What to do in the beautiful city of Lyon ? You’re passing through but don’t know where to start? Discover our itinerary to make sure you don’t miss a thing.
We didn’t stay long in Lyon, but we wandered around the city for 2 days, making a little itinerary so we didn’t miss anything. Get ready to walk through this pretty Unesco World Heritage city. This little guide will be updated in terms of restaurants, bars and hotels as we go back or as our friends give us their tips.
Lyon is world-renowned for its restaurants, and it’s not for nothing that it’s the world capital of gastronomy. I’m not particularly fond of the French Lyonnais specialties on the menu, such as cervelle de Canut, calf’s liver, grattons, tripe… but we were tempted by quenelles, bugnes and other dishes accompanied by fine wines, which we’ll mention below.
You wouldn’t think it, but Lyon is a big city and the 3th city in France in terms of population. We wondered how we were going to visit the city over 2 days, taking the time to wander around, but to our great surprise, the hyper-center is very concentrated and the city is easy to visit on foot. So what are the must-do things to do in Lyon?
SOMMAIRE DE L'ARTICLE :
| THE OLD LYON DISTRICT
We suggest an itinerary that starts with the quartier du vieux Lyon, the historic district where Lyon’s boutiques and bouchons are concentrated and which attracts many visitors. From our hotel, to get there, we passed one of the most beautiful monuments in old Lyon, the magnificent Saint John’s Cathedral erected on the pretty Saint John’s Square, blending Gothic and Romanesque styles. It is unmissable for its huge astronomical clock which indicates the date, the positions of the moon, sun and Earth, as well as that of the stars above Lyon.
1. Start by exploring the traboules in Vieux-Lyon (the city’s 5th arrondissement)
Vieux Lyon, which stretches along the banks of the Saône, is without doubt our favorite district and our favorite part of this little weekend, which has retained all the charm of its Renaissance streets. At the same time, you’d have to be pretty picky not to love these cobblestone streets, historic buildings, cafés and beautiful storefronts. There are no cars here, everything is done on foot. You’ll explore pretty narrow streets but also the famous traboules, those little hidden passages dating back to the Renaissance, sometimes hard to find but brimming with little treasures.
Traboules are narrow, covered passages through the courtyards of buildings, allowing you to get from one street to another by passing through the courtyards and staircases. They were used in particular by resistance fighters during the Second World War. There are apparently 500 in Lyon, but most of them are in the old town.
During our stroll, we took the time to scan the building entrances to unearth a few for you and suggest a pretty itinerary. In this exploration, there are 2 rules: push open the doors and, of course, be respectful of the place and its inhabitants. Allow 1h30 to 2h for our route.
- See you at 3 place Saint-Paul, at the junction with rue François Vernay for a first crossing to rue Juverie. An appetizer to discover these pedestrian crossings in a district with a style marked by the Renaissance period. Nearby, you’ll find the 10 rue Lainerie, one of the most beautiful spiral staircases.
- On your way down to the musée Gadagne. There are no traboules here, but a superb courtyard and interior garden with free access from the 3rd floor of the building are not to be missed.
- Then resume your exploration of the traboules from the Place du Change, where a succession of 3 traboules between rue Saint-Jean and quai Romain RollandYou’ll find entrances at 7, 10 and 11 Quai Romain Rolland, then at 17, 18 and 20 to reach Rue des Trois Marie. You’ll find an alternation of narrow and narrow traboules, some opening onto small courtyards with towers.
- From the same rue Trois Marie, at number 6, take a traboule leading you to rue Saint Jean, then continue at number 28 of the same street to join rue du Bœuf. (The largest traboule, with double entrance)
- Pass by the Tour Rose at 16 and 22 rue du bœuf next to the very modern food court called food traboule. (I’ll tell you more about it in another paragraph) If it’s lunchtime, this is definitely the place to stop. A revival of the concepts that began in Asia, but with a Lyonnaise twist and a gourmet touch in a very hip location. A real favorite!
- Then head for the 54 rue Saint-Jean to take the long traboule. Nestled inside, the Coffee Shop “chez Manon” is also a very nice place to take a thirst-quenching break before finishing with the last 2 traboules at the 14 rue de la bombarde and 68 rue Saint-Jean.
2. Notre Dame de Fourvière Basilica
Let’s continue our exploration of old Lyon. Once you’ve discovered the traboules, it’s high time you took to the skies, heading for the Fourvière hill.
Once you’re up there, you’ll have a fine, unobstructed view of the city from the front of the basilica, and while you may not be a churchgoer, this basilica is well worth a look inside.
You have two options for visiting the Basilica:
- Free and sporty : allow 15-20 minutes for the climb, but be careful, it’s really uphill!
- Paid and quiet : by taking the modern, old-style funicular from the station « St John’s Cathedral ». For 2€/p and in a few minutes, you reach the hill (free option if you have the Lyon City Pass).
Once up there, you can visit the Basilica, open every day of the year, free of charge. In the company of a guide, you can even climb on the roofs of these buildings, info here on their site. As well as overlooking the city, it offers an incredible view of the whole city of Lyon. Once you’ve regained your strength, you can start your descent back to the peninsula, stopping off at the two Roman amphitheaters.
3. The Roman Amphitheatre
Take rue Roger Radisson to reach the two Roman theaters. The heart of life when Lyon was still the city of LUGDUNUM, the 2 amphitheaters are a magnificent heritage that the city has managed to enhance by returning the site to its original use for several events a year.
This is where the Famous Nights of Fourvière as well as theatrical performances and the Fête des Lumières. So many events to see this place from another angle, but which you can simply explore as an open-air museum the rest of the year. This Roman amphitheatre has been classified “Historical Monuments” in 1905. The Grand Théâtre, apparently the oldest in France, is quite impressive, with its 25 tiers of seats stretching down to the orchestra. The Odeon, a smaller 3,000-seat theater, was intended for political or philosophical orators, music and poets.
4. Take a lunch break at food traboule, a great concept
Discovering Vieux Lyon takes time. That’s why, before continuing the tour, we suggest you stop for a well-deserved lunch break at the food traboule, a cool local food court, housed in the famous UNESCO world heritage pink tower. A food court is an open-access food court, usually located in the center of a cluster of fast-food restaurants. They can be found in the USA and Asia, for example, and enable retailers to save space and service. This Lyonnais venue, run by a collective of chefs, brings together the diversity of Lyonnais gastronomy. The principle is simple: everyone orders what they want at the counter, then sits down around common areas. Spread over 3 levels, chefs prepare simple, affordable dishes in front of you. We succumbed to the Lobster rolls on the 1st floor, a delicious sandwich with lobster and a fresh veggiebowl salad. You can also just drink a coffee at the counter, enjoy a beer or a fine selection of wines, or take a sweet break. It’s a place we loved and not to be missed!
→ 10 minutes from Place Bellecour
→ Monday to Sunday, 11:45 a.m. to 9 p.m. (continuous service until 8:30 p.m. Monday to Sunday).
→ Lunch (on weekends) and dinner are by reservation at 11:45am and 7pm – and free access during the week at lunchtime.
→ Between 2.30pm and 6.30pm, you can come as you like, without a reservation, for a snack, a drink…
| PRESQU’ÎLE DE LYON
We continued exploring the city in the afternoon, starting with the Lyon peninsula. To do this, you take the Passerelle du Courthouse to get to the other side of the river, pass by the beautiful place des Jacobins and continue to the place des terreaux. We also passed through the very pretty Rue rue Mercière. This pedestrian street is one of the oldest in Lyon. You’ll find plenty of restaurants with the famous Lyonnais bouchons, but we recommend you follow our good addresses a little further down, in the “Where to eat” section.
1. Place des Terreaux and the Opera House
The Place des Terreaux, home to the Hôtel de Ville, one of Lyon’s most beautiful historic buildings, and the Palais Saint-Pierre have apparently just been refurbished after years of work. We really liked the lively side of the square, with its fountain games for young and old, but also the immense Bartholdi fountain and its surrounding sunny terraces. Not far from the square, you’ll find the Place de la Comédie and the Opéra de Lyon.
2. The district and slopes of La Croix-Rousse
La Croix-Rousse, located on the heights of Lyon and just above the Place des Terreaux, is theone of Lyon’s liveliest and most picturesque neighborhoods but it’s also the bobo district. As in old Lyon, you’ll find traboules, but also pretty art galleries, boutiques, restaurants and bars, all in a charming and special atmosphere. It’s one of the city’s must-sees.
To get there, you still have 2 options:
- Paid and quiet: by taking the metro to the station Croix Rousse. Descend through the Grande Côte garden, which will take you to the Grande Côte ascent.
- Free and sporty : in 15 minutes on foot, simply take the escaliers de Lyon on the n°2, rue Prunelle. This pretty, colorful fresco (which may recall the staircases of Rio de Janeiro) was created by local volunteers. At the top of the steps, turn right to cross the pretty Jardin des Plantes, then you’ll tackle the climb up to Croix-Rousse via the montée de la Grande Côte.
→ A 10-minute walk from the Croix Rousse metro station, you’ll find the magnificent Jardin Rosa Mir on the Croix Rousse plateau, at the foot of the hospital. We missed it, but I recommend you go there to admire the beauty of this atypical place, created by a man who is part artist, part gardener, part mason and tile-setter, in homage to his mother and the Virgin Mary. This place will not leave you indifferent!
Address : 87 grande rue de la Croix Rousse, Lyon 4th district.
Opening hours : Open Saturdays from 3 pm to 6 pm, April 1 to November 30.
3. The Parc de la Tête d’The lungs of the city
If you’re craving green, we invite you to visit us at Parc de la Tête d’Or, the lungs of the city, just a 20-minute walk away (it’s quite a long way downhill, I assure you). This 117-hectare park is France’s largest urban park, and a popular weekend getaway for sports enthusiasts and families. There’s also a wide range of activities, including a botanical garden, a lake, riding stables and pony rides…
→ Find out about summer opening times (April 15 – October 14): 6:30 am – 10:30 pm and winter opening times (October 15 – April 14): 6:30 am – 8:30 pm.
4. Taste Lyon’s best artisanal ice creams
What could be better after a long day of walking and exploring, than to stop off at Lyon’s best glacier, which is also the most committed and responsible I’ve ever seen? We look forward to seeing you at Land of delights (1 place de la baleine in old Lyon) which offers truly delicious artisanal ice creams and sorbets, with original, surprising and daring flavors such as beet ice cream, garlic ice cream, smoked bacon ice cream… Sourced exclusively locally and fairly, the range of flavours is 100% organic, and 100% of the electricity used is of renewable origin – in short, this is no ordinary ice cream parlour, and a must-try!
| DISCOVER LYON DIFFERENTLY
Of course, it’s possible to visit Lyon all year round, but like all big cities that don’t have a seaside, in July-August temperatures rise very quickly and it gets very hot. That’s why it’s a good idea to prefer a visit from April to June, but also in September, October and December for the Festival of Lights. We were there in September and it was very pleasant.
1. By bike, segway or electric tuk tuk
When you arrive in a big city, it’s always nice to discover it in ways other than on foot. Accompanied by local guides, I can take you on a tour of Lyon by electric bike or segway. We’ve already done this on several occasions, such as at Zagreb, Croatia and it’s great fun as an experience, if only to get a good overview of the neighborhoods and pick out certain places. In fact, the next time I go back to Lyon, I’d like to try the food tour de Praline & Rosette but also a tour of Lyon in a VW combi with MylittleKombi.
2. Channel chips
We would like to come back to Lyon to do the famous canal flea market open to the public every Saturday (5 rue Eugène Pottier – 69100 Villeurbanne – France). Around 200 stores and 400 pitches await bargain hunters in these covered flea markets, with refreshment stands, stalls and restaurants, divided into 4 areas. After Saint-Ouen, Lyon has its own flea market, and we love all things vintage. It’s a paradise for bargain hunters, lovers of antiques and the curious. For those who can’t make it, there are also the brocantes du canal, held every Thursday and Saturday in Lyon.
- Entrance: 1 rue du Canal, 69100 Villeurbanne
- Saturday, open to private customers only from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The month of December can also be a good choice for discovering Lyon. Indeed, there are the Christmas markets but also the famous The Festival of Lights, which attracts around 2 million visitors over a short period of time. Every year from now on, on December 8, the people of Lyon place luminous lights in their windows and take to the streets of the city to admire exceptional lighting installations. For 4 evenings, in several of Lyon’s parks, artists present their works in a poetic atmosphere, while the façades of the most beautiful monuments are illuminated by a play of light, transporting us into an incredible world of magic. We’d love to attend one day!
→ Good plan: if you want to avoid the weekend crowds, you can enjoy the show on Thursday evening during rehearsals. Don’t forget to book your accommodation in advance. Check out the best offers and book on booking
| WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
We have received many recommendations from friends who live or have lived in Lyon. Below you’ll find our short list of friendly addresses recommended by locals.
- Hall de Lyon Paul Bocuse for a gourmet rendez-vous.
- Le food society, a newly-opened food court with a friendly atmosphere.
- The Restaurant 5inq mains in the heart of old Lyon, run by Grégory Cuilleron, whom we discovered on Top Chef.
- La Brasserie Georges which could be compared to bouillon chartié from Paris : 30 cours de Verdun Perrache.
- Caffe de flore Lyon in the Croix Rousse district
- Duculty House to enjoy a charcuterie board at the store counter
- Snack break at Coney cookies (we love the old-fashioned gourmet buffet display)
- Croustiller an original name to enjoy the world’s best home fries
- Lunch at the restaurant the garage for a classic seasonal cuisine in a contemporary setting, Lyon-style menu with specialties from Lyon.
- For Italian specialties, visit Mozzato, you all recommended it!
- Even if it originates from Roanne, you absolutely must try the famous Praluline brioche from Pralus, butter brioche filled with pink pralines (27 Rue Saint-Jean in old Lyon)
- If you’re looking for a gourmet restaurant, I’ve been suggested Têtedoie (4 Rue Professeur Pierre Marion) and Terrasses de Lyon for the incredible view (25 Montée Saint-Barthélémy)
- For an atypical restaurant, go to the restaurant Telephones, for a bistronomic menu in the peristyles surrounding an elegant cloister. (23 Rue Roger Radisson)
- The garden of curiosities for an incredible view of Lyon (8 Place de l’Abbé Larue, 69005 Lyon)
You can’t leave Lyon without having tried at least one bouchon lyonnais. To briefly explain, the Bouchon Lyonnais is a typical little restaurant where you come to enjoy traditional dishes, often made from pork, accompanied by local red wine in a balloon glass.
- Bouchons Lyonnais
We tested the café comptoir Abel (25 Rue Guynemer, 69002 Lyon) just a stone’s throw from our hotel. The food was delicious, copious and tasty from starter to dessert. I recommend you try the langoustine salad, followed by the quenelles and the praline tart. It takes 24 hours to prepare these delicious fish quenelles, from poaching the pike to baking it in the oven for 25 minutes!
Here are some other recommended corks.
→ The golden skillet : 29 Rue des Remparts d’Ainay, 69002 Lyon
→ The rustic : 14 Rue d’Enghien, 69002 Lyon
→ The workbench : 22 Rue des Remparts d’Ainay, 69002 Lyon
→ Daniel and Denise Saint Jean: 36 Rue Tramassac, 69005 Lyon
→ Bouchon les Lyonnais: 19 Rue de la Bombarde, 69005 Lyon
→ Mère Jean: 5 Rue des Marronniers, 69002 Lyon, France
→ Bât-d’Argent cork: 23 Rue du Bât d’Argent, 69001 Lyon
- Have a drink
→ Go to the 7th floor on the roof, to the Muses of the Opera. This panoramic bar opens onto a terrace with a breathtaking view of Lyon.
→ For a rooftop drink, head to the Confluence district at Mob Hotel (I also love this hotel and its restaurant, it’s my landmark when I go down to Lyon.) or to Sugar (50 Quai Rambaud, 69002 Lyon)
→ Taste craft beers from la Canute Lyonnaise (75 chemin d’Yvours 69310 Pierre Bénite)
→ La Barge for an aperitif on the barge
→ House for a guinguette spirit
| WHERE TO SLEEP IN LYON
During our visit to Lyon, we were able to test the beautiful Hôtel de l’Abbaye. Located in the heart of the Lyon peninsula in the Ainay district, it’s just a few minutes’ walk from Europe’s largest square, Place Bellecour.
The Ainay district is very quiet, and as soon as you arrive at the hotel, you’ll be charmed by the Beautiful basilica and vault of Saint-Martin d’Ainay facing it. We love authentic, elegant and intimate hotels, and this one fulfills all the charm criteria we look for when we travel. It’s a hotel where you’ll feel right at home, tastefully decorated by Lyonnais decorators, Maison Hand, in an elegant vintage style. Each piece is therefore unique and authentic.
The hotel is not large, as it has 21 spacious, comfortable rooms. The little extra of this beautiful hotel are these 3 ambiances spread over 3 levels that will delight fans of the 70s or those who prefer a more cocooning atmosphere. We were lucky because we had a large, quiet room facing the basilica.
The hotel also features a restaurant, l’Artichaut, featuring local, seasonal cuisine concocted by their chef. Their breakfast is also very good and varied. We chose to sample the famous cervelle de canut, a fromage blanc beaten with olive oil, chives, parsley, tarragon, garlic and onion.
We really liked the small lounge area, with its large velvet sofa, and the Parisian bistro-style bar area, ideal for relaxing before dinner. One of the big advantages of Abbaye Hotel, is that it’s within walking distance of some of Lyon’s best bouchons. So you can enjoy a leisurely stroll and a leisurely drink!
| GETTING AROUND LYON AND THE CITY
- The TGV is a good option for getting to Lyon from Paris, with very attractive prices. Allow 3 hours by TGV from Paris. Find your train ticket to Lyon at the best price !
- Don’t forget to watch the trains with Ouigo because you can find very low prices! Find low-priced train tickets to Lyon .
- Lyon is also easily accessible by plane, and if you plan ahead, you can expect to pay less than a hundred euros for a return trip from Paris. Find your flight with Skyscanner
- On site, take the Lyon City Pass, for 1, 2, 3 or 4 days, giving you unlimited access to transport, as well as low-cost guided tours, cruises, free admission to 23 museums and discounts. This card is attractive for bookings of 2 or more activities.
- From the airport, you can also book your transfer with Rhônexpress tickets + Lyon’s exclusive city card for 1 to 4 days. Book now here.
I hope this article has inspired you to discover Lyon. I’d like to thank the Abbaye Hotel for their invitation, and I’ll be sure to update the list of good addresses as I return. If you have any suggestions, ideas for visits or good addresses, don’t hesitate to leave us a comment. Don’t forget to read our other articles on France, such as Paris, for a unusual discovery of the city.