Only Lyon – the advertising slogan of the city is not necessarily a program for France travelers besides the big tourist magnets like Paris, the Côte d’Azur or Alsace. But the metropolis between the rivers is no less worth a visit. Lyon skilfully combines history and modernity, has a rich history and holds many surprises and things to do in store. Go on a discovery tour between the Rhone and Saône.
What do you learn in this article?
BIG5 Things to do in Lyon
You don’t want to miss the sights? Find here all the things to do and your checklist for the city trip to Lyon:
BIG5 Lyon – Speed Date
Lyon is a city of views – over the whole city and the mountain panorama of the Alps – including Mont Blanc
On Sundays many restaurants are closed in the self-proclaimed “Capitale mondiale de la gastronomie” (world capital of gastronomy)
Relaxed strolling through the old town quarter Vieux Lyon – rightly a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
Scratch Lyon right off your list because of unknown sights – that would really be a mistake!
Don’t tell your mother
Especially at night – like in other French cities – some banlieues (suburbs) can be quite uncomfortable, especially Perrache or Vénissieux
BIG5 Lyon – Rapid Fire Q&A
- Lyon is not necessarily on my travel list – wrongly? – Absolutely, Lyon has many sights to offer and is a great city for a weekend trip with relaxed sightseeing and enjoying the French cuisine
- What’s so special about this town? – Lyon has a cosy old town worth seeing, great panoramic views as far as Montblanc and a cuisine that is famous beyond France
- How many days should one plan for Lyon? – For the BIG5 one day is enough, to dive a little deeper it should be at least 2-3 days
- Is a day pass for public transport worthwhile? – The ticket is worth 6 Euro already for more than 3 trips in 24 hours, so it probably is.
- Should I reserve a table for the evening? – Yes, absolutely. The “Bouchons” are also very popular with the locals and French people like to go out for dinner.
BIG5 Lyon – Orga
Best travel time
The warmest months are on average July and August, but May / June and September / October also fit well
Arrival & Departure
Visa: Check here if you need a visa for France with your passport
- Flight: The international airport “Saint-Exupéry” (IATA: LYS) is directly approached daily by many airlines
- Train: From / to Paris (TGV several times a day, ~ 2 hours, 60 – 110 Euro)
- Train: From / to Geneva / Switzerland (once daily, ~ 2 hours, 50 – 90 Euro)
- Bus: From / to Paris (several times a day, ~ 6 hours, 15 -40 Euro)
Especially in the city centre and at the rivers there are a lot of parking garages, so that also the arrival by car is no problem.
The next stop is … Paris or Geneva / Switzerland
Recommended location: 2nd (peninsula) or 5th arrondissement (Vieux Lyon / old town), from here you are super flexible by metro and on foot
- Budget: Away Hostel & Coffee Shop (21 rue Alsace Loraine, district 01 Hôtel de Ville, 69001 Lyon; ~25€ dormitory, ~80€ double room), great location to explore the city centre on foot. An old building from the 19th century with integrated café
- Budget: HAMAC Suites Lyon Ainay (47 Rue des Remparts d’Ainay, district 02 La Presqu’île, 69002 Lyon; ~65€ double room), small, well-equipped apartment in a great location
- Medium: Cosy appartement Lyon Centre -Pentes Croix Rousse (20 Rue Imbert-Colomès, district 01 Hôtel de Ville, 69001 Lyon; ~115€ double room), extremely comfortable apartment for up to 4 persons, fully equipped for your perfect Lyon city break
- Medium: ibis Lyon Centre Perrache (28 Cours de Verdun Perrache, district 02 La Presqu’île, 69002 Lyon; ~80€ double room), 3* hotel located directly in the city centre
- Noble: Hôtel Silky by HappyCulture (2, Place Francisque Régaud, district 02 La Presqu’île, 69002 Lyon; ~120€ double room), modern 4* hotel in a historic building, only 2 minutes walk from the nearest metro station
- Noble: Hotel Le Royal Lyon – MGallery (20 Place Bellecour, district 02 La Presqu’île, 69002 Lyon; ~180€ double room), excellent location directly at the Place Bellecourt, stylishly furnished 5* hotel for a perfect trip to Lyon
Withdraw money: Easily possible at the many ATMs in the city centre
Beer indicator: from 2.50 euros in the restaurant for 0.25 liters; in Lyon people tend to drink wine
Costs for a taxi: basic fee 7,10 Euro (incl. 2,8km); ~1,65 Euro/km
There is something for all tastes in Lyon, the Bouchons (restaurants) are famous beyond France
- L’Epicerie (2 Rue de la Monnaie, 69002 Lyon), cheap, beautifully old furnished and open until late in the evening
- Le Garet ( 7 Rue du Garet, 69001 Lyon), traditional bouchon with rustic dishes
- Food Traboule (22 Rue du Bœuf, 69005 Lyon; Vieux Lyon), trendy restaurant with possibly long queues
- Monsieur P (8 Place des Célestins, 69002 Lyon), Michellin-star restaurant in the city centre
BIG5 Lyon – Activities
- Enjoy the great view over Lyon to the Alps from the Esplanade de Fourvière
- Go on a voyage of discovery in the artists‘ district Croix Rousse
- Wander through Vieux Lyon, the old town full of magnificent Renaissance buildings and hidden corners
- Play detective and track down hidden traboules (house passages)
- Live like God in France: In an authentic bouchon (restaurant) with food and wine
BIG5 Lyon – Photo spots
- From the Esplanade de Fourvière next to the Basilica above the city – or even from the Basilica Tower during a guided tour!
- From the Bellevue square (Croix Rousse) with a view of the Montblanc (in clear weather)
- Various motifs in the old town of Vieux Lyon, from Renaissance buildings and bouchons to impressive doors
- From the Rue des Tables Claudiennes (Croix Rousse) with view over Lyon and the Basilica
- In the dark between the bridges “Pont Bonaparte” and “Passerelle du Palais de Justice” with the play of light on the water
BIG5 Lyon – Things to do off the beaten track
- Marvel at over 300 animal species at the Lyon Zoo – free of charge!
- Relax during a boat trip on the Rhone and / or Saône
- Take a Free Walking Tour “Lyon at night” (meeting point 21h at the Bellecour square)
- Walk along medieval paths on a day trip to the village of Pérouges
- Embark on a culinary journey of discovery, where better than in France?
BIG5 Lyon – Culinary journey
A must: eating in an authentic Lyon bouchon (typical restaurants): you can recognize them by the puppet “Gnafron” with a wine glass in his hand
- Le Saucisson de Lyon – special pork sausage
- Le Coussin de Lyon – a chocolate with marzipan and ganache
- Wine from the region! Hello? You’re in France!
- La Cervelle de Canut – Dip or spread based on curd, cheese and garlic
- Les Quenelles – dumpling-like side dish made from flour or semolina
BIG5 Lyon – Communication
- Thank you – merci
- Yes – oui
- No – non
- Hello – bonjour
- Bye / Goodbye – au revoir
BIG5 Lyon- Helpful websites / Links
- The official website of Lyon
- Free walking tours you can find here
- Get a Lyon City Pass* to enjoy free entry to +40 sights and public transport
BIG5 Lyon – Overview map for your city trip
The BIG5 Things to do in Lyon for one perfect day
There is a lot to discover in the third largest city in France. Here you will find a summary of the sights and highlights for a day tour.
“On-y-va“, as the French say, let’s go!
Things to do in Lyon in the morning
In principle, you can discover the city on your own, or get a good overview with a free walking tour and learn interesting facts about the city, its history and peculiarities from a guide who knows the area.
Especially impressive is the long and rich history of the city. As Lugdunum, Lyon was already founded in the 1st century B.C. and became the capital of the province of Gaul. Many buildings from this period can still be found in the cityscape today, such as the amphitheatre and old administrative buildings.
Over the centuries, the city has had a varied history as the capital of the Burgundians, Franks and an important spiritual centre.
Start at the Hôtel de Ville
The city exploration starts on your own initiative at the Hôtel de Ville, the magnificent city hall of Lyon.
Depending on the location of your accommodation, you can walk the route (and thus see more of the city) or take the metro. The single trip costs 1,90 Euro, the two-hour ticket is already available for 3,20 Euro. So if you plan less than two hours for the exploration of Croix Rousse and want to go back by metro, the second option is worthwhile.
But the Hôtel de Ville is not the only eye-catcher of the Place de Terreaux. The Bartholdi Fountain with its sculptures and water fountains also attracts the attention.
On discovery tour in Croix Rousse – Panorama and Street Art
Due to its hilly location, the adjacent Croix Rousse district offers many views of the old town of Vieux Lyon, the rivers Rhone and Saône and the Basilica Notre-Dame de Fourvière. So let’s get going.
In Croix Rousse there are, from my point of view, 3 special view points that you can approach one after the other.
You leave the Place de Terreaux through the Rue Sainte-Marie-des-Terreaux. Still before the hill really starts to rise, it gets clear what Croix Rousse is still known for: its artistic / alternative scene. Many houses and shops are full of graffiti and street art, colourful posters and references to events of all kinds. You will also find many interesting shops, nice cafés and small restaurants with dishes from all over the world.
Via the pedestrian ascent Montée de la Grande-Côte you reach the Roman amphitheatre from the year 19 A.D. Just behind it, a bridge rises into the higher part of the city. From this bridge of the Rue des Tables Claudiennes you have a great panoramic view over Lyon, especially the Fourvière Hill with the Basilica Notre-Dame.
Let’s go. Leave the bridge road to the right into Rue Neyret, then turn left and continue on Montée de la Grande-Côte. At the top of the steps in the park Jardin de l’esplanade de la Grande-Côte you have another great view over the city and the hill Fourvière opposite.
Things to do in Lyon: Discover the traboules of Croix Rousse
The next destination is Rue Diderot. Number 9 is one of the many “traboules“, the special, partly secret house passages and stair constructions of Lyon. Here you will reach the “Cour de Voraces” with interesting insights into the neighbourhood.
In Lyon, there are about 400 of these passages, mainly in the districts of Vieux Lyon and here in Croix Rousse. Play detective and watch locals, especially postmen or delivery services, where they turn off to.
A map of the public traboules is available at the Tourist Information Office.
Let me introduce you: Monsieur Montblanc
There was talk of a total of three great viewpoints, but so far only two have been mentioned. From the Traboule, it is not far to the Place Bellevue, which, on a clear day, offers a direct view of the Montblanc.
Here you will also find “Le Gros Caillou“, one of the landmarks of Lyon. The composition of “Le Gros Caillou” indicates that there was once a huge glacier here.
If you have a fairly generous time budget, Croix Rousse invites you to stroll and explore in a relaxed manner. As you have already seen, in every street, maybe even behind every door, there is something new to discover.
Especially recommendable is the famous gigantic mural painting “Le Mur de Canuts” (address: 36 Boulevard des Canuts). This is painted in the “trompe-l’oeil” style, thus as “tricking the eye”. It is considered one of the largest, if not THE largest mural painting in Europe.
Fancy going to the next quarter? Then continue from the Place de la Croix-Rousse, where you take the metro towards Vieux Lyon. Even the ride with the metro is an experience in itself: the car leisurely zooms down through the hills of Croix Rousse. No wonder: with a gradient of over 17%, you are sitting here in the second steepest metro in the world. From Croix Rousse, you can go directly up to the Fourvière hill by changing twice – with only one ticket.
Things to do in Lyon in the afternoon
Enjoy the view from Esplanade de Fourvière
You can walk up the Fourvière hill, but up there I recommend the Funiculaire, the old funicular. It is part of the Metro network and can be used with the ticket from Croix Rousse. Also here, the steep trip is again an experience.
You come out of the metro station and stand right in front of the impressive basilica Notre-Dame de Fourvière. Admire the remarkably detailed decorations outside and inside the church. A very special viewpoint in Lyon is the tower of the basilica, which however can only be used during a guided tour.
But even without climbing the tower, you have a magnificent view over Lyon from the plateau, the Esplanade de Fourvière! The whole city stretches out before you: Vieux Lyon, the Presqu’ile peninsula, Bellecour Square, the two rivers Rhone and Saône and the Part-Dieu business district. In good weather, you also have a great mountain panorama of the Alps – in Lyon, would you have thought it?
Another interesting building on the plateau is the Tour métallique de Fourvière, that somewhat reminds on a small version of the Eiffel Tower.
Stroll through the old town of Vieux Lyon
At the foot of the Fourvière hill lies Vieux Lyon, the old town, as the name suggests. You walk down through the Parc des Hauteurs and down the steep steps of the Montée des Chazeaux.
Already from the steps you can have a first look at the huge medieval cathedral Saint-Jean, which is especially famous for its astronomical clock.
Since 1998, the quarter has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And rightly so. Stroll through the cosy alleys of the old town, full of magnificent houses, especially from the Renaissance.
Also in Vieux Lyon there are some hidden traboules to discover – so keep your eyes open and watch your surroundings. Obviously, if a large group of tourists suddenly appears in front of you from an otherwise unimpressive entrance – go in and look around yourself!
Things to do in Lyon: Marvel at the Presqu’île de Lyon district
The Presqu’île de Lyon, the “peninsula” is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is today the actual centre of the city.
Particularly worth seeing are the large Renaissance streets (especially the Rue Mercière) and the magnificent city villas.
Visit the huge Place Bellecour with the equestrian statue of Louis XIV and a statue of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry with his most famous figure, the little prince. Continue through the imposing streets to Place des Jacobins and the Theatre of the Célestins. A little further on, you will come back to the Hôtel de Ville, your starting point in the morning.
If you have some time left in the afternoon:
Not only Croix Rousse is full of street art, the other parts of Lyon are also full of it, from small graffiti to art on the sidewalk to whole house walls. Examples of the approximately 670 (!) “murals” on the walls can be found in the fresco “The City Library” near the City Hall (6 Rue de la Platière, 69001 Lyon) or the “Fresco of the Lyons” (2 Rue de la Martinière, 69001 Lyon).
Things to do in Lyon in the evening
The evening program in Lyon is a little more extensive than in other cities. Why? Firstly, because there is an incredible amount to see and the city literally shows itself in a completely different light in the evening. Secondly, because in France you simply have dinner later. And we do want to adapt to local customs, don’t we?
After sunset you should walk through Vieux Lyon again. The lamps bathe the historic buildings in warm light and the countless bouchons (the typical small restaurants of the city) with their neatly laid tables and the promising creations on the menu draw people off the pavements.
Although there are of course many tourists in Vieux Lyon, you still meet mostly locals in the bouchons! Why? Because they are simply good and the French simply like to go out for dinner.
A special scenery is now offered to you on the banks of the river Saône. The illuminated bridges, the Palace of Justice and above all the Basilica of Notre-Dame from its hill-throne conjure up a magnificent ensemble of lights on the water, especially beautiful to see from the quay between the Pont Bonaparte and the pedestrian bridge Passerelle du Palais de Justice.
To catch this scenery and combine dinner with sightseeing, there are great dinner ship tours* offered.
Also recommendable is a further ascend or a trip with the Funiculaire to the Esplanade de Fourvière. Of course, it takes some effort to get back up the hill after a long and exhausting sightseeing day. But also at night, from here, you have a fantastic view over the illuminated city. Now there is also much less activity, with a little luck you will have the viewpoint even for yourself.
It is also worth an evening stroll through the Presqu’île de Lyon district, the streets and Place Bellecour are now wonderfully lit.
After the evening tour it is really late, but 23 o’clock is no time for French people to go out for dinner. The bouchons are partly still filled up to the last seat.
You brought more time in Lyon?
Great! Lyon also has many more things to do for a longer city trip:
- At the Lyon Zoo you can admire over 300 different species of animals – and for free!
- Art in the underground garages – special installations all over the city. Especially famous: “Drunter & Drüber” at the Place des Célestins!
- Special museums: Musée Cinéma et Miniature (over 100 miniature film sets) & the Lugdunum, an archaeological museum of the city’s history
- You haven’t had enough of great views? Then I recommend the Celest Bar in Tour Part-Dieu. This modern bar on the 32nd floor in Lyon’s business district offers a great view over Lyon and on the other side to the often mentioned mountain panorama
- Visit the Quartier Confluence at the confluence of the Rhone and Saône
- Stroll through Les Halles Paul Bocuse, large market halls
- Théâtre Gallo Romain: The two ancient theatres at the foot of the Fourvière hill are witnesses of Lyon’s long city history. Built by the Romans, they can be visited free of charge and are still used today for cultural events – in a very special atmosphere.
- You can enjoy a special sunset in the Jardin des Curiosités with a view over the city, especially popular with couples
For more convenience, you have a lot of organized tours and day trips to explore Lyon and the region:
As you can see, Lyon has lots of sights and much more to discover – a real insider tip in the shadow of France’s famous tourist magnets 🇫🇷