldest surviving painted ceilings in France.
Fresque des Lyonnais

8) Fresque des Lyonnais (must see)

There are many wonderful things to see in Lyon and the most remarkable is surely the Fresque des Lyonnais.

This incredible trompe-l’oeil covers an entire building with over 800 square meters of still-life deception. It was created between 1994 and 1995 by various artists from the Cité de la Création, who have done similar work throughout France and in several other countries.

The marvelous thing about the fresque is that there is always something new to discover that you missed seeing the first time you visited it. It represents 30 famous people living and dead, but that’s not all.

The ground floor has shops, a library and a cafe that you’ll never be able to enter, even though they look real enough! On one wall of the building are hundreds of books, some open and if you look carefully you will find “The Little Prince” by St Exupery.

The people represented come from all ages and all places. You will find the Lumière brothers (the early film-makers), the Roman Emperor Claudius, Joseph Marie Charles (the inventor of the Jacquard loom), Saint Irénée and many other distinguished personages.

On a contemporary note you will find l’Abbé Pierre (the founder of Emmaüs), Bernard Pivot and Bernard Lacombe (former footballer and former manager of the Olympic Lyonnais club).

Have some fun and try to see if you can find a smoking pipe, goldfish in a bowl, a pair of glasses and a feather quill in an inkpot.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Ancient Theatre of Fourvière (Amphitheatre Gallo-Romain)

9) Ancient Theatre of Fourvière (Amphitheatre Gallo-Romain) (must see)

There are a lot of interesting vestiges of ancient Lyon to visit and one of the best of them is the Amphitheatre Gallo-Romain at the foot of the Croix-Rousse Hill.

The theatre, which was first built in around 19AD, during the reign of Emperor Tiberius, was also called the Amphitheatre des Trois Gaules, as one of its purposes was to serve as a federal sanctuary of the Three Gauls. Each tribe was represented, which helped keep them loyal to the Roman emperor.

Other than that, the theatre was used as were all such places in Roman times – as a place of entertainment. Plays were put on and famous battles or important events were acted out. The theatre was also used for public executions.

The original amphitheatre wasn’t very large; it had room for about 1800 spectators. The basement was made up of three elliptical walls joined by cross-walls and a channel around the oval central space.

In around 230 the theatre was enlarged, with two new galleries being added, bringing the seating area up to 20,000 places. At the end of the Gallo-Roman era the theatre was abandoned and fell into ruin, with parts of it being built on.

Archaeological digs between 1956 and 1976 uncovered the remains that you can visit today in the Jardin des Plantes.
Traboules de la Croix Rousse

10) Traboules de la Croix Rousse (must see)

The Traboules de la Croix-Rousse are an interesting way to get from the bottom of the hill to the top. They will also take your mind off the very steep gradient!

Ok, so just what is a traboule? It comes from the Latin “trans ambulare”, which roughly translated means “to pass through”. It is a regional word – if you talk about “traboules” in Paris for example, no-one will know what you are talking about!

So traboules are narrow passageways through a courtyard that will take you from one main street to another. They were created at the height of the silk industry to get bales of silk from one place to another without exposing it too much to the rain.

There are 14 traboules in the Croix-Rousse area but not all of them are open to the public as they cross through what are now private courtyards. In fact in the 19th century the courtyards were mostly private too, but people didn’t worry about things like that then.

Climbing up the very steep Montée de la Grande Côte you will find six traboules open to the public, especially the one that leads to the Maison Brunet, which during the Revolt of the Canuts (silk workers) became their citadel. Built in 1825, it has 365 windows (for each day of the year), 52 apartments (for each week of the year) and seven storeys (for the days of the week).

Another interesting traboule to see leads to la Cour des Voraces, where you will find an amazing building with a seven-storey exterior stairway and a plaque that reads: “In the Cour des Voraces, a hive of the silk industry, Canuts fought for their living conditions and their dignity”.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Hotel de Ville

11) Hotel de Ville

Lyon's City Hall is one of the largest historic buildings in the city. It was established between 1645 and 1651. It has a tall clock tower and beautiful blue-domed pavilions. Following a fire in 1674, the building was restored and modified, including its facade, designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart and his pupil Robert de Cotte. In 1792 during the French Revolution, the half-relief of Louis XIV on horseback, in the middle of the facade was removed and replaced only during the Restoration by Henry IV of France, in the same posture. Since 12 July 1886, the building has been classified as a Monument historique.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Bartholdi Fountain

12) Bartholdi Fountain

Every town or city in France is proud of its fountains and Lyon is justifiably proud of its most famous one - the Bartholdi Fountain which you will find on the Place des Terreaux. The statue is made of lead on an iron frame. It weighs 21 tons and is 4.85 meters high.

It was designed by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi in 1889 and realized by Gaget and Gautier. It was originally intended for the city of Bordeaux and was first exposed in the Exposition Universelle of 1889. After the exposition the mayor of Bordeaux decided the fountain was too expensive for his city, and it was bought by the Mayor of Lyon in 1890.

The centerpiece of the fountain is an allegorical representation of the River Garonne. Called the “Char triumphant de la Garonne”, a woman and small child are in a chariot drawn by four water horses.

The woman represents the Garonne and the horses with their bridles of water weeds, represent the four main tributaries of the Garonne: the rivers Tarn, Ariège, Lot and Gers. The four horses are leaping and plunging, which is a symbol of the tributaries jumping into the sea. Since it was placed on the square, the woman is said to represent the River Saône.

Bartholdi is best known for his other great works: the Lion of Belfort created in 1879 and the Statue of Liberty 1886.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Lyon Opera House

13) Lyon Opera House

Lyon Opera House is a successful mixture of the old and the new, and if you are thinking of taking in a play, opera of ballet while you are in the city, don’t hesitate to book your tickets here.

The first opera house to be built on this site was designed by Soufflot and put up in 1756. By 1826 the building was too small and was pulled down. Another, larger theater was built in the Neo-classical style in 1830 by the architects Pollet and Chenavard.

This building, in turn was considered out-dated and too small by the mid 20th century and a competition was launched to have the theater renovated and enlarged. The competition was won by Jean Nouvel in 1986.

Nouvel kept only the facade and made more room by having basement areas dug out for rehearsal rooms. On top of the building, above the statues of the Muses, he added the steel and glass cylinder you will see today. This hid the rather ugly fly tower and is mostly used by the ballet. There are wonderful views of Lyon from the dome’s terrace.

The lobby is magnificent with its original stucco work, gilts and frescoes, tall arched windows and several lovely chandeliers. The main auditorium is oval shaped and has six levels of galleries.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Rue de la Republique

14) Rue de la Republique

Rue de la République is a street located in the 1st and 2nd arrondissements of Lyon. This is the main shopping street of the city. The location of the Rue de la République, in the center of the city, and its large number of shops make the street one of the most frequented ones of Lyon by day and night. It is also known by its apocope, "Rue de la Ré". The street belongs to the zone classified as World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Sight description based on wikipedia

Walking Tours in Lyon, France

Create Your Own Walk in Lyon

Create Your Own Walk in Lyon

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Museums Tour

Museums Tour

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.9 Km or 3 Miles
Historical Religious Buildings Tour 2

Historical Religious Buildings Tour 2

Lyon's beautiful religious buildings showcase the richness of the city's culture and architecture. All the churches on this tour date back centuries and capture the architectural style popular at the time when they were built. Take this tour to discover the best-known and the most beautiful religious buildings in Lyon.

Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.9 Km or 3.7 Miles
Lyon's Architectural Landmarks

Lyon's Architectural Landmarks

Lyon is a beautiful city with gorgeous places to visit. From an architectural standpoint, Lyon is a treasure trove of beautiful buildings with a fascinating mixture of historic and modern structures. Take this tour to discover the variety of architectural styles found in Lyon.

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.3 Km or 2.1 Miles
Historical Religious Buildings Tour 1

Historical Religious Buildings Tour 1

Up until the 19th century, 98% of Lyon residents were Catholics. Because religion had such a profound influence on Lyon locals, many beautiful and unique places of worship can be found in the city to this day. Take this tour to discover some of Lyon's most fascinating and historic religious buildings.

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.3 Km or 2.1 Miles

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip

Gastronomic Delights: 10 Places to Buy Great Food in Lyon, France

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