Planning Your Trip to Lyon
With a high-speed direct train route from Paris in less than two hours, Lyon is a cinch to get to year-round with a range of activities for all seasons. Lyon’s attractions are not confined to a single walkable neighborhood, though a stroll through the narrow cobbled passageways of Vieux Lyon is a must if you're only in town for a day. If here for more than a day or two, you can explore outer areas of this sprawling city by using Lyon’s public transportation, bicycles, or electric scooters, helping you reach places that are a bit out of the main loop.
More time offers more access to the city's cultural and historical treasure surrounding activities and day-trips including the Beaujolais wine region and potential outdoor excursions in the nearby French Alps. And since Lyon has more restaurants per capita than any other place in France (it is also known for produce) you’ll want to plan some meals in advance with upwards of 20 Michelin-starred establishments to pick from. Wining, dining, and shopping for quality ingredients is a big part of the Lyonaisse culture and you won't want to miss out.
Lyon in 1 to 2 Days
With a quick stopover, first, make your way to the UNESCO-listed Presque’Île—a piece of land surrounded by the two rivers of Saône and Rhône. Presqu’île was man-made from an 18th-century urban engineering project and is today the cultural and commercial heart of the city with beautiful architecture, restaurants, cafés, bars, and nightclubs. In addition, a range of cultural attractions like Lyon’s opera house and city hall, while shoppers can head fro the pedestrian-friendly Rue de la République.
Just across the river is the UNESCO-listed Vieux Lyon, one of Europe's oldest and most expansive Renaissance districts, oozing with preserved charm. Its fifteenth and sixteenth-century buildings were home to rich families of Italian, German and Flemish merchants and bankers and its history can be explored by stepping through doorways into its traboules (hidden passageways through buildings connecting streets) and inner courtyards, These iconic passageways, dozens of which are open to the public, run beneath buildings in the direction of the Saône River. They once gave the city’s silk workers direct access to the river, while also offering shelter from the elements. A free map of these passageways can be picked up at the Tourist Office on Place Bellecour. Keep an eye out for notable churches to visit like Saint Georges (pictured above) and Saint Jean with its astronomical clock.
Also recommended is a walk up to the Fourviere Basilica for a wonderful panorama over the entire city. This magnificent church is a prime example of several hill-top churches that were constructed in major French cities in the late-19th century. Make sure to pop inside to see the extravagant interiors, and—if you’re feeling active—climb to the top of the tower for one of Lyon’s best views.
Of course, Lyon is known for its cuisine so foodies can dig into traditional Lyonnaise cuisine at what are called bouchons. Look for the best ones awarded the label Authentique Bouchon Lyonnais, especially around Presqu’île. You’ll also find, informal brasseries, and Michelin-starred restaurants like the iconic Auberge de Collonges, founded by the famous chef Paul Bocuse, one of France’s celebrity chefs. If you can’t get into his restaurant, head to a food market called Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse offering the region’s best food merchants selling a range of food products. There are also several restaurants for lunch allowing you to enjoy a delicious Lyonnaise meal while also picking up regional specialties to take home as souvenirs. Note: It’s best to come in the morning before the stalls close for lunch.
Get a local's perspective (with a private guide) on this customizable Culture and Tasting Tour of Lyon.
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Lyon in 3 to 4 Days
With a few more days in the city, you can slow down and take your time to further explore the historic right bank of the Saône where wealthy merchants once built beautiful homes in a range of architectural styles, particularly in the districts of Saint-Jean, Saint Georges, and Saint Paules. The charm of Lyon's squares and streets will likely transport you to the end of the Middle Ages.
You could easily spend a half-day at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, France’s largest fine art museum after Le Louvre in Paris. Situated in a former abbey from the 17th century, the museum includes a roster of famous French and European artists like Degas, van Gogh, Renoir, Cézanne, El Greco, and Picasso. Make sure to check out the ancient Egyptian collection in the antiquities department as well as the peaceful garden with original bronze sculptures by Auguste Rodin.
Another option is to visit the Parc de la Tête d’Or, France’s largest urban park with winding lanes for walking, jogging, or biking. There’s also a zoo featuring zebras, lions, and giraffes, and the expansive lake for renting rowboats in the summer, Also here is a spectacular year-round botanical garden with more than 20,000 plant varieties and a 19th-century greenhouse. If you’re visiting during spring months, keep an eye out for the international rose garden.
Film lovers will also want to visit Institut Lumière, a museum commemorating brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière, the inventors of the cinematograph. Keep an eye out for screenings and special events at the museum, some of which may include silent films being paired with live music.
Consider this exciting two-week itinerary that combines Lyon with several days each in Paris, Nice, and Provence.
Lyon in 5 to 6 Days
Take advantage of exploring the city like a local with this lengthier timeframe. Lyon is known for its street art and large murals. In fact, there are around 100 large paintings on walls around the city, often in lesser-known neighborhoods so finding these can bring you to some areas of the city you might not have seen. Consider a visit to Lyon’s original Canuts Mural, which explains a bit of history of the La Croix-Rousse neighborhood where you can capture views of buildings standing in rows up the hillside. This industrious district helped Lyon become a major center for textiles in Europe.
Speaking of textiles, hidden L’Atelier de Soierie is a family-owned silk workshop and the last of its kind in France to do silk-screen printing by hand. Stop in to take a look at the silk-making process and consider taking home a scarf or two.
You'll also have time to visit the Gallo-Roman Museum of Lyon-Fourviere, now located, half-buried, near the city's Roman theatre on the edge of the archaeological site. As well as displaying its own permanent collections of Roman, Celtic and pre-Roman material, it also regularly hosts temporary exhibitions. One recommended artifact is the Circus Games Mosaic, dating to the 2nd century, which depicts a chariot race, and the Lyon Tablet, which transcribes a speech made by the Roman Emperor Claudius in the 1st century.
If here in early summer, check out some live performances at the Ancient Theatre of Fourvière. Built a few thousand years ago, this monument sits high on the left bank of the Saône River. Today, it still remains a performance venue during the Nuits de Fourvière drama festival every June and July. The theatre was rediscovered in the late-19th century and restored over the next 40 years.
For inspiration, check out this 10-day itinerary that kicks off in Lyon and then travels to Annecy and Chamonix in the French Alps.
Lyon in 7 Days or More
Now is the time to dig deeper into the city’s culture scene. You can head to the beautiful 16th-century palace (Italian built) named Musee Gadagne, which acts as Lyon’s city museum. Take your time to wander through dozens of rooms over multiple floors dating between medieval times and the mid-19th century where you can find anything from information on the profitable silk trade to historic maps and drawings of the city’s landmarks. Another notable aspect of these attractions is the Musée des Marionnettes featuring thousands of antique puppets.
A young and vibrant neighborhood worth exploring is La Confluence with upscale apartments and parks like the Jardin Aquatique Jean Couty. Made up of former docklands, the area has been revitalized thanks to an ongoing urban development project focused on creating a sustainable, walkable, and diverse neighborhood featuring green infrastructure and self-driven shuttles. While here, visit the futuristic Confluence Museum, which displays dinosaur skeletons, as well as art exhibitions at La Sucrière center. La Confluence also boasts some of the city’s best nightlife, thanks to performance spaces in former warehouses that pull in international artists and musicians.
You can skip the city for a day-trip to Beaujolais, a historic province and wine-growing region just north of Lyon. Often compared to Tuscany, this beautiful countryside dotted with hilltop villages offers a gentle pace of life. There are plenty of options for guided tours where you can get an introduction to this style of wine and meet with winemakers who will invite you to enjoy a tasting experience.
Another option is a day-trip by train to Annecy, one of the most popular towns in the French Alps with forests, rugged mountains, and a freshwater lake called Lake d'Annecy. The picturesque town is also home to a number of important places and monuments in France. Spend the day walking around the city's Vieille Ville (Old Town), with numerous 16th- and 17th-century buildings painted in shades of peach and rose where you can find restaurants, bakeries, and boutiques, before taking the train back to Lyon in the afternoon.
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