Lyon, like Manhattan, has two major rivers on either side of its “downtown.” See this video about the rivers of Lyon, as reported by Logan Connors. And read on, below, about the two rivers that define Lyon.
Lyon is located at the confluence of two rivers—the mighty Rhône and the more tranquil Saône. This strategic location has made Lyon a hub for travelers and a center of activity since it served as the Roman capital of Gaul. Through the 19th century, Lyon grew to be the center for European silk production. Today greater Lyon is an industrial center and transportation hub. While commercial and tourist barges do ply the rivers, today’s transit hub includes the rail lines, air routes and roadways that link Lyon to major destinations in Europe and beyond.
The Saône flows from the Vosges in the North and becomes part of France’s canal system as it moves through Burgundy to Lyon. The Rhône begins as an alpine torrent and then a river in Switzerland, entering France near Geneva. At Lyon, the two rivers become one—the Rhône—continuing south to the Mediterranean.
The rivers flow together below the historic center of Lyon, at the tip of a peninsula or la Presqu’île. Bridges link the riverbanks on either side of the Presqu’île to transport rail, tram, automobile and pedestrian-only traffic over the two rivers. Quays and shoreline parks offer miles of walkways and bicycle paths. Fine old buildings line all four riverfronts in the old city center while redevelopment of le confluent, the industrial end of the Presqu’île, is extending the central city’s residential and business centers.
Stand in the center of the red, suspension footbridge, Passerelle du Palais de Justice, on the Saône and your eyes will be drawn to la Basilique de Fourvière. Below Fourvière, is Vieux-Lyon, the city’s tourist center and oldest quarter. Across the river, to your right, is the other Lyon hillside, Croix-Rousse. Known as the hill that works as opposed to Fourvière —the hill that prays, Croix-Rousse is a residential area of sweeping vistas and steep staircases that was once the center of silk production. At the foot of Croix-Rousse is the Presqu’île, Lyon’s classic city center, rich with architecture from the middle ages through the 19th century. The Presqu’île is home to Lyon’s Musée des Beaux-Arts (fine art museum), Hôtel de Ville (city hall), major theater, opera house, tourist information center, and hundreds of restaurants, cafés, theaters, clubs, bars, as well as a shopping district with international, French, and local magasins (stores) and much more.
Walk onto the Rhône River footbridge, the passerelle du collège, from Presqu’île, for a glimpse of the city’s first skyscraper above the rooftops across the river. Known locally as le crayon (pencil), it is in the city’s vibrant business district, near Part-Dieu, the modern train station that offers direct train links throughout France and beyond, including TGV service to Paris in less than two hours. This side of the Rhône has many residential areas, universities, (with 100,000 students, Lyon is a young, fun city), museums, medical facilities, and le Stade de Gerland—home to Lyon’s famed football team, Olympique Lyonnais.
Upstream and high above the Rhône is Tête d’Or, Lyon’s central park. It offers a lake, zoo, botanical gardens, and acres of beautiful open space. On the edge of this park is Interpol’s modern headquarters and la Cité International de Lyon, a modern corporate, convention, and residential center that is also home to Lyon’s contemporary art museum.
To the south, the Rhône joins forces with the Saône through Lyon’s industrial center where refineries, factories, and a nuclear power plant are located. This is the area that has fed Lyon’s reputation as a business destination and industrial powerhouse. As the Rhône continues south, the steep hillsides bordering the river become the vineyards of the Rhône Valley, acclaimed vineyard areas that include Côtes du Rhône, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Crozes-Hermitage, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and many more.
Two rivers. A great city. Lyon.