Have you visited France’s gastronomical capital yet? If you are looking for a charming getaway for wine and cheese tastings in the paved Old Town, you are heading in the right direction. Lugdunum in Roman times is now Lyon, the third-largest city in France. The colorful neighborhoods are home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites from the Gallo-Roman era, the Middle Ages, the Industrial Revolution, and the Resistance. Come discover the French Bon vivants lifestyle and make sure to stop by all the things worth visiting in Lyon.
Fly (or ride) to Lyon!
If you are already in France or in Europe, it might be more convenient to go by train!
1. Notre-Dame de Fourvière
Fourvière is the name of the hill from which the basilica Notre-Dame de Fourvière overlooks the city. It is one of the most emblematic monuments to see in Lyon, built in honor of the Virgin Mary. Its impressive interior decoration includes various mosaics, describing the Virgin Mary’s history in France. If you have the chance to see Notre-Dame de Fourvière during the Lights Festival, you will see the message “Merci Marie” (“Thank you, Mary”) in neon lights.
From the esplanade, you can enjoy an exceptional panorama of the city. If the weather is clear, you might even see the Alps in the background.
Tips from a local: If you want to take a different path on your way back, walk down the (many) stairs through the Montée Saint Barthélemy. You will pass by what the locals call “Lyon’s Eiffel Tower”, which is actually… A telecommunication antenna!
2. The Gallo-Roman Theater
Lyon used to be the capital of the French territory during Roman times. Some remains of the historic city are still visible today. Below the Basilica, you can explore the Gallo-Roman Theater for free and enjoy a nice view of the city. It’s the oldest Gallo-Roman Theater in France! It still hosts concerts and shows during the nocturnal event “Les Nuits de Fourvières”.
Tips from a local: the best way to get to the theater is by funicular from Saint-Jean. You can also enjoy a walk via the Montée du Gourguillon.
3. Lyon’s Presqu’île district
In French, the word presqu’île refers to the neck of land between two rivers. In Lyon, you can’t miss the 1st and 2nd districts, also called Presqu’île, between the two rivers that cross the city, Le Rhône and La Saône. There are many things to see as you walk along the streets and squares :
- La Place des Terreaux and the well-known Bartholdi fountain.
- Le Palais des Beaux-Arts (The Museum of Fine Arts)
- L’Hôtel de Ville (The City Hall)
- The Opera
- Mercière street, which is famous for its restaurants.
- L’Hôtel-Dieu, one of the largest buildings in Lyon, which hosts the City of Gastronomy.
- L’Église Saint Nizier (a Gothic style church)
- La Place des Jacobins
- Le Théâtre des Célestins (a major theatre, open since 1881)
- La Rue de la République (the main shopping street)
Discovering this central part of the city walking at your own pace is definitely the best way to enjoy its atmosphere. Make sure to map all the monuments and things to see!
4. Le Vieux-Lyon, the old town
The old town, known as Vieux Lyon, is the most enchanting part of the city, and also the most visited. Despite the crowd, the recently renovated Cathédrale Saint-Jean is a must-see. The cobbled streets will also lead you to many typical restaurants in Saint-Jean street, and near the Théâtre Guignols, a famous puppet theater. In the many local shops, you will find delicious local specialties to taste on the spot or to take away with you.
In the old town, you will also learn what a traboule is. Any ideas? A traboule is a traditional passage from a building to another or under houses, through corridors and stairs. Lyon is famous for these original passages, there are 200 of them in the old town. Some of them are still open to the public. Let’s see if you can find one!
Tips from a local: visit the old town early in the morning to avoid the crowd.
5. La Croix-Rousse
This is Lyon’s second hill, also called the “working hill” because it used to be the silk industry’s district. It is now a dynamic and trendy district, with a lot of things to see :
- Place Carnot, from which you can take a traboule that will take you directly to the Croix-Paquet metro station.
- Place du gros Caillou (“the big rock place”), there is literally a big rock there.
- La Montée de la grande côte, a beautiful street uphill to the top of la Croix-Rousse.
- Le Jardin des plantes (a botanical garden).
- Many more lovely theatres.
There are 3 ways to go to the top of the hill: walking through the traboule, walking through the Montée de la Grande Côte or using the metro line C from Place de l’Opéra.
6. La fresque des lyonnais
Discover the large fresco between Place des Terreaux and Place Saint-Paul. You will be immersed in the city’s history in the company of famous personalities such as Antoine de Saint Exupéry, Paul Bocuse or the Lumière brothers. Check out the legend at the bottom of the main facade to identify all the characters.
7. Le Mur des canuts
Here is another painted wall you can’t miss. You will find it along the Boulevard des Canuts on the Croix-Rousse hill. The 1200 square meter painting represents the Croix-Rousse district and the silk workers during the 19th century. The painting is refreshed regularly, and the artists add or change some elements every time to reflect the evolution of the district.
Tip: Get closer, on the left side of the wall, you will find historical details and see the different versions of the painting from the beginning of the ’90s until today.
8. The city’s quays
The pathways along the Rhône and Saône rivers are perfect for a walk. The quays on the Rhône side are wider and specially designed for pedestrians and cyclists. One of the best ways to enjoy a sunny day in Lyon is to have a drink on one of the floating bars between Hôtel de Ville and Bellecour.
9. La Place Carnot
This place is a must-see if you visit Lyon in December when it hosts the Christmas market. Take a cup of hot wine to keep you warm and go Christmas shopping among the artisanal products, decorations, and crafts. The atmosphere is very festive and friendly. The delicious perfume of traditional food will convince you to try the local specialties. Cheese lovers must try the tartiflette!
10. Les Halles Paul Bocuse
Les Halles Paul Bocuse is a covered food market named after Lyon’s most well-known chef who is also revered on the French gastronomical scene. This is where both locals and foodie tourists find the finest delicacies for special occasions. Going on a guided tour is a great way to learn more about Lyon’s local gastronomy.
11. Le Parc de la Tête d’Or
Lyon’s emblematic park brings 105 hectares of nature, only 20 minutes away from the city hall. Whether you need to take a relaxing breath from the city or to find fun family activities, Le Parc de la Tête d’Or has many options to choose from. You can walk around the lake under century-old trees, take a ride on a pedal boat, visit the zoo and the botanical garden. Make sure to visit the international rose garden and its 5,000,000 wild and historic roses.
12. Le Musée des Confluences (Lyon’s Natural History Museum)
The building is impossible to miss from the highway when you enter the city from the South. Its UFO-like architecture of metal and glass is home to magnificent contemporary works of art. The permanent exhibition presents a unique approach to mankind and the history of life. It is a must-see in Lyon and among the best European museums.
Tips from a local: From the city center, you can gain time by using public transport or cycling there.
13. The local gastronomy
The cuisine lyonnaise experience won’t disappoint you : there is a wide variety of typical meals to try. Start with the Tablier de sapeur, a salade lyonnaise, a rosette de Lyon, or some grattons. Then the famous quenelles, or an andouillette. For dessert, praline tart, candied chestnuts or bugnes (crispy doughnuts). The traditional restaurants are called “Bouchons” and you can find most of them in Presqu’île or in Vieux Lyon.
Tips from a local: If you must choose one restaurant, choose Le Musée, located behind the Église de Saint-Nizier. Make sure to book your table!
Visit Lyon: Practical information
When is the best time to go to Lyon?
Spring and summer are undeniably the best times to visit Lyon. The city is also known for the Festival des lumières (the lights festival), which takes place on December 8th. However, you can enjoy the city all year round.
You can take advantage of the fall and winter season to see Lyon with very few tourists. However, some activities are more enjoyable with warm weather and le Parc de la Tête d’Or is beautiful in spring and summer!
Where to find accommodation in Lyon?
Even if Lyon is not as touristy as Paris, hotels in the city center can be quite expensive. Here is a list of districts where you can find accommodation according to your preferences :
- Presqu’île: This is the center of the city, close to Place des Terreaux and the City Hall. It is a good location but there are just a few hotels and prices are usually quite high.
- Vieux-Lyon: This is the historic district, close to cathédrale Saint-Jean. The paved streets are not ideal for people with reduced mobility and the streets are very busy.
- Croix-Rousse: This district is quieter and has beautiful views. You can easily move around the city with public transport, the metro line C and the bus lines that stop at Place du Gros Caillou.
- Part-Dieu: This is the business district, it is not as attractive for tourists but it is ideal if you want to be close to the train station.
- Vaise: Located further from the city center, this district is great if you like cycling. You can get to the city using the bike lanes along the river banks.
How to rent a car in Lyon?
If you are planning to visit the city only, public transport (TCL) with 4 metro lines, 6 tram lines, and hundreds of bus routes will be more than enough. Lyon is smaller than Paris, you can get anywhere in the city in less than 30 minutes.
However, if you are planning to explore the beautiful natural parks, wineries, medieval villages, and castles around Lyon, renting a car is probably the best option. If you need to park in Lyon, avoid the city center and Presqu’île, where there are almost only paid parking lots. It is easier to park in other districts, such as Saint-Just.
Getting around Lyon
Walking: if your accommodation is well located, you can just walk around the city. You will only need to use public transportation if you don’t have much time to get to the Musée des Confluences or to Fourvière.
Public transportation: buy your tickets in a subway or tramway station as soon as you get to Lyon. Bus drivers can sell you tickets on the spot but it will be more expensive.
Cycling: you can buy a Vélov card for a day or a week to use the city’s self-service bicycles. If you want to ride more time, to get to Barbe island, for example, renting a bike from a rental store might be more economical.
Are you ready to discover Lyon? C’est parti ! (“let’s go!”) 🙂