Twenty reasons to visit Lyon, France

1 Eat at a Bouchon

Once frequented by hungry silk workers in the 17th and 18th centuries, these cosy inns specialise in hearty, no-nonsense French cooking flying in the face of fussy haute cuisine. Tourist imitations are rife but a smattering of traditional establishments remain. While sampling dishes such as blood sausage with stewed apple or rich duck pate, the checked tablecloths and frantic cheek kissing will leave you in no doubt you've discovered an authentic French experience. See lesfedeslyon.com.

2 Lumiere Institute Museum

Cinema was essentially invented here after Lyon brothers Auguste and Louis Lumiere came up with the Cinematograph projector in 1895, so a visit to this intriguing museum is a must. Housed inside what was once the Lumiere family home, exhibits throughout 21 rooms include some of the earliest picture reels and prototype cameras and even the Photorama, a reproduction of Louis Lumiere's incredible invention that ensures visitors can view photos projected 360 degrees to a height of more than six metres. See institut-lumiere.org.

3 Walk the Old Town

Lyon's medieval Old Town (also known as Vieux-Lyon) is one of the best preserved in Europe. Located on the west bank of the Saone River, it's a charming mix of cobbled alleyways, boutique shops, wine bars and restaurants. In 1954, the area became the first in France to gain protection under a law to preserve the country's cultural sites resulting in an unparalleled mix of Renaissance, Romanesque and Gothic architecture. Don't miss the covered Passage Thiaffait in the silk quarter.

4 Museum of Miniatures and Film Sets

Housed inside the famous "Maison des Avocats" building, a 16th century UNESCO protected gem, this five floor exhibition details everything from the use of special effects in cinema to reproductions of daily life through elaborately crafted miniatures. The museum is partnered with numerous LA-based studios who work closely with local artists to ensure exhibits change regularly. Highlights include life-sized sets from the film Perfume in the basement and even a Gremlin. See museeminiatureetcinema.fr

5 Basilique Notre Dame de Fouviere

A visit to this elaborate basilica perched on the crest of Fourviere Hill offers the best views across the city and surrounding Rhone Valley. Built between 1872 and 1884, the ornate interior is testament to the sheer opulence and outrageous wealth of the Catholic Church; a heady mix of gilt, marble, stained glass and coloured mosaics perhaps overcompensating for the church's lack of genuine political clout around the time. Frequent tours are available. See fourviere.org.

6 Les Halles de Lyon-Paul Bocuse

Named after Lyon's celebrated Michelin-starred chef, this covered market originally dates back 1859 and although the original incarnation fell into disrepair, it underwent an extensive renovation in 2006. Now home to 56 specialist food shops and restaurants spread over three floors, it's the sort of place to bring chefs and foodies to their knees. After perusing the high-end cheeses and gourmand smoked meats, pull up a stool, grab a glass of wine and sample fresh oysters or ham off the bone alongside the locals. See hallesdelyon.free.fr

7 Hotel Le Royal Lyon

With its plumb location on Bellecour Square in the heart of Lyon, this elegant boutique hotel has been artfully furnished in the style of a traditional country "maison", fusing modern classicism with tradition. From the plush lounge lizard bar to the quiet airy rooms, this is a slick oasis where details matter. See lyonhotel-leroyal.com

8 Escape to wine country

As well as its gastronomic prowess, Lyon is also on the doorstep to some of Europe's most eminent wine regions; in particular the Rhone Valley and Beaujolais. The Rhone Valley is perhaps more prestigious, known for outstanding Syrah and Viognier grape varieties while the Beaujolais' Gamay grapes make for dangerously easy-drinking fruit-driven wines. Both regions are easily reached by car but an organised day tour from the city is the best way to avoid ending up tanked behind the wheel. See kanpai-tourisme.com

9 Cruise on the Saone River

Gain another perspective of the city from the water on an evening boat cruise along the Rhone or Saone rivers. Running between April and October, cruises are a laidback way to learn more about a town with more than 2000 years of history but, at just over an hour, they avoid descending into tedium territory, making instead for a very civilised pre-dinner sojourn. See lyoncityboat.com

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10 Musee des Confluences 

Set to open in December, this science centre and anthropology museum will be the latest edition to Lyon's cultural landscape. Housing permanent exhibitions detailing anything from the Big Bang Theory to the mechanisms of evolution, the museum's unusual architectural design is also drawing attention. Referred to as the "Crystal Cloud", it is an angular mix of glass, concrete and stainless steel set at the top of a steep headland. See museedesconfluences.fr.

11 Lyon City Card

Available as one-, two- or three-day passes, this handy little card is the key to the city. Pay a one-off fee and gain free admission to dozens of museums, galleries, guided tours, public transport and boat cruises and get discounts at certain shops. See lyoncitycard.com

12 Lunch at Brasserie Le Silk

Stylishly decked out with a slick, New York loft feel by Parisian interior designer Patrick Norguet, this Sofitel brasserie is a decent option for a more up-market dining experience. Food emphasis is on Mediterranean classics such as beef or salmon tartare with an Asian twist. An outdoor terrace is open during warmer months. See sofitel.com/gb/hotel-0553-sofitel-lyon-bellecour/restaurant.

13 Shopping

The shopping here could placate a Beverly Hills housewife. More luxurious, boutique stores are located in Rue de President Herriot, an elegant stretch of 19th century buildings. For more mainstream offerings, nearby Rue de la Republique and Rue Victor Hugo are a safe bet. If second-hand books and antiques are more your scene, try Rue Auguste Comte or hit the Canal Flea Market on Sunday between 6am and 1pm. See en.lyon-france.com.

14 Museum of Fine Arts

Home to a treasure trove of European painting spanning the Middle Ages to the 20th century, this is one of Europe's premier art museums. Exhibits showcase anything from Egyptian antiquities to Renaissance sculptures and paintings by European masters, from Claude Monet to Henri Matisse. See mba-lyon.fr.

15 Parks and gardens

Escape the city with a stroll through Park de la Tete, a lush, tranquil oasis filled with rose gardens, Mediterranean plants, boules courts and even a sizeable zoo. Also stroll the renovated promenade on the left bank of the Rhone, veering off to nearby Parc des Berges. See loisirs-parcdelatetedor.com/en.

16 Nightlife

Lyon's nightlife scene is as trendy as it is diverse. The streets around Vieux Lyon are a good place to start, where the Smoking Dog pub is a favourite for a no-nonsense pint. Other traditional hotspots include the streets around Croix Rousse and Place Terreaux, while many former riverboats have since been converted into bars and clubs on the Quai Augagneur along the Rhone. 

17 Gallery Hopping

Located at the base of the slopes of La Croix-Rousse, The Rue Burdeau is a bohemian hub of art galleries, workshops and exhibitions incorporating photography, paintings, illustrations, sculpture and more. Be sure to check out the cutting edge photography exhibit, Galerie le Reverbere before rounding off your cultural immersion with a nightcap at the achingly cool Bec de Jazz bar at No.19.

18 Chocolate

In a city with more than 2000 restaurants, there's always room for dessert. Chocolatiers are ubiquitous in Lyon and among the most famous are Bernachon, known for its iconic Palet d'Or and Bouillet, a chocolatier-cum-patisserie famed for the sort of intricate cakes, tarts and macaroons your waistline won't thank you for. See chocolatier-bouillet.com/boutique-en-ligne

19 Festival of Lights

Over four days in December (5-8) Lyon will explode into a kaleidoscopic visual treat as designers from all over the world convene to create the Festival of Lights. Comprising intricate light installations throughout parks buildings and rivers, the festival will see Lyon transformed beyond recognition during dark winter nights. Best of all, it's free. See fetedeslumieres.lyon.fr/en.

20 Guided tours

Learn more about the silk trading era, traboules (secret passages for which Lyon is famed) Renaissance district or Old Town on a guided walking tour that will help you make sense of the city's convoluted 2000-year history. Alternatively, rent an MP3 audio guide and meander through the Croix Rousse district at your leisure. The latter is available for rental in various languages from the Lyon Tourist office. See en.lyon-france.com/Guided-Tours-Excursions.

The writer was a guest of Rail Europe and The Lyon Tourism Board.

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