If you're wondering what to do in Lyon, what are the 5, 10 or 15 best things to do, don’t panic, I’m here to help you.
Lyon is an amazing city. And what is so interesting about it is the fact that it takes time to understand the city and to learn its secrets. But I’m here to give you the keys to get the best of the most beautiful city in France. And for this, you’ll need to go off the beaten path, into the soul of the city.
Technically, you can do everything in one day if you’re getting up very early and run all day long. But I really advise you to take your time. To do it over two or three days if you can or to do less. It’s only by spending time in one place that you’ll be able to scratch the surface of what is a Lyonnaise life!
In Lyon you’ll find two very iconics hills. Two very different hills. Fourvière and Croix Rousse. You can start either by Croix Rousse or Fourviere. It’s up to you. But for sure, my favorite one is Croix Rousse.
It used to be the industrial district of Lyon in the 19th century dedicated to silk production. The workers where named "les Canuts". If you want to learn more about them, join our free tour, we’re explaining everything about them.
Nowadays it’s one of the most attractive places to live in Lyon. But, because of its past, it has this peculiar spirit and its unique identity. So you really have to spend time in this part of the city.
If you’re getting up very early or going to bed very late, you have to watch the sunrise or the sunshine from the square "Rouville". That’s one of my favorite spots in "Croix Rousse". If you’re very lucky, you’ll see the french Alps from here and especially at sunrise, colors are simply amazing.
Lyon is also well known to be the capital of gastronomy. And if you go to the right place, you’ll understand why. Later on, I’ll talk about les halles Paul Bocuse. But if you want the real deal of a french market, go on the top of Croix Rousse hill any morning but Monday and spend time at the Croix Rousse market.
This is the most important one in the city and it’s so great. You’ll see what is the real life of Lyonnais. Going to the market, meeting neighbors and friends. Smelling, tasting and buying very good local products. This is the real deal for authenticity!
“Le gros Caillou” means literally the big pebble. And what will you find there? A big pebble! We like straight forward naming in Lyon. This is a very nice place to relax, enjoy once again the view and maybe have a coffee on one of the lounge chairs, wondering about life.
Very close to the “Gros Caillou”, you’ll find “place Colbert”, one of my favorite squares in Lyon. Once again you'll have a very nice view over the city. You’ll see the iconics towers of the business district of part Dieu and once, the mountains if you’re lucky.
But what is great is what is happening on the square. Most of the time, you’ll find people playing "pétanque". One of the most famous French games. It can be the opportunity for your first break with a nice glass of wine. Yeah I know it’s morning but hey! You’re in France! Let’s be French!
Traboule… Maybe you’ve already seen this word if you made some research about Lyon. This is the most famous attraction in the city. But what is it? A traboule is a passage between two streets through a building. It’s weird as you have to enter a private building and it can be intimidating. But it’s alright. In fact, it’s very common to go through Traboules in Lyon.
We estimate the number of traboules around 300. You’ll find most of them in Vieux Lyon and Croix Rousse. But my favorite ones are in Croix Rousse. And it’s quite easy to find. You just have to look for the right sign. If you follow the signs of a blue lion head on a yellow tile, you’ll go through several traboules.
And you’ll go through one of the best named “La cours des voraces”. This one is actually on Place Colbert. On the south side of the square, you’ll find the entrance of the building which is hiding this fabulous courtyard.
The start of the full path is on the corner of “Bellecour Square” and “Rue sainte marie des Terreaux”. The end is at “Café du gros Caillou”. You can do it in both directions. It’s the same.
You already walked a lot I’m guessing. And if you decided to visit Lyon in slow mode, it’s probably time to eat. Luckily you’re in the best city for this. The capital of gastronomy.
Of course I’ll advise you to go in a "bouchon" (that's the name of our traditional restaurants) but if you want to feel like a real Lyonnais. Better to choose a street food option instead. It can save you time, money and you’ll feel more like a local. You’ll still have the opportunity to go to the restaurant at night! I’ll give you some ideas and you’ll choose what suits you the best.
And if you want to know more about food in Lyon, stay tune, we’ll soon release an article just about it!
This is something special! You read tacos and you’re thinking: Is he kidding me?! I’m not. But careful. Tacos Lyonnais has nothing to do with the real tacos. In fact it’s a kebab but with a tacos galette instead of bread. It has been invented in Lyon and it’s really good and almost impossible to find outside of Lyon.
If you want something more french and traditional. You can simply go to a bakery and grab a sandwich. Most of the time they’re really good and it will be an opportunity to grab a dessert like “praline”, a specialty from the region made of almonds. And, of course, you’ll have the chance to test the famous french baguette! There’s nothing better in the world.
And my advice, you can eat your sandwich inside the courtyard of the fine arts museum. You can access it for free and it's very beautiful as it use to be a cloister.
It’s impossible to talk about food in Lyon without mentioning “Bouchons”. This is the name of the traditional restaurants in the city. That’s where you’ll find the local specialties like “Le tablier de sapeur”, “La cervelle de canut”, “Le saucisson brioché”, “les tripes”, “la salade lyonnaise” and my personal favorite : “Les quenelles sauce Nantua”.
If I had to recommend a bouchon, I’d say “La tête de Lard” or “Le café des Federations”. And it’s perfect as it is between the city center and Croix Rousse Hill, close to “Les Terreaux”, so very central.
Lyon is very famous for its painted walls. You'll find hundreds of them within the city. But my favorite one is "La fresque des Lyonnais". You'll find it right between Croix Rousse and Fourviere.
The second most iconic hill in Lyon is "Fourvière". It is also the most touristic one. But you have to check it. That’s where you’ll find Vieux Lyon, Roman ruins, and amazing views on Lyon.
In Lyon, we like food. We eat a lot and not the healthiest food. If you want to impress a french person try your french by saying “Le gras c’est la vie”. It means “Fat is life”. That’s a very famous french quote… But that wasn’t my point :D.
My point was that, even with all this food, we are quite thin in Lyon. Guess why! Because we like climbing hills! And that’s what you should do if you can. But if you can’t or don't want to, no worries, you can take the funicular. This is a really interesting experience. And in fact, that’s probably the best option. Go up with the cable car and go down through the hidden paths of the hill.
Lyon was the first city in the world to have a funicular in 1862. The first one doesn't exist anymore. It was on Croix Rousse. But we still have two of them in Fourviere. The most interesting one was built in 1900. You can take it with the same ticket than for subways, buses or tramways. It will bring you directly in front of the Basilica Notre Dame de Fourviere. The ride is really nice.
Even if you’re not into churches, take a look at this one. It’s free and it’s very unique. So beautiful! Maybe too much gold for me but it's really worth visiting. It was built in 1872 to thank the virgin for saving us from the Prussian war. Since then, it is one of the most famous symbols of the city. The giant church is watching over us and keeping us safe.
When you’re in the church, don’t miss the crypt under the main church. It’s basically a second church below the main one. It’s incredible. And take a look at the ceiling of the second church. You’ll notice that not everything is carved. There are still some giant pieces of squared stones. It’s because the church has never been finished!
But Notre Dame de Fourviere is also great for the view. You’ll see everything, from there. So, take your time and fill the memory of your smartphone with amazing pictures! You can use the hashtag "LyonExplorer". This way I’ll see it. I’m always happy to see pictures of Lyon!
When you’re on top of Fourviere hill, take a look at the most interesting Roman ruin in Lyon. The amphitheater, built between 15BC and the second century.
It’s free of charge and you can go everywhere you want on the archaeological site. Just let your imagination do the work. You can almost hear roman artists playing on the stage!
You can go down the hill through the garden below Notre Dame de Fourviere and take a quick stop at the chapel close to the “Maison de Pauline Jaricot”.
When you reach Vieux Lyon, just go around. Everything is great. Little cobblestones streets, nice shops, hidden traboule that you can find quite easily as many tourists go through it. Just follow them!
But if you want a quiet way to visit it, avoid the part between the cathedral and the church Saint Paul. Most of the time it’s overcrowded. Especially the street “Saint Jean”. This is the most touristic street of Lyon. Instead, you can enjoy the same specific architecture of the old town between the cathedral and the church St Georges.
As you are in Vieux Lyon and that’s it’s probably time to take a break (It’s always time to take a break anyway, we’re in France after all!). Go to Terre Adélice for the best ice cream of Lyon. You’ll find only local products, homemade ice cream and very, very good ones.
But if you like to take risks, you can also taste the non standards ice cream. For example, you can try a mix of bacon ice cream and blue cheese ice cream. It’s just perfect! But I’ve to admit, my favorite one is a bit less strange. This is lemon basil. It’s perfect when the sun shines!
After all of this, you'll have seen the essential of Lyon according to me. But there are still plenty of places left to visit. For example, you could go in Confluence where the two rivers meet. It's really beautiful. And that's also where you'll find the very interesting and weird museum of "Les confluence". For free, you can access the rooftop of the museum for even a better view.
It use to be the industrial port of Lyon but now, that's where you'll find the more modern building in an interesting contemporary style.
The end of the day is also the perfect timing to take a stroll alongside the river Rhone. "Les berges du rhône" is where you'll find many boats transformed in bar and restaurant. It's a crowded place in summer at night. So if you want to enjoy a nice evening and have fun, this is the place to be.
One more thing you should do is to check the biggest park of the city. It's huge and full of possibilities. You can rent a pedal boat and navigate the big lake. You can visit the free zoo, the botanic garden, the roses garden and many other things. So just take few hours wandering around and breathing the fresh air.
And the last thing I'm thinking about is the permanent food market dedicated to the best chef in the world: Paul Bocuse. This is where you'll find the finest specialties of the region. You'll also find very fine restaurants if you want to enjoy a special meal in an unique ambient.
Once again, Lyon is a big city (at least for France) with many places to discover. I just gave you few tips in order to help you to have the best time in Lyon but my final advice will be: just be curious! Go everywhere, ask to people, look around you and take your time to enjoy everything. Lyon is a city where you never get bored! And if you want to meet people and have explanations and fun facts about the city, join our free tour!
Article By Nicolas PETIT - LyonExplorer