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Living in Lyon

Living in Lyon

If you are thinking about joining the Master of Nanoscale Engineering program then you are probably also interested in knowing a bit more about Lyon itself. We have collected some information on this page to give you a first impression.

Lyon, viewed from Fourvière hill looking eastward

Geography, History and Climate

The city of Lyon is situated in east-central France in the Rhône-Alpes region, at a distance of about 470 km from Paris. Two rivers, the Rhône and the Saône, flow through the city and merge south of the historic city center, which derives its nickname, the peninsula (Presqu'île), from this fact. Two large hills dominate the topography of the city, one west of the center on the other side of the Saône (Fourvière) and the other one (Croix-Rousse) in the north. A large plain, which is the location of the modern part of Lyon including its urban center with the Part-Dieu railway station, lies across the Rhône in the east and is home to most of the city's population. Lyon itself has about half a million inhabitants; the greater Lyon area, which includes Villeurbanne with the UCBL campus and Ecully with the École Centrale, has a total population of around 1.5 million.

Lyon was founded as a Roman colony on the Fourvière hill in 43 BC, with its original name Lugdunum being derived from a Gaulish settlement in the same area. The village quickly gained importance due its trade-friendly location on two navigable rivers and the main land route from south-eastern to northern France. Lyon became a major economic center in the late middle ages and started to develop the silk trade during the renaissance, which continued to be a major industrial factor well into the nineteenth century. Today Lyon is the second-largest economic center in France (chemical and biotechnological industry, banking) and an innovation city, but it has also preserved its historical charm and architectural landmarks; its districts Fourvière, Vieux-Lyon (the renaissance quarter), Croix-Rousse, and the Presqu'île together form a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Lyon is located in a transition zone between oceanic and humid subtropic climate; the average high/low temperatures are 6.2°C/0.2°C in January, the coldest month, and 27.0°C/15.6°C in July, the hottest month. The average precipitation per month varies between 50 mm in wintertime, 60-80 mm during summer, and 70-95 mm in spring and autumn.

Academic Institutions

The Université de Lyon regroups 19 universities, engineering schools and other academic institutions in Lyon and Saint-Étienne, thus forming the largest site of higher education in France outside of the greater Paris region. Around 129 000 students are enrolled in these institutions, with about 12 500 of them coming from outside of France. A broad catalog of disciplines is offered with a well-rounded canon in the fields of science, engineering and biomedical technology, as a preparation for subsequent careers in both industry and academia.

Culture and Leisure

Performing Arts

Lyon has a large variety of theaters, concert halls and smaller venues for performances, covering everything from classical theater and ballet to modern/experimental pieces and comedy, from symphonic orchestra and opera to modern forms of music. Many establishments offer tickets at reduced prices for students and people under 25 years of age.


Lyon boasts about 100 different museums dedicated to art, science and technology, culture or history.


Two famous inhabitants of Lyon were the brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière, pioneers of cinema who made major contributions to the technology of recording, developing and projecting moving images. The Lumière Institute commemorates their legacy with a museum of their inventions, by organizing original programs and tributes, and furthermore with the Lumière festival in October, which pays homage to films, actors and directors from different periods.
In total, there are about 30 cinemas in the greater Lyon area, which offer the full selection from Hollywood blockbusters and popular French films to art house programs and specialized festivals. A number of cinemas show movies in their original versions with French subtitles.


Lyon has a rich gastronomical tradition and has gained the reputation of being the culinary capital of France. The greater Lyon area is home to the famous French chef Paul Bocuse, the only chef ever to have held three stars from the Michelin restaurant guide for over 40 years in a row. The traditional cuisine of Lyon is known, among others, for its rich meat dishes and sausages,as well as for its delicious sweets and pastries. Besides that, chefs from Lyon have also been driving forces in the development of the nouvelle cuisine. The Beaujolais and the Côtes du Rhône wine-growing regions are located close to Lyon.


Impressions of Lyon by night and the Fête des Lumières

The greater Lyon area is home to numerous festivals celebrating music, visual arts and culture. You can, for example, stroll through the streets of the city and enjoy all sorts of music during the Fête de la Musique, listen to electronic music during Les Nuits Sonores or go to the jazz festivals in Vaulx-en-Velin and in the roman theater of Vienne. All summer long, the Tout l'monde dehors festival offers free cinema, music and theater in outdoor venues, and Les Nuits de Fourvière allow you to enjoy theater and other performing arts in the magnificent setting of the antique roman theater of Fourvière. The Biennale d'art contemporain is a bi-annual festival of modern art. The most widely-known event in Lyon is the Fête des Lumières, the festival of lights, during which the buildings, fountains and streets of Lyon are turned into stunning light installations (see picture above); the Fête des Lumières attracts more than a million visitors to Lyon every December.


Lyon is close to the Provence and the Mediterranean Sea, as well as to the Alps and to key wine-growing regions, so there are many possibilities for interesting excursions, sports trips and gastronomical tours. At about 30-45 minutes by car from Lyon, it is possible to go hiking in the surrounding mountains or visit many castles and villages, for example the Lac des Sapins, Village des Pierres Dorées in the Beaujolais mountains, and the bird park of Villars-les-Dombes. Pilat Nature Park is a bit further away (about one hour). Excursions to Marseille and the Mediterranean (two and a half to three hours) and skiing trips in the resorts of the Alps (one and a half hour) are very attractive as well.

Photo credits: Patrick Giraud (Lyon from Fourvière), Gonedelyon (St. Jean Cathedral), Mihaigalos (panorama Fête des Lumières), Emmanuel Brunner (Bonaparte bridge), all used under the Creative Commons - Attribution - ShareAlike license.