Although it’s France’s third-largest city, Lyon is only about one-fifth the size of Paris. This makes it a more compact city to get around, its main tourist sites within easy reach of each other. In other words, it’s an easy city to tour with children. For those old enough to have learned about the Romans, it offers another treat — two Roman theaters to explore. Here are some tips on touring Lyon with kids.
Not one, but two theaters are part of the oldest ancient ruins in France. The Grand Théâtre, dating back to 15 BC, was for tragedies and comedies, while the Odéon was for musical performances. These open-air theaters are set into the steep hill that rises from the Saone River in the oldest part of Lyon. Look for the foundations of a temple to the Goddess Cybele, and if kids show an interest beyond climbing on the ancient stones, go to the nearby Gallo-Roman Museum to see the giant Hercules sculpture, marble decorations from ancient baths, and a beautiful mosaic floor representing the God of Oceans.
Lyon is known for Guignol, the lead character in traditional comical puppet shows known by his name, performed on colorful small stages. The shows will be in French, of course, but they are full of action, with lots of thwacking about, so kids will be entertained without having to understand a word. You can see shows at Le Guignol de Lyon, at 2 Rue Louis Carrand in Vieux Lyon, or Théâtre la Maison de Guignol, also in Vieux Lyon, the old town. The Musée des Arts de La Marionnette (Puppet Museum), near Le Guignol de Lyon, has marionettes from all over the world.
Parc de la Tête d’Or
When kids just need a place to run off steam, head across both rivers to this immense green park (it’s a long walk, so take the bus or a cab). Along with plenty of grass and wide stroller-friendly walkways, there’s a rose garden, a botanical garden, a zoo and a lake where you can rent boats. There are lots of activities for kids: a smaller lake with boats for ages 3 to 12, pony rides for those between 2 and 13, pedal cars for ages 3 to 7. Balad’or bike carts will hold parents and small kids and two little trains tour the park. Not to mention the Guignol Theater. The Parc de la Tête d’Or website is in English, so you can learn all the details, including the best ways to get there.
Place de Célestins
It’s not on any tourist guide, but if you want to feel part of local life, take your younger children to this tiny square on a warm afternoon. You’ll find neighborhood mothers and caregivers sitting on the shaded steps of the Célestins Theater, watching kids splash in the fountain pools and play soccer on the pavement. There are few language barriers among little kids — tossing a ball and wading in a pool are the same in any language.
You’ll find Place de Célestins just off the Saone embankment in the central Presqu’île quarter, a narrow strip a few blocks wide enclosed between the converging Rhone and Saone rivers. Two small, budget-friendly hotels are nearby, both with larger rooms for families. Hotel Des Artistes faces right onto the square, and Hotel des Celestins is a few steps away. It’s another traditional hotel, with suites that have pull-out sofas and sleep up to four. The square is not far from Place Bellecourt, where the tourist office is located, and just behind the theater is a footbridge that crosses right into the heart of Vieux Lyon.
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