This City Known As France's Food Capital Is A Less-Crowded, Budget Alternative To Paris

France is a land of many faces. From the Tour du Mont Blanc trail that made Rick Steves fall in love with hiking to its own archipelago, the spectacular Guadeloupe Islands, it's clear the French embrace natural beauty. Then again, the cities are pretty amazing, too. After all, who can think of France without picturing the iconic Eiffel Tower? Each city has its own personality and reasons it shouldn't be missed, but sometimes a city like Paris can be too much of a good thing. Massive crowds, expensive lodging, and dirty streets are a turnoff for people seeking the quintessential French experience. So much so, that some tourists are even finding themselves seeking out ways to avoid suffering from the odd 'Paris Syndrome' when visiting the city.


Fortunately, there's a wonderfully French alternative to the country's most populated capital — the city of Lyon. After Marseille, Lyon is the third largest city by population, but it's quite a contrast from the more than 2 million people in Paris to the half-million in Lyon. That's not to say it's a small city. Although it may not be a trendsetter of fashion or flaunt theatrical productions, if you're looking for a historic center, art, and the best food France has to offer, look no further than Lyon.

Food capital with authentic French vibe

Lyon is famously known as the food capital of France. In fact, the city has its own type of restaurant, known as bouchons, which serve traditional Lyonnaise meals. Think of your favorite recipes lovingly prepared by your grandmother and you get a sense of what bouchons are all about. It's a uniquely Lyon offering, and the best way to taste regional cuisine like coq-au-vin, pâté, Le Caviar de la Croix Rousse, and many types of sausage.


Compared to Paris's multi-faceted personality as state capital, tourist attraction, and big city, Lyon keeps it simple with a distinctly local French vibe. The historic center greets visitors with Renaissance architecture that has earned a UNESCO World Heritage stamp of acknowledgment. Referred to as Vieux Lyon or Old Lyon, it's the vintage appeal that is quintessentially French.

Another unique feature of this area are the traboules. These corridors weave throughout the city, cutting through buildings, up spiral staircases, and beneath Renaissance arches. Historically, the pathways have provided a way for residents to get to water sources more easily and were used to transport goods for the silk trade. It's also said they were used for citizens to move about the town during World War II. While you're making your way around town, look for the giant murals that breathe life into the sides of buildings around the city. The lifelike, three-dimensional paintings will leave you wondering what's real and what's an illusion.


Activities and attributes of Lyon

Although the central part of Lyon is walkable, if you want to get out a bit further, you can rent a Vélo'v bike. There are many stations around the city so you can ride for an allotted amount of time and then dock it nearby when you're done.


A short distance away from the heart of Old Lyon, take in the era of Roman occupancy at Fourvière Hill, which is also part of the UNESCO Heritage Site. It's an uphill climb from any direction, or you can take the funicular railway to the top where you'll have amazing views along with Roman ruins, ancient theaters, museums, and basilicas to explore. Back on the level ground, nature lovers can head to Parc de la Tete d'Or, a large green space you won't find in Paris. Enjoy a picnic, ride bikes, walk along the river, and meander around the gardens at a leisurely pace.

While Lyon offers copious outdoor, historical, cultural, and gastronomical delights, perhaps one of her most appealing attributes is that costs are significantly lower than those in her sister city. Lodging will run less than half of comparable accommodations in Paris. Food, transportation, and entertainment are more affordable, too. With so many great reasons to visit, if you have a French vacation on the horizon, consider delving into the charm and authenticity of Lyon.