A cost-effective way to explore the city is with a Lyon City Card (www.lyoncitycard.com). It costs 25€ per day (or 35€ for 2 days) including transport and access to 38 attractions including museums, riverboats and guided tours.

In Vieux Lyon

On the left bank of the Sâone River lies the neo-classical Palais de Justice, a.k.a. the “Palace of 24 columns”. Around the corner from here is the entrance to the UNESCO-certified cobbled streets of Vieux Lyon. This medieval district is the perfect place to start exploring Lyon. Try to spot Gothic facades such as 15th-century Maison Thomassin, 2 pl. du Change, and the 16th-century Maison du Chamarier, 37 rue St-Jean, where Mme. de Sévigné lived. You can admire these buildings from the outside, but you are not allowed to enter.

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Amazing Alleys

Hundreds of secret passageways connect the winding streets of Vieux Lyon. Derived from the Latin “trans-ambulare” (to pass through), traboules date back to the 4th century as a way of providing quicker access to the city’s fresh water source. Forty of them are open to the public: If you wander around the old town, you’ll find each one marked with an identifying bronze seal. Dirty brown doors open unexpectedly into flower-ringed courtyards with balconies perching atop medieval columns, or onto vaulted ceilings and spiral stairs. The longest traboule runs between 54 rue Saint-Jean and 27 rue du Bœuf, while one of the prettiest (featuring a six-story external staircase) lies between 9 pl. Colbert and 14 bis montée Saint-Sébastien. Alternatively, you can go on a 2-hr. guided tour on Saturday mornings (call the tourist office in advance for times). 

In Fourviere Hill

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A trip to Fourvière Hill will take you back to Lyon’s ancient roots with Gallo-Roman remains including France’s oldest theater. From Vieux Lyon, take the 19th-century funicular railway up to the Colline de Fourvière (www.fourviere.org). The funicular railway ride is priced at 1.80€ each way; the cable-driven funiculars run every 10 min. between 6am and 10pm. After extensive renovation works, the funicular railway is due to reopen in July 2018. Should there be delays, take the St. Just funicular railway and a replacement bus.

Enthroned on the hill’s summit is the monumental 19th-century Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière, 8 pl. de Fourvière (tel. 04-78-25-13-01), rising fortress-like with four octagonal towers and crenellated walls. The interior decorations are renovated frequently to ensure that visitors can enjoy the Byzantine mosaics and frescos in their brightly colored original glory. Lyonnais architect Bossan designed the basilica in eclectic styles that combine as a poem to the Virgin Mary. From the outside, spot the gold-leafed Virgin Mary that was inaugurated on December 8, 1852—a date now celebrated annually with the Fête des Lumières. Admission is free; open daily 7am to 7pm. 

Nearby, an altar dedicated to a bull cult and a marble goddess statue is on display in the Musée Gallo-Romain, 17 rue Cléberg (tel. 04-72-38-49-30). With a staircase that recalls the Guggenheim Museum, the museum houses a fine collection of Gallo-Roman artifacts. The site is open Tuesday through Sunday 10am to 6pm. Admission is 7€ adults, free for ages 17 and under and for everyone on the first Sunday of the month. 

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Rather than trekking all the way down to the Théâtres Romains (Roman theaters) at 6 rue de l’Antiquaille (tel. 04-72-38-49-30), you’ll have a bird’s eye view over this impressive Roman theater-odeum complex from a viewing point on the left of the Musée Gallo-Romain. The Grand Theater is the most ancient in France, built by order of Augustus and expanded during the reign of Hadrian to seat up to over 10,000 people. Reserved for elite society, the smaller odeum seated up to 3,000 people for musical, oratory, and poetry performances. France has only two odeums like this—the other is in Vienne. Its orchestra floor still contains mosaics of marble and porphyry. The site is open from 7am until sunset, and admission is free. The most scenic way back to Vieux Lyon is by foot through the Jardin du Rosaire, a minute away from the Musée Gallo-Romain and next to the Conservatoire music school where you’ll often hear music trickling from the windows. In late spring, you can enjoy roses and cherry trees in bloom as well as panoramic views over Lyon.

2nd Arrondissement

The second arrondissement features elegant Haussmann architecture, wide avenues and numerous shops, museums, and workshops dedicated to Lyon’s industrious past in printing, silk, and decorative arts. From Vieux Lyon, walk across Bonaparte bridge to the east bank of the River Saône. Begin your tour of the 2nd district at 18th-century place Bellecour, one of France’s largest and most charming squares where you can take a ride on the huge Ferris wheel. 

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1st Arrondissement

North of the 2nd Arrondissement and below the Croix-Rousse hill lies the 1st arrondissement with its interesting architectural medley from Gallo-Roman remains to modern wall murals such as the Fresque des Lyonnais (2 rue de la Martinière) with illustrations of famous Lyonnais residents including Paul Bocuse and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Nearby, check out place des Terreaux dominated by one of Europe’s most splendid city halls, the 17th-century Hôtel de Ville, and by the elaborate Fontaine Bartholdi. Designed by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, who also sculpted the iconic Statue of Liberty in New York, this historic fountain depicts France as a female on a chariot controlling four wild horses representing the four great French rivers.

Games of Senses: Best New Technology

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The latest craze in interactive gaming has hit the city with the recent opening of Omescape, 36 rue du Plat (www.omescape.fr; tel. 04-72-15-71-19). Physically trapped in an enclosed space for 1 hr., a group of players have to use all their senses to find an escape. Aviation fans may prefer I-Way, 4 rue Jean Marcuit (www.i-way.fr; tel. 04-37-50-28-70), a fighter plane simulator in 9th arrondissement that has only been available to professional pilots until now. A visual system composed of a spherical screen piloted by five video projects and seven computers enables apprentice pilots to experience the sensations of a life-size air battle.

Best for Sport

A new Olympic park with a 58,000-seat stadium has opened on the outskirts of Lyon. Le Grand Stade des Lumières, Chemin du Montout, Décines-Charpieu (www.olweb.fr; tel. 08-92-69-69-69), hosts not only football matches, but also international pop stars such as Rihanna and Will.I.am. As well as an adjoining leisure center, the complex includes shops, hotels, and restaurants such as Brasserie Bocuse. In 7th arrondissement, the Tony Bertrand Watersports Centre, 8 quai Claude Bernard (tel. 04-78-69-68-62), has had a recent facelift: It’s now possible to bathe all year in water at 27C (80F) in this Olympic pool beside the Rhône.

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Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.