Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Rhône-Alpes
At the foot of Fourviére Hill, the historical streets of Old Lyon (Vieux Lyon) offer a welcome change of pace from the modern city across the river. With elegant medieval churches, Renaissance-era monuments, and pastel-painted facades, this is Lyon’s most atmospheric district.
Soaring up the rocky peak of Aiguille du Midi at 12,605 feet (3,842 meters), the Aiguille du Midi Cable Car is one of the highest in Europe. Setting out from Chamonix, the cable car has two stages, culminating in an elevator ride to the summit with spectacular views over Mont Blanc and the surrounding French and Swiss Alps.
Towering 15,531 feet (4,734 meters) above sea level, Mont Blanc is Europe’s highest peak and a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. Straddling the border of France and Italy, this iconic peak is considered the birthplace of modern mountaineering. Enjoy the endless hiking and mountaineering opportunities and the thrilling views from the heights.
Lyon’s major hub, and one of the largest public squares in France, the Bellecour Square is located in the heart of the city on the Presqu'île peninsula. Spanning 15 acres (six hectares, the pedestrianized square is a popular meeting place and is also part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site that encompasses several key Lyon districts.
Surrounded by the dramatic heights of Massif des Bauges Natural Park, Lake Annecy appeals to leisure travelers and watersport enthusiasts with its clear, turquoise waters,. On its shores, the lush Jardins de l’Europe and Annecy's historic Old Town add to the postcard-worthy scenery.
Soaring dramatically over Annecy’s intact Old Town and set atop a rocky promontory, the Annecy Castle (Chateau d'Annecy) is a fine display of Savoyard defensive architecture as it was the princely residence of the Counts of Geneva between the 13th and 17th centuries; it was later on abandoned and served a military barracks until the end of World War II. Imagine yourself as a brave 14th century knight and try to identify the primitive keep, the gates, and the cellar rooms. Like many other fortresses elsewhere in Europe, the castle was considerably extended and given several upgrades throughout the centuries, both in terms of style and defensive purposes. The furniture, artworks, and accessories nowadays found inside the otherwise bare yet fascinating exhibition area are testament to these changes, and perfectly complemented by sections on contemporary Savoyard art and Lake Annecy’s eventful history.
Most visitors like to enjoy an excursion to Annecy as a half-day tour from close by Geneva, where they can dwelve in the city’s rich history and wander its colorful canal-side streets. Another option would be to hop on a full day tour of both Geneva and Annecy, which includes a scenic cruise on the turquoise waters of Lake Geneva.
Stroll the cobblestoned streets of Old Town Lyon (Vieux Lyon) and Place St-Jean to discover the Lyon Cathedral (Cathédrale St-Jean). Among the draws of the 12th-century cathedral are stained-glass windows and a 16th-century astronomical clock. A top Lyon attraction, Cathédrale St-Jean is a must-see for Old Town visitors.
Dominating the skyline in the city of Lyon, the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere is one of Lyon’s most recognizable buildings. With a fairytale castle exterior and ornate gilded interior, it attracts visitors from all over the world, especially those interested in sacred architecture.
Lyon Opera House (Opéra National de Lyon) is an arts hub and architectural gem noted for its combination of a modern shell and 18th-century facade. To fully experience it, attend a performance—from musical theater to dance. But whether it's to marvel at the building, or see a show, a visit to the opera should be on your Lyon itinerary.
Home to one of France’s most outstanding art collections, the Lyon Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon is often described as the “little Louvre.” Housed in a restored, 17th-century convent, the museum’s collection spans from Antiquity to the Modern Age, from Egyptian artifacts to Cubist canvases.
More Things to Do in Rhône-Alpes
Welcoming visitors to Annecy’s Old Town, the 12th-century Island Palace (Palais de l’Île) sits right in the middle of Canal du Thiou on a prow-shaped islet between colorful canal-side streets. Over the years, the landmark building has served as a courthouse, mint, prison, military barrack, and ducal residence.
Lyon’s covered Les Halles Market (Les Halles Paul Bocuse has been open since 1970. They’re named in honor of Paul Bocuse, a legendary figure on both the French and international cooking scene. More than 95% of the shops are run by business owners who really know their products.
Tête d'Or Park was designed by landscape architect Denis Bühler and opened in 1856. It’s home to one of France's leading botanical gardens, with more than 20,000 plant varieties, where you’ll find an international rose garden and a zoological area devoted to species of the African plains.
One of Lyon’s most significant Roman–era landmarks, the UNESCO-listed Ancient Theatre of Fourvière (Théâtre Antique de Lyon is a living testament to the city’s millennia-long history. Built around 15 BC, when Lyon was still known as “Lugdunum,” the arena could once seat 10,000 spectators, and is still used for performances today.
Thespians and theater enthusiasts shouldn't miss Lyon's historic Célestins Theater (Théâtre des Célestins, which has been operating for more than 200 years. Visitors can attend a performance, or uncover the theater's history on a behind-the-scenes tour. Enjoy the lavish foyer, ornate bar, and lovingly renovated red and gold auditorium.
Centered around the 254-meter hill of the same name, the Croix-Rousse district was the heart of Lyon’s 18th-century silk industry, with the influx of workers earning it the nickname ‘the hill that works’, while neighboring Fourvière was dubbed ‘the hill that prays’. The historic district makes a fascinating addition to a walking tour, with its unique traboules - narrow, tunnel-like passageways that served as the setting to the 19th-century silk-workers revolt - snaking between the historic workshops and running down to the riverside. Today, some of the traboules have been restored, most notably the Passage Thiaffait, which is now home to the ‘Village of Creators’ and lined with artist’s galleries, crafts workshops and fashion boutiques.
The lively district retains its village-like atmosphere and is now crammed with bars, restaurants and cafes, many of which offer impressive views along the riverside. Additional highlights include the daily Croix-Rousse Market, the ruins of the Roman Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls, the landmark Gros Caillou (literally, a ‘Big Rock’) and the Croix-Rousse tunnel, a bus, bike and pedestrian route that burrows through the hill and is now the backdrop for a dazzling light and sound show.
If you’ve ever wanted to see movie props up close, or you’re just looking for a good rainy-day destination where you can take a break from wandering cobblestone streets, head over to the Musée Miniature et Cinéma (Cinema and Miniature Museum). In a stately building in Old Lyon (Vieux Lyon), you’ll find real objects from hundreds of films, mini masterpieces, and more.
Chamonix’s Amusement Park is open year-round and offers plenty of family-friendly fun from giant swings, electric motorcycles, and water games in the summer to skiing, arcade games, and more during the winter months. The park’s most popular attraction is the exhilarating 4,265-feet (1300-meter long Alpine Coaster, which twists and turns down the mountainside.
The Lyon Museum of Contemporary Art (Musée d'art Contemporain de Lyon is a beacon of modernity in an ancient city, showcasing works by emerging global artists. Enjoy three floors of galleries, rotating temporary exhibitions, and site-specific works. Dine alfresco on the terrace at the Café du Musée, or visit the bookstore for a souvenir.
Before 1895, photography was cutting-edge technology. Then, the Lumière brothers changed image-making forever with the Cinematograph, which produced the first moving pictures. Visit the birthplace of this radical invention at Lyon's Lumière Institute (Institut Lumière, a museum, cultural space, and theater celebrating cinema's origins.
After the occupation of northern France by the Nazis in World War II, Lyon became the center of the French Resistance until a German crackdown in 1942. Learn more about the role this undercover organization played – and its brutal repression – at the Resistance and Deportation History Centre.
For a bird’s-eye view of historic Lyon, don’t miss the largest animated miniature park in France. At Mini World Lyon, explore four different worlds, around 1,000 mini buildings, and top sights such as Tête d’Or park and Fourvière Hill. You’ll also find a 3D cinema and unique temporary exhibits.
All about the wine and the vine, the Hameau Duboeuf is a theme park in the heart of France’s Beaujolais region. Wander around the museum, learn about wine production, or play a round of mini-golf. This family-friendly destination is a fun place to explore wine while enjoying the scenic countryside.
The Semnoz is one of the most famous mountains of the Bauges range in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes in eastern France; it reaches 1,699 meters high. The most popular place on Semnoz is a barren area called Crêt-du- Chatillon –a rarity on what is an otherwise heavily forested summit– which offers sprawling views of not just the permanently snow-capped mountain range but also the picturesque city of Annecy and its eponymous turquoise lake below. Rumor has it that its name comes from the ancient roman word for salmon, due to the peak’s fish-like shape. The summit is open year-round; it’s a very popular hiking destination in the warmer months (summer bobsleigh, via ferrata, mountain biking, and karting are also available); on the other hand, it’s morphs into a full-on Alpine skiing center come wintertime with four different stations catering to a diverse clientele, from thrilling downhill slopes to peaceful cross-country skiing trails – all of this, just 20 minutes from beautiful Annecy.
It is possible to book an exhilarating downhill 4-hour mountain bike tour of Semnoz fromAnnecy, which is led by a professional and knowledgeable guide who will not hesitate topoint out noteworthy landmarks or take visitors to their secret viewpoints.
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