Lyon is the third largest city in France, meaning that it’s pretty much impossible to see all of the city in the span of 24 hours. However, plan your stay the right way and you’ll soon be able to scratch more than just the surface when it comes to the foodie French capital. Here’s your ultimate one day in Lyon travel guide and itinerary, including insider tips you’ll want to know about before visiting!
Why you’ll love the French city of Lyon
Lyon is a thriving and vibrant settlement in Eastern France with a population of around half a million residents. Home to over two millennia worth of history, in times gone by, the city would have been called ‘Lugdunum’ when it was occupied by the Romans. Nearby, the City of Vienne was one of the most important Roman settlements outside of what is now Italy.
Otherwise, you should know that the city is pretty hilly and you can expect to walk up and down many flights of outdoor steps when wandering around town. In one day alone, I managed to clock up over 35 flights of steps according to my health app!
As such, be sure to pack a comfortable pair of sneakers or sandals that are easy to walk in. I personally love wearing keds as these pair well with dresses, though a pair of trainers like these ones will offer much better foot support.
Traditionally, the city has been divided into several areas; the Croix-Rousse district was vital to the silk trade of the 18th-century from which the city grew prosperous and so is now referred to as the “the hill that works”. Meanwhile, a little down the river, the Presqu’Île de Lyon houses a maze of historic streets and independent shops while the Fourvière Hill district has been long called “the hill that prays”. This itinerary will focus on these areas of Lyon.
How to spend a morning in Lyon
La Croix Rousse Neighbourhood
Hip, trendy, and full of the full-sized wall-sized murals that are so synonymous with the city, start your day off the right way by wandering around La Croix Rousse neighbourhood. So-called thanks to a giant cross which stands on the hill, the hill was once the centre of the thriving silk trade industry during the 18th-century.
As such, many of the buildings still retain their working functions and the most famous of the ‘traboules,’ covered passages which sheltered merchants carrying goods from the rain and elements, is to be found in this area. Other highlights of La Croix-Rousse neighbourhood include some of the best coffee shops in town and a handful of select museums.
Presqu’Ile de Lyon
After wandering through the Croix-Rousse district, drop down to the Presqu’Île de Lyon neighbourhood. As you may well have guessed, the area is so known as it is an ‘almost island’ and lies at the confluence of the Saône and Rhone rivers.
This area is a maze of cobbled lanes, small side streets and shouldn’t be missed on any meander through the city. Particular highlights include the many hidden gems to be found in concentration here; we particularly loved the bookshop of Le Bal des Ardents and L’Horloge de Guignol, a rather unusual timepiece in the middle of the street.
If you’re visiting during the springtime, then it’s worth noting that the prettiest spring blooms can be found in the square directly in front of the Hôtel de Ville. For those who wish to frequent a museum or two just before lunch, there are several to be visited on the Presqu’Île de Lyon.
How to spend an afternoon in Lyon
Wander around Vieux Lyon
Finish the daylight hours off by discovering some of the most historic sites and attractions of Lyon. As its name would suggest ‘Vieux Lyon’ is the oldest part of the city and this is where you’ll discover the likes of Lyon Cathedral, as well as all of the ‘bouchons,’ tiny traditional restaurants serving local fare.
If you’re looking for the perfect lunch spot in Lyon, then be sure to frequent one of these hole in the wall eateries. Other highlights of Vieux Lyon include the Musée Miniature et Cinéma (one of the coolest cultural spots in town for those interested in mini things) and many a bar selling Beaujolais wine.
Fourvière Hill & Visit the Notre Dame Basilica
Standing in pride of place at the very top of the Fourvière Hill, the Notre Dame Basilica is truly a sight to behold; a fantastic example of Romanesque and Byzantine architecture, the ecclesiastical building was constructed between 1872 and 1884 with private funds and is now free to visit.
Nearby, you’ll soon spy one of the best views that Lyon has to offer, as well as the Tour métallique de Fourvière (Metal tower of Fourvière Hill) which resembles the Eiffel Tower more than just a little bit! Just a short walk away and you’ll soon discover the best of Roman Lyon, including a fantastically-preserved Roman amphitheatre and several sections of town walls and epitaphs (Roman memorials).
How to spend the evening in Lyon
Of course, Lyon isn’t referred to as the ‘foodie city of France’ for nothing and there’s a myriad of activities you can expect to enjoy when it comes to spending an evening in Lyon. However, if a foodie-focused soirée is how you wish to enjoy the Eastern French city after dark, then read on for our very best suggestions…
Watch the sun go down at Buvette Saint Antoine
If you’re looking for a lazy way to watch the sun go down, all the while enjoying one of the best views of Lyon, then hands down you need to go to Buvette Saint Antoine, a bar on the edge of the riverbank and overlooking the Fourvière hill. Perfect to enjoy an apéro among friends, just be sure to bring your camera along!
Drink a cocktail at The Monkey Club
Considering that Lyon is such a paradise for foodies it’s no surprise that there’s no shortage of chic and cool cocktail bars in town (we even discovered one that has a secret Speakeasy up top!) With this being said, one of our favourite spots in town for a laid-back drink in a beautiful setting was undoubtedly The Monkey Club (19 Place Tolozan, 69001 Lyon). Visit during opening hours and you can expect to find modern mixes as well as old favourites and classics.
Dine at Brasserie Georges
Though I personally stayed in Lyon for a week or two and thus managed to sample a large selection of the food on offer in the city, my all-time favourite dining destination in the city was that of Brasserie Georges ( 30 Cours de Verdun Perrache, 69002 Lyon).
Set against the backdrop of the oldest Brasserie in the city, the fine dining establishment serves traditional French fare at reasonable prices (for the quality of the food served) and is one of the largest brasseries of its kind in Europe.
All tablecloth seating and gold gilt detailing (with enough mirrors to fill the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles!), there are also vegetarian options available. And so thus, there you have it, a perfect one day in Lyon guide if you’ve only got 24 hours to explore the French city!