Thousands of years of architectural expansion has left France’s third-largest city with a legacy of cobblestone streets, cathedrals and museums. It’s not surprising there are so many interesting things to do in Lyon for history lovers.
Located at the intersection fo the Rhône and Saône rivers, Lyon is a fine French city at the foot of Fourvière and Croix Rousse hills. Wandering around the UNESCO World Heritage city, you can’t help thinking that you could be strolling through the pages of a picture-book.
Lyon is not just a treasure trove of historic gems; there are plenty of gastronomic pleasures to experience here too. These things to do in Lyon will have you salivating for more.
- 15 Things to do in Lyon
- 1- Dine in a Michelin Star restaurant
- 2- Get inspired to cook at Institut Paul Bocuse
- 3- Go Shopping at Halles de Lyon
- 4- Wander Around Vieux Lyon
- 5- Visit a Famous French Landmark
- 6- Learn about silk at the Museum of Textiles
- 7- Discover Secret Passages in Lyon
- 8- Go on a tour of Lyon’s murals
- 9- Watch a puppet show
- 10- Have Fun on a Gyroprode Segway Tour
- 11- Visit Musée Des Beaux-Arts
- 12- Le Théatre Antique de Fourvière
- 13- Explore Musée des Confluences
- 14- Watch an Opera at the Lyon Opera House
- 15- Go on a cruise
- How to get to Lyon
- Where to stay in Lyon
15 Things to do in Lyon
1- Dine in a Michelin Star restaurant
Lyon’s treasure chest of historic gems makes it a destination worth including on any European itinerary.
But the street conversations and shop windows filled with meat, bread, wine and cheese, also highlight Lyon’s other main attraction. Food.
Oh yes, Lyon is undoubtedly a destination for foodies.
There are 20 Lyon restaurants with Michelin stars and the city is home to France’s king of cuisine, Paul Bocuse, whose influence is everywhere in Lyon.
Bocuse’s flagship three-star Michelin restaurant, L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges, hotel management school, Institut Paul Bocuse, and four brasseries in the city are all fabulous places to dine.
The brasseries reflect regional cooking: L’Est is influenced by Alsace cuisine, Le Nord leans towards Lyonnaise and L’Ouest is a nod to Asia.
At Le Sud, Mediterranean and North African dishes such as lasagne, couscous and tagines are on the menu.
2- Get inspired to cook at Institut Paul Bocuse
Aspiring chefs from around the world are taught Bocuse’s techniques at Institut Paul Bocuse.
The institute also manages Le Royal, a delightful boutique hotel where students from the institute gain first-hand experience.
Le Royal has a cosy ambience of a grand family mansion, with rooms decorated in red or blue themes and ornamented wall hangings and trinkets.
Staying there feels like you’re visiting the home of a wealthy uncle.
At Le Royal’s restaurant, take a seat at the long dining table in the centre of the room and feast on foie gras, boeuf bourguignon and pain perdu, the local version of French toast.
The table has a view of an area designed to look like a family kitchen in a luxury mansion.
Another delightful dining experience is at the institute’s Saisons Teaching Restaurant, where a three-course menu is prepared and served by students at the institute, which occupies a handsome 19th-century chateau.
Dishes are works of art delivered with faultless service in a grand chandeliered dining room.
Saisons is a popular local haunt and the room is buzzing with well-dressed locals lingering over a long lunch.
3- Go Shopping at Halles de Lyon
Discover more treats at Halles de Lyon – Paul Bocuse, which is a popular market named after Bocuse.
You’ll soon see why – the market is filled with stalls selling sausages, oysters, chocolate and cheese.
It also has several bouchons, local bistros that serve traditional Lyonnais fare.
Restaurant Les Halles is a good place for a leisurely lunch of Lyonnais salad, escargot, andouillete (a tasty tripe sausage) and boudin noir (blood sausage).
The servings are large enough to feed a whole family and the staff are friendly.
Tripe and blood sausages may not be your idea of a perfect meal but you should try it – as Lyon’s chefs seem to have perfected the art of preparing tasty sausages.
Halles de Lyon is at 102 Cours Lafayette, Lyon.
4- Wander Around Vieux Lyon
Soak in the fairytale atmosphere of Lyon’s old town while wandering around the cobblestone streets.
Vieux Lyon is one of Europe’s largest Renaissance quarters with Gothic churches, narrow lanes, museums and over 300 Renaissance mansions.
The historic buildings are filled with gift shops, fashion boutiques, delis, restaurants and cafes.
There’s the Gothic Saint-Jean Cathedral and designer shops on Rue du Bœuf.
Lyon is a city made for wandering around on foot but if you prefer to get your bearings by joining a tour, book some of these tours.
5- Visit a Famous French Landmark
One of the top things to do in Lyon is to take the funicular from Vieux Lyon to the 19th century Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourviere.
From Fourvière Hill, the terrace beside the cathedral offers a panoramic view of Lyon.
The Romans chose Fourvière Hill to build Lyon in 43 BC but the cathedral was constructed much later, in 1872.
This basilica has stunning stained-glass windows, a beautifully restored organ that dates back to 1896, lovely mosaics depicting events from the Bible and is a reminder of Lyon’s important role in Roman France.
One of the iconic statues in Notre Dame is Joseph-Hugues Fabisch’s statue of “Saint Joseph and Child”.
Notre-Dame de Fourviere is at 8 Place de Fourvière, 69005 Lyon, France.
6- Learn about silk at the Museum of Textiles
Lyon became France’s capital of silk weaving when Francis I granted the city a silk trade monopoly in 1536.
Visit the Museum of Textiles and Decorative Arts (www.musee-des-tissus.com) to delve into the history of silk weaving.
There are displays of tapestries, textiles, carpets, cabinets of 18th to 20th century Lyon silk and patterns for Lyon-made fabrics created for the royal courts of Europe.
7- Discover Secret Passages in Lyon
One of the fun Lyon attractions to discover are the traboules, or passageways, that thread their way through the slopes of Croix Rousse.
Croix-Rousse is the district where the canuts, or silk-workers, lived and worked during Lyon’s silk-making heyday.
In the 19th century, there were 100,000 silk looms operating in Lyon. See weaving demonstrations at Maison des Canuts or join a two-hour guided walking tour exploring the traboules.
8- Go on a tour of Lyon’s murals
Lyon’s three-dimensional “trompe l’oeil” painted walls are definitely worth seeking out.
Apart from Berlin, Lyon is one of the best cities to see murals, such as the spectacular Fresque des canuts (silk-workers’ mural) in Croix Rousse and Fresque des Lyonnais, which is an intriguing mosaic of Lyon’s famous residents throughout the centuries.
La Fresque des Lyonnais is a stunning mural of Lyon’s famous figures from Roman emperor Claudius, who was born when Lyon was a Roman city called Lugdunum in Gaul, to the inventor of the Jacquard loom, Joseph-Marie Jacquard and chef Paul Bocuse.
The Tony Garnier Urban Museum has 24 trompe l’oeil murals.
9- Watch a puppet show
Lyon is the birthplace of Guignol, a witty marionette that has entertained French families since the 19th century.
Watch the Lyonnais version of Punch and Judy at Theatre Le Guignol de Lyon, visit the Museum of Animated Puppets and the International Puppet Museum in the old town.
10- Have Fun on a Gyroprode Segway Tour
Explore Lyon’s streets on a two-wheel gyroprode.
Lyon’s Gyroprode Segway Tour is a fun way to see the famous sights of Lyon and a good option when the weather is fine.
If you’re an outdoorsy person who is keen on seeing a number of sights, this is an activity you’ll love.
Tours are conducted by local guides, usually based on a theme, stopping at Lyon’s historic districts, including Vieux-Lyon and spots along the Rhone River.
11- Visit Musée Des Beaux-Arts
Located in a 17th-century abbey, Musée Des Beaux-Arts is an impressive art and culture museum that has been operating as one since the 19th century.
The museum’s 70 rooms are packed with art (from medieval to modern), sculpture and other artifacts.
Musée Des Beaux-Arts is at 20 Place des Terreaux, 69001 Lyon. The museum’s opening hours are 10 am to 6 pm and 1.30 am to 6 pm on Fridays.
12- Le Théatre Antique de Fourvière
Not far from the basilica is a Roman amphitheatre built 2,000 years ago, steeped in history with lovely views of the city.
In the summertime, Lyon’s most famous amphitheatre has a programme of music, theatre and dance.
Les Nuits de Fourvière has become a major international event that attracts well-known performers such as Robert Plant and Iggy Pop. Check out the upcoming programme here.
13- Explore Musée des Confluences
Not everything in Lyon is focused on the past.
You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the stainless steel and glass form of the Musée des Confluences, which is a museum that focuses on science and technology.
Displays at the museum address many of the main issues that affect the world around us.
This is an essential step in Lyon’s cultural landscape. It has lots of surprises in store for us and is an opportunity to travel and grow.
If you’re visiting Lyon with kids, the museum is a good place to spend a bit of time.
The museum is at the confluence of the Rhône River and Saône River.
14- Watch an Opera at the Lyon Opera House
Lyon is a city of culture, ballet, music and it should come as no surprise that the city has an opera house that is the envy of many European cities.
Opéra National de Lyon is in a handsome building built in 1831 that was renovated in 1993 to incorporate contemporary architecture in its design.
With a cylindrical glass roof that is a red beacon at night and seating for 1,100 in the main hall.
The Lyon Opera House is at 1 Place de la Comédie, 69001 Lyon, France.
15- Go on a cruise
As Lyon is a river city, a leisurely cruise on the Rhône and Saône will give you a different perspective of this 2000-year-old city.
There are lunch, dinner, general sightseeing cruises and night cruises (which are especially enchanting during the Festival of Lights).
How to get to Lyon
Several airlines fly to Paris, including Air France. Air France’s Premium Voyageur cabin offers seats with 40% more space than in economy.
Travel to Lyon on the TGV, which departs daily from Gare de Lyon in Paris. The train journey takes two hours.
A Lyon City Card provides unlimited rides on buses, trams, the Metro and funicular as well as Rhône Express train transfers between the airport and the city.
The card also provides entry to most museums and includes a cruise on the Saone, a Guignol puppet show and shopping discounts.
Where to stay in Lyon
Le Royal Lyon has excellent food and is conveniently located on a corner opposite Lyon’s main square.
The cosy decor has a warm feel and the hotel was the first hotel to have an electric lift in Lyon.
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