The teens seem have caught the travel bug. When asked how they wanted to celebrate their birthday, they replied that they would like to go away for the weekend. Careful planning on our behalf, saw the teens being born on May 1, which gives them a lifetime of birthday long weekends. After due consideration we decided that Lyon was the perfect birthday destination. Eurostar trains take just under five hours, direct from St Pancras. No changes. Just sit back and relax. So what did we do for the weekend in Lyon with teens?
First stop was the Tourist Office in the Place Bellecour to buy City cards. This enabled us to go on public transport and gave us access to museums, a guided tour and boat trips among other things. You can buy them online in advance for a discounted price. We didn’t do this because I had read somewhere (after we booked the train tickets) that there would be no public transport on May 1 and not only that but most of the museums would be shut too. Turns out that this was true, luckily our train home left in the afternoon so we didn’t have all day to fill. The lovely lady in the tourist office pointed out that the cards bought there were valid for 24 hours from the point of purchase not just the day which would have been the case for cards purchased online.
RIDE A FUNICULAR
Trams, buses and trains are what you expect from a public transport system but in Lyon you get a funicular railways as well. Not just one but two. They make short work of the fearsomely steep hill that rises up behind the river Saône. Both lines depart from Vieux Lyon at the eastern end of the Pont Bonaparte. We took the St Jean – St Just line and got off at Minimimes for all things roman.
Lyon has not one but two roman amphitheatres, right next door to each other. You can clamber all over both of them for free. As you sit and look down at the stage your eye is distracted by a view over the Lyon and the plain beyond all the way to the Alps. In roman times their would have been a wooden wall blocking the view and keeping attention firmly on the stage. Looking that the size of the amphitheatres and number of people that they can hold makes you realise how important and large roman city Lyon must have been.
FOURIÈRE GALLO-ROMAN MUSEUM
Nestling into the hill next to the amphitheatres is the Gallo-Roman museum home to the many archeological finds from the surrounding area. I confess that I was a bit fearful that this would be a collection of dull pots. All four of us happily spent over an hour looking at interesting pots, bits of buildings, statues and mosaics. So many mosaics. Just as you had gawped at the first one on show thinking it was the finest such thing that you had ever seen, you turned the corner and stumbled on another and another. There are windows from the lower galleries that look out over the amphitheatres just in case you had forgotten how vast a scale the Romans worked.
BASILLICA NOTRE DAME DE FOURIÈRE
Just a little bit further up the Fourière hill you come to a startling white wedding cake of a church. This is the Basilica Notre Dame de Fourière built in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Inside she is every bit as spectacular as outside with barely an inch not covered with golden mosaics. As you stand looking at the church, head round to the right-hand side for a viewpoint looking down over the rest of the city, it is quite spectacular. By this time we felt that we were due a cold drink and an ice cream and so dived into the Restaurant de Fourvière and sat in its shady garden, if you are lucky you will get one of the tables with a view.
GO ON A STREET ART SAFARI
At this point you can either take the other funicular line back down the hill or you can take a series of meandering paths and steep staircases down. We did the latter and were rewarded with seeing some great examples of street art on our descent. These penguins were our favourites. To read more about the street art that we found in Lyon click here.
VISIT A FOOD MARKET
Lyon is famous for its food. There are 14 Michelin starred restaurants in the city, in Europe only Paris, Brussels and London have more. It is not only fancy food that Lyon is famous for, it is also renowned for top quality ingredients. Les Halles is THE place to buy food. The place is crammed with stalls selling cheese, meats, fruit, fish ….. you name it it’s here. There are also small restaurants dotted about the place. We had checked these out on our way to the tourist office and thought that they would make a good place for a quick evening meal given that we had been up at 5am to catch the train. We had checked and the market and restaurants shut at 10.30 pm. When we arrived at 6pm it became apparent that May Day weekend is different. All the restaurants were now shut and all the other stalls were in the process of closing down. Unfortunately the area between the market and our hotel is not awash with restaurants. We ended up buying bread, cheese and pate and having a picnic.
TAKE A BIKE RIDE
Lyon has a bike hire scheme, red bikes can been seen at various points around the city. You can hire them from one station and leave them at another. Hiring the bikes is €1.50 a day or you can have three days for €3 with the Lyon card. The first 30 minutes you can have for free but you do have to register first which you can do by clicking here. Lyon has two rivers and it is possible to cycle along the banks taking in the views.
TAKE A BOAT TOUR
The Rhone and Saône are the reason why Lyon is there so it would be a pity not to travel by river. With your Lyon card come two options for river travel. Included are various river cruises: you can’t book you need to turn up and take your chance queuing. The other option is a navette which we were told shuttles between the old town and the Confluences Museum. Excellent we thought. Had a spot of lunch and headed off to the stop where a sign told us that the next one was in three hours time. Looking at the website now it promises a half hourly service throughout the year. Let’s hope things have changed. Cheated of our river trip we made full use of our travel ticket to travel onwards via tram and metro.
MUSÉE DES CONFLUENCES
Everybody I spoke to before we visited said that we must visit the Musée des Confluences. The museum is housed in a spectacular building at the point where the two rivers meet. When we arrived we were greeted by hugely long queues and clouds that threatened to rain at any second. Would our Lyon card enable us to bypass the queue I pondered. Having mentally prepared the words needed, we approached the head of the queue with cards in hand and were simply waved through. Not standing in line for what looked like the better part of an hour justified buying the cards! Once inside, the collection is a good old fashioned collection of stuff, displayed beautifully but very, very similar to Norwich Castle Museum but in a more modern setting. My kind of a place, thankfully also the teens type of a place. Click here to read all about our visit.
EAT IN A BOUCHON
Lyon has those fourteen Michelin starred restaurants but it is also famous for its Bouchons that serve good hearty Lyonnaise food. These are often family owned restaurants. You know that I said that the teens have their birthday on May Day. Well May Day is a huge holiday in France. What it meant in Lyon was that quite a lot of the restaurants were not open. We did manage to find one that was open the Les Chandelles on rue Saint Jean. The food there was great, hearty food is what you need on a weekend in Lyon with teens. I confess that by the time we found somewhere I totally failed to take any photographs. Sorry.
Daryl and Mindi Hirsch of 2 Food Trippers had far more luck with food on their visit to Lyon. I spoke to them just before we visited and they were full of praise for the Lyonnaise food. Click here to check out their excellent post on where to eat when Lyon is not closed!
TAKE A TOUR OF THE TRABOULES
What is a Traboule? It is a sort of a narrow pathway between two streets that opens up into courtyards. There are lots of them in Lyon. Once upon a time you got taxed according to how much street frontage your house took up. The canny Lyonnaise got round that by having a network of very deep houses, if your apartment was in the middle you accessed it via an alleyway and there were frequent courtyards to ensure that all the houses got light. Each end of the alley had to have a door on it or else it would count as a street. Clever stuff. You could explore the traboules on your own but it would be tricky. Each one is marked by a small plaque and the chances are that you would miss the most interesting ones. You get a guided walking tour with your Lyon card. Luckily for us, there was an English language one departing on May Day morning.
WEEKEND IN LYON WITH TEENS TOP TIPS
- Travel direct on Eurostar. St Pancras to Lyon. No herding the family across Paris to change trains, just sit back and enjoy
- Try to make your weekend Friday, Saturday, Sunday rather than Saturday, Sunday, Monday as many places are closed on Sunday and Monday
- Buy a Lyon card if you intend to visit museums and use public transport it makes things far simpler.
- Bring one of those padded picnic bags to bring back cheese from Les Halles
- Avoid visiting over the May Day weekend. We had a fabulous time but it gave us extra complications.
We stayed in the Ibis Styles Lyon Centre Gare Part Dieu; as its name implies it is right next door to the TGV station. It is a little bit out of the centre of town but, as there was no public transport on the day we departed, we needed somewhere nearby. Ibis Styles also do family rooms and whilst the teens are happy to share a room with us it keeps costs down!
Careful planning (luck) means that the Teens birthday coincides with the May Day weekend, meaning a lifetime of birthday long weekends. Where to next year?