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What Is Lyon Known for & Famous For

The City of Lyon is one of the most famous cities in the world, thanks to its well-known architectural and historical sites. That aside, numerous other factors set la Ville des Lumières (The City of Lights) apart. 

Lyon is best known for being home to historical and architectural landmarks, which have seen a large portion of the city classified as a UNESCO world heritage site. Other highlights include its rich 2000-year history, its Roman past, and historical significance in the Roman era, among others. 

In this article, I will explore the various aspects that the City of Lyon is known for and famous for. Read on for more. 

Historical Architecture

A quick Google search about what Lyon is known for will show that Lyon is famous for being home to some iconic historical and architectural landmarks. This is for good reason. In fact, Lyon was originally founded by the Romans and features some of the best-preserved historical landmarks worldwide. 

So significant is Lyon’s historical architecture that UNESCO recognizes the city as a world heritage site. Explore France explains that some of the historical architecture highlights include the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, Vieux-Lyon (old city), Presqu’île, Place des Terreaux and the Bartholdi fountain.

2000 Year History

The City of Lyon has more than 2,000 years of History. According to the Only Lyon website, Lyon has an enviable history that spans back more than two millennia. 

While the city delights visitors today with breathtaking scenery and beautiful neighborhoods, what you will see today is a testament to Lyon’s evolution over time. The beginnings of this city can be traced back as far as 43 BCE. 

It was during this period that Lyon was founded on Fourvière Hill. Since then, the city of Lyon has expanded significantly from the West to the East.

Founded by the Romans

One of the aspects that Lyon is best known for is that it was founded by the Romans around 43 BCE. As further highlighted by Britannica, Lyon was originally a Roman military colony.


Many aspects of the Roman period still resonate with the city to this day. For instance, it was in Lugdunum (modern-day Lyon) that Marcus Aurelius persecuted the Christian community in AD 177.

A couple of decades later, Lugdunum would be destroyed by another Roman Emperor in Septimius Severus


Lyon is also famous for being initially a major colony in the Roman period, Lugdunum. 

At the time of its inception in 42 BCE, this colony was known as Lugdunum. Following its inception, Lugdunum rose in prominence to become the capital of the Gauls during the Roman period.

Christianity was introduced in Lyon later in the 2nd century CE, a testament to the city’s attainment of the classical development peak. 


The Gaul was a region in ancient Europe primarily occupied by the Aquitani and the Celtic tribes. The Gaul spanned across modern-day France, as well as parts of Western Germany, Belgium, and northern Italy.

This name was given to these territories by the Romans and corresponded to specific areas with common military and cultural facets; of a common origin. There Romans organized three major Gauls following Caesar’s conquest; Lugdunum (modern-day Lyon), as previously explained, was the main Roman city in the Gauls.

Roman Theaters

Lyon is also renowned for being home to ancient Roman theaters. As aptly summarized in the Atlas Obscura website, Lyon is home to two of the arguably most well-preserved ancient Roman Theaters, dating as far back as 15 BCE.

Both of these theaters are located in the Fourvière area in France. They represent one of the main tourist attractions in the city. The larger and older of the two theaters is known as the Great Theater, sits south of Notre Dame basilica and is commonly used to host performances. It has a seating capacity of 10,700 seats.

The smaller theater is known as Odeon, and is famous for the many musical and poetry recitals held at this location. This theater has a seating capacity of 3,000.

Fourvière District

The City of Lyon is also famous for being home to the Fourvière district. The Fourvière district is home to some of the most breathtaking ancient and religious architecture. Renowned the world over for its iconic heritage sites, including the Basilica of Fourvière, the Roman theaters – as discussed above, the Rosary Gardens, and the ancient archaeological park

The Fourvière district. It is also home to the Gallo-Roman museum, the Parc des Hauteurs, and the public baths, among others. It should therefore come as no surprise that this district is a fan favorite and one of the leading destinations for travelers visiting France.  

UNESCO World Heritage Site

The City of Lyon is also known for being a UNESCO heritage site, as previously pointed out above. According to the Only Lyon website, a total of 427 hectares (427 square kilometers), which equates to about 10 percent of the City of Lyon. This region was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the 5th of December, 1998. 

This expanse of land includes the slopes of Croix-Rousse Hill, the Vieux-Lyon and Fourvière Hill districts, and a large chunk of the Presqu’île.

Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon

The Saint-Jean Cathedral–the majestic crown of Old Lyon–is located in Lyon. Featuring a rare mix of Gothic and Roman architectural designs, this Cathedral is one of the to-go places for avid travelers looking to feast their eyes on Romanesque and Gothic-style architecture. 

This Cathedral sits within the center of Vieux Lyon, and is also referred to as the seat of the Primate of the Gauls (Primatiale St-Jean). One of the outstanding aspects of this building is that it was built over a period spanning three centuries, between 1175 and 1481. 


The Croix-Rousse is located near the Lyon UNESCO site. It is also a major tourist attraction due to its historical and architectural aspects. From a historical standpoint, the Croix-Rousse was home to Lyon’s silk manufacturers.

In fact, it is renowned for being home to some of the busiest weaving looms in Lyon during the 19th Century. The district of Croix-Rousse is estimated to have been home to more than 30,000 silk workers living in Lyon and a central textile hub in Europe.

Silk Industry

In addition to being home to over 30,000 silk workers, the City of Lyon is also famous for its booming silk industry, particularly during the 19th century. As explained in Euronews Travel, King Louis XI introduced a national silk industry in Lyon in 1466. 

This silk industry was predominantly made up of Italian workers, who were renowned at the time as master silk weavers. By the time Lyon ushered in the 16th century, it was already considered by many as the center of the European Silk Trade. 

By the 17th century, It is estimated that more than 14,000 looms were in operation within Lyon. So significant was the silk industry in Lyon that it catered for approximately a third of the population in the city. 

Lumière Brothers

The City of Lyon is also a significant location for the photography and film industry. This is because it was home to the brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière. The Lumière brothers are famous for being the pioneers of color photography and cinema. 

These inventors pioneered the early motion-picture camera and projector, which was referred to as the Cinematographer. The first Cinematrographe show was held in Paris on the 28th of December 1895, ushering in the era of paid viewing of moving photographic pictures.


The Presqu’île is known worldwide for its amazing architecture. Additionally, it has an iconic vibe to it, being a city built around two significant rivers in Europe.

These include the 480-kilometer-long (298 miles) river Saone, stretching from the north-eastern part of France. The second is the river Rhone–an 812-kilometer-long (505 miles) river stretching from the Valassis Swiss canton to the Mediterranean Sea.

The Presqu’île is also a commercial and cultural area in Lyon. It was classified as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites beginning in 1999. 

Trompe L’oeil Murals

Trompe-l’oeil translates to deceive the eye, denoting an optical illusion. Over the last forty years, a group of mural-painting artists in Lyon have been painting breathtaking murals, essentially turning Lyon into an enormous outdoor gallery. 

These murals feature the trompe l’oeil style of art, and are evident in building walls all over the city of Lyon. These murals depict different things, from famous people, to historical events or to some everyday life moments. There are more than 150 murals painted all across the city of Lyon. As a result, Lyon is now regarded as the city of murals. 

Musée Miniature et Cinéma

A must-see for travelers from all around the world, the Musée Miniature et Cinéma, which translates to the Cinema and Miniature Museum, sits in the middle of Old Lyon. This museum is close to the Saint-Jean Cathedral and below the Fourvière basilica.

The museum is home to an excess of 450 mythical filming items that showcase the special effects approaches adopted by major film studios, up to 120 miniature scenes, and twin collections by renowned artist, Dan Ohlmann. 

Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon

The Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, also known as the Museum of Fine Arts, is located in Place des Terreaux in the heart of Lyon. This Museum is home to a wide breadth of encyclopedia collections, displayed in seventy rooms that do a fantastic job of creating a panoramic overview of these attractions. 

In fact, this museum boasts one of the most extensive collections of European arts from the former 17th century abbey, including Rubens, Poussin, Gauguin, and more. 

This museum also hosts cultural activities, international exhibitions, and other events to suit a wide range of artistic tastes. 

The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière

The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière is an emblematic symbol of the city’s attachment to the Virgin Mary. The Basilica was designed by Pierre Bossan and Sainte-Marie Perrin in the late 19th century. 

This Basilica is located atop “the hill which prays” and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It is also listed as a historical monument, thus its inclusion in the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. This Basilica attracts an enviable 2.5 million pilgrims each year to its steps. 


Lyon is also an education hub, being home to more than 30 universities. With such an expansive list of institutions of higher learning, the city attracts hundreds if not thousands of students each year to undertake different university qualifications.

Vieux Lyon

The Vieux Lyon–also referred to as old Lyon–is the largest district in the city of Lyon. In 1954, it became the first site in the country to be protected for its cultural significance, thanks to the Malraux law that sought to safeguard the country’s cultural sites.


This district covers up to 424 hectares (4.24 square kilometers), and is located between River Saone and the Fourviere Hill, and gives visitors a chance to explore Lyon’s old town. 


Traboules are secret covered passageways spanning courtyards, buildings, and even staircases in Lyon. The traboules in Lyon are all unique, each featuring a different color and curve.

There are approximately more than 400 of these secret passageways all across Lyon. However, only about 40 are open to visitors. 

Park of la Tête d’Or

The Park of la Tête d’Or more than deserves a place on this list, being the largest urban park in France. There are many fun activities for travelers, including visiting a zoo within the park, a walk across the botanical gardens, and going out for boat rides. 

This park is also an ideal location for the young and young at heart, thanks to a miniature railway inside and pony rides to keep the little ones excited.

Fête des Lumières

Fête des Lumières translates to the Festival of Lights in English. This is a highly-popular international event that takes place in Lyon on the 8th of December every year. 

The Festival of Lights is famous for the temporal lights installed in the city every time this event is held, which delivers a touch of magical bliss to the city. This event has a rich history, going back as far as 1852.


Lyon is also known the world over as the capital of gastronomy. It is also home to Paul Bocuse, one of the most well-known and celebrated chefs all over France. 

Lyon offers a very broad and diverse range of foods. Because it is an advantageous geographical location, Lyon is able to offer the best produce in all of France, which the chefs in this region have used to develop culinary excellence. 

There are also more than 4,000 restaurants located in France with a rich variety of cuisines for those looking to sample the country’s delicacies.


Lyon is one of the most famous cities in the world, and the unique aspects of this amazing city described in this article highlight exactly why this is the case. It is an ideal travel destination for a wide variety of traveler needs. 

If you are looking for a mesmerizing travel destination to satiate your love for religious, historical, and cultural infrastructure, breathtaking locations, and delectable delicacies, Lyon is definitely worth a try.