Boules and Traboules In Lyon

April 8, 2013

Presqu'ile lyon traboule

A major attraction for visits to Lyon is the city’s famous traboules, which are simply corridors through buildings and their courtyards. During the Middle Ages there were only a few parallel streets in Old Lyon between Fourvière Hill and the Saône river, so the first of these passages were built to connect one street directly with another.

Presqu'ile lyon traboule

Each traboule is unique in its architectural style, with different points of interest. They are at once secret passageways, galleries and windows into the life of the people in Lyon. Spiral staircases and balconies are interesting elements to admire here and you can peek at the different mailboxes and windows as you pass through.

traboule lyon visite

traboules visite lyon window

Traboules exist not just in Old Lyon, but also in other parts of the city. It is possible to find them in the Presqu’ile and also in the Croix-Rousse, which is a fascinating district that should be explored all on its own. This is the historical silk weavers’ neighbourhood, where live-in workshops were constructed in the 19th century. There the traboules were used to transport silk yarn and cloth bolts and were also used as gathering places for the workers. This is how the area got its name of ‘the workers’ hill.’

traboules lyon

lyon traboule visite

When exploring the traboules it’s important to be as quiet as possible because people are living in these buildings. This is especially important if you visit on a weekend morning. Some traboules are officially open to the public all the time, while others are open in the morning for service, providing access to all. To open the doors, press the service button at the entry keypad. You should not visit the traboules at night.

traboules doorway lyon

circular staircase traboule lyon

All of Lyon’s traboules and courtyards are marked on a free map and guidebook from the Lyon Tourism and Conventions Bureau. There is also a new iPhone app called “Traboules” available from the iTunes store, which will help visitors discover the traboules around the city. Should you like a little more guidance and information, you can organize a two hour tour of the traboules, either in Vieux (Old) Lyon or in the Croix-Rousse. We took a general tour of the Old Town with our guide, Jérôme, and it was fantastic. He showed us several gorgeous traboules as well as many other points of interest in the city.

vieux lyon traboules

After a morning exploring the traboules, it’s nice to take a drink somewhere and watch a game of boules (not that you would want, or be able, to confuse the two). In Australia we have the game of lawn bowls but in France it’s all about the boules, also known as pétanque. You’ll find boules courts all over the city, especially in parks and gathering places.

boules court lyon

One afternoon, after visiting the Lumière Museum, we encountered a few lively games of boules in the 8th arrondissement. It was fun to stop and watch the games and we found that most passers-by were drawn into the action.

boules jouet lyon

boules lyon

boules lyon france

boules lyon french

The object is to get your balls as close to the  smaller object ball, either by throwing the ball close to it in the first instance, or by striking the small ball to move it closer to your own balls. Sounds easy enough…

measuring balls in france

french boules in lyon

france boules lyon

Our time in Lyon was hosted by Rhône-Alpes Tourisme and ONLYLYON Tourisme et Congrès. All opinions, however, are always our own.

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  • Jay

    We had many a game of pétanque on the beach in Gabon with our French friends. (Where I grew up, we called it Bocci Ball.)

    • inspiringtravellers

      I always knew it as Bocci Ball growing up too – Italian heritage, haha

  • A Montrealer Abroad (@amontrealer)

    This is one of my favorite feature about Lyon – such a secretive labyrinth!

    • inspiringtravellers

      It is so cool, isn’t it?

  • Raymond @ Man On The Lam

    I had no idea Lyon was like this. I really need to get out more. :)

    • inspiringtravellers

      Definitely get over to Lyon =)

  • cosmoHallitan

    I can only imagine how much fun those hidden passageways would be to explore as a child!

    • inspiringtravellers

      I’m sure the children of Lyon have great imaginations – definitely would be a cool place to grow up!

  • Laurel

    Lyon is such a pretty city. I need to go back when it’s warmer and play some boules – didn’t see that when I was there in December.

    • inspiringtravellers

      I much prefer French cities in the warmer months – so many beautiful parks and sitting outside at the cafes is just bliss.

  • Anika

    Great photos. Old Lyon has such a distinctive character – next time I’ll wander around using the new app!

    • inspiringtravellers

      We had a guide so didn’t actually get to use the app but it’s great to have a convenient tool like that to help you along!

  • Sherry

    Even after traveling to so many places, it’s always nice to learn something new. Now you’ve got me totally interested in the traboules. I think it would be a great way to explore the city and it’s culture at the same time. I especially love that it’s a walking activity.

    • inspiringtravellers

      Me too, Sherry – so unique and interesting!

  • Emily in Chile

    Such beautiful architecture! That’s really helpful that they’re marked on maps too and treated as tourist attractions to make them easier to find.

    • inspiringtravellers

      I agree – though I wonder what it’s like for the residents who live in the most popular ones…we only encountered one lady on our explorations and she gave us a big smile and said “Bonjour!” so maybe they don’t mind…

  • Jennifer

    Fascinating! I had no idea about Lyon’s secret passageways. It just makes me want to go even more now!

    • inspiringtravellers

      And most of them have Italian-inspired architecture so I’m sure you’ll find this a particularly interesting activity =)

  • Andi

    My goodness the first set of photos are just spectacular!!! I had never heard of them before. Love learning something new!

    • inspiringtravellers

      Thanks, Andi – I hadn’t heard of them until researching the trip either!

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  • Martin

    Lyon is one of my favourite cities in France. Lyon is beautiful and it’s a perfect hub to explore the surrounding departments.
    Here’s a few impressions of an amazing journey that started in Lyon:!FromLyontoToulouse/c137u

    • inspiringtravellers

      Beautiful photos, Martin – thanks for sharing!

  • Sophie

    My mum was a wizard boule-player.

    • inspiringtravellers

      I’ve only played lawn bowls in Australia and I can’t remember how I did. Harder than it looks as I remember…

  • Cathy Sweeney

    Boules and traboules — both new to me. Loved getting a glimpse inside some of the corridors and seeing the interesting architectural elements. Very different persepective of Lyon than I’ve seen in photos before.

    • inspiringtravellers

      So happy to hear that, Cathy – and glad you like it =)

  • Ali

    Those passageways look really interesting! I love unique architecture, especially in older cities.

    • inspiringtravellers

      Me too, Ali – especially in unexpected places!

  • Vratnica Sase

    Great architecture and pictures from Lyon.
    Thanks for sharing them with the world!

    • inspiringtravellers

      Happy you enjoyed them! =)

  • Johanna bradley

    Ooh, you’ve definitely got me wanting to go to Lyon now! What a beautiful post. I’ve heard good things about the city anyway.
    It reminded me a little of the Ribeira quarter in Porto, though architecturally very different.

    • inspiringtravellers

      I can see the resemblance definitely – both fun cities to explore on foot!

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