Vieux Lyon is the old, historic section of Lyon city. It is one of the largest old towns in France and is home to many historic buildings which are now used as restaurants, cafes, stores and museums.
Vieux Lyon was the main part of the town of Lyon during the Renaissance period. Many of the churches and buildings based here are still intact and some have remained the same since they were built.
The Old Town of Lyon made history in 1962, when the French Minister of Culture at that time, André Malraux, chose Lyon Old Town as the first “secteur sauvegardé” (protected area) in France.
Vieux Lyon is divided into three districts. The northern district is named Saint-Paul, the centre is named Saint-Jean and the southern part of the town is named Saint-Georges (all named after Christian Saints).
Each of these districts are famous for their own particular reasons. The north district contains Saint-Paul’s Place (square) and Gare (railway station). Place Saint-Paul is significant as it is acts as a gateway into Vieux Lyon when you come over the river from Place des Terreaux, another famous square in Lyon. Gare de Saint-Paul was opened in 1873 in order to link Lyon to regional cities West from there (such as L’Arbresle and Montbrison).
The central district is home to many important landmarks such as Hôtel de Gadagne, Cathédral Saint-Jean and Palais de Justice de Lyon. Cathédral Saint-Jean is perhaps one of the most important buildings in Vieux Lyon. It is Lyon’s main cathedral and is located in the heart of the town.
Saint-Georges, the southern district, is arguably the least famous district. In saying that, it is definitely worth a visit as there are still some very interesting streets and monuments located there such as Place de la Trinité and Rue Saint-Georges.
Vieux Lyon is certainly not a difficult area to locate. It is located at the foot of Fourvière Hill, just across the River Saône from Bellecour (roughly 10-minute walk). The Old Town is also accessible by metro, the metro stop ‘Vieux-Lyon’ is the same station where you can catch the funicular which takes you to the top of Fourvière.
Once in Vieux Lyon, everything is close enough that you can stroll between the various sites without too much exertion. It is worth noting that most of Vieux Lyon is cobblestoned, so it may be difficult for wheelchairs, prams, etc.
When you are walking around, it is not difficult to see why UNESCO declared Vieux Lyon as a World Heritage site in 1998. The narrow streets and lanes are steeped in history, it gives you the impression that you are strolling back in time.
It is particularly fascinating to walk through the traboules and secret passageways of Vieux Lyon, some of which may lead you to amazing hidden courtyards and gardens. Some of these traboules may be cut off from the public, but I would recommend paying to walk through one if you get the opportunity.
There are also plenty of incredible restaurants and cafes on almost every street. Vieux Lyon can be a great spot to experience Lyon’s traditional, world-renowned cuisine. However, you should bear in mind that cost can be (understandably) quite high.
Vieux Lyon is somewhere I would highly recommend anyone to visit when in Lyon. It’s free of charge to take in the unique, old-styled French atmosphere by spending an hour or two exploring these famous streets!