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…
Vieux Lyon is one of the prettiest old towns in Europe
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.
Coffee culture in Lyon
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) and La Boîte à Café in La Croix-Rousse district of the city.
Roman ruins of Lyon
During the Roman era, Lyon was an important city known as Lugdunum. As such, today there are plenty of vestiges of Lyon’s Roman past dotted around the city in the form of ruinous arches and crumbling walls. 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.
Traditional 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.
The murals of Lyon
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.
The city is a great base for exploring the wider region
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!
While Lyon is located at the base of the Alps, some of the best getaways from the city include a visit to the nearby Roman city of Vienne, as well as a vineyard trip to the Beaujolais region. 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!
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.
Lyon is more affordable than Paris
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.
Lyon is a city built between two rivers
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 this means is 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.
Fête des Lumières
Of all the reasons to visit Lyon, the Fete des Lumieres 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 tealights 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.