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Lyon was once famously described as the gastronomic capital of the world. While some might debate that nowadays, the country’s third-largest city is certainly the gastronomic capital of France with an array of casual eating options, traditional bouchons, international foods, neo-bistros and an overwhelming variety of dinner options.
Though Michelin stars abound, there’s a lot more to the French city than simply the food. In our opinion, it is one of the best cities in France. It is also one of the world’s most beautiful cities. It has a plethora of historical monuments and stunning architecture – dating back to the middle ages, and spanning various eras. As France’s second city for students, it is little wonder it has a young, lively atmosphere. Personally, I also found the city to be cleaner than Paris. It is green, with more people on bikes (a great way to get around the city)- it almost has a Scandinavian feel.
It’s a mere 2 hours or so from Paris, making for an easy weekend getaway. So, here’s our Lyon travel itinerary. If you’ve got 48 hours to spare it is just enough time, and the perfect opportunity to explore this delightful, energetic town. Discover the best places to go and the best things to do with this 2-day itinerary.
How to Get to Lyon
From Paris it is approximately a 5 hour drive to Lyon. There are several flights a day. But the best way to travel is via train from Gare de Lyon, with the fastest trains taking around 2 hours.
Lyon City Card
The Lyon City Card is offered by the tourist office. It provides access to public transportation, museums, a guided tour by bus or foot, and river cruises.
Public transportation makes getting around Lyon by bus, metro or tram easy. A single ticket is only €1.90. Public Transport is free with the Lyon City Card. The river boat shuttle, Vaporetto, is a nice alternative for visitors, running between Vieux Lyon and La Confluence. Another fun way to get around is via the Water Taxi Lyon that traverses the Rhône river and the Saône.
Day Trips – Wine Tastings
A car is unnecessary in Lyon, but if you drove, it is wonderful to explore nearby villages and wineries. Beaujolais and Rhone Valley vineyards are nearby and make for a worthwhile day trip. Even if you don’t have a car, don’t despair as you can still enjoy wine tastings in the city centre. We’ve selected a few of the best ones to explore.
Where to stay
When I last visited, I stayed at the 4-star Collège Hôtel conveniently located in Vieux Lyon, one of the best areas to stay in. The city’s best bars are all a stone’s throw away. The simple décor combines with the comfort of a modern hotel. If you’re lucky, you might get a room with a view of The Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière.
Things To do
If you’d rather leave the planning to someone else, we’ve compiled the best tours in the City to be your guide.
If playing it by ear is more your speed, here are some of our favorite spots to check out, at your pace while in Lyon.
First things first, head to the historic Vieux Lyon (Old Town Lyon), the oldest and largest Renaissance district in the city. Vieux Lyon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is known for its hidden, narrow passageways called traboules that pass through buildings, connecting the streets on either side. Cathédrale Saint-Jean (sometimes referred to as Lyon Cathedral) is a handsome mix of Roman and Gothic styles, in the heart of the Old Town. It is one of the sites that visitors to Lyon won’t want to miss.
Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière
Once you’ve discovered the cobblestone streets in the heart of Old Lyon, head to the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière which overlooks the city. You can either hike up the Fourvière hill (good walking shoes recommended), or take the funicular ride. I would recommend taking the funicular up, and walking down.
From the top, you have amazing panoramic views of the city. Marvel at the Romanesque architecture and visit the ruins of the amphitheaters. On the way down, take the Escalier Basilique de Fourvière for more great views.
Les Halles de Lyon-Paul Bocuse
Foodies, this is the place for you. This covered market is named after the ‘Pope’ of French gastronomy himself who hails from the city, Michelin-star chef Paul Bocuse.
Not only can you buy quality fresh produce but you can also sit at one its many restaurants and enjoy a meal made from the fresh ingredients being sold right there at the market stalls. Whether it’s a luxurious dish from Passionnement-Truffes – Maison Blanchet, or a seafood platter at Maison Cellerier.
Parc de la Tête d’Or and Musée d’Art Contemporain de Lyon
For some nature, head to the Parc de la Tête d’Or. This public space is the largest urban park in France and home to Lyon’s botanical garden. Take in some art at the nearby Musée d’Art Contemporain de Lyon, whose collection boasts works by Daniel Buren, James Turrell, Marina Abramović and Ulay, and Cai Guo Qiang.
Musée des Beaux-Arts
The Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon (The Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon) is situated near the Place des Terreaux. It houses an impressive collection of works from the Egyptian antiquities to contemporary art. It is one of France’s largest art museums.
La Biennale de Lyon
If you’re an art lover the best time to visit Lyon is during Biennale de Lyon, which interchanges each year between dance and art. This year, it’s the Biennale de la Danse from 9-30 September 2023, while next year, it’s the Biennale d’Art Contemporain running from September 2024 to January 2025.
Besides gastronomy, another claim to fame for Lyon is that it is the birthplace of cinema. It was at the Château Lumière where cinematography was officially born, developed by Antoine and sons Auguste and Louis Lumière. Their former villa is home to a museum that is well worth a visit. The Institut Lumière houses a cinema and film archive. It also hosts a yearly film festival in October.
La Maison des Canuts
Lyon was once the world’s capital of silk. In La Croix-Rousse, you will find the home of the silk industry here which reached its peak in the 19th century. In the 20th century, synthetic fabrics meant that silk production suffered badly here, where they soon only supplied fashion designers and chateaux. La Maison des Canuts (The House of Silk Workers) is worth a visit to discover more about the silk merchants, the history of the industry and its production. There is a workshop next door which holds demonstrations as well.
The Place des Terreaux in the city center is a great place to grab a drink and watch the world go by, especially if it’s your first time visiting. The grand square rests on the Presqu’île, in between the Rhône and the Saône rivers. It’s a great place to enjoy an apératif en terrasse, or near the Hôtel de Ville.
Just a short walk away, you’ll find L’Antiquaire, a moody American/New York-style bar with dark, wooden decor, comfortable booth seating, and ‘old fashioned’ cocktails that is definitely worth a try.
In Vieux Lyon is a beautiful cocktail bar called Le Florian. It’s located in a 15th century building and features Venetian Renaissance decor paired with hip–hop & jazz, funk soul music.
For something more modern, nearby is a great gin bar called Cigale. With an extensive list of gins available and friendly service, they also make cocktails and serve tapas.
Daniel et Denise
If you’re looking to try bouchon, Daniel et Denise is a great option for traditional dishes. There are three restaurants in the city all run by chef Joseph Viola, who has been awarded the prestigious title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France (Best Craftsman of France). He serves up traditional Lyonnaise cuisine such as veal’s head, pike quenelles, duck foie gras, Bresse chicken with morilles and veal sweetbreads.
Victoire et Thomas
During the day, enjoy a midi formule or lunch a la carte at reasonable prices. At night it’s all about platters and share plates using fresh seasonal market ingredients. You can also do wine and spirits tasting in its ancient stone cellar.
This neo-bistro is run by the Brazilian-born Tabata Mey and her French husband Ludovic Mey. This Michelin-starred restaurant is the place to find creative cuisine with a multitude of influences. The pair met while working at Noma in Copenhagen, which was ranked the best restaurant in the world. Les Apothicaires has also made it to the list of the world’s 50 best restaurants.
Restaurant Café du Soleil
For something more casual, head to the quirky Café du Soleil in Vieux Lyon, which claims to be the oldest bouchon in Lyon, dating back to the 18th century. Enjoy some Lyonnaise home-style cooking on the terrasse in its picturesque location at the bottom of Gourguillon hill, opposite La Maison de Guignol, the traditional puppet theatre dating back to 1965.
Cathédrale Saint-Jean – Pl. Saint-Jean, 69005 Lyon
La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière – 8 Pl. de Fourvière, 69005 Lyon
Les Halles de Lyon-Paul Bocuse – 102 cours Lafayette, 69003 Lyon
Parc de la Tête d’Or – 69006 Lyon
Musée d’Art Contemporain de Lyon – Cité Internationale, 81 Quai Charles de Gaulle, 69006 Lyon
Musée des Beaux-Arts – 20 Pl. des Terreaux, 69001 Lyon
La Biennale de Lyon – 65 Rue Challemel-Lacour, 69007 Lyon
Institut Lumière – Rue du Premier Film, 69008 Lyon
La Maison des Canuts – 10 Rue d’Ivry, 69004 Lyon
Place des Terreaux – Pl. des Terreaux, 69001 Lyon
L’Antiquaire – 20 Rue Hippolyte Flandrin, 69001 Lyon
Bar Le Florian – 4 Pl. de la Baleine, 69005 Lyon
Cigale – 2 Rue de la Loge, 69005 Lyon
Daniel & Denise – various locations
Victoire et Thomas – 27 Rue de l’Arbre Sec, 69001 Lyon
Les Apothicaires – 23 Rue de Sèze, 69006 Lyon
Restaurant Café du Soleil – 2 Rue Saint-Georges, 69005 Lyon
- Explore the rest of our 48 Hours series: Nice, Bordeaux, Barcelona, Venice, Brussels, Vienna, and Strasbourg
- Hear it from the premier source: Michelin Guide: Lyon is Taking Over as France’s Global Gastronomy Capital.
- Many people dream of living or visiting Paris. But there are several other French cities that are just as delightful and more affordable. Read about 9 destinations that are cheaper than Paris.
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