France is home to some of the world’s most beautiful cities, with Paris and Lyon at the top of the list of places to visit. Both of these French cities offer a delightful culinary scene, stunning historic sites, and aesthetic pleasure beyond compare. Paris and Lyon each possess something special, and there are must-see places in each city that you don’t want to miss. From the Eiffel Tower to the Cathedral Saint-Jean-Baptiste, you won’t be disappointed when you pay a visit to Paris and Lyon.
Paris vs Lyon
Paris is the City of Light. It’s the capital city of France and one of the most famous places in the world. Paris is located in the north-central part of France and is divided into twenty arrondissements, or neighborhoods, and the River Seine runs through the city. Fashion, food, and art have been the cultural hallmarks of this European city since its birth in the third century.
Lyon is a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its stunning architecture and places of historical significance. Foodies love Lyon, as it’s a well-known gastronomic paradise. Visitors of Lyon can expect no less than gorgeous sites, tasty meals, and informative history lessons while they are there. Lyon is cut by two flowing rivers, the Rhône and Saône.
The Must-See Places in Paris
1. The Eiffel Tower
A visit to Paris wouldn’t be complete without seeing the Eiffel Tower. Perhaps one of the most famous landmarks in the world, the Eiffel Tower was built by Gustave Eiffel in 1887. This 984-foot structure is a hallmark of Parisian life, and it draws seven million tourists per year to admire its beauty. Aside from taking pictures and fawning over the tower, the best thing to do while you are at the tower is to lay a blanket out on the lawn and have a French-inspired picnic. You won’t find a shortage of places to pick up authentic bread, wine, and cheese. If you aren’t keen on picnicking, you can chow down at 58 Tour Eiffel.
2. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris
Another famous site in Paris is the Notre Dame Cathedral. Located in the fourth arrondissement, this stunning Gothic cathedral sits on the Île de la Cité. The cathedral is an architectural wonder; it features colorful stained-glass windows, rib vaulting, intricate stone gargoyles, and a famous rose window. Entrance into the cathedral is free, and visitors can tour almost two-thirds of the structure. The Notre Dame is the most visited monument in Paris, with 35,000 people visiting each day. The last time we visited France, we were able to view the cathedral from a distance due to the great fire on April 15, 2019. While there’s a desire to rebuild Notre-Dame across 5 years, experts say that it may take 10 to 15 years (source).
3. The Louvre
Another popular destination in Paris, the Louvre is the world’s largest art museum. The famous building isn’t hard to spot; it’s marked by a glass prism and it’s situated on the Right Bank of the Seine in the first arrondissement. Though the Louvre is most famous for being the home of the Mona Lisa, it also boasts some of the most remarkable statues and paintings in existence. Come here to see Liberty Leading the People, Grand Odalisque, and Hammurabi’s Code.
4. Musée d’Orsay
Located on the Left Bank of the Seine, the Musée d’Orsay is Paris’s other famous museum. Formerly a railway station, the Musée d’Orsay is home to a vast collection of French art from 1848 to 1914. From paintings to photography, you can experience the works of Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, Auguste Renoir, and other renowned artists. Impressionist masterpieces and superb sculptures await you here. The Musée d’Orsay is also home to Vincent Van Gogh’s famous Starry Night.
5. Basilique du Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre
The Basilique du Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre is the second most visited church in France. This Catholic basilica is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and it garners 11.5 million visitors every year. You can visit this beautiful church in the Montmartre district of Paris; this part of the city is renowned for its nightlife and the arts. Sacré-Cœur is the crown jewel of Montmartre, and believers have been worshipping at this site before the church was ever built. Next to the Eiffel Tower, Sacré-Cœur is the second-highest point in all of Paris. Views of Paris are best enjoyed from the church dome, which can be accessed on the left side.
The Must-See Places in Lyon
1. Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière
Built between 1872 and 1876, the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière sits majestically atop Fourviere Hill in Lyon. This stunning cathedral was constructed in a neo-Byzantine fashion; come here for unbeatable views of Lyon. Designed by Pierre Bossan, a native of Lyon, the church offers plenty of things to marvel at. On the bell tower, visitors will find a statue of the Virgin Mary. The interior of the church is lavishly decorated. Colorful mosaic work blends with gilt and stained-glass windows to create quite the attraction. Saint-Jean’s crypt can be easily visited, but only those willing to make the 287-step climb to the observatory will be rewarded with stunning views of the city.
2. Cathedral Saint-Jean-Baptiste
The Cathedral Saint Jean Baptiste was built in the Gothic style and was completed in 1480. The astrological clock is the main draw of the inside of the cathedral, and the exterior portals are decorated with 280 medallions made of stone. Pay a visit to this cathedral to witness sacred artwork from the 10th and 17th centuries. The Flemish tapestries are beautiful. The church becomes illuminated by artful projections every year during the Fête des Lumières.
3. Parc de la Tête d’Or
If you need a break from wandering the city and visiting churches, head to Le Parc de la Tête d’Or for an afternoon of relaxation and picnicking. This English-inspired garden is the largest urban park in all of France, and it contains a slew of family-friendly activities. From pony rides to a botanical garden, there’s something for everyone at this beautifully landscaped park. Visitors love resting in the botanical garden, going for boat rides on the lake, and checking out the miniature railway. Le Parc de la Tête d’Or was built in the same year as Central Park, and it has only continued to expand and flourish since its creation.
4. Vieux Lyon
Vieux Lyon is one of the largest Renaissance quarters existing today. Merchants from all across Europe thrived here in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries. The silk industry was booming, and wealthy traders built lavish architectural wonders that give Vieux Lyon its Old-World charm. It’s a beautiful place to take pictures and get lost in your thoughts.
While you’re in Vieux Lyon, be sure to visit the Traboules. These underground passages run horizontal to the Saône River. During the Renaissance, silk workers used the Traboules to easily transport goods to the river, keeping the textiles safe from rain and snow. There are more than forty passages that you can visit, many of which are connected to residences.
This man-made “island” sits between the Rhône and Saône Rivers and boasts most of Lyon’s cafes, nightclubs, and plazas. If you want to be in the heart of the action, you should spend most of your time in Lyon on Presqu’île. High-end restaurants and shops await you here, along with gorgeous 19th-century architecture. You could spend hours here people-watching in the plaza, photographing the buildings, or trying out new restaurants.