Savoir vivre in France’s third-largest city

Most people will certainly have already heard of the city of Lyon. ‘Isn’t it the one with the good football club? And don’t you always pass through it on the way south?’ If you have similar thoughts, then stop next time you are there! France’s third-largest city really deserves that – with its indescribable mixture of culinary specialities, architecture and savoir vivre right next to the water.

Does this description sound rather like Paris? That is true for Lyon offers the best that can be found in the French capital – including classy palaces and squares and a restaurant scene that causes gourmets to go into raptures. But it is all on a rather more manageable scale. The surrounding area is also very impressive: the city is located in south-east France, where the rivers Rhône and Saône meet, and is surrounded by fertile countryside and famous wine-growing areas.

Lugdunum (‘The fortress of Lug’)

The Romans already recognised that this was a good place to live: they founded Lyon as Lugdunum in 43 B.C. This name is based on the Gallic word Lugdun, which consisted of two words: Lug was a Celtic god, who was responsible for law and order, and dunos, which means fortress or hill. So it meant the fortress or hill of the god Lug. The name of the city has been documented as Lugdon, Luon and finally Lyon since the 13th century.

What makes Lyon a cosmopolitan city

Lyon and its 520,000 inhabitants now form France’s third-largest community. It is the core city of France’s second-largest metropolitan area with almost 1.7 million people and the second-largest catchment area in the country with approx. 2.2 million residents. That comes as no surprise: the city acts as a magnet both nationally and at a European level. Its importance in the fields of culture, banking, finances, commerce, technology, pharmacy, art and entertainment makes it a cosmopolitan city with ‘beta’ status, according to the ranking provided by the Globalisation and World Cities Research Network in 2020, and therefore putting it on par with Osaka, St Petersburg and Detroit. Lyon is also France’s second-largest student city with four universities and several grandes écoles.

Various industries provide for an international reputation

The historical industrial city of Lyon became the centre for numerous petrochemical companies along the River Rhône along the so-called chemical corridor to the south of the city. The region has a long tradition of launching economic and technological initiatives: banking and book printing during the Renaissance period, mechanical engineering later and now scientific research in medicine, physics and virology. Lyon enjoys an international reputation in the fields of engineering, textiles, health, chemistry and pharmaceutics. The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer is based there, for example. The International Criminal Police Organisation or Interpol also has its headquarters in Lyon.

Festival of lights and architectural highlights

Lyon has retained its significant architectural heritage, which ranges from the Roman period to the Renaissance and into the 20th century. The districts of Vieux Lyon, Colline de Fourvière, Presqu'île and Pentes de la Croix-Rousse have therefore been included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Medieval alleyways encounter Renaissance houses in the oldest part of the city, Vieux Lyon. This prestigious architecture recalls the prosperity created by traders and bankers through silk production in the 15th and 16th centuries. Appropriately, the Croix-Rousse district is located diagonally opposite on the other side of the River Rhône. Fashionable boutiques, galleries and cafés now stand where thousands of weaving looms with the onomatopoeic name of ‘bistangklack’ were once located in the 19th century. The real shopping paradise with the Rue de la République pedestrian zone, however, is located on Presqu’île, a peninsula between the Rivers Rhône and Saône. This forms the heart of the city and it includes, among other things, the magnificent city hall, the Musée des Beaux Arts and the opera house in Lyon. The Presqu’île district, where the rivers converge, is extremely modern. The Musée des Confluences, for example, has experimental façades, which remind viewers of a spaceship with their silvery glistening mixture of glass and steel.

It is situated on a hill at the heart of the Vieux Lyon district. Anybody who uses the funicular railway to get to the top is rewarded with a view of the basilica known as Notre Dame de Fourvière. The white landmark in Lyon with its four towers is an impressive sight with its golden gleaming paintings and mosaics and impressive coloured glass windows. The observation terrace is something that you should not miss. Visitors can also explore the city’s Roman origins. In addition to some structural remains in the middle of the modern city, the Museum Lugdunum has archaeological discoveries on display.

Anybody who strolls around the pedestrianised old city, Vieux Lyon, will at some stage encounter the so-called ‘traboules’. These passageways are often distinguished by an open door or alleyways to hidden inner courtyards. These cross connections originally served as dry transport routes for the valuable quantities of silk. They later became escape routes and hiding places, for example, during the uprisings at the start of the industrialisation period or for the French resistance during the Second World War.

This is a very special spectacle: the people of Lyon celebrate the ‘Fête des Lumières’ (Festival of Lights) on 8 December. The entire city is bathed in light in homage to the Virgin Mary. Originally a religious festival, it has now become an institution that attracts tourists from all over the world. They have four days to admire the lighting installations around the city’s most important sights.

The Musée des Confluences is one of the most famous museums. Its name is partly derived from its location at the point where the Rivers Rhône and Saône meet. However, the exhibitions devoted to the fundamental questions faced by humanity allow knowledge from the worlds of archaeology, natural history, technology and art history to ‘flow together’ to a certain extent. One room answers the question ‘Where do we come from?’, for example, and enables visitors to trace back the origins of homo sapiens to the big bang on a helical pathway.

Notre Dame de Fourvière


Fête des Lumières

Musée des Confluences

Top eating places in the “belly of France”

As if superlatives were not enough in matters related to art and culture, eating places are another of Lyon’s great attractions. The so-called ‘belly of France’ was home to the top chef, Paul Bocuse (1928-2018), who was the pioneer of ‘nouvelle cuisine’. The more than 4,000 restaurants in the city include numerous ones with at least one star. In addition to the undoubted local talent, the reason for this high density of ‘Michelin’ stars is certainly found in the products from the surrounding region: fruit and vegetables from the Rhône Valley, beef from Charolais cattle and cheese from the Auvergne region are just some of the quality products available. Direct proximity to the famous wine-growing regions such as Burgundy account for the rest.

Tip No. 1: If you are following in the footsteps of Paul Bocuse, you cannot avoid the traditional restaurant called ‘L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges’. It is impossible to miss the glaring red-green façade and the huge luminous sign with the name of the founder. The menu includes classic items of French cuisine such as foie gras. 

Tip No. 2: Anybody who wishes to enjoy high-quality food but does not want to spend quite as much money should pay a visit to various brasseries linked to Bocuse. The Brasserie l’Est, Brasserie le Sud, Brasserie le Nord and Brasserie l’Ouest combine outstanding cuisine with easy-going bistro flair.

Tip No. 3: The best place to eat typical Lyon specialities is in the numerous ‘Bouchons lyonnais’. These small, country-style restaurants conjure up dishes for sophisticated gourmets and people who are just plain hungry. Visitors should definitely try out the following delicacies…

  • Lyon salad consists of lettuce, smoked bacon, croutons and a poached or soft-boiled egg. The dish is eaten all year round and is ideal as a starter to stimulate your appetite for the rest of the meal.
  • ‘Pâté en croûte’ roughly means pâté with a crust. This sausage and pastry dish was created in the medieval period: the crust was originally not meant to be eaten, but was used to preserve the meat for longer. The complete dish is enjoyed nowadays and making it has become a real art: there is even a world championship for making this pastry delicacy!
  • The rosette de Lyon is a dry sausage seasoned with garlic and red wine – one of the most symbolic culinary specialities of Lyon. The saucisson brioché is a real delicacy too: it is a boiled Lyon sausage with pistachio nuts, encased in soft brioche bread.
  • The Lyonnaise quenelles are long dumplings, which are traditionally made with fillet of pike. They are served in the famous Nantua sauce, which consists of crayfish and tomatoes.
  • The coussin de Lyon (‘Lyon cushion’) is a typical dessert, which was created by the chocolatier, Voisin, in the 1960s. It takes four whole days to make this masterpiece consisting of chocolate ganache, marzipan and curaçao liqueur. Its shape and its name recall the cushion, on which the aldermen of Lyon are supposed to have placed a candle weighing seven pounds and a gold crown in 1643 to pray to the Virgin Mary to spare the city during an epidemic caused by the plague.

Lyon is an important north-south hub

Lyon is an attractive city because of its unique location: it is situated at a geographical hub within the country, north of the Rhône corridor and between the Massif Central to the west and the Alps to the east. This provides Lyon with a strategic logistical position for north-south traffic within Europe – as a hub for numerous roads and the most important point of passage for railway lines. Even if the city has traditional links with Paris and Marseille, the connections to the cities of Geneva in Switzerland and Turin in Italy have now become increasingly important. The logistics specialist, Rhenus, benefits from this unique location too: one of the largest logistics platforms in France is located 30 kilometres from Lyon at Saint-Quentin-Fallavier. Rhenus has five warehouses there at an ideal location for serving Italy, Switzerland and eastern France.

And what can we do for you?

Specialising in international multimodal transport and logistics operations, the company, which is part of the Rhenus Group, is one of the leading firms in the French market. Rhenus Logistics develops and implements individual transport and logistics solutions for handling the complex challenges of the industrial sector.



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