Things to Do in Lyon France - Best Lyon Walking Tour
The French city of Lyon is ideal to visit on foot because all the major Lyon attractions are close to each other. You can learn about Lyon and the best things to do in Lyon from many websites, but I grew up in Lyon and lived there for many years and want to share my local knowledge with you.
In my opinion, the ideal starting point for a Lyon walking tour is Perrache railway station and from here you can reach all Lyon France points of interest on foot. However, you can use the tube, tram or bus if walking isn’t your style. A single ticket costs 1.80 Euro and you can use this ticket as many times as you like on public transport for one hour only. Each time you change transport, you will need to validate your ticket. However, I recommend you travel on foot because it makes for a more interesting experience and you never know what you might discover around the corner when exploring this historic city.
History of Lyon France
Lyon city France was built in a strategic location between and around the banks of 2 major rivers: the Rhone and Saone. The city became a natural centre of communication as the Romans used the city as a starting point for a network of roads. In Lyon today, you can still find a lot of evidence of Roman heritage such as the Gallo-Roman Amphitheatre which features among Lyon attractions. Lyon was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998.
Lyon has a nice all-year round climate. It can be very hot during the summer months, but the winter is relatively mild. The best time to visit this city is May to September when temperatures in Lyon France are at their warmest. The average Lyon temperature during these months is approximately 22-25 degrees Celsius.
Where is Lyon in France?
Lyon is situated in the south east of France and is part of the Rhone-Alpes region. The city also benefits from being within easy access to many popular leisure activities as a result of its position. Lyon is a one-hour drive from the Alps where you can enjoy all mountain activities. The Mediterranean Sea is a 3-and-a-half-hour drive by car where you can enjoy water activities. By high speed train, Lyon France to Paris is 2 hours, Lyon France to Brussels is 4 hours or Lyon France to Marseille is 1 hour 40. This makes Lyon an idea base for Lyon day trips to other French destinations.
How to Get to Lyon by Plane
It is easy to fly to Lyon. Lyon has one international airport, Lyon Saint Exupery, airport code LYS. The airport is located 20 kilometres to the east of the city.
The best way to visit Lyon France from the airport is the fast tram. The tram runs every 15 minutes (30 minutes between 04H25 to 06H00 and 21H00 to midnight) and the journey is 29 minutes to Lyon Part-Dieu.
Alternatively, you can rent a car from the airport and if you want to find the best prices click here. However, if you are just intending to stay and visit Lyon, a car is not the best option. It is very easy to travel inside Lyon city centre because Lyon has very good public transport links and this is the best way to visit Lyon tourist attractions.
If you don’t use the tram, you can take a taxi from the airport to reach the city centre. Taxis are very convenient, but they can be expensive. On average it will cost you between 50 and 100 Euro depending on the time of the journey.
How Much Does a Taxi Cost in Lyon?
In Lyon, the minimum taxi fare is 7 Euro, but fares automatically start at 2 Euros. There are additional charges when you use a taxi to go to the airport or to the train station and when you have pets or large bags. If you don’t want to pay extra for a trip to the station, find out the name of a road nearby and ask the taxi to drop you there rather than the station itself.
How to Get to Lyon by Train
There are two railway stations in Lyon city centre and the third one is located at Lyon Saint-Exupery airport. The railway stations within Lyon city centre are Lyon Perrache and Lyon Part-Dieu. Both stations gave you access to the whole French rail network. It is very easy to travel from Paris to Lyon or Lyon to Marseille with the TGV (high speed train). For the best train ticket prices, click here.
What to See in Lyon France in One Day - Free Walking Tour Lyon
Day 1: Morning - Presqu’ile / Afternoon - Old Lyon and Basilique Fourvière
You need to start your Lyon free walking tour next to the Perrache railway station. From here, you need to take the pedestrian road till Ampere Victor Hugo, where you are going to find a statue of Andre-Marie Ampere (a French physicist). Turn right in the rue des Remparts d’Ainay and then left to the rue de la Charité. Located at number 34, you will find the Musée des Tissus et des Arts Decoratifs. For more information, click here. You can carry on walking along the rue de la Charité till the Clocher de la Charité. This tower was part of the Charité hospital where the homeless could find refuge but in 1933 the hospital was demolished for unsanitary conditions. Now the Clocher is the last remaining part of this hospital. The Lyonnais call it la Tour de l’Horloge maybe because it has a big clock (horloge is French for clock) on top.
We are now in the largest pedestrian square in Europe, Place Bellecour. Part of the UNESCO World Heritage site, the Place Bellecour is situated between the Saône and Rhône river. The big statue of Louis XIV on horseback is one of the most famous meeting points for Lyonnais. When I was younger, we usually met here as it was the easiest way to find someone (no mobile phones at this time). Perhaps it’s now time for a nice coffee with a croissant in one of the most famous brasseries in this area called l’Espace.
From here, you need to cross the Place Bellecour towards rue Emile Zola, in front of the big statue of Louis XIV. On your left, you are going to find la Place des Celestins with the theatre behind. Continue walking along the rue Jean Fabre where you are going to find Place des Jacobins and a beautiful fountain.
Follow the rue de Brest to head towards Place des Terreaux. Keep walking straight ahead until you reach the Place des Terreaux. If you like, enjoy the nice streets and passages to your left and right.
Place des Terreaux:
The masterpiece of the Place des Terreaux is the Bartholdi fountain. Interestingly, the fountain was moved during the construction of the Terreaux car park and was put back after its completion. The fountain was inaugurated in 1892 and restored in 2016. After 2 years and 3.58 million Euros the fountain is looking better than ever. During the car park construction, Roman artefacts and ruins were also found.
It’s now time to cross the Saône, so take the rue d’Algerie and cross the bridge de la Feuillée. Carry on walking straight ahead until you reach Place Saint-Paul and then turn left into rue Juiverie where we start our visit of Vieux Lyon (old Lyon) with the famous Traboules.
What are the Traboules ?
Traboules are secret passages between two parallel streets and are unique Lyon France points of interest. These passages were used by silk merchants to move goods quicker, as it removed the need for them to go down the length of a street to reach a parallel street. The traboules are still hidden in the old town, but will you find them?
To enter the traboules, you simply need to open a door on the street. So, when you are in old Lyon try to push a closed door and you will eventually find one that will open. You are allowed to go inside these passageways and visit the traboules but remember that there are people living here so you need to be quiet and respectful. Take time to enjoy the mediaeval part of Lyon and if you want to eat here, you are in the best place for food as there are many fabulous restaurants in Lyon France. Whilst you are here, you need to try eating in a Bouchon which is the name of a type of restaurant which serves Lyon specialities like cervelles des canuts (fresh cheese with garlic and herbs).
At the end of this area of Lyon, you will find the Saint Jean Cathedral which became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998. The Saint Jean Cathedral is a mix of Roman and Gothic architecture which took three centuries to finish. Don’t miss out on entering the cathedral and enjoying the inside.
Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière
Our next stop on our Lyon walking tour is the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière and you have 2 options on how to get there. The first option is to climb across the Parc des Hauteures (a steep climb) or the second option is to use the funicular (nicknamed Ficelles). Taking a ride with the funicular is fun and you can still walk down via the gardens downhill!
Of all the Lyon landmarks, the Basilique is the masterpiece of Lyon and is one of the many free things to do in Lyon. Built on top of the hill known as Fourvière, the Basilique became the symbol of Lyon and, of all the Lyon sights, is a very beautiful and striking silhouette over the city. It is a unique building because within it are two different churches. One on top of the other. In fact, Lyonnais refer to this building as l’elephant retourne (the upside-down elephant) because of its size and the structure resembles an elephant on its back with its legs in the air! Before going inside, head to the esplanade behind the church and admire panoramic views of Lyon.
Now, it’s time to head inside and I will leave you to discover the beauty of the cathedral for yourself. Don’t forget to go down the stairs to see the other church underneath.
Things to Do in Lyon if You Have 2 Days
If you have more time in this city, here are some other ideas about what to do in Lyon France and other places to visit in Lyon. On day two, you can visit the Ruines Gallo-Romaines next to the Fourvière Basilique. Here you will see an impressive Roman theatre which has a 90m diameter and was built around 15 BC. Later, a second build extended the diameter to 108m and the theatre now has a capacity for 10,000 people.
The Roman theatre and Roman museum are a popular tourist attraction but once a year, during the summer time, you can go and watch a performance called Nuits de Fourvière.
Parc de la Tête D’Or
Now it is time to visit the most prestigious park in Lyon: Parc de la Tête D’Or. This park is open from 6.30am until 8:30pm in winter and until 10:30pm from mid-April to October. The nearest tube station is Massena and you can find the entrance on the Boulevard des Belges. The main entrance to the park is Place du General Leclerc and it is free to visit.
This is an ideal place to visit when the weather is good and is one of the many things to do in Lyon with kids. There is something for everyone, from the magnificent gardens to the animals in the zoo. You can take a picnic and rest next to century old trees. Kids can watch a puppet show with Guignol or ride a pony.
Musée d’Art Contemporain and the Cite Internationale
Next to the Parc de la Tete D’Or is the Musée d’Art Contemporain and the Cite Internationale. You can use a Velo’V self-service bike. You can buy a Velo’V day pass which costs 4 Euros and you can use the bikes as many times as you want for 24 hours. The first 30 minutes of each ride are free and after you need to pay for any extra time you use. So, our Off The Tourist Treadmill tip is to take a bike ride for less than 30 minutes, put the bike back and take another bike. Like this you will always be in the free 30 minutes. Check out the Velo’V website here.
With your bike you can now go to visit the Brotteaux area with the Brotteaux railway station. This was the first railway station in Lyon but is not in use now. In this area you will see beautiful architecture. Just get lost in this area and take time to enjoy a coffee or a glass of wine. It’s not a cheap part of the city but it is a very good area to find the best Lyonnaise cuisine.
Halles Lyon Paul Bocuse
You can carry on with your bike to Halles Lyon Paul Bocuse (closed on Mondays), where you can find the finest shops. This is very good place to taste Lyon delicatessen delights.
Things to See in Lyon France if you Have 3 Days
Confluence area to Croix Rousse
Today, you can start your free tour Lyon in the Confluence area and rent a Velo’V to enjoy a ride along the Rhône. Stay on the Rhône banks and head towards the Parc de la Tête d’Or, cross the Rhône at the Pont de Latter de Tassigny and use the tunnel Modes Doux to go to the Croix Rousse. This tunnel is a secret area of Lyon and is one of the quirky things to do in Lyon. The tunnel is for pedestrians and cyclists only and you will find yourself in the middle of a light show. This is one of the best experiences to do for free in Lyon. The best time to visit is during the Fetes des Lumieres (8 December).
When you are on the other side, you can carry on along the Saône banks toward L’Ile Barbe in the north. This is a nice small island where you will find an old Abbey built in the fifth century.
Things to Do in Lyon at Night
There are plenty of things to do at night in Lyon. Lyon is a beautiful place to see at night. With 2 rivers and plenty of bridges it is ideal for taking atmospheric photographs.
If you want to enjoy a drink, you can try these places:
- Café du Soleil is one of the oldest cafés in the city (more than 2 centuries old) and is a good choice to start your night. 69005 Lyon 2 rue Saint Georges.
- Peniche Loupika is located in Quai Rambaud in the 2nd arrondissement. I love to be able to have a drink on a boat and it’s always nice to be close to the water.
- One of my favourite places to have a drink and to listen to live music is Eden Rock café (69002, 68 rue Merciere). Get inside and go upstairs where you will find a small room where you can dance and listen to live bands. It’s a great place with a cool atmosphere.
What is la Fete des Lumieres ?
Each year on the 8 December, the festival of lights (Fete des Lumieres) takes place on four magical evenings. This tradition dates back to 1852 when the decision was taken to erect a statue of the Virgin Mary on Fourvière hill. Lyonnais put candles in the windows to celebrate this. The people of Lyon came together in a spirit of solidarity. Since then, all Lyonnais celebrate this festival and now it has become one of the Lyon events not to be missed and has an international reputation. If you can be in Lyon at this time, it is a truly magical experience but be aware that it attracts a lot of visitors to the city.
Top Things to Do in Lyon with Kids
The best thing to do with kids is to go to the Park de la Tête d’Or and to visit the zoo which is free and very nice in good weather. Inside the park, you can see the puppet show with Guignol. This puppet is one of the symbols of Lyon.
Another good place to visit with children is the Miniature and Cinema Museum. You can find this museum in old Lyon (60 rue Saint Jean). It is very interesting, and you will discover more than 100 scenes.
Something else for the children is to visit the traboules where they can hunt for secret hidden passages in the old part of Lyon.
Romantic Things to Do in Lyon.
Walking in the Croix Rousse area is very romantic and there are plenty of things to do in Croix Rousse Lyon like exploring the high street and visiting the local market that is held every morning (the largest market being on Tuesday mornings). Don’t miss the Mur des Canuts located on the Boulevard des Canuts. Canuts is the name for Lyonnais silk workers and the Mur des Canuts is an impressive trompe-l’oeil which illustrates the life of these workers. It is the biggest wall painting in Europe at more than 1200 square meters. In the middle of the stairs, you will recognize the Guignol puppet. There are also plenty of intimate restaurants in the Croix Rousse area.
You can also have a romantic meal on board the Hermes boat. In my opinion, this is one of the best romantic restaurants in Lyon France. You will eat a very nice meal and enjoy Lyon sightseeing at the same time.
Alternative Things to Do in Lyon
Other Lyon activities include riding the big wheel in Place Bellecour. The ride offers a unique view of Lyon. Another fun thing to do take a boat ride along the Rhône and Saône river. Alternatively, if you feel sporty you can ride a bike along the banks of the rivers.
Shopping in Lyon France
In Lyon, you can shop at Lyon La Part Dieu which is a large shopping mall near the railways station. Here you will find well-known high street retailers and other boutiques. Otherwise, you can head to the pedestrian zone called rue de la Republique where you will find plenty of retailers including small boulangeries (bakers) which sell a speciality of Lyon called Brioche Praline and Coussins de Lyon (chocolate marzipan sweets). There is a huge shop called Fnac which sells books, electronics, music and photography equipment.
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