Lyon is France’s third largest city, it sits at the confluence of the Rhône and the Saône Rivers and is well known for its delicious food. In fact, I’d say it’s almost a crime to leave Lyon without having sampled some Lyonnais specialities in a bouchon (the word given to a restaurant that serves Lyonnaise cuisine). There’s so much to see and do in Lyon (oh, and eat!). If you’re planning a trip here then here’s your guide to things to do in Lyon.
The best things to do in Lyon
1. L’Ourson Qui Boit
On the edge of Lyon’s Croix Rousse district is L’Ourson Qui Boit. Here Japanese chef Nishigaki puts his own spin on French food using plenty of locally sourced vegetables. The menu changes regularly and you can expect fresh, light (especially for Lyon) dishes that’ll leave you feeling great.
2. L’Auberge du Pont des Collonges
Head up the Saône for about 7km and you’ll come across triple Michelin starred restaurant, L’Auberge du Pont des Collonges. The city’s most awarded chef, Paul Bocuse, serves classics such as braised sweetbreads, roasted rack of lamb and his signature soupe VGE (a truffle soup created for French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing in the 70s).
3. Fete des lumieres
For four days in early December, La Fete des Lumieres comes to Lyon. Here some amazing light and sound shows take place projected onto buildings around the city. It’s Lyon’s biggest festival and hotels book up early. If you’re keen to visit them plan well in advance!
If you’re starting your day in Croix Rousse then make sure to head to L’Instant. This cafe and boulangerie overlooks Place Marcel Bertone and offers a continental breakfast on weekdays, with brunch at the weekend. There’s plenty of outside seating too for warmer days.
5. Lyon Confluence
Lyon’s newest neighbourhood centres around the point where the two rivers meet. What was once an industrial wasteland has been transformed into a brand new area complete with museums and eateries.
6. Les Puces du Canal
France’s second biggest flea market, Les Puces du Canal, has over 400 exhibitors. It’s a fun way to while away a Sunday morning as you browse the antiques and search for treasures!
7. Parc de la Tête d’Or
Parc de la Tete d’Or is a great place to relax after some busy days exploring everything there is to do in Lyon. It spans 117 hectares and has a lake, botanic gardens, rose gardens a zoo and a tourist train!
8. L’Instant Fromage
If you’re a cheese lover then make sure to swing by L’Instant Fromage. You can try individual portions of over 36 French cheeses from the chalkboard menu here. If you find it too hard to pick (and who woudn’t?), let them surprise you with an ardoise découverte (five cheeses for around €13.50). You can add some charcuterie, tartines and salad to the side too.
9. La Boîte à café – café Mokxa
This cafe is a favourite with students and Croix Rousse locals. It’s a relaxing spot for a Sunday brunch, a place to pick up a pastry or grab a coffee.
During the summer, free summer concerts take place under the Opéra’s arches. The music includes; swing, blues, funk and jazz. Arrive early to secure a table and grab one of the waiters to get you a drink while the music plays on. The sets last about an hour and start at 7pm, 8.15pm and 10pm.
11. Monkey Club
A trendy cocktail bar, Monkey Club, is popular with students and the newly graduated. There are some great cocktails here as well as charcuterie and cheese platters.
12. Marché St Antoine
Marché St-Antoine is one of Lyon’s main food markets. If you’re staying in Lyon for a while head here in the morning and pick up some goodies for a picnic or nice dinner.
13. Smoking Dog
Love books and beer? You’ll love Smoking Dog. It’s a bookshelf-lined pub in St Paul and is a great place for bibliophiles.
14. The flower tree
The flower tree was first created in 2003 and now has a permanent home in Lyon. It’s huge and consists of 85 individual plastic flowers, each as large as a car door, grouped together as though grown like a tree. Some view it as an eyesore in amongst the old buildings – what about you?
15. Les Traboules
In Lyon’s old town and La Croix Rousse are Les Traboules. They’re renaissance passageways, of which about 40 remain open to the public. They run underneath the buildings along the Saône River and are fun to explore. The best place to start your Traboules adventure is around Quai Fulchiron Rolland and Rue des Trois Maries.
16. Le Poêlon D’or
An upmarket bouchon, Le Poêlon D’Or, is well known among local foodies who swear by it’s around andouillette and pike dumplings. Be sure to leave room for the chocolate mousse!
17. Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse
Lyon’s famous indoor food market has around 60 stalls selling foodie treats. Get some St Marcellin, some meats and bread and head out for a picnic during summer. Or join the locals on a Sunday for a leisurely brunch with plenty of shellfish and white wine.
17. Rent a bicycle in the city
Lyon was the first city in Europe to have a bike rental service (Velib) and there’s a great network of wide, safe cycle paths which run all over the city. Some of the prettiest routes run along the rivers and the routes tend not to climb hills which is even better!
19. Enjoy the Vieux
Lyon’s old town must be on everyone’s list of things to do in Lyon. The winding alleyways are picturesque and there’s some great food tucked away down the cobbled streets. Begin by exploring around Rue du Boeuf and the Place Neuve Saint-Jean then head to Rue Saint-Jean and Rue des Trois Maries. Take your time and enjoy!
20. The Cathédrale Saint-Jean Baptiste
The magnificent Cathedral of Saint-John is renowned for its stained glass windows and massive bell which even has its own name! The Anne Marie de la Primatiale is one of the largest bells ever made and is only rung on Catholic feast days. For a good view of the cathedral from a distance, go to the embankment near the Pont Bonaparte.
21. Head up to La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière
Locals call this Basilique an ‘upside down elephant’ but this 19th century white basilica dominates the Lyon skyline and is worth visiting. You can either climb the stairs or take the funicular that runs up and down the hill. The inside is extremely ornate and it’ll amaze you when you think back to how much work must’ve gone in to them!
22. See Lyon’s Roman amphitheatre
Next door to Fourvière is a well preserved Roman amphitheatre. You can wander it daily or go one step further by visiting Lyon during Les Nuits de Fourvière. During this festival shows take place at the amphitheatre which is incredibly cool!
23. Hang out in Croix Rousse
Need a dose of hipster on your trip to Lyon? Head to Croix Rousse where you can get fuel your flat whites and street art needs. Browse the second hand shops and head to Crock N Roll for a croque monsieur with an edge.
Fly directly to Lyon from London or take the Eurostar and change in Paris (total journey about 5 hours).