Do you want to explore a different side of France? With travel rules relaxing a little, now is a great time to explore Lyon. As the third-largest city in France, Lyon has many unique activities and things to do to ensure you have a wonderful time. Lyon has everything to please all kinds of travellers: cultural landmarks, a beautiful and colourful Old Town, exciting museums, secret tunnels (traboules), winding cobblestones alleyways and delicious food.
For those who do not know Lyon well, the city is very airy, pleasant and located only 2 hours from Paris by train. It is ideally located a few hours from the sea and the mountains. Often nicknamed the “City of Light” and “Gastronomic capital of France”, Lyon has everything to seduce you. The hilly town is full of charm with its unique architecture you can admire from the banks of the Rhône and Saône rivers. In this city guide to Lyon, discover our top essential things to do in Lyon.
- 1 2 days or more: Our top things to do in Lyon
- 2 Place Bellecour – the heart of Lyon
- 3 Funicular to Fourvière Hill
- 4 Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière
- 5 Explore Vieux-Lyon (Old Lyon)
- 6 …and its traboules
- 7 Place des Terreaux
- 8 Musée des Beaux Arts
- 9 Hôtel de Ville de Lyon
- 10 The quays of the Saône
- 11 Admire Lyon’s famous murals
- 12 The quays of the Rhône
- 13 Enjoy a drink on a peniche
- 14 Les Halles de Lyon – Paul Bocuse
- 15 Croix Rousse
- 16 Les Bouchons Lyonnais
- 17 Parc de la Tête d´Or: the place to be on weekends in Lyon!
- 18 The Confluence museum
- 19 Walking tours
- 20 Take a day trip
- 21 Practical information
- 22 Like it? Pin for later!
2 days or more: Our top things to do in Lyon
Disclosure: This post contains a few affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through my link!
Place Bellecour – the heart of Lyon
Place Bellecour is one of the largest in Europe (300 by 200 meters) and is centrally located in the city of Lyon. Therefore you can’t miss it! Come there to enjoy the beautiful view from the square, admire the statue of Louis XIV standing in the heart of the plaza, visit the Tourist Information Centre or enjoy people-watching. It’s a great location to pause while admiring the beautiful visual in front of you: Lyon’s fantastic architecture! You can also get a sneak peek of the Fourviere Basilica from the plaza. If you visit Lyon during the winter, you will be able to see the Ferris Wheel and skate on the ice rink.
How to get there: Take the metro to Bellecour station.
Funicular to Fourvière Hill
The Fourvière neighbourhood is one for your Lyon bucket list. The esplanade offers one of the most amazing views of the city. However, getting there can be challenging. The climb is long and steep stairs. Fear not if you are not up for that challenge; you can take the historic funicular up the hill. It is not as charming as the funicular in Lisbon, but it is still cute and costs € 2.80 per trip.
If you plan to take more transport for the day, it is best to opt for the Day ticket or the Lyon City Card, which will also give you access to some activities.
How to get there: From Place Bellecour, cross the Saône river via Bonaparte bridge to the Old Town. Take the funicular from Vieux-Lyon station to Fourvière.
Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière
Above Vieux Lyon is the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière, one of the best places to see in Lyon. Thanks to its hilltop location, you can see it from nearly everywhere in the city. The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, with Byzantine and Romanesque design elements, is a stunning building inside (thanks to its gilded interior) and out.
After exploring the basilica, visit the nearby Lugdunum (museum and Gallo-Roman theatre), located on the Fourvière hill.
Explore Vieux-Lyon (Old Lyon)
A top activity to include in your itinerary is exploring Vieux Lyon, the old historic neighbourhood. Located on the banks of the Saône, at the foot of the Fourvière hill, Vieux Lyon is the medieval quarter of the city, classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The old Lyon is also home to several churches from both the medieval and Renaissance periods. You will be amazed by its Italian charm.
The best way to explore is to take the little alleys and see where they lead. There are lots of shops, restaurants, cafes and museums along the way. From this neighbourhood, you can also admire the colourful buildings on the banks of the river Saone and enjoy superb views of the Presqu’ile and Croix-Rousse hill. Be sure to walk past rue Saint-Jean and rue Juiverie. You might even come across some traboules!
…and its traboules
The particularity of Vieux Lyon is the secret covered passageways you find in few French cities. These hidden passageways called “traboules” give the city lots of charms. They allowed inhabitants located at the foot of the Fourvière hill to get quickly from their homes to the banks of the river Saône. Traboules are also found in Croix Rousse, where they transport silk from the factories to the docks. Finding them is like a treasure hunt with a map in hand.
Here are a few to look out for:
- 54 rue Saint-Jean / 27 rue du Boeuf: courtyard and traboule
- 29 rue Imbert Colomes: Cour des Voraces. (“Traboule of the Voracious Court”) It is the most famous, located in the Croix-Rousse area.
- 5 & 6 place Rouville: Maison Brunet or the “House of 365 Windows.”
- 5 rue des Feuillants / 4 rue de Thou: traboules, building with a monumental staircase from the former Feuillants convent
Place des Terreaux
Place des Terreaux is another busy square close to restaurants, shopping streets, bars, cafés and the Museum of Fine Arts and the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall). It’s an ideal place for an enjoyable drink or lunch.
A magnificent Bartholdi fountain was created by the same sculptor that designed the Statue of Liberty at the centre of the square. Walking around the fountain, you can admire the Hôtel de Ville, Lyon’s Town Hall. The grand building was built in the 17th century, but today’s facade is the modified version. On the other side is the Musée des Beaux-Arts where people can admire paintings and sculptures from various artists, including Renoir and Cézanne.
A stone’s throw from Place des Terreaux, admire the Opera, with its immense dome, one of the emblems of Lyon.
Musée des Beaux Arts
The Museum of Fine Arts is located on Place des Terreaux. The museum is housed in a beautiful building, previously the Abbey of Saint-Pierre-les-Nonnains. The museum brings together a collection of permanent and temporary exhibitions showing extraordinary paintings and sculptures from artists like Gauguin, Monet, Rodin, etc.paintings and sculptures from artists like Gauguin, Monet, Rodin, etc.
Hôtel de Ville de Lyon
On your two days trip to Lyon, be sure to include the City Hall of Lyon in your itinerary. The stunning building located at Place des Terreaux is full of history. The town hall is open for administrative and governmental activities; however, people can visit the inside during the European Heritage Days in September.
The quays of the Saône
Two rivers cross Lyon: the Rhône and Saône. Both converge south of the historic city centre, forming a peninsula – or “Presqu’île” in French. The Saône situated closer to the Old Lyon is more picturesque. Walk down the quays and stroll along the river while enjoying the lovely views. The sight of the colourful buildings is even more beautiful during sunset. From there, you can pay a visit to La Fresque des Lyonnais.
Admire Lyon’s famous murals
Among the many things to do and see in Lyon is admiring the beautiful and impressive murals. Lyon is like an open-air gallery with street art and frescos adorning the walls of many streets and squares in the old town. One of those is the Fresque des Lyonnais (Famous faces of Lyon). This remarkable trompe-l’oeil covers the entire building. The fresco created by various artists is simply unique. It depicts famous people, both living and dead, on the windows and Juliet balconies. The ground floor has a library, a cafe and shops you can never enter even though they look real!
Where to find the best frescoes in Lyon:
- “Mur des Canuts” (the silk-weavers wall): This large fresco describes the everyday life of the locals from the Croix-Rousse neighbourhood. It can be found at Boulevards des Canuts – 4th arrondissement
- “Mur du Cinema”|: This mural summarises the history of cinema since its creation by the Lumieres brothers in 1895. Can be found at the corner of Quai Saint-Antoine and rue de la Martinière – 1st arrondissement
- “La Bibliothèque de la Cité”: This giant library can be found at rue de la Platière and Quai de la Pêcherie – 1st arrondissement
- “La Fresque des Lyonnais”: Located 2 rue de la Martinière – 1st arrondissement .
- “Les routes de la soie” (the silk roads): Retraces the history of silk going back over 3,000 years. This piece can be found at 4 Rue Carquillat, Clos Jouve – 1st arrondissement
- “La fresque Paul Bocuse”: Located near the Halles, this fresco pays homage to the French chef. You can find it at 103 cours Lafayette – 2nd arrondissement
The quays of the Rhône
While the Saône is smaller and has a narrower quay, the Rhône is more expansive with a large quayside. It also has seating areas perfect for a picnic or an apéro (drinks) while enjoying the sunset. Arguably, one cannot visit France in summer without partaking in one of their favourite summer activities: picnic. With the numerous markets in town, gathering the ingredients for your perfect picnic wouldn’t be difficult.
Additionally, there are lots of great drinking barges moored there.
Enjoy a drink on a peniche
Lyon is full of cafes, bistros and bars. Whether you want to take a break in a cosy cafe or enjoy an “aperitif” in a relaxed and trendy spot, there is something for everyone. One of the best things to do in Lyon is to have a drink on a péniche (barge). Many of them are moored on the banks of the Rhone (but not only), and there is something for everyone so that you can choose your favourite place. Here are some riverboats for a lovely drink by the river:
- La Passagère, small rafiot with great atmosphere (21 Quai Victor Augagneur – 3rd arrondissement)
- The Star Ferry, a lovely beer garden (2 Quai Victor Augagneur – 3rd arrondissement)
- La Marquise for a drink while listening to electro music (20 Quai Victor Augagneur – 3 rd arrondissement)
- La Passagère for a mojito in a convivial atmosphere (21 Quai Victor Augagneur)- 3rd arrondissement
- Le Sonic for a late night in a rock club (4 Quai des Etroits)
- Ballona, located in the Confluence neighbourhood, this bar has a nice decor with a unique view of the Rhone (84 Quai Perrache – 2nd arrondissement)
Les Halles de Lyon – Paul Bocuse
Lyon is known as the food capital of France, so what better way to explore Lyon’s gastronomy than wander in the Halles Paul Bocuse, an indoor food market. While walking through the market, you can check out various delicious patisseries, charcuterie, fruits and veg stalls. Be drowned by the cheese and seafood stalls emitting aromas that you can only smell in French markets. The fresh and budget-friendly products are perfect for a picnic by the Rhone River. Grab a fresh crusty baguette, a variety of cheese, your choice of charcuterie topped with some treats, and you are good to go! There are also several restaurants and bars.
The Croix Rousse, a village-like neighbourhood located atop the hill, is one of the prettiest districts of Lyon. Colourful, welcoming and bright, this is a fairly residential area. It is very hilly, and there are many stairs to climb. Still, you are always rewarded with a lovely viewpoint overlooking the city. Walk up la Montée de la Grande Côte for a picturesque sight from the Parc du Gros Caillou.
The area was previously famous for its silk industry. The silk workers, called Canuts, would transport the silk from the factory to the docks by crossing the traboules passageways.
Les Bouchons Lyonnais
You can’t go to the gastronomic capital of France without dining at a “Bouchon Lyonnais“. Visiting them is an excellent way to discover Lyon’s food history. So what is a “bouchons Lyonnais”? It is a traditional restaurant you can find anywhere in Lyon. There are pretty rustic and straightforward decor-wise with wooden furniture and checkered tablecloths. Here is a selection of a few dishes you can find in a Bouchon and where to dine.
- La salade lyonnaise: salad with croutons, cooked bacon and a poached or soft egg
- La quenelle: similar to a German knödel, this is a form of dumpling made with a base of breadcrumbs, butter and eggs. They are often flavoured with meat or fish (minced and added to the mixture) and served in a béchamel sauce. Very popular and very tasty.
- L’andouillette: a traditional sausage made with chopped intestines (usually pork). It has a similar flavour to meat-based sausages, but the texture is quite different. Often served in a tomato or creamy mustard sauce.
- Le tablier de sapeur: tripe soaked in white wine and fried until crispy, served with potatoes and sauce gribiche.
- La cervelle de canut: whipped Fromage blanc (traditionally chèvre) with garlic, vinegar and herbs. Contrary to its name, it does not contain brains.
- Ile Flottante: soft meringues floating in custard and garnished with a touch of caramel.
- Baba au rhum: small rum soaked cakes filled or garnished with whipped cream or crème pâtissière.
Parc de la Tête d´Or: the place to be on weekends in Lyon!
Are you a fan of the great outdoors? Go for the Parc de la Tête d´Or! (the Golden Head Park). At 120 hectares, this vast park created in the 19th century is the largest urban park in France. With entry 100% free, this welcoming park is excellent for a walk with the family, with friends, with your partner, or even on your own. No matter who you are, you’ll find a corner of the park that’s perfect for you.
There are trails you can explore on foot or by bike (there is Velo’v terminal at the main entrance). The artificial lake will allow you to exercise while enjoying the park’s natural beauty on a paddleboat. The park also hosts a botanical garden for plant lovers, including four rose gardens with more than 350 varieties and other greenhouses.
The park also hosts a zoo with lots of animals, including giraffes, zebras, monkeys, crocodiles etc. The zoo is a member of EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquariums and is dedicated to preserving species threatened by extinction.
How to get there: Take the metro line A from Hotel de Ville to Massena and then take bus C1, C6 or C38.
The Confluence museum
A visit to the Confluence Museum is a must while in Lyon. The museum’s architecture, designed by the Austrian agency CoopHimmelb (I) au, is both modern and futuristic., thanks to the mix of glass and metal structure. It is as impressive on the inside as it is on the outside.
There are several permanent exhibitions like “Origins – Stories of the World” and temporary exhibitions.
Access: 86 Quai Perrache – Fee: €9 for an adult ticket and €5 for 18-25s. The visit is free for children under 18, students (under 26) and holders of the Lyon City Card.
If you love walking and exploring the city at your own pace, then self-guided walking tours are great options for you. Several companies are offering guided tours, all with locals who love and are passionate about their cities. If you prefer exploring on your own, I would recommend the “Rewind – Self-guided audio tours” offered by the Tourist Office. You have choices between Old Lyon and its traboules, Lyon, Croix-Rousse and historical silk industry or more.
Take a day trip
If you want to explore other places in Lyon, here are some options to include in your things to do in or around Lyon.
- Oingt – This small village offers a total change of scenery. The medieval town is part of the “most beautiful villages of France”. You can reach this village via train from Lyon Part Dieu.
- Annecy – The town known as the “Venice of the Alps” is simply beautiful. Wander around the paved streets, parks and canals. Surrounded by Lake Annecy, the town offers a nice mountain view. You can access Annecy from Lyon via Flixbus or Bla Bla Car via Perrache station.
- Chamonix – Be it during the summer season or winter, the village of Chamonix is worth a visit. Go on a hike or practice your skiing. To get there, take Flixbus or Bla Bla Car from Perrache station.
When is a good time to visit Lyon?
Lyon is great to visit any time of the year. Spring is enjoyable as you can enjoy the flowers in full bloom in the various parts of the city and the trees by the banks of the rivers. In December, most of the city’s monuments and important landmarks are lit during the “Festival of Lights”. During this period, you can admire beautiful projections on buildings. Winter is also the ski season, and Lyon being only 3 hours from Chamonix, can be a good base for a mountain break.
Getting to Lyon:
- By plane: the nearest airport is Lyon Saint-Exupery, ideally located 30mins away. Alternatively, Geneva airport is 2hours away by bus (BlaBlaCar and Flexibus)
- By train: Lyon is 2 hours from Paris and is very affordable. Fare for Trains from Gare de Lyon to Lyon Part-Dieu and Perrache start at only €19 with Ouigo.
- By bus: if you don’t mind long bus journeys, note that both BlaBlaCar and Flexibus have regular trips to Lyon.
Although Lyon is the second biggest urban city, it is walkable, especially within the old town. The excellent transport links make getting around the city even more accessible. Tickets can be used on buses, trams and metros. Tickets are valid for one hour, and you can use them for an unlimited amount of time during that period. Depending on your need, you can opt for a single ticket (€1.80), à 24 hours ticket (€5.60) or a pack of 10 tickets (€16.60). Buy your ticket here.
Lyon City Card
If your trip to Lyon is packed with things to do, then getting the Lyon City Pass is a no brainer. Whether you are staying in the city, 24hours, 48 hours or more, you can get the card that best fits your needs. You will have unlimited use of public transport during and access to museums, a boat trip on the Saône river and a guided walking tour. To check prices, please visit the Tourist Office.
If your trip to Lyon is packed with things to do then getting the Lyon City Card is a no brainer.
Have you been to Lyon before? What did you think of the city? Share your own experiences in the comment box below!