architectural history, along with a renovated opera house by Jean Nouvel, the futuristic Saint-Exupéry Airport station by Santiago Calatrava and even a municipal parking lot by architects Jean-Michel Wilmotte and Daniel Targe and artist Daniel Buren. (For a glimpse, check the inverted periscope in the Place des Célestins.)
Lyons is an architect's textbook, where the oldest Roman theater in France (circa 1st century B.C.) is only a fossil's throw from a vast urban-renewal project that will include a science museum by Austrian architects Coop Himmelblau a dissonantly angular 21st century "crystal cloud" intended to "float" 12 m above the ground.
The best way to see Lyons is to take it from the top. Hop aboard the funicular, locally known as la ficelle (the string) to Fourvière, once the Gallic town of Lugdunum that was the capital of Roman Gaul. From the terrace of the 19th century Notre Dame basilica, on the site of the old Roman Forum, the view follows the city's progress, from the medieval and Renaissance Vieux Lyons on the banks of the Saône to the narrow 17th and 18th century Presqu'île, or peninsula, between the Saône and the Rhône. On the left is the smaller hill of Croix-Rousse, the 19th century silk worker's center, and beyond the Rhône the 20th century business district of Part-Dieu.
The Presqu'île is Lyons' modern-day business and commercial center, with crowded streets of chic boutiques, antique shops, cafés and restaurants, punctuated by stately public squares the monumental fountain on the Place des Terreaux is by Auguste Bartholdi, sculptor of the Statue of Liberty. Traboule down from Croix-Rousse to one of the city's bouchons, simple bistros named after the straw plugs once used as bottle-stoppers. For a taste of the local gastronomic specialty of cervelles de canut (literally, silk-worker's brains) fresh white cheese mixed with crème fraîche and herbs try Garet, Chez Hugon or Le Musée, where the three Laverrière sisters maintain a 40-year family tradition. There's updated fare at the Boeuf d'Argent, Fleur de Sel and Paul Bocuse's three brasseries, Le Nord, L'Est and Le Sud. Splurge for haute cuisine at La Tour Rose or la Cour des Loges.
At nightfall, head up to Fourvière or out on one of the Saône bridges, to catch the view when the spectacular Plan Lumière bathes 230 buildings and bridges in multicolored light.