Did you know that Lyon was the second city of the Roman Empire?
Or did you know that two Roman emperors were born here? Neither did I. High on the hilly, older side of the city, the discovery of two magnificent amphitheatres during the first half of the 19th century dispelled the long-held myth that there was a huge hippodrome and coliseum on the site. From here, you get a lovely view of modern Lyon in calm surroundings where the sound of birdsong dominates. lugdunum.grandlyon.com
Lyon stands at the crossroads of two major rivers - the Rhône and the Saône - and the southern end of the Presqu'île is where the two mighty rivers merge, flowing on either side of this peninsula in the middle of Lyon and continuing their journey (as the Rhône) south towards the Mediterranean. The great modern building overlooking this merging is the Musée des Confluences . This is a fantastic place to spend an afternoon or a morning on your city break, with a massive collection reflecting all the sciences presented in a visually engaging and entertaining way. museedesconfluences.fr
The denizens of Lyon use a word particular to them - trabouler - meaning 'to take a short cut'. That's because, all through the older quarters of the city, there runs a series of alleyways used by local residents to gain access to their quarters. Watch them meandering through blocks, up and down stone stairs and around corners. Sometimes, the traboules are marked with a little plaque outside the door and sometimes they're not. In the more traditional ones, you often come across little worlds within the buildings, featuring spiral staircases encased in towers giving access to apartments in the balconies above.
As a lifelong fan of the Asterix comics, I still remember that, in ancient Roman times, Lyon was known as Lugdunum. What I didn't realise, however, is that the name is pure Celtic: Lug meaning "Lugh", the Celtic God of Light, and Dunum coming from the same word that we use in the prefixes of many place names in Ireland (eg Dún Garbáin or Dún Laoghaire), meaning a fort or piece of high ground. The people are, therefore, our Celtic cousins and there's no better way to forge our ancient relationship than by following local Gaelic football club, Lugdunum CLG.
Is there any better way to see a city than on a Segway? I personally doubt it. Lyon's wide avenues and hilly alleyways are custom- made for the comfort of a Segway tour. Down by the banks of the river is where the experience really comes into its own as you cruise calmly through a great cross-section of Lyon society that gathers here for a variety of reasons. You also get a great feeling of how the Rhône and Saône have shaped the story of this magnificent city - from Roman times to the modern day. mobilboard.com
The funicular railway from Vieux Lyon station (which also connects to the metro) will pull you effortlessly up the hill to Fourvière. Here, outside the towering white Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière, you get a pretty much complete panoramic view of the entire city of Lyon. It's worth your while, not only to take in the fresh air but also to note how the city is laid out to get an appreciation of where you are both physically and in the historical development of Lyon.
There was a time when there was no such thing as the cinema. Then, along came the fabulous Lumière brothers. Like something out of a modern fairytale, these two clever clogs started with a photographic business inherited from their father and never stopped - continually inventing, innovating and improving. The brothers were the first ones to bring the seventh art to the world and never rested on their laurels for the rest of their lives. A wander around the family home (now the Institut Lumière; institut-lumiere.org) is a privilege and a must for any fan of the moving image. Highlights include the original cinema projector, as well as ancient films that give such an incredibly intimate window into the world of over a century ago.
For those of you who think that the world's bestselling book is The Bible, think again. That particular accolade belongs to The Little Prince, written originally as Le Petit Prince by one of Lyon's greatest sons - the swashbuckling and relatively short-lived writer/aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. His original house is on a street now named in his honour - the Rue Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, just off the enormous Place Bellecour. A short walk north of here along the banks of the Saône River will bring you to the Bal des Ardents (lebaldesardents.com) on Rue Neuve, where you'll find all his work amidst a unique cocoon of books in one of France's greatest bookshops.
Lyon is a city where you can't throw a stone without hitting a really great restaurant (Paul Bocuse was probably its most famous son), and the choice of where to go in such a short space of time is the only slight irritant. The most rewarding gastronomic journey through Lyon will be found by following the path of the Bouchons. Literally meaning 'wine corks', these are the original traditional type of restaurant, where you would join strangers at a long table and eat whatever wonderful fare you're given for a fair price. Beware, however, of those who call themselves Bouchons but who are nothing of the sort. Check out the official ones at lesbouchonslyonnais.org
The Presqu'île is the peninsula that represents the cultural and social beating heart of Lyon. The MGallery Carlton on Rue Jussieu is in the very heart of the Presqu'île, with a cavernous Belle Époque-style interior complete with tall moulded ceilings and a fashionably antiquated lift with a grille door. The rooms with balconies are the perfect place to wake up and smell the morning amidst an unmistakably French cityscape with strong Parisian overtones. Double rooms without breakfast from around €140/night. accorhotels.com
Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) flies between five and seven times a week from Dublin to Lyon. For public transport and entry into its museums, get the Lyon City Card (visiterlyon.com).
A two-hour car journey north is the town of Dijon. It's a miniature version of Lyon in many ways, famous for its mustard and location at the heart of most wonderful wine region.
On August 10, 1628, the magnificent but top-heavy wooden warship Vasa (below) was launched in Stockholm Harbour. Twenty minutes later, Sweden’s Titanic turned turtle and sank with the loss of 50 of its 100 crew.