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Lyon is one of the most beautiful cities in France. It 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. It’s one of the best weekend getaways from Paris by train and a must-stop during any multi-day road trip from Paris to Nice.
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.
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. If all of that sounds ideal for your next trip, then here’s a list of the best things to do in Lyon, France.
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What to Do in Lyon, France
What to do in Lyon, France? Here’s the list of best things to do in Lyon – Lyon tourist attractions and places to visit in Lyon –with something for every traveler.
Notre Dame de Fourbière
Exploring the history and architecture of Notre Dame de Fourbière is a must-do when you’re in Lyon, France. The basilica was built between 1872 and 1884, and it sits on top of Fourbière Hill in the Fifth District.
The church 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 church is well worth doing, particularly if you do it in the early morning or evening, to see the views at sunset or sunrise.
Vieux-Lyon (Old Lyon)
Vieux-Lyon is Lyon’s old town, and it’s one of the largest renaissance areas in all of Europe. 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.
Wandering around the old town is one of the best things to do in Lyon. There are three separate areas of the city, just make sure that you linger in the St-Jean Quarter, where you’ll find the most famous buildings.
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, or the Musée des Automates de Lyon.
Explore the Presqu’Ile
La Presqu’Ile is one of the more interesting places to visit in Lyon. It’s a tiny land area between the Rhône and Saône rivers that was made by an 18th-century engineering project that connected this island with Lyon’s mainland.
This is the busiest and most interesting part of the city, filled with nightclubs, cafés, bars, shops, and cultural buildings like the Opera House and City Hall. Whether you enjoy shopping, bar hopping, or cultural attractions, then you’ll love this part of the city.
Located on the city’s second hill, La Croix-Rousse is an interesting neighborhood to visit during your trip to Lyon. The neighborhood 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 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.
Relax at Parc de la Tête d’Or
Strolling around this beautiful park is one of the most relaxing things to do in Lyon. 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 more than 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, the museum 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
The traboules of Lyon are a Lyon must-see, so don’t forget to visit one or two during your Lyon sightseeing. They’re narrow lanes and secret walkways that are hidden in the Old Town and the Croix-Rousse neighborhood, courtesy of the city’s long history. There are around 400 of these small pathways in the city, with 40 of them open to tourists.
The traboules curve between buildings, up staircases, and through pretty courtyards were shortcuts to move quickly from the Saône River 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
France is known for its 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 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.
For lunch or dinner, make sure that you visit one of the local bouchons, which are typical restaurants 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 Fête des Lumières (Lyon’s Light Festival)
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!
Take a Day Trip from Lyon
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 as well as its delicious wine, 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 reach from Lyon by train – Click here to buy your train tickets from Lyon to Annecy.
Wine lovers should see the Beaujolais wine area, with its stunning countryside and famous, light-bodied red wines. This Beaujolais Wine Trip from Lyon includes some tastings, and it is always top-rated.