Lyon (Photo:prochasson frederic/Shutterstock)
4.5 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

Cruise Critic Staff

Port of Lyon

The capital of the Rhone-Alpes region, Lyon is the second-largest metropolitan area in France. But this historic city beats Paris as a cruising destination, thanks to its prime location at the confluence of the Rhone and Saone rivers.

Shore Excursions

About Lyon


Pro

Lyon's food scene has earned the city its nickname, the "world capital of gastronomy"

Con

Some people on the streets try to trick tourists into donating money to fake charities

Bottom Line

From its cobblestone streets to its Paris-like shops, Lyon offers a taste of both old and new


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The original medieval town, Vieux Lyon, was founded in 43 B.C. by a lieutenant of Julius Caesar on the hilltop district known today as Fourviere. Ruins of this Roman settlement are recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with concerts and operas still held at the (partially intact) ancient amphitheater every summer.

In the Middle Ages, the city expanded to the east bank of the Saone, and it has belonged to multiple provinces over time. It wasn't until the Renaissance era that Lyon truly flourished, largely in the industries of silk-weaving and printing. Almost 500 years later, it still holds its status as a leading world center for textile design.

Modern Lyon is most famous for its excellent gastronomic scene, as well as many striking buildings, such as the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourviere, which looms over the city; La Tour Metallique, sometimes called the Eiffel Tower's "little sister"; and almost 100 walls painted with huge murals.

Where You're Docked

Ships dock along the Quai Claude Bernard, on the east bank of the Rhone, near the University of Lyon.

Port Facilities

There is no cruise terminal at Lyon; vessels simply dock against the riverbank. The Rhone's banks have been pedestrianized, with trees and flowers planted to brighten up the setting. It is possible to walk into town for shops, banks and Internet facilities. Many cafes, restaurants and bars are located on the opposite street, and some float on the water. A small boat-cafe called La Passagere (21 Quai Victor Augagneur; 33-4-72-73-36-98; 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily) serves alcohol, coffee and hot chocolate.

Good to Know

Crime is not a major concern in Lyon, but pickpockets are known to operate in tourist areas, so it is sensible to take the usual precautions.

Also, be careful when crossing the street, as French drivers do not always slow down for disoriented tourists.

Getting Around

The cruise line will provide complimentary transportation to and from shore excursions, but if you wish to strike out on your own, it's easy to walk to most of the sights (or catch the funicular from Vieux Lyon Metro station up the steep hill to Fourviere).

Public transport is very efficient and affordable. There are four metro (subway) lines, as well as four tram lines and more than 100 bus routes.

Some ships carry bicycles onboard, or you can use Velo'v, a cheap form of bike rental available from several spots around the city. From the dock, you can cycle on a flat path to an urban park, Parc de la Tete d'Or, about 1.5 miles north. The busy streets are best avoided on two wheels.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

As part of the European Union, France uses the euro. Visit XE.com for current exchange rates. Credit cards are widely accepted, and ATM's are easily found throughout the city.

Language

The official language is French. English is spoken, but not all shopkeepers or waiters are fluent. It is best to start with bonjour (hello) and ask parlez-vous anglais? (do you speak English?). Always say merci (thank you) when leaving a store or restaurant. People will smile politely at your poor pronunciation, but they appreciate the effort.

Food and Drink

Resist the temptation to go back to the ship for a free lunch. Instead, treat yourself to French cuisine at its best. Why? Because Lyon is regarded as the gastronomic capital of France.

The good news is that food is reasonably priced, even for a three-course lunch with plenty of wine. The bad news, for the unadventurous, is that the Lyonnais specialty is offal. Typical dishes include tripe, tongue and trotters (the feet of pig or sheep). At one restaurant, a chicken is cooked inside a pig's bladder, and a pig's digestive tract is filled with blood. However, these traditional bouchons also embrace other kinds of meats and nibbles.

For a snack on the run, grab a warm croissant or pain au chocolat from one of the city's many bakeries with outdoor counters.

At the very cozy Le Garet, diners are welcomed with pork crackling, caper berries and a jar of cornichons (sour gherkins). Meals range from a tomato steak salad to frog legs and seafood broth with creamed spinach, as well as the obligatory brains and liver. To make a reservation, e-mail legaret@wanadoo.fr. (7 rue de Garet)

Les Cafe des Federations does not provide menus. Instead, a charcuterie plate is presented with sliced sausages, caviar and puy lentils before the waiter recites the main dishes of the day. Expect calf's head and black pudding, but also quenelles en brochette (fish soup) and poulet au vinaigre (chicken in a creamy vinegar sauce). (8-10 rue Major Martin; 04 78 28 26 00)

For something more familiar, start at the top. Lyon's super-chef Paul Bocuse, known as the father of nouvelle cuisine, celebrates the taste of fresh ingredients. His namesake restaurant has earned three Michelin stars and he also owns Le Nord, Le Sud, L'Est and L'Ouest. Lunch is served at Le Sud brasserie, a short walk from the Rhone, at the edge of Place Antonin Poncet. The decor and food evokes the Mediterranean, with fare including salade nicoise, osso bucco and spit roast. Diners can enjoy eating on a sun-filled terrace in summer. (11 Place Antonin-Poncet; 04 72 77 80 00)

Shopping

Silk is the top purchase among shoppers, and cruise lines' shore excursions probably will include a stop at a store selling beautiful scarves, ties and clothing. Croix-Rousse is the main region for silk production and can be conveniently visited on a guided tour.