When you’re next in France, how about discovering a little love for Lyon? This fascinating city is all too often a fly in/fly out destination en route to more famous attractions. But the third largest city in France and the country’s gastronomic capital has plenty well worth visiting.
Read our guide to the very best to see and do in Lyon
Lyon ranks among the most historic cities in France. With more than 2,000 years of history taking in Roman, medieval and Napoleonic times, there are some stunning monuments as witnesses to the city’s past. The long list of historic attractions has earned Lyon UNESCO world heritage status. In addition, Lyon has one of the loveliest settings of any French city. Sitting pretty on the banks of both the Rhône and the Saone rivers, Lyon counts as the perfect boating holiday destination.
Need to know Lyon
- Nearly 500,000 people live in the city.
- Lyon summers are sunny and warm, perfect for sightseeing.
- Lyon has 17 Michelin-starred restaurants plus thousands of popular local eateries known as bouchons.
- Lyon was the first place in the world to introduce a city bike rental scheme – use the Vélo’v when you’re there as one of the best ways to see the sights.
- The Roman Theatre, built in 43BC and one of the largest in France, holds a festival of music and dance (Les Nuits de Fourviere) in June and July.
- The Criox-Rousse District, originally home to Lyon’s silk weavers, has fine 19th century architecture and lovely boutiques and shops.
- The Part-Dieu is the largest city shopping centre in Europe – with over 110,000 square metres of retail space, you can shop till you drop here.
- The Musée des Confluences, one of the newest museums in France, has a striking futuristic design and takes you on a journey through the history of mankind.
- The inventors of cinema, the Lumière brothers, were born in Lyon and the city celebrates the annual Fête des Lumières with light installations just before Christmas.
Best kept secrets in Lyon
There are lots of well-known tourist attractions in Lyon, but while you’re in the city, why not get off the beaten tourist trail and discover something different.
Our suggestions for unusual things to see in Lyon
Not just one of the best kept secrets in Lyon but difficult to find are over 400 secret tunnels. Built in the 4th century, these traboules have had a variety of uses. The city’s silk weavers used them to keep their goods dry from the rain as they took them from the workshops to the dealers and the French Resistance took to the tunnels to keep away from the Gestapo. Today, you can visit some of them – ask at the tourist office for details or look out for the signs as you walk around the Croix Rousse district.
Murals and trompe l’oeil
The 100+ murals that adorn just as many façades in Lyon aren’t exactly secrets, but they’re well worth discovering, especially the trompe l’oeil – sometimes so like the real thing you can hardly believe they’re a painting. The murals tell the story of Lyon’s neighbourhoods and give you a unique insight into the city’s history without the textbooks.
When you’re in the Fourviere district, look for the Jardin des Curiosités (also known as the Parc Abbé Larue). While it isn’t the largest and prettiest park in Lyon, the this quiet spot has some of the best views of the city, especially at sunset. On a clear day you can see the Alps in the distance.
Giant plastic flowers
Contemporary art meets one of Lyon’s historic squares on Place Bellecour where the Flower Tree stands out like a cheerful rainbow or a sore thumb depending on your taste. The giant installation, created by Korean Jeong-Hwa Choi, has 85 enormous multi-coloured plastic flowers on it and you literally can’t miss it.
Best restaurants in Lyon
Lyon has long boasted the reputation as the home of the best French cuisine and wears its Capital of Gastronomy crown with pride. The bouchons (small family-run bistros) are famed as some of the places to try traditional French food in the country. Include in your love for Lyon a dish or two at:
Café des Fédérations – ask for a local recommendation and the chances are that this restaurant will come up. In the heart of the Croix-Rousse district, the Café des Fédérations rates as one of the best bouchons in Lyon. Specialists in local cuisine and Burgundy wine.
Le Vivarais – near the banks of the Rhône and the Pont de l’Université, this bouchon specializes in traditional regional cooking and serves dishes based on seasonal produce. If you don’t want to eat in, order a take-away.
Mère Brazier – founded by Eugenie Brazier in 1921, this restaurant now has 2 Michelin stars and ranks among the best in Lyon. The current chef has revisited Eugenie’s original recipes and given them all a modern twist.
Best wine experiences in Lyon
Lyon enjoys a privileged location within easy reach of several prime French wine regions. Beaujolais, Côtes de Rhône and Bourgogne are all nearby.
For the best wine experiences in Lyon try:
Beaujolais Tour – take a tour of some of the prettiest villages in France and taste its most famous wine on a Beaujolais tour. Several companies organise these from Lyon – ask at the tourist office for details.
La Fourmiliere – taste the best local wines or try a range of craft beers and artisan cocktails at this trendy bistro on the east side of the Rhône. Live music plays most evenings at a favourite venue with locals.
Nunc Est Bibendum – as the name says, ‘now is the time to drink’ at these personalised wine tasting courses in the heart of Lyon. The company organises regular events including the monthly Grande Dégustation Prestige.
Best activities for kids in Lyon
Lyon has the advantage of providing something for everyone so you can easily include your kids in your love for Lyon.
Among the best kid-friendly things to do in Lyon are:
Lyon Fourviere – just outside the city, this aerial park has something for children from the age of 2 upwards. Ziplines, rope bridges and tunnels plus on the ground activities come together for a fun family day out. Make it extra fun and take the cable car to get there!
Miniature Museum – all children love tiny things and the Musée des Miniatures in Lyon is one of the best places to see them. Lots of miniatures and film sets plus the chance to see the secrets behind special effects in the cinema.
Parc de la Tête d’Or – cycle here on a Vélo’v rental bike and check out the largest city park in France. Ride round the lake, explore the greenhouses, see the animals at the zoo and take a ride on the traditional merry-go-round. In the summer, enjoy a refreshing dip in the outdoor swimming pools.
Experience Lyon yourself
The confluence at Lyon, the junction of the Saone and the Rhone rivers used to be a rail yard but has been developed into a new marina with a shopping centre, a trainline into the city centre and restaurant and nightlife. However, the marina is only for folks with their own boats and the big river cruise ships moor on the banks on the Saone side.
Discover your love for Lyon and explore the city en route to your boating holiday. See the sights, taste the food and wine, and enjoy one of the loveliest cities in France in your own time.