Lyon, France’s third biggest city after Paris and Marseille. It’s a city with lots of history, its lands are inhabited since a very long time starting from a Roman settlement back in the BC period. You can tell by the well-preserved Roman heritage that we are still able to see and walk on to. Lyon is indeed a UNESCO heritage site and its historical and architectural landmarks are internationally well-known.
Although Lyon is a big city – for French standards – it still maintains a human dimension and it’s very easy to visit it by walking or cycling even in just a couple of days. I think 3-4 days are optimal to see it extensively without rushing from a place to another.
So just skip the hassle of hours of researching and follow this guide to enjoy the unique architecture you can find in Lyon.
The city develops between and around two rivers, the Rhône and the Saône. I would divide it in four main parts for what concerns urbanism and architecture:
- Confluence, where you can find modern buildings and contemporary developments;
- Presqu’île, the historical heart of the city in which the Roman, Medieval and Renaissance periods blend together;
- the hills of Fourvière and Vieux Lyon, the ancient Roman settlement and the Renaissance district;
- Part-Dieu, the business centre in which the highest towers are located.
MUSÉE DES CONFLUENCES |COOP HIMMELB(L)AU|
Musée des Confluences is the newly completed (2014) museum designed by the Austrian architecture firm Coop Himmelb(l)au. It’s a science center and anthropology museum that showcases scientific human achievements of the last centuries. Following the Deconstructivist approach the iconic building creates a new geometry which is the result of a combination of irregular shapes and protruding elements. The interior spaces are connected by a sinuous bridge-like structure twisting around a conical steel and glass part of the roof. The structure is made of three main parts, called The Crystal, The Cloud and The Plinth; they respectively divide the exhibition spaces, the public entrance foyer and the auditoriums. This is a good example of fragmentation of the ordinary box; the manipulation of each surface turns the entire structure into a new form and shape that gives the feeling of controlled chaos.
86 Quai Perrache, 69002 Lyon
EURONEWS HD |JACOB + MACFARLANE|
The new headquarters for the news channel Euronews is designed by Paris-based firm Jakob + MacFarlane on the riverside of the Saône. It features a striking acid-green facade made of an external aluminium layer with a wavy pattern broken by two huge holes providing a view over the docks. If you live in Paris you may notice some similarities with the City of Fashion and Design on the docks along the river Seine.
56 Quai Rambaud, 69002 Lyon
RBC MOBILIER |JACOB + MACFARLANE|
Following the same concept (although this building was realised first) Jakob + Macfarlane completed an orange cube that features a perforated facade with two large round holes carved out of it. The building accommodates a design-furniture showroom so it is easily accessible to the public.
42 Quai Rambaud, 69002 Lyon
PÔLE DE LOISIRS ET DE COMMERCES – CONFLUENCE AREA –
Confluence is the newly developed part of Lyon, located in between the Rhône and the Saône in the southern part of the city. It presents modern architecture with a selection of new apartments and a shopping area. This entire district boasts interesting contemporary architecture so I suggest a walk from Perrache station towards Musée des Confluences to explore it entirely.
The last photo is from a mixed-use urban block called “le Monolithe” designed by MVRDV. It’s immense and it combines social housing, a residence for disabled people, offices and retail; it’s like an independent island within the city.
UNIVERSITÉ CATHOLIQUE DE LYON
A new university campus that gives a new urban image to this part of Lyon that you can see just stepping out of the train station Perrache going towards Confluence area. It’s a large-scale urban project that has seen a former prison reconverted into a university preserving part of the old heritage that blends with contemporary steel and glass additions.
Particularly interesting the art work of the artist Jesus Rafael Soto “Pénétrable de Lyon” that you can see in the photo I posted on my Instagram.
10 Place des Archives, 69002 Lyon
GARE DE LYON-PERRACHE
One of the main train stations in Lyon even though today largely replaced by Part-Dieu station. This is one of the very first French railway stations (1860), built on the first railway in the world: the Lyon-Saint-Etienne. It’s literally the only way to get to Confluences from the northern part of the city or vice versa.
PARKING DES CÉLESTINS
An underground car park worth a visit. A multi-story tower surrounded by arched windows. At the base of the tower there’s a mirror that rotates very slowly and gives the impression of a never-ending tunnel. It’s an art installation by Daniel Buren (remember the French artist who covered la Fondation Louis Vuitton with brightly coloured filters positioned on the glass surface in a chequerboard pattern).
11 Place des Célestins, 69002 Lyon
PARKING DES HALLES PAUL BOCUSE
To be honest I didn’t know about this but saw it while I was on my way to the Radisson Blue hotel and I thought it was worth a stop…I was right. It’s an helicoidal car park designed back in the 60’s by the Swiss architect Jean Zumbrunnen (he worked extensively on the renovation of the entire Pard-Dieu district).
There’s a project drew by the architect William Wilmotte in collaboration with the local artist Mengzhi Zheng that has the goal of creating an amusement space on the rooftop of this car park. For sure a reason to go back to Lyon!
133 Rue Garibaldi, 69003 Lyon
RADISSON BLU HOTEL
You really cannot miss “le crayon” looking over the city skyline. The iconic pencil tower hosts at the 32nd floor the reception of the 4 stars Radisson Blu hotel. The central atrium is stunning!
129 Rue Servient, 69326 Lyon
NOTRE-DAME DE FOURVIÈRE
Notre Dame de Fourvière is the main cathedral overlooking the city. It’s a good hike to get there but really worthy as the view over Lyon is pretty spectacular from there. Don’t expect to see any sunset though as the terrace faces the north side, just keep it in mind.
8 Place de Fourvière, 69005 Lyon
The Roman amphitheatre on the archeological site of Fourvière hill is just few minutes walking distance from the cathedral and here is located even the Gallo-Roman Museum designed by Bernard Zehrfuss. Apparently it features a beautiful concrete spiral ramp that I haven’t seen myself.
17 Rue Cleberg, 69005 Lyon
The most charming part of Lyon, in which you can walk on the old cobbled streets and admire all the colorful houses that line the narrow streets of this quarter. Of course this area is always flooded with tourists so get there in the morning to enjoy it half empty because from lunch time on it will be impossible not to be squeezed among tourists.
OPÉRA |JEAN NOUVEL|
21 Place Tolozan, 69001 Lyon
SAINT EXUPÉRY AIRPORT |SANTIAGO CALATRAVA|
Lats tip: Lyon is also known for its famous light festival called Fête des Lumières which takes place every 8 of December and lasts for four days so if you can go on those days. I had put it in my agenda and I would love to see the Lyon turning into a “City of Lights”, literally!
Now a couple of things I want to ask you.
First of all, have you been in Lyon? If so let me know writing a comment down here. I want to know what you think of it.
And if you know the city maybe you even know other interesting or remarkable places that I should add?
I collected here everything regarding architecture to visit that you wouldn’t normally find in an ordinary travel guide. My intention is to make it useful for all the architecture lovers out there so if you have suggestions just write me and let me know.
Lastly it would be very much appreciated if you can share it with anyone you think may be interested in having a look at this guide.