Vieux Lyon; churches & cobbled streets

One sunny afternoon last year, whilst we were staying in the 1st,  we decided to have a saunter over to Vieux Lyon. I’d heard that it’s rambling, narrow cobbled streets were something magnificent and that it had a huge number of quaint restaurants tucked into tiny buildings. It was true! It’s a lovely area, many restaurants are open on a Sunday (very unusual here!!) and there’s plenty to see and do. Even if you just pop over for a walk around the streets, you’ll not be disappointed.

A small selection of these photos come from my camera but the majority from my phone.  I have never felt entirely comfortable walking around Lyon with my camera, I often get frequent stares and the French people will point, so it is easier to use my phone.

Vieux Lyon

Le quartier de Vieux Lyon, or ‘Old Lyon’ as it is known in English, is situated in Lyon’s 5th arrondissement and is one of France’s most extensive Renaissance neighbourhoods. It comprises four specific areas; Saint Jean, Saint Paul, Saint Georges and then the hill of Fourviere  – all home to Christian-Catholic establishments! If you’re not interested in religion, don’t worry neither are we, however they make for a spectacular view and you can’t help be astounded by the scale of the architecture and craftsmanship of work.

Catholicism in particular does not sit comfortably with me. I find the wealth of the Catholic Church to be wholly hypocritical and quite grotesque and when you look around the Basilica of Fourviere, you will see a huge amount of gold. It makes me feel really uneasy that given the world’s problems around inequality, the Catholic Church seems to laud its wealth. It just doesn’t sit well with me, but this is the last I’ll say about it.

Vieux Lyon itself comprises:

The Saint Jean quarter, houses the Cathedral of St Jean and is a good example of Gothic architecture.

The Saint-Paul section was made famous during the 15th and 16th centuries by rich Italian banker-merchants who made the city wealthy. The Saint Paul church with its Romanesque lantern tower and its spectacular spire mark the section’s northern extremity. I didn’t manage to visit this section of vieux lyon so there’s no photos.

Lyon has a long history with silk weavers and The Saint Georges quarter was originally the home of silk weavers in the 16th century prior to their move to The Croix Rousse (4th arrondissement) in the 19th century. It is home to Saint Georges church, shown in the photo below.

Crossing over the bridge

We crossed from the 1st arrondissement on foot over the Passerelle bridge which leads directly to Saint George’s church. A church has been located in this spot since 550AD but was destroyed in 732 by the Saracens. It was rebuilt in 802 and since then it’s history includes  a hay barn. a military hospital and a national property. The current church was rebuilt in 1845 by architect Pierre Bossan, who has described it as his ‘youthful mistake’. If only my youthful mistakes were of such grandeur!!

Sadly the church appears to be locked up during the day and we couldn’t gain entry.

vieux lyon

Passerelle Saint-Georges that traverses the River Saone, Lyon with the Basilica of Fourviere on the hill.

Saint George

Walking through the old streets is delightful. The whole area is seeped in history, although apparently it was nearly derelict in the 1960s and was pretty much re-built. The cobbled pathways, the narrowness of the lanes, the buildings looming overhead and the wooden doors make for a great afternoon’s jaunt!

From our perspective St Georges offers a more authentically French area with traditional restaurants and food. Saint George is more quaint and rustic area in comparison to Saint Jean which caters more for the tourist with ice cream take-outs and cosmopolitan cafes.

Saint George plays host to the metro station ‘Vieux Lyon’ which will take you up to the hill of Fourviere in a funicular rail way! I think the cost was 1.80 euros but I’m not sure. Make sure you have cash or bank card though. There are automated machines to purchase your ticket and they operate in a number of languages.

It is only a short journey but it does save you walking up some very steep steps!

Funicular railway

Funicular railway

Saint Jean

Saint Jean is a Roman Catholic Cathedral dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. It is the current seat of the Archbishop of Lyon. It is situated in the main place of the Quartier Saint Jean.  The following photos were taken using my phone, so please excuse the quality!


Saint Jean interior windows.

At the back of the Cathedral are the Archaeological gardens. You’re free to walk around the remains as you wish.


The buildings vary in colour and style and are seriously impressive. It must be amazing to live in them!

Buildings in the Saint Jean Quartier.

Buildings in St Jean

Buildings around St Jean


There are lots of lovely little cafes and restaurants littered around the around although on a Sunday not all are open. The cafes tend to cater for more drinks and crepes/gauffres, pancakes and waffles with a selection of teas and ice-creams (glaces). Whilst many of the restaurants are tucked into buildings, most of the cafes open up into the sunshine. It is not unpleasant to sit in the sunshine and drink tea 🙂

A cup of ‘Mate’ tea from South America with a slice of honey bread.

Restaurant tucked away


The hill of Fourviere, also known as the praying hill, sits high overlooking Lyon. Whilst you can drive, parking is extremely limited. It is much better to walk up past the roman ampitheatre (dated 15BC) or catch the funicular train.


The view from Fourviere Hill is fanastic and on a good day you can see right across to The Alps of Chamonix. Below is a phone shot which shows the river Saone, the Cathedral of Saint Jean as well as much of the city.


Fourviere Hill is home to the Catholic Basilica of the Notre Dame of Fourviere (Basilique de Fourvière). Built in the late 1800s it is described as a ‘minor basilica’ – quite ironical really given its size!  Fourvière is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and each December 8th Lyon thanks the Virgin for saving the city with the Fête des Lumières – Festival of Lights.

It is HUGE!

The Basilica is IMMENSE in scale. It’s just huge. You walk in, in awe and wonder at how a building can be so big and then you realise there’s a whole other floor underneath!! Fourvière actually contains two churches, one on top of the other. The upper sanctuary is very ornate, while the lower is a much simpler design.

basilica inside

The Basilica has four main towers and a bell-tower topped with a gilded statue of the Virgin Mary.


Apparently, the basilica has acquired the local nickname of “the upside-down elephant”, because the building looks like the body of an elephant and the four towers look like its legs. What do you think? No matter how hard I look at it, I cannot see the elephant!! Can you?

01._Basilique_Notre_dame_de_Fourvière_avril_2011 copy

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