Lyon is at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône Rivers. The Rhône (first photo) is the larger and longer of the two. In Switzerland, where it comes from, some of the locals call it the Rotten River — not because it is rotten in the English sense of the word, but because Rotten happens to be the Swiss-German word for Rhône.
The Rhône aka Rotten starts in the Swiss Alps and has collected considerable detritus (so it’s a bit murky but not rotten) before it flows into the east end of Lac Leman aka Lake Geneva. Then at the west end of the lake the Rhône has a brief moment of glory as one of the cleanest rivers in the world as it flows through the city of Geneva, the reason being that all the gunk has settled to the bottom of the lake.
Lyon is over 260 km further downstream, which gives the Rhône ample opportunity to replenish its gunk supply, especially since there are some chemical factories and disused industrial complexes along the way, so it really does get somewhat “rotten” by the time it reaches Lyon.
Reportedly the Rhône has accumulated such dangerous levels of PCBs — polychlorinated biphenyls — that the French government has outlawed the consumption of fish from the entire length of the Rhône, from the Swiss border all the way down to the Mediterranean.
It’s safe and pleasant to walk and ride bicycles along the Rhône, just don’t swim in it, okay?
The Saône is the smaller of the two rivers that come together in Lyon. It is also the more scenic of the two and is better behaved, since it doesn’t flood as often and is not as polluted as the Rhône, as far as I know.
On the right bank of the Saône is the Old Town, Vieux Lyon, and on a hill above that is the Basilica Notre-Dame de Fourvière, which is visible from most places in the city that have any sort of view at all.
Lyon is said to have over thirty outdoor food markets, spread out over all the districts of the city. One that I especially liked was this one on the left bank of the Saône, on Quai Saint-Antoine and Quai des Célestins. It is open six mornings a week, Tuesday through Sunday, from six till about one-thirty.
These people are eating and drinking at La Buvette Bonaparte, which is at the outdoor market and near the Bonaparte Bridge crossing the Saône.
On the peninsula between the two rivers there are several small streets with wall-to-wall restaurants that seem to be very popular among the local young people.
Rue Mercière, Rue Petit David and Rue de la Monnaie are all car-free (also parts of Rue Ferrandière, Rue Thomassin and Rue Tupin) and are all crowded with people just about any evening of the week. (At least they were before the corona virus pandemic.)
This may look at first glance like a touristy area, but there are no post card stands or souvenir shops. My impression is that the tourists go mainly to the Old Town on the right bank of the Saône, while the locals tend to congregate here in the small streets on the left bank.
I counted thirty-eight restaurants, pubs, cafés and wine bars on Rue Mercière alone, but I might have overlooked a few. Some of them have funny names like “Oh Marie si tu savais” (a line from a Johnny Hallyday song, meaning “Oh Marie if you knew”) or “Qu’importe l’Ivresse” (“What does drunkenness matter”).
Here are some restaurants by the Vélo’v station on Rue Ferrandière. Note that the restaurant on the left, with the green awning, is completely full, while the similar-looking restaurant on the right is completely empty. Apparently the local people have strong opinions about where to go and where not to.
My photos in this post are from 2011. I revised the text in 2020.
See also: The Rhône River in Avignon.
5 thoughts on “Two rivers in Lyon”
Lovely. One of my cardinal rules of restaurant searches is “if it isn’t full of people, don’t go in.” Empty restaurants at meal time are a good indicator of the food quality. This is complicated by the fact that we like to eat early and most of the French do not.
I like your oval framing.
Thanks, Sally. The oval framing came about by accident as I was looking for a way to get unwanted details out of the corners of one of my photos.
Lyon looks worth a visit when we’re able to travel a little further from home – rivers, food markets, an old town, good restaurants 🙂 Although it seems odd right now to see those bustling streets and crowded restaurants!
Hi Sarah, thanks for your visit. Yes, Lyon is a worth a visit. Back on VT I actually wrote a restaurant tip on Lyon, contrary to my usual policy. If you do go to Lyon, don’t miss the Villa Lumière and the Hangar of the First Film. (Recommended to me by JLBG of VT.)
I understand the restaurants have now reopened, but with 1,5 m spacing between the tables.
That sounds interesting – will bear in mind, thanks