As the third largest city in France (only Paris and Marseille are larger), it might surprise you to discover that Lyon still remains a treasure trove of unknown locations and quirky destinations to uncover. Here’s your guide to the best of hidden gems and secret spots in Lyon!
For those who have not yet considered a trip to this foodie destination on their next French adventure, it’s worth noting that Lyon has a population of around half a million and has no shortage of things to see and do. Between history-focused destinations, a museum dedicated solely to miniatures, and the chance to eat in a Lyon Bouchon (a type of restaurant solely found in this city), there’s an attraction for everyone in Lyon.
#1 Rainbow stairs of rue Prunelle
Located in the now oh-so-trendy district of La Croix Rousse and the 1st arrondissement of Lyon, the rainbow stairs are easy to spot among the buttery façades that are so synonymous with the Eastern French city. Though the steps have clearly existed for several decades, if not more, the rainbow colours were added in 2015 thanks to the artist Genaro Lopez, who cited his inspiration as travels in South America and the art of Mondrian.
#2 Jardin Rosa Mir (Rosa Mir Garden)
Open only during the summer months and situated in La Croix-Rousse district, the mosaic garden of the oh-so-trendy 4th arrondissement of the city was created by tiler and bricklayer, Jules Senis. Created between 1957 and 1977, the impressive artwork is a multi-level garden hidden away from the street. Characterised by the many-layered structures surrounding flower border beds, though you’ll have to pay a small entrance fee to step inside, this unique work is well worth your time.
#3 Wall murals around Lyon
Though not so much of a hidden gem of a Lyon, one South West French attraction you won’t want to miss during your time in the foodie city are all of the fantastic murals and frescoes to be found across the city. The most famous of the Lyon murals, and perhaps what many might call the starting point for the city’s love affair with street art is to be found in the form of the Mur des Canuts.
Originally created in the 1970s by a group of students who were looking to bring a little bit of artistic interest to the side of an otherwise bare façade (with absolutely no windows) in the former silk-producing district of the Croix-Rousse in Lyon, the Canuts wall is the largest street art in Europe. Over the decades, the painting has been updated and is well worth a look if you find yourself in the area during your Lyon visit.
#4 L’Horloge de Guignol (Horloge Charvet)
Close to Puzzle Café, one of the best coffee shops in Lyon, the Guignol Clock is also known locally as L’horloge Charvet. Situated at 8 de la rue de la Poulaillerie in the 2nd arrondissement of the city, the clock was created by acclaimed timepiece maker Charvet and was installed in the city towards the end of the 19th-century. Unfortunately, a lack of renovations and reparations during the years means that the clock no longer functions (such was the case during our Lyon visit in mid-February 2019).
#5 The city of Vienne
Though not exactly one of the best-kept secrets of Lyon, in comparison with the vineyards of Burgundy or the fairytale village of Perouges, one of the lesser-known day trips from Lyon is to the pretty city of Vienne. First founded as early as Roman times, when the settlement would have been known as Vienna, today highlights of this stunning town include plenty of pastel architecture and all of the history.
On the fringes of Vienne, you’ll soon discover the Musée Gallo-Romain-en-Gal. For a fee (an audio guide is included in the price, subject to availability), you can now enter the impressive archaeological site and see the warehouses, commercial, and residential districts of Roman Vienna. Otherwise, other highlights of Vienne include a Roman amphitheatre and a historic town centre.
#6 Thermes antiques de Lyon (Lyon Roman Baths)
Hidden away within a housing complex, the Roman baths of Lyon are easily one of the best locations left over from Lugdunum, the name for which Lyon was known during Roman times. Free to visit, the Thermes Antiques lie a little off the tourist trail and can be found tucked away, hiding behind a modern block of apartments.
Of all the secret spots in Lyon, the Roman ruins are probably my favourite aspect. Though there is little to be seen today, you can only imagine how vast and spacious these baths must have been like during antiquity. Nearby, you’ll soon discover the Ancient Roman theatres and the Musée Gallo-Romain.
#7 Passage des Imprimeurs
All fairy lights and dining options, Printer Passage is close to the banks of the River Saône and is reminiscent of the covered passages of Paris. Connecting the roads of 56 Rue Mercière and 26 Quai Saint-Antoine, what is unique about this ‘traboule’ is that half has a covered roof, while the other half is left open to the elements.
#8 Cour des Voraces
Throughout La Croix-Rousse district of Lyon, there are a maze of well over a hundred covered and secret passages known as the ‘traboules’ of Lyon. These were spaces used by silk merchants to keep their products dry when the weather was a little worse for the wear and the delicate silks were at risk of water damage.
Today, Cour des Voraces is one of the most impressive and well-recognised of these traboules, in thanks part to its featuring in several movies and television series over the years. Also known as ‘Maison de la Republique’, the structure dates back to 1840. A central plaque in the courtyard features script which reads “In the Cour des Voraces, hive of silk work, canuts struggled for their lives and their dignity.”
#9 Le Bal des Ardents
One of the best bookshops in Europe, let alone Lyon, can be found in the form of Le Bal des Ardents along Rue Neuve of the Presqu’Île area of the city. While the entrance alone is impressive enough with its ‘archway of books’ nothing quite compares with the interior, which features a complex of rooms packed from floor to ceiling with novels, tomes, and paperbacks, all waiting to be read. All in all, this stunning independent store is easily one of my favourite secret spots in Lyon.
#10 Impasse Turquet (15th-century balconies)
Head to Impasse Turquet and you’ll soon spy some wooden balconies that are typical of Lyonnaise architecture. Dating all the way back to the 1400s, along with the traboules of the city, these traditional architectural features can be found at Impasse Turquet. Nearby attractions of note include the world-famous theatre of La Maison de Guignol and the pretty corner featuring the Café du Soleil.