Hey guys! Today we have a guest post from CatherineRose who blogs over at La Vie En C-Rose. CatherineRose lived in France for three years which is why I'm excited for her to share her recommendations on what to do in Lyon, her former home!
Lyon is in the Rhône-Alpes region and although it’s one of the largest cities in France, it’s a very livable size – not too big, not too small. There is a lot to see, but not a lot that you have to see. Unlike Paris, there’s no pressure to visit an endless list of monuments and museums, so it’s perfect for a stress-free weekend getaway.
If you like to visit beautiful monuments and historical museums, Lyon has you covered. If you like to explore hidden neighborhoods covered with graffiti and street art, you can do that too. Maybe you just want to drink wine and eat croissants (hi, you’re my new best friend) – there’s nowhere better to do it than Lyon.
So without further ado, here are my recommendations on unique things to do in Lyon.
1. Stroll through Presqu'île
Place des Jacobins on Presqu’île
Presqu’île is the the heart of the city. If you look at a map of Lyon, there are two rivers (the Rhône and the Saône) running through it, cutting off a little slice in the middle that almost looks like an island. That’s Presqu’île (literally, “almost island”).
On Presqu’île you can shop to your heart’s content, curl up in one of the stylish cafés, or wander down the wide boulevards and narrow side-streets to discover the neighborhood’s hidden gems. In the evening, do as the locals do and head to one of the neighborhood wine bars.
Where to go on Presqu’île: Don’t miss Place des Terreaux, Place Bellecour, and my personal favorite, Place des Jacobins.
2. Eat at a bouchon
Eating at a bouchon is one of the most unique things to do in Lyon – it's a Lyonnaise tradition! Lyon is famous for its bouchons, or restaurants serving traditional local cuisine. Bouchons generally feature heavy, meat-based dishes – not recommended for vegetarians!
Quenelles (fish dumplings) are a popular traditional dish, and if you’re a fan of offal dining, look for Lyonnais-style sautéed tripe or pan-fried calf’s liver.
Not all bouchons are created equal, so don’t pick one randomly! Authentic bouchons are awarded a sticker with the red-nosed marionnette Gnafron – look for him in the window.
Local tip: If you’re on a budget, choose lunch over dinner. There are often set menus with a few choices for starters, mains, and desserts at a reasonable price.
3. Admire the fresques
“La Bibliothèque de la Cité” found at Rue de la Platière and Quai de la Pecherie
If you wander around Lyon, you might happen on one of its famous fresques, or murals. La Fresque des Lyonnais is the most well-known. It depicts a trompe-l’oeil mural of a sunshine-colored building with many famous local faces (like chef Paul Bocuse) peering out of the windows.
Where to find the best fresques in the city:
- La Fresque des Lyonnais is located near the Quai Saint Vincent on 2 rue de la Martinière.
- Another impressive fresque is Le mur des canuts is one of the oldest fresques in the city. You can find it on Boulevard des Canuts (cross street Rue Denfort Rochereau) near the Henon metro.
4. Stroll by the Saône River
Passerelle Saint Vincent
After you pay a visit to La Fresque des Lyonnais, you will be conveniently located a few steps away from the beautiful Saône river, one of the most Instagrammable spots in Lyon, in my opinion. You can walk down to the quais and stroll along the river for some lovely views.
5. Have apéro by the Rhône
The Rhône is the wider river to the east of the Saône with large, grassy areas on the east bank perfect for an apéro picnic (pre-dinner snacks and drinks). Take a bottle of wine and a baguette, cheese, charcuterie, spreads, and whatever else you like down to the river, and enjoy.
6. Have a drink on a péniche
Another option is to head to a péniche (a river boat) for a drink. There are loads of them, especially along the Rhône. Some are nightclubs or student bars, others are classy restaurants, but whichever atmosphere you choose, they all afford a beautiful view of the river.
Where to go:
The Star Ferry for a beer and a bite to eat (2 Quai Victor Augagneur)
La Marquise for a cocktail and some music (20 Quai Victor Augagneur)
La Passagère for a mojito in a convivial atmosphere (21 Quai Victor Augagneur)
Le Sonic for a late night in a rock club (4 Quai des Etroits)
7. Wander up to Croix-Rousse
La Montée de la Croix Rousse
La Croix-Rousse is a village-like neighborhood atop the hill above the 1st arrondissement. Get there by walking up La Montée de la Grande Côte, a sloping pedestrian path lined with lovely boutiques and cafes. At the top there is a small park and a beautiful viewpoint overlooking the city.
This is a great area to enjoy an afternoon coffee or to shop for gifts. No matter the time of day, bring your camera – the Montée and the views at the top are seriously photogenic.
8. Go to the market
Marché Saint Antoine
I always take visitors to one of Lyon’s open-air food markets, whether it’s to get a snack, pick up some fresh produce, or just admire the offerings.
Where to go: Croix-Rousse has a great market with a bio (organic) section and I also love the market on Quai Saint Antoine, with its beautiful views of the Saône river.
When to go: Sunday is the busiest day, but there are also more vendors and food trucks (track down the adorable blue Trop Chou truck for some amazing dessert!)
Both markets are open from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day except for Monday.
9. Walk through Vieux Lyon
You can’t go to Lyon without visiting Vieux Lyon, the old historic neighborhood. Its cobblestone streets and narrow passages are impossibly charming.
Start with a walk down Rue Juiverie and continue down Rue Saint-Jean to the cathedral. This area is admittedly touristy, but it’s also alive with shops, wine bars, restaurants, and pubs that locals love.
10. Take the funicular (or walk!) up to the Fourvière Basilica
Above Vieux Lyon sits the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière (usually known simply as “Fourvière.”) Whether you walk up the hill or take the funicular from Vieux Lyon, Fourvière is worth a visit. It was designed in with a combination of the Romanesque and Byzantine styles; it’s the opposite of somber, gothic Notre Dame in Paris. It looks like a castle from the outside and is dazzlingly ornate on the inside. Behind the Basilica is a viewpoint that overlooks all of Lyon.
11. Visit the Théâtre Romain
If you love history, pay the Théâtre Romain a visit while you’re up at Fourvière. It’s an ancient theater that was built in 15 BC – quite an impressive sight. The Nuits de Fourvière festival is held here every year. It’s pretty cool that such an ancient structure is still in use for modern concerts! There is also the Musée Gallo-Romain next door (free the first Sunday of every month).
How to get there: Take the funicular from Vieux Lyon to Minimes – Théâtres Romains (or walk over from Fourvière).
12. See the Musée des Confluences
Lyon has so many museums that it would take you a year to see them all, but one of the largest ones is the Musée des Confluences, a spectacular futuristic architectural structure at Confluence, where the Rhône and the Saône rivers meet. It’s described as a “science center and anthropology museum” and is worth seeing.
Important info: To get to the Musée des Confluences, take Metro A to Perrache, then take Tram 1. The museum is closed on Mondays and open at night on Thursdays. Read more about it here.
13. Go shopping in Les Pentes
Village des Créateurs
Les Pentes de la Croix Rousse is the area above Hôtel de Ville and Place des Terreaux, leading up to the Croix Rousse neighborhood. It’s a maze of winding streets lined with creative boutiques and cool cafes. It’s a great area to buy a gift or a unique addition to your wardrobe while supporting local artists. Rue Romarin, Rue des Capucins, and the Village des Créateurs are good places to start.
How to get there: Take the metro to Hôtel de Ville (Metro A or Metro C) or to Croix Paquet (Metro C).
14. Have a picnic in Parc de la Tête d'Or
It’s impossible to write about Lyon with mentioning Parc de la Tête d’Or – it’s a gem of a park at the top of the ritzy 6th arrondissement on the east side of the Rhône. It has a botanical garden, a little lake with blue paddleboats, a manicured rose garden, and even a zoo. It’s all free to visit. It’s the perfect place to explore on a beautiful day, and it’s also a popular spot for a picnic!
How to get there: Take Metro A to Massèna
15. See the Fête des Lumières
Cathedral Saint Jean during the Fête des Lumières
The Fête de Lumières is Lyon’s annual festival of lights, held on a weekend in December. It’s really spectacular – there are dramatic light performances (there’s really no other word) all over the city, and everyone bundles up and wanders around to admire them with a cup of mulled wine.
It does get quite crowded (the city’s population supposedly triples of the weekend!) so I suggest extending your visit before or after the festival so that you can enjoy the city without the hordes of visitors. You can read more about the festival here.
If you visit Lyon, I would love to hear from you! You can tweet to me @LaVieEnC_Rose or message me on Instagram @la.vie.en.c.rose. I’ve also written guides to Lyon boulangeries, tea rooms, wine bars, and more. You can read about Lyon, life in France, and other adventures on my blog.
The closest airport is Lyon Saint Exupéry, a 30-minute tram ride from the city. (Local tip: Allow some extra time to take pictures in the adjacent train station. You’ll walk right through to get to the Rhône Express tram to the city.)
Alternatively, the Geneva airport is two hours away by bus or by car (try Bla Bla Car, a popular rideshare platform.)
Lyon is a walkable city, but you can also take advantage of the metro and the bus. Both the bus and the metro use the same little red tickets (you can buy them in the metro stations and at some bus stops). Tickets are good for an hour, so you can reuse the same ticket until it expires.
Prices: €1.80 for a single ticket (€2 on the bus), €16.60 for a carnet of 10, €5.60 for a day pass (24 hours). More information (in French) here.
You can also take advantage of the very inexpensive Vélo’v bike sharing system. Prices: €1.5 for one day, €3 for three days, €5 for a week. More information here.
Where to stay:
I recommend that you stay on Presqu’île in the 1st or 2nd arrondissements. There are lots of great options for accommodation available on Presqu’île.
My favorite option is to rent an apartment in Lyon through Airbnb. Get a $40 Airbnb coupon code for your next stay here!
Have you ever visited Lyon? What are your favorite things to do in Lyon?