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Best Things to Do in Lyon, France


Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
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What to Do in Lyon, the City of Lights

Lyon is one of the most beautiful cities in France. The capital city of the Auvergne-Rhône Alpes region is also one of France’s oldest cities, founded around 2,000 years ago. The city is basically a World Heritage site, filled with Roman ruins, historic districts, and a Renaissance Old Town.

Located at the meeting of the Rhône and Saône Rivers, Lyon has the perfect size to explore on foot, with interesting Lyon attractions, public spaces, as well as beautiful architecture. And if this isn’t enough, Lyon is known as one of the culinary centers of the world, and the cuisine is simply spectacular!

In summer 2024, Lyon will be one of the host cities of the Summer Olympics 2024, so it’s the perfect excuse to discover or re-discover the city! Keep reading to discover our suggestions for things to do in Lyon, France, for an unforgettable holiday.

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Top Experiences and Tours in Lyon

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Top Things to Do in Lyon, France

Lyon is one of the best weekend getaways from Paris by train and a must-stop during any road trip from Paris to Nice. Wondering what to do in Lyon for a day, a weekend, or a longer stay? Here’s the list of the best things to do in Lyon, France, to get the most out of the city. This Lyon things-to-do list includes historical sites, cultural attractions, and some of France’s best vineyards.

Spend two days in Lyon to cover the best places to visit in Lyon and get a good taste of what the city has to offer. Spend more time if you are willing to explore the city’s surroundings on day trips from Lyon.

GOOD TO KNOW: While Paris is referred to as “La Ville Lumière” (City of Light), Lyon is also known as “La Ville des Lumières” (the City of Lights) because of the famous winter festival Fête des Lumières, Lyon’s Festival of Lights.

Notre Dame de Fourbière

Lyon - France

Exploring the history and architecture of Notre Dame de Fourbière is a must-do in Lyon. The basilica was built between 1872 and 1884, and it sits on top of Fourbière Hill in Lyon’s Fifth District.

The basilica is magnificent from the outside, but the inside is something else, filled with stained glass images, beautiful mosaics, and interesting crypts. The hike up the hill to the basilica is well worth doing, particularly if you do it in the early morning or evening to see the Old Town at sunset or sunrise.

Vieux-Lyon (Old Lyon)

Vieux Lyon - Old Lyon

Vieux-Lyon is Lyon’s Old Town, and it’s one of the largest Renaissance areas in all of Europe. It is located on a narrow stretch of land between the Fourbière Hill and the Saône River, which constrained Old Lyon to grow vertically.

Between the 15th and 17th centuries, Lyon was home to a thriving silk industry, and the city was full of wealthy people. You can see the city’s wealth when you visit Vieux-Lyon, with its exquisite old houses in the Italian and French Renaissance styles.

LA RENAISSANCE DU VIEUX-LYON: In the 1960s, some neighbors of Old Lyon formally opposed the project of Mayor Louis Pradel, who planned to raze part of Old Lyon, then considered unhealthy, to build an expressway there. La Renaissance du Vieux-Lyon association was born. The association bought and restored one of the most iconic buildings in Vieux Lyon and invited André Malraux, then the Minister of Culture, to visit. Thanks to the association’s strong mobilization and the decision by André Malraux (1962) to create the first French protected area in Lyon, Old Lyon was saved. Subsequently, the association endeavored to revive Old Lyon, restore it with the help of the inhabitants, and introduce it to tourists.

Wandering around the Old Town is one of the best things to do in Lyon. Old Lyon is divided into three neighborhoods around its three main religious buildings Saint-Jean, Saint-Georges, and Saint-Paul just make sure that you linger in the Quartier Saint-Jean, where you’ll find the Cathedral of Saint-Jean Baptiste and most of the Lyon sightseeing.

This part of the city is also filled with interesting museums like the MAM – Musée des Arts de la Marionette, the MHL – Musée de l’Histoire de Lyon (both in the same building), and the Musée des Automates de Lyon.

TIP: To get the most out of Old Lyon, take this top-rated Lyon walking tour with an expert guide.

Explore the Presqu’Ile

La Presqu’Ile is one of the more interesting places to visit in Lyon. It’s a tiny area between the Rhône and Saône rivers made in the 18th century to connect this island with Lyon’s mainland.

This is the city’s busiest and most interesting part, filled with pretty shops and cultural buildings like the Opera House and City Hall. At night, it has a good concentration of restaurants and bars, ideal for casual dining in the summer (but not only).

Whether you enjoy shopping, bar hopping, or cultural attractions, you’ll love this part of the city!

La Croix-Rousse

La Croix-Rousse - Lyon

Located on the city’s second hill of the same name, La Croix-Rousse is an interesting neighborhood to visit during your trip to Lyon. The area is filled with 18th-century architecture and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998.

The Croix-Rousse is known as “the Hill that Works,” as opposed to the Fourvière Hill, “the Hill that Prays.” In the 19th century, the Croix-Rousse was Lyon’s silk district, home to 30,000 canuts (the name given to silk workers in Lyon) who made the city a major textile center in Europe.

Take a stroll to discover the soul of this district, where past and present mingle, and the buildings are specially designed to house the looms between traboules and stairs. While you’re there, you can enjoy the neighborhood’s local charm, its cafés, shops, and street art, and then enjoy the views of Lyon from the plateau at the top.

Take an E-bike Guided Tour

This guided e-bike tour is an excellent introduction to the city of Lyon. In three hours or so, we visited Lyon’s top attractions on two wheels, from the banks of the Saône River to the Parc de la Tête d’Or.

The bonus was having a local guide with us, who helped us navigate through the city and entertained us with the history of the city and its main landmarks.

After a break with some wine, cheese, and cold cuts, we climbed up to Fourbière Hill (very easy with an e-bike!), where we visited the Basilica, the Roman Theater (from outside) and admired the incredible vistas over the Old Town.

For me, this guided e-bike tour was one of the best things to do in Lyon, and I highly recommend it! – Click here to book this guided e-bike tour of Lyon

Relax at Parc de la Tête d’Or

Parc de la Tête d'Or - Lyon

Strolling around this beautiful park is one of the most relaxing things to do in Lyon, France. The Parc de la Tête d’Or is one of the largest urban parks in the country and boasts a lot to do. While you’re there, check out the botanical garden, which contains over 20,000 plant varieties.

There’s also a zoo in the park that kids love and an international rose garden that’s absolutely stunning in the spring.

Visit the Musée des Confluences

The Musée des Confluences is one of the main Lyon tourist attractions. Located in the Second District of Lyon, at the confluence of the Rhône and the Saône rivers, the Musée des Confluences is a science center and anthropology museum. The museum’s building is an attraction in itself, set up in the heart of a monumental structure between crystal and cloud.

Inside, you’ll find collections of natural science and Earth science, as well as art and crafts exhibitions. You’ll learn about everything from the Big Bang theory to the history of the universe and the birth of life within it. 

Whether you have kids or just enjoy learning more about the world, you’ll love this museum – Click here to buy your tickets

Explore the Hidden Traboules

Traboules of Lyon

The traboules of Lyon are a Lyon must-see. Traboules are secret walkways through the buildings that communicate two different streets. They always have an inner courtyard to get more natural light and a staircase with galleries that gives access to two different buildings.

There are around 400 traboules in the city, and most of them are located in Vieux-Lyon. Around 40 of them are open to visitors, so don’t hesitate to get the free map of traboules from the Office of Tourism to explore the best ones.

The traboules curve between buildings, up staircases, and through pretty courtyards. They were used as shortcuts to move quickly from the Saône River – where the boats with merchandise arrived – to the city center.

Because of their secret nature, some of them were the landmarks of the 19th-century Canuts Revolt. In the 20th century, the traboules were also used by the resistance fighting against occupying German forces during the Second World War. 

Enjoy Lyon’s Local Food

Bouchon Lyonnais

France is known for its delicious food, so when people say that Lyon is the best place in the country to eat, then you know that the cuisine must be really good!

Lyon is France’s gastronomical capital. It’s where young chefs learn their trade, and you can be the lucky recipient of all this experimentation.

No matter where you eat in Lyon, you’ll find that the food in Lyon is pretty amazing! To learn more about what Lyon has to offer from a culinary point of view, try this Lyon Old Town Food Tour with a local guide, which explores the Old Town from a gourmet’s perspective, combining cultural discovery and local flavors. If you are vegan, you can explore Lyon through its local food with this Vegan Food Tour of Lyon.

For lunch or dinner, make sure that you visit one of the local bouchons, which are typical restaurants of Old Lyon where you can eat specialties like the tablier de sapron, quenelles (kind of dumplings), Lyonnaise salad, and canut brain. Everything is generally served very copiously and washed down with a glass of Beaujolais or Côtes-du-Rhône.

Winter Wonder at the Fête des Lumières (Lyon’s Light Festival)

Festival of Lights - Lyon

If you are considering visiting Lyon in winter, then make it around the time of the Fête des Lumières. Lyon’s Light Festival is a popular event and is held every year around December 8th to honor Mary, the mother of Jesus.

The festival lasts four days, and during it, the locals place candles on the outsides of their windows, and the city’s main monuments are beautifully illuminated in a spectacular light display. During the festival, there are also other activities involving light, including the light show at the Place des Terreaux.

The Fête des Lumières is one of the must-see winter festivals in France, that’s why we recommend Lyon as one of the best places to visit in France in the wintertime – book your hotel and train tickets well in advance!

Explore the Wine Regions near Lyon

Wine tours from Lyon are very popular among visitors and usually include the visit of a couple of wineries and some tastings, plus the possibility to buy as many bottles of great wine as you want directly from the producers.

This Beaujolais wine tour explores the Beaujolais wine region and comes with a couple of tastings. Famous for its Beaujolais Nouveau, which is a Burgundy wine, the region is also dotted with charming little golden stone villages. Actually, this area of Southern Beaujolais is nicknamed Vallée des Pierres Dorées because of these golden stones.  

Wine tours to the Rhône Valley wine region are also popular. The distance to cover during this tour is longer, so tours usually last a full day, with a break for lunch (usually not included in the tour price).

Côtes du Rhône produces some of the most renowned wines in France, most notably its full-bodied reds. This Northern Rhône Valley wine tour mostly explores wineries in the Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie appellations and comes with many tastings (compared to wine tours in other regions in France). Be sure to eat a proper meal during the tour and get ready for the snores of your travel mates on the way back!

TIP: If you have a car, there are many wineries in the area that offer tours with tastings in French and English. They are usually small businesses, so be sure to book in advance so they can make the necessary arrangements to welcome you.

Take a Day Trip from Lyon

Annecy - French Alps

There are lots of interesting things to see in Lyon, but it is also worth using one day to explore Lyon’s surroundings on a day trip. France is known for its amazing countryside, so make sure you get out and enjoy one of our suggested Lyon day trips.

Take the time to see the medieval town of Pérouges with its medieval walls, rural countryside, and beautiful old town.

A little bit further from Lyon, the alpine city of Annecy is also beautiful to visit. With its canals, cobblestone streets, colorful houses, and medieval castle, the town is serene and picture-perfect, and it is very easy to visit from Lyon by train – Click here to buy your train tickets from Lyon to Annecy.

A visit to Saint-Etienne is another of the top things to do around Lyon. Saint-Etienne is another of the Olympic host cities, and it is the perfect destination for you if you are into design and unique museums.

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