Is Lyon Worth Visiting?
My fiancée once asked me – Is Lyon worth visiting? As a French native who grew up in Lyon, I laughed and guessed why immediately. Of course, like many tourists, she had spent hours with her family stuck in the traffic jams around Lyon on the motorway heading to the south of France. She knew nothing more about Lyon France. Recently, I persuaded her to stay in Lyon and to discover some of my 21 reasons to visit this beautiful city.
Where is Lyon in France ?
Lyon is ideally located in the south east of France near the Alps and not too far from the Mediterranean Sea. Paris to Lyon is less than 2 hours with the TGV (high speed train). Lyon has 2 rivers, La Saône et le Rhône, and in the middle is the Presqu’ile which is where Lyon grew from. Lyon is the second largest city in France, but like many major France cities, it is a very easy place to visit on foot. Check out our article on the best free walking tour of Lyon here.
What to Do in Lyon France
Lyon is the capital of gastronomy in France, so you will have plenty of food to choose from during your visit. For this reason, my first recommended thing to do in Lyon is:
1. Eat at a Bouchon Lyonnais
Bouchons are restaurants where you can eat typical Lyonnaise specialities. You can find them easily in the area of Saint Jean but you can find them in other areas of Lyon too. Food in Lyon is excellent so Bouchons are some of the best places to visit in Lyon France. Make sure you try all the local specialities, like ‘Cervelle de Canut’ (French cheese with herbs, shallots, oil and salt) or ‘Gateau de Volaille’ (chicken liver cake).
2. Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon)
The best Bouchons in Lyon are found in Lyon old town, so if you have tried a Bouchon in Saint Jean, you were in Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon). This part of the old city of Lyon France was where the ‘Canut’ (silk workers) were based. The area of Saint Jean, Saint Paul and Saint Georges are part of Vieux Lyon. In these areas, you will find plenty of gothic and French renaissance style houses. It is very nice to walk in this part of Lyon. You will also find nice Patisseries with sell other Lyonnaise specialities like the delicious, pink ‘Brioche Praline’.
3. Les Traboules Lyon
Les Traboules are unique Lyon France attractions. They are Lyon secret passages between buildings which basically served as short-cuts to make the transportation of silk easier. The Canuts (silk workers) could go from one street to another and reach the river very quickly. There are still 500 Traboules in Lyon and most of them are hidden behind doors in Vieux Lyon. Don’t be afraid to try and open a door, you may discover a Traboule.
4. Roman Théâtre of Fourvière
Other Lyon attractions include Le Théâtre de Fourvière. 10,000 spectators can sit in this Roman amphitheatre which is now a tourist attraction on the Fourvière hill. If you visit Lyon in the summer months, from June to the end of July, you can buy a ticket for ‘Les Nuits de Fourvière’. Each night a different artist performs at the amphitheatre. For more information, check nuits de fourviere website.
5. Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière
Next to the Roman theatre, you will find perhaps the most striking of the Lyon France points of interest – the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière. This Basilica is the symbol of Lyon and it is very impressive. You will find this landmark at the top of a hill, so there is also a very good panoramic view of Lyon. Afterwards, enter the church to see the magnificent interior of this building. When you first enter, you will notice an impressive church but at the middle, on the right, you will find doors with a staircase leading down. From here, you will access a second church. Yes, the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière is one church on top of another.
6. Le Tunnel Modes Doux
Rent a Velo’V and go to the Croix Rousse via the Tunnel Modes Doux. This tunnel runs from the bank of the Rhône (Quai Andrée Lassagne) to the Croix Rousse. This tunnel is a multimedia tunnel which is for pedestrians and bicycles only. You will travel through this tunnel surrounded by multimedia effects. It’s a great experience and one of the fun things to do in Lyon France.
7. Croix Rousse
There are plenty of walks to do in the Croix Rousse but the main attraction is the biggest wall painting in Europe. This painting is a must see in Lyon France and is called ‘Le Mur des Canuts’. You will find it on the Boulevard des Canuts. It is the story of the Canuts and the silk factory. Take time to look at each detail of this gigantic wall painting.
8. Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse
Back to gastronomy. Here, you can find a market with plenty of stalls selling regional products and another chance to taste the best French cooking. The Halles are named after Paul Bocuse who was one of the best Chefs in France with 3 Michelin stars. He died at the age of 91, but his restaurant in Collonges-au-Mont d’Or is still open and his recipes are still served.
9. Places (Squares)
Other places of interest in Lyon France include the numerous ‘Places’ (squares), the most famous of which is Place Bellecour. This is one of the largest open squares in Europe. Right in the centre sits the statue of the Sun King, Louis XIV. During your visit to Lyon, you will find plenty of Places for example: Place des Terreaux, Place de Jacobins and Place des Célestins with the Célestins Théâtre behind.
10. Les Parcs (Parks)
There are plenty of parks in Lyon but the most well-known is the Parc de la Tête d’Or. This is one of the biggest urban parks in France with 105 hectares and a zoo. The zoo is free to enter, and you can see mostly African animals. Inside the park, there is also a botanic garden and plenty of space to relax or picnic.
11. La Cathédrale Saint-Jean
As you might guess, Lyon cathedral is situated in Saint Jean and you can’t miss it. It has been classed as a historical monument since 1862 and a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1998. The façade is splendid with a Gothic style. Inside you will find an astronomical clock.
12. Musée Gadagne
This Lyon museum tells the story of the city with 80,000 items set in 30 rooms and over four levels. This is a very good place to visit with kids because there are also more than 2,000 puppets on display.
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13. La Saône and the Rhône
It is lovely to walk or cycle along the bank of the rivers. There are plenty of areas to stop and have a drink along the way. You will also find a few Péniche bars (bars on boats used to transport goods).
14. The Confluence Area
The Confluence area is where la Saône and the Rhône meet. In years gone by, it was a bad area but not anymore. Lyon’s Mayor spent a lot of money renovating this area and now it is a very good area to walk along the river. There is a shopping mall which is smaller than the one at the Part Dieu but much more modern. Also, you can visit the Confluence Museum, the architecture of which is supposed to resemble a big boat.
15. La Fête des Lumières
La Fête des Lumières is one of the biggest festivals in Lyon, but it happens just 4 days a year on the 8th of December. During this time, all of Lyon is transformed into a big screen. On all building façades, there are spectacular shows made with light. All Lyonnais put small candles on the edge of their windows to celebrate the statue of Mary. This is the best time of the year to walk around Lyon because you never know what the next street will reveal.
16. Lyon Shopping
The biggest shopping mall is at La Part Dieux. It is one of the biggest shopping malls in Europe with 6 levels of shops and restaurants. Another alternative is the shopping mall at Confluence, or if you like to be outside, you can enjoy the shops in the pedestrian areas next to the Place Bellecour.
17. Institut Lumière
If you like the cinema, you will love this museum as it is a tribute to the Lumière brothers. You will see ingenious creations and old movies.
18. Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon
This Lyon museum is one of the largest fine art museums after the Louvre with exhibits from Degas, Van Gogh, Renoir, Cézanne, Picasso and plenty of other artists displayed in the 70 rooms.
19. City Boat
Since Lyon has two rivers, sightseeing the city on a boat is a good idea. For a romantic dinner, you can book a table on the Hermès boat.
20. Aquarium de Lyon
The Aquarium de Lyon has 47 tanks and over 300 different species of freshwater and saltwater fish. Visiting the aquarium is an ideal day out with kids in Lyon. There is even a section where kids can hold and touch the fish.
21. Markets in Lyon
Saint Antoine Market along the Saône river is very nice to wander around. You will find plenty of Lyonnaise specialities here as well as other produce including cheese, bread, cooked meat, cakes, wine and flowers. We bought some delicious Cervelle de Canut here which we enjoyed as our aperitif one evening and a brioche praline for dessert.
Is Lyon France Worth Visiting ?
After a successful weekend in Lyon, my fiancée has been convinced that there is so much more to this beautiful city than the motorway to the south of France. She enjoyed visiting the many Lyon France landmarks. There are plenty of things to do in Lyon France, so we hope you take the time to stay for a few days and find out for yourself that Lyon France is definitely worth visiting.