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A Guide to the Best Things to Do in Lyon

As Lyon is one of France’s largest cities, it’s clear that there’s no shortage of amazing things to do in Lyon. From admiring breathtaking views to discovering the city’s unique foodie scene, there’s a plethora of activities to entertain even the most discerning of travellers.

If you’re thinking about seeing a lot of attractions and monuments while in Lyon, Consider purchasing the Lyon City Pass, which includes a cruise along the Saone and access to public transportation. To work out whether or not the pass is worth it for you or not, add up the cost of the individual attractions you wish to visit and see if you’ll save money. Find more details here.

Here's why you need to visit Lyon in the East of France: reasons to go to the foodie capital of France, including murals, the fete des lumieres, architecture, and hidden gems!

Between hidden gems, world-class food experiences, and an abundance of impressive architecture, the beautiful Eastern French city of Lyon is constructed at the confluence of the Rivers Rhône and Saône.

Perfect for a weekend break or longer excursion, there’s no shortage of reasons to visit Lyon on your next French adventure… Those who only have a short time in the city will want to check out our one day in Lyon itinerary.

Where is Lyon?

Lyon lies at the confluence of the rivers Rhône and Saône in the East of France. Not too far from the border with Germany, the city is also nicknamed the ‘gateway to the Alps’ as a result of its proximity to the famous European mountain range.

Constructed at the confluence of the River Saône and the River Rhône, Lyon is constructed across the two slices of the mainland, as well as the Presqu’Île that forms the city centre.

What is Lyon known for?

As well as being one of the biggest cities in France (third after only Paris and Marseille), Lyon is famous for its rich culinary scene thanks to its strategic position between Provence and Burgundy. The most famous foodie experience in Lyon is probably dining in a traditional ‘Bouchon’.

Though not the cheapest French destination by any stretch of the imagination, there’s no denying that Lyon is much more affordable than Paris. Thank to lower accommodation prices, among other things, the foodie city costs less than the French capital. This also means that hotels are generally cheaper, as are restaurant prices, and bar menus.

If you’re looking for one of the best solo female travel destinations in Europe, then Lyon is hands down one of the best places to travel to alone in France. Thanks to its excellent foodie scene, fantastic scenery, and ease of transport links to the rest of France (and beyond), you’ll soon fall in love with this Eastern French city.

Best things to do in Lyon

Eat local Lyonnaise food

For a true taste of traditional French food, be sure to head to a ‘Bouchon’. These foodie hotspots are typical of Lyon are primarily dotted around the Vieux Lyon district of the city. However, don’t head to a ‘bouchon’ expecting a fine dining experience.

Instead, you’ll soon discover a focus on quality food, a friendly atmosphere, and a historical vibe. After all, the bouchons of Lyon grew to such popularity during the 17th and 18th-centuries, when they began as small inns which catered to the silk merchants passing through the city. For further insight into Lyon food, consider booking this Half-Day Gourmet Food Tour with Tastings.

Beauiful bar at nighttime in Lyon, France

Marvel at street art, frescoes, and murals

If you’re looking for the fresco capital of France, then you need to look no further than Lyon. From the smallest slice of street art to a larger glimpse of a trompe l’oeil which covers the length of an apartment block, there’s plenty of stunning murals to be found across the city.

The craze for art across the city really stemmed from one original project: Fresque des Lyonnais. Located in La Croix-Rousse neighbourhood, this 800 metre squared mural currently depicts 30 well-known people from the city and was originally painted in the 1990s.

Hands down, one of the best things to do in Lyon is to admire all of the beautiful murals dotted around the city. The best neighbourhood to see murals in Lyon is La-Croix, where the best-known painting of all can be found in the form of La Fresque des Canuts, which depicts scenes to do with Lyon’s silk-weaving industry.

Lyon murals on a sunny day

Discover Roman ruins

Founded on the Fourvière hill as early as 43 CE and then-known as Colonia Copia Claudia Augusta Lugdunum, or Lugdunum for short, wander around Vieux Lyon today and you can expect to find traces of Lyon’s ancient history around almost every turn. 

These are particularly prevalent on the Fourvière Hill, where you’ll find the remains of several Roman theatres and ancient Roman baths hidden behind a modern apartment block.

Hands down, the top Roman ruins in Lyon can be found in the form of the Ancient Theatre of Fourvière, which is free to visit and is now classed as a UNESCO world heritage site on account of its historical importance.

In Search of Roman Lyon: Ancient & Historic Roman sites in Lyon. Here's your complete guide to Lugdunum of Gaul; theatre of Fourviere, Tombeau de Turpio, and Roman Baths in Lyon

Get lost in the old centre

With its many architectural styles and expansive area, Lyon is a city where old meets new. However, if you’re looking for a picturesque old town where nearly every lane is cobbled and where each street corner is prettier than the next, Vieux Lyon is undoubtedly the place to go.

Situated at the base of the Fourvière hill, which in turn is crowned by a bejewelled Basilica, Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon) is characterised by its Renaissance mansion houses and traboules (covered passageways). The district also happens to be one of the largest old towns in France. While in the area, be sure not to miss out on Elise Saint-Paul and Les Musées Gadagne.

Despite being a large city, there is still a charming historic city centre that’s best explore on foot. As well as medieval churches and cobbled lanes, Lyon boasts plenty of 19th-century architecture that’s reminiscent of Paris.

Beautiful street in Vieux Lyon, Lyon, France

Discover the best views in Lyon

If I were to select just one word to sum up my time in Lyon it would be ‘stairs’. Up and down, down and up, the city is set across a plethora of levels, often giving way to breathtaking views and requiring a fair bit of energy along the way!

Meanwhile, the waterways of Lyon offer plenty of beautiful riverside cafés during the summer months (head to Buvette Saint Antoine for one of the best views of the city) and the opportunity to take lots of quayside walks.

Where to Find the Best View of Lyon, the gastronomic city of the Rhône-Alpes in Eastern France

Discover the hidden gems of Lyon

Between secret passageways, little-known museums, and beautiful European bookshops, the foodie capital of France has no shortage of secret spots and hidden gems. Though must-see attractions of the city include Notre Dame de Fourviere and Parc de la Tête d’Or, the city has plenty of unusual corners to explore.

Not sure where to start? Some of my favourite offbeat locations include Le Bal des Ardents bookshop, the rainbow staircase of La Croix Rousse neighbourhood, and the traboules that were once used by silk merchants but are now hidden passageways dotted all around the city. Otherwise, check out this guide to the best of secret Lyon for further Wanderlust inspiration!

Hidden and unusual bookshop in Lyon. Here's how to visit Le Bal des Ardents bookstore on Rue Neuve in Lyon France

Drink a coffee

Over the past few years, Lyon has become a hotbed of fantastic independent coffee shops and cafés. Forget Paris. Over the past decade or so, coffee culture in Lyon has exploded, resulting in a myriad of amazing cafés across the city.

So whether you’re in search of speciality coffees or chai teas, there’s no shortage of incredible caffeine (and other warm beverage) experiences to be found. Some of my top picks for cafés in Lyon include My Petite Factory, a vegan-friendly coffee shop close to the prettiest bookshop in Lyon, and Puzzle Café, the foodie stop where you’ll find the best lattés in the city.

Other pitstops of note include Slake for the ultimate Sunday brunch experience (be sure to book in advance- unlike in other cities you can book brunch in Lyon cafés well in advance) and La Boîte à Café in La Croix-Rousse district of the city.

Coffee shops and cute cafes in Lyon, France. Here's your complete guide to the best of coffee houses of Lyon, Rhône-Alpes, Eastern France

Fête des Lumières

Of all the reasons to visit Lyon, the Fête des Lumières may well be the most unique. In a festival dating all the way back to the 19th-century, the Fête des Lumières (Light Festival) takes place every December and sees various light displays and shows take place across the city, every night for four nights. The tradition was started to express gratitude towards the Virgin Mary.

Among other things, many houses across the city place tea lights outside of all their window frames, while the main light show sees light rays dancing across the Fourvière hill. While in the city, be sure to check out the stunning display on the façades of the buildings alongside the River Saône. Discover more about the Fête des Lumières here.

Visit the Lyon Christmas Market

Yet another seasonal event that is well worth checking out if you’re in Lyon during December is the Lyon Christmas Market (known as Marché de Noël Lyon). The market takes place on an annual basis in Place Carnot from the 24th of November until the 24th of December.

Take a day trip from Lyon

Just a couple of hours from Provence, a few hours from the Swiss border, and as the gateway to Burgundy, there’s no shortage of day trips to be taken from Lyon. And while it’s true that there are plenty of experiences to be had for the oenophiles, there are also must-see destinations for history buffs and nature lovers too!

As a large city with good transport links, Lyon makes for a great base from which to explore the wider region. Hands down, one of the best day trips from Lyon is to the charming city of Vienne, which is famed for its Roman ruins. If you’re looking for the opportunity to experience a taste of medieval France, then a day trip to Perouges from Lyon is an absolute must! 

Lyon’s location as the gateway to the region of Burgundy (Bourgogne in French), an area famed for its rich red wine production, also means that day trips to Burgundy destinations such as Beaune and Mâcon are easily accessible within just a couple of hours by train. For more inspiration, be sure to check out our guide to the best day trips from Lyon.

Vienne France Guide: Best things to do in Vienne, a Roman city day trip from in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. Here’s where to stay, best attractions, and the best sites from antiquity in the city of Vienne, which was known as Vienna during Roman times!

Lyon Travel Tips You Need to Know Before Visiting

Whether it’s your first, fifth, or hundredth visit to Lyon, then there are some things you should bear in mind before visiting the Eastern French city. So whether it’s language advice, what to see, or what to pack, read on to discover the best of Lyon travel tips…

Pack a universal travel adapter

If you want to keep your electronics charged on the go, then you’re going to want to bring along a universal travel adapter like this one.

Bring a French phrasebook

Though English is fairly widely spoken, particularly by those in the tourism industry, it’s only polite to learn a few words of the local language, which in this case is French. Bring along a simple French phrasebook like this one to help you get by.

In Search of Roman Lyon: Ancient & Historic Roman sites in Lyon. Here's your complete guide to Lugdunum of Gaul; theatre of Fourviere, Tombeau de Turpio, and Roman Baths in Lyon

Where to stay in Lyon

Between boutique stays and backpacking hostels, there’s something for every accommodation budget when it comes to visiting Lyon. For an uber-luxurious stay, be sure to book yourself into the five-star Villa Florentine.

Frequently asked questions about Lyon

What is the population of Lyon?

As of 2015, the population of Lyon is 513,275.

What are the best free things to do in Lyon?

Those visiting Lyon on a budget will be pleased to know that, while Lyon is certainly pricier than many other French destinations, there are a number of low cost activities and attractions on offer.

Some of the best free things to do in Lyon include visiting the Notre Dame de Fourvière basilica, strolling around the old town, relax in the Parc de la Tête d’Or, and discovering the chic Croix-Rousse district of the Eastern French city.

Is Lyon safe to visit?

The tourist parts of Lyon are generally as safe as most other destinations in Europe. With this being said, visitors should be wary of pickpockets (which are present all over Europe). Never leave your valuables lying around or attended. I personally recommend always wearing a crossbody bag like these ones.

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Here's why you need to visit Lyon in the East of France: reasons to go to the foodie capital of France, including murals, the fete des lumieres, architecture, and hidden gems!

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