Hey guys! Headed to France on your next big Europe trip? Want to see some beautiful sights? Eat some amazing French food? Get lost down some romantic Medieval alleyways? Basically just “feel” France in a big way and not spend all of your money doing so? Then please, I beg of you, don’t go to Paris.
I’ve already expressed my disdain for Paris, so no need to beat a dead horse. And please don’t think I am trying to sway anyone from going if they’ve never been – every Euro traveler has to see Paris! However, if you want to experience everything I mentioned in the first paragraph with less crowds and at a reasonable price, you really need to go to Lyon.
It is truly a lion in France’s hypothetical Serengeti – a real force to be reckoned with (for the record, Lyon does not mean “lion” in French, but it should). Paris may have more fame and glamour, but that doesn’t necessarily make any place cooler. Here are some things that do though.
1) Lyon is a small town trapped in the third largest city’s body
Sometimes I get the feeling that Paris is a planet trapped in a capital city’s body. It’s actually not that big of a city but everytime I am there I still feel like a tiny minnow swimming in the Atlantic Ocean. Not the case with Lyon.
Even though it is France’s third largest city, it feels much smaller, cozy even, and is much more manageable for those who enjoy being able to walk everywhere as I do. Public transportation was also easier to navigate on the odd occasion that I used it and not to mention smells way better than the metro in Paris.
2) Lyon doesn’t have an ego
I’ve already made it clear that one of the things I dislike most about Paris is its ginormous ego. Big egos are never cool. So of course it was like a breath of fresh air to arrive in the second largest metropolitan area behind it and experience the exact opposite. People seemed genuinely happy that I was visiting their city and were very proud of what they have to offer yet humble about it.
3) Lyon is cheaper
Prices in Paris are ridiculous. Prices in Lyon are reasonable. Cost of living is about 30-40% cheaper and though a lot of that has to do with prices of rent, things like entertainment, food, transportation and shopping are all still a bit cheaper.
4) Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France
I don’t know why but I was shocked to learn that Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France and not Paris. Maybe because Paris tries to convince everyone that it is the capital of everything in France, but I digress…
A foodie I am not, but I can tell you that you will find some of the the best food in France in Lyon. Its geographical location puts it in the most perfect spot to procure the finest of anything and everything to please your palate: local cheeses, a variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables, quality meats (especially pork), fresh fish, great wine. Incredible wine considering it sits in between two of the largest wine producing regions in France – Beaujolais and Côtes du Rhône.
With seventeen restaurants holding Michelin stars and bouchon after bouchon serving up the heartiest meals you can imagine – prepare to put on some pounds while in Lyon. If you don’t then consider yourself as having done it all wrong.
5) Lyon is closer to the Alps
Having mountains you can escape to is a very cool luxury for a city to have and here Lyon has Paris beat. More than beat, it has it dominated.
Lots of cities in the Rhône-Alpes region claim themselves to be the “gateway to the French Alps”, but Lyon is the official capital and the easiest/cheapest to access from the rest of the world. Quite a few airlines, especially low-cost, are flying into its airport which is one of the busiest in France. Once you arrive, you can be at the foot of the Alps within an hour. Getting away from the hustle and bustle of a city, even if just for a day in a place like Grenoble, is a very, VERY cool thing to be able to do.
6) Lyon’s Old City is one of Europe’s largest intact Renaissance districts
Vieux Lyon or Old Lyon is the historical part of town that is a UNESCO World Heritage site and second to Venice in terms of having the largest intact Renaissance neighborhood in Europe.
It’s a really cute/romantic area to wander around and where you can find tons of great Gothic and Renaissance architecture. You can also find traboules – the very unique and very Lyonnaise phenomena that are essentially hidden passageways connecting the old city to the river. Take your sweetheart there.
7) Lyon puts the “art” back into street art
There is some very cool street art in Paris, not going to deny that, but I have to say that the street art in Lyon is cooler. Why? Mostly because they are CitéCréation creations, of which Paris has none, and were in fact commissioned by the city to liven the place up. These spectacular murals put the “art” back into street art and if they look at all familiar to you, that’s because they were spawned by the same peeps who helped beautify/artify Angoulême – another very cool French city that I had the pleasure of visiting back in September.
8) Lyon is home of Fête des lumières
Fête des lumières is one of the coolest city celebrations I’ve ever been to, for sure, and Paris would never be able to pull off something similar. It’s too spread out and Parisians are not laid back enough to be cool with the city shutting down all the major streets in the center to allow 4 million visitors to take them over for four nights in a row. They do that 365 days a year (minus shutting down streets), so honestly can’t say I blame them.
Lyon has held this “festival of lights” every December since 1852 as a way to say thanks to the Virgin Mary for sparing the city from the plague. And they wouldn’t have it any other way. Like Mardi Gras in New Orleans or something, it’s a historical ritual engrained in the locals’ psyche which is always a major deciding factor in what makes a festival not just good, but great.
Merci beaucoup to Rhône-Alpes Tourisme, Magellan PR, and Only Lyon for showing me all the coolness Lyon has to offer. While this was part of a sponsored press trip to Rhône-Alpes, all opinions expressed here are my own.