Visiting Lyon: Top 20 Things to Do – 2018

What to do in Lyon?

Visit Lyon , you will discover a city with history and rich culture with beautiful old neighborhoods and museums. 

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, at the confluence of the Rhone and Saone rivers, it is the ideal destination to do some sightseeing for a weekend with your partner or family!

In order to help you prepare your stay, I have prepared the ultimate guide to top things to do in Lyon. Find the 20 places of interest to discover in and around the city, my suggestions for itineraries to visit Lyon in 1, 2 or 3 days and my selection of the best accommodations.

And as a bonus, I even give you some suggestions of activities to do in Lyon when it rains!

So what to do in Lyon?

Visit Lyon: the essentials

1. Old Lyon

We start this Top 20 must-see places in Lyon by the Vieux Lyon district. 

Dating back to one part of the Medieval period and the other to the Renaissance period, Vieux Lyon (also known as Saint-Jean district) is one of the historic districts of the city. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this district is surprising with its cobblestone streets, its great Cathedral and its unusual museums. It is also in this area that you will find the famous “corks” Lyon (I tell you a little lower).

To visit in the district of Old Lyon:

  • The Gadagne Museum: This museum complex is located in a magnificent Renaissance building, classified as a historical monument. There you will find a museum dedicated to the history of Lyon from the Ancient to Present period, as well as the Museum of Puppetry Arts. The famous Guignol is indeed from the city! After visiting the museums, do not hesitate to go through the hanging gardens of Gadagne to rest. Timetable and pricing information can be found on the official website.
  •  Miniature Museum and Cinema: If you are passionate about cinema, you will love this museum. You will discover more than one hundred very realistic miniature scenes as well as all the special effects techniques used before computer image processing. Opening hours and access information can be found on the official website.
  • The Cathedral or Primatiale Saint-Jean: it has one of the largest collections of objects and religious relics dating, for the oldest, of the Byzantine era. It is a must-see building in Old Lyon especially for its 14th century astronomical clock, one of the oldest in Europe. For more information, here it is.
  • The old courthouse and the 24 columns adorning its facade.
To visit Lyon and especially the Gadagne Museum, I advise you to buy directly here the Lyon City Card. It entitles you to free public transport + free admission to 22 museums! A boat cruise and a guided tour are also included.
The Saint-Jean Cathedral, Vieux Lyon district

2. The traboules of Lyon

The traboules of Lyon alone deserve a small paragraph as they are a specificity of the city. It is in the district of Old Lyon that one can register the maximum traboule, but there are also some in the district of Croix Rousse.

Traboules Lyon are pedestrian crossings that pass under houses and buildings to cross from one street to another. There are hundreds and their architecture is really unique and surprising.

You can discover the traboules by yourself by taking the risk that some passages are closed or opt for a guided tour to be sure not to miss the most famous.

Real tourist attraction of Lyon, the most known and photographed are the Cour des Voraces (located Place Colbert) and the Rose Tower (16 rue du Boeuf) in Old Lyon. And if you want to go through the longest traboule in Lyon, it is at 54 rue Saint-Jean that it happens!

When you go through the traboules, remember that there are people who live above, so be calm and respectful.

A trick not to miss the entrance of traboules : the wall of the house is marked with a plate with a lion’s head on a yellow background!
Traboule of the Rose Tower, Lyon

3. Fourviere

From Saint-Jean, large stairs lead up the hill of Fourvière, one of the most touristy places of Lyon. The climb can be quite long and tiring, you can also choose to join the funicular. The Twine (nickname of the funicular) starts from the metro station Vieux-Lyon .

At the top of the esplanade, you will enjoy a panoramic view of the whole city with in the background, the Alps and Mont Blanc.

Overlooking the hill, you will find the Basilica of Fourviere. It is the emblem of the religious history of Lyon. With a rather austere appearance on the outside, its interior is richly decorated.

Next to the Basilica is a communication tower called the “little Eiffel Tower” because of its surprising resemblance to its cousin of Paris.

In the same area you can also visit the ruins of the Ancient Theater of the ancient Lugdunum  and visit the Gallo-Roman Museum. All information is on the museum’s official website.

The Basilica of Fourvière, night view

4. Place Bellecour

In the list of places to see in Lyon, direction Place Bellecour.

Place Bellecour is a privileged meeting place for Lyon.

Whether to visit Lyon, go shopping, go to the movies or just go on a bar tour, everything starts from Bellecour. It is the 0 kilometer point of Lyon, which means that distances are calculated from there.

Recognized as the largest pedestrian square in Europe, this vast esplanade of red earth offers a breathtaking view of Fourviere and gives access to many streets ideal for shopping.

In the center of the square, you can also see the  statue of Louis XIV on his horse (built in 1713 in honor of the Sun King) and further the statue of the Little Prince and Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

If you visit Lyon in winter, you can  take a ride on the Ferris wheel of Bellecour to discover all the city enlightened. At Christmas, you will also find an ice rink.

Enjoy your visit through Place Bellecour to go to the tourist office to take a map of the city.
Place Bellecour of Lyon

5. The peninsula

Another area of ​​Lyon not to be missed during your stay: that of the Presqu’ile.

This district is the central point of the city. You will find many historical monuments as well as the most famous places (including Place Bellecour that I mentioned just above).

Places to see on the Presqu’île de Lyon:

  • The street of the Republic: it is the main commercial street of the city. You will find cheap signs as well as designer and luxury boutiques.
  • The Place des Terreaux with its Bartholdi fountain of 360 tons
  • The Place des Jacobins, one of the most beautiful in Lyon
  • The pedestrian street Victor Hugo and its many shops
  • The Place des Célestins where is the theater of the same name
  • The Palace of the Stock Exchange, classified as a historical monument
  • The opera of Lyon
  • City Hall
The Place des Jacobins, in Lyon

6. The Croix Rousse

To continue visiting Lyon and its neighborhoods, I now take you to discover the Croix Rousse.

Easily accessible by metro or by multiple steps for more sports, the district occupies a plateau on the heights of the city. It is often called “village” in the city because atypical enough and having a strong working identity due to its past.

The Croix Rousse is indeed the former district of the canuts, the workers specialized in the work of silkand whose revolt to irrevocably mark the history of Lyon. The buildings were built specifically to house the huge weaving machines with very high ceilings and huge windows. Today only a few copies remain in the national museums.

If you are interested in this period of history, I invite you to visit the House of Canuts, a former workshop of silk weaver and also to see the Fresco of Canuts, on the Boulevard des Canuts. This 1,200 square meter trompe l’oeil retranscribes the life and atmosphere of the neighborhood. In the same vein, you can also go and see the famous Lyonnais painted wall, at the bottom of Croix Rousse.

Finish your tour of the Croix Rousse by the Gros Caillou to enjoy the view of the entire city. The Montée de la Grand Côte also offers superb views.

The fresco of the Canuts, district of the Croix Rousse of Lyon

7. The Park of the Golden Head

Another tourist site very popular with visitors as much as Lyonnais to enjoy the greenery, the park of the Tête d’Or.

Located in the sixth arrondissement of Lyon, the Golden Head Park is the largest park in the city.

It is the ideal place for outdoor activities. You can choose to visit the free zoological park, the rose garden, the botanical garden or enjoy a train ride or pedal boat on the lake. The more athletic will also be able to go jogging in peace or cycling around.

You will easily find something to eat along the park.

If you visit Lyon with your family, there is no doubt that your children will appreciate this place. The place is calm and relaxing.

Ask about other activities on the official website.

The park of the golden head, Lyon

8. The Confluence neighborhood

Totally renovated, the district of Confluences is the contemporary district of Lyon, located at the confluence of the Rhone and Saone.

Former industrial district with many factories, it has been rehabilitated to become an eco-district with multiple shops, offices and homes.

In Confluence, the visit not to be missed is that of the museum. Yet recent, it has quickly become a must in Lyon.

The museum of Confluences with its futuristic architecture and located on the banks of the Rhone, offers permanent exhibitions on the origins of life including an archaeological part, another on representations of death and a final on societies and civilizations made by Man.

The staging is original and very interesting thanks to clear explanations.

To organize your visit to the museum of Confluences, you can consult the official website.

The Confluences Museum, Lyon

9. Lunch in a Lyon cork

Visit Lyon without taking at least one meal in a bouchon Lyon, it is not conceivable! Real institution, there is even a label “Bouchons Lyonnais” to certify the authenticity of the typical bistro.

Eating in a cork is the best way to discover and experience gastronomy and regional specialties. On the menu, opt for kidneys, a brioche sausage, dumplings or even the brains of canut and sapper apron! 

Among the impressive list of Lyon corks, I recommend:

All are very famous so I can only advise you to book in advance!

Lunch at the Cap des Cordeliers, in Lyon

10. The Festival of Lights

If you visit Lyon around December 8th you must not miss the Festival of Lights.

This festival has been held every year since 1852, it is a must event attracting millions of visitors every year. Originally, the festival was created to celebrate the Virgin Mary who would have saved the Lyonnais epidemic plague.

Today, whether you are a believer or not, the Festival of Lights is definitely worth a visit to contemplate all the illuminations and the bright works of art projected on the facades of the monuments. Access is free!

To prepare for your next Festival of Lights, visit the official website.

The Festival of Lights of Lyon

11. Walk on the banks of the Rhone and Saone

As you know, Lyon is at the confluence of the Rhone and Saone rivers. What promises beautiful walks in perspective along the docks!

The banks have been well-appointed for pedestrians, making it a privileged place to walk in the city. They offer in addition to beautiful views and can watch the many passing barges of the Rhone. It is also from the shores of the Saone that are the most beautiful panoramas on the hill of Fourvière.

You can walk there as well as by bike.

The presence of these two rivers also makes it possible to make a boat cruise to discover Lyon from another angle. Several types are available depending on the duration and choice of the boat: houseboat, tourist boat or even boat rental without a license.

To spend a pleasant time on the Saône, I recommend you to book here this cruise of one hour with a guideFor only 13.50 € per person, the boat will take you to Vieux Lyon and the Confluence district.

Take a cruise on the Rhône

12. The Museum of Fine Arts

During your weekend in Lyon, I advise you to include the visit of the Museum of Fine Arts to your program.

Located on the Place des Terreaux, in the Presqu’île, the museum welcomes you in the former Abbey of the Ladies of Saint-Pierre. Classified as a historical monument, in its 70 rooms, the museum presents an important collection of European paintings and sculptures from the 14th century to the middle of the 20th century.

There is also a large part dedicated to Antiquity and more particularly to the theme of Egypt.

It is the most important behind the Louvre Museum in Paris and is considered one of the most beautiful museums in France. 

All practical information is on the official website.

The Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon

13. Lyon Halles Paul Bocuse

Les Halles is the benchmark of gastronomy in Lyon with fine grocery stores, pastry chocolatiers, cheese makers and caterers. In all there are about sixty traders.

They are located in the third arrondissement of Lyon, next to Part-Dieu train station and are open from 7 am to 10.30 pm on weekdays (closed on Mondays) and from 7 am to 1 pm on Sundays and public holidays.

Huge covered market, it is the ideal place to have fun with good charcuterie, taste the Lyon dumplings or the delicious praline pie, the typical dessert of the city.

On the other hand it is not the small market of the producers of the corner, the prices there are rather high but you will be sure to buy products of quality.

To access and know the stores present at Les Halles, I invite you to visit the official website.

Enjoy a praline pie at the Lyon market

14. The district of Part-Dieu

The district of La Part Dieu is mainly a business district, known to tourists to house a large shopping center.

Before becoming a center of activities, the Grand Hotel-Dieu de Lyon was a hospital whose medical practices were innovative and recognized throughout France. Famous for its architecture, its dome and its gardens, the Grand Hotel-Dieu is today at the same time a commercial center, one of the high places of the French gastronomy and a 5 stars hotel.

But it is also where the largest buildings in Lyon such as the InCity tower, the Oxygène tower, and the Pencil are located. It is in the latter that you will find a restaurant allowing you to admire a 360 ° view of the entire city, on the 32nd floor of the building.

The district of the Part Dieu and its most famous tower: the Pencil

15. Go shopping in Lyon

You do not know where to go in Lyon to do some shopping?

Here are the best places to shop:

  • Part-Dieu: This shopping center is one of the largest in Europe. Part-Dieu has about 250 shops and 40 restaurants. There is also a big cinema and many services. The mall is open from Monday to Saturday from 10h to 20h.
  • Confluence: Newer than Part-Dieu, the Confluence shopping center is very spacious and pleasant for visitors. Approximately 100 shops, 27 restaurants and a cinema are open from Monday to Saturday from 10h to 20h.
  • The street of the Republic of the Peninsula and its innumerable shops of signs known as H & M, Zara etc …
  • The Carré d’Or Lyonnais still in the peninsula but luxury version with Hermes, Vuitton etc …
  • The Croix Rousse for its vintage shops and thrift stores.
Shopping in Lyon

What to do around Lyon?

If you went around Lyon, I advise you to go around the area. Here are some of the places to see nearby.

16. The medieval village of Pérouges

Pérouges is 40 minutes from Lyon by car.

Often classified in the top of the most beautiful villages in France, the village of Pérouges is typical of a medieval city. The cobblestone streets and narrow streets provide a total change of scenery to visitors. It’s like being in a movie set.

If you visit Pérouges in summer, you can enjoy the medieval festival in June. On the program: medieval costumes, parades, shows and market to spend an unforgettable day.

This is the coolest village to see around Lyon! 

Pérouges, village to see around Lyon

17. The large Miribel-Jonage Park

The large park of Miribel Jonage, with its 2,200 hectares, spreads over about fifteen municipalities of the metropolis of Lyon and offers a wide choice of activities to do alone or with family.

In summer, the beaches of the lake welcome many bathers and tourists. Several water activities are feasible at half-day such as paddle boating, paddle and canoeing.

The park is also ideal for teaching children to ride bikes, rollerblades or scooters.

You will find the complete list of activities to do in the park, on the official website.

It is the ideal place for a family outing around Lyon!

18. The amusement park Walibi Rhône Alpes

If you spend a week in Lyon and you need to take a break from your visits, the ideal is to spend a day in Walibi.

Both a theme park and a water park, Walibi promises an unforgettable day full of thrills. A thirty attractionsawait families, couples and friends every day from 10 am to 18 hours.

The park is about an hour’s drive from the center of Lyon. However if you do not have a car , shuttles take you to Walibi from Place Bellecour every Saturday of the summer period.

For the other periods, shuttles OUIBUS leave from the airport of Lyon Saint-Exupéry and Bourgoin-Jallieu and arrive directly to the park of attraction.

One of the most popular tourist attractions around Lyon!

Family outing in Walibi Rhônes Alpes

19. Anse

Anse is a typical Gallo-Roman town located 30 km north of Lyon.

A whole part of the city is made up of houses dating from the 15th century with mosaic floors and buildings with old architecture. The ideal is to plan a morning in Anse and have lunch in one of the typical restaurants of the city.

20. The Beaujolais Vineyard

Whether you’re a wine lover or just curious, going on the Wine Route for a day is a great experience.

You will discover all the secrets of making Beaujolais fine wines and will have the opportunity to participate in a wine tasting on site .

To get there from Lyon, just take the A6 motorway towards Paris and exit at exit 30 of Belleville sur Saône.

Day trips are also organized from Lyon. On board a minibus with a guide, you will discover the villages and vineyards of Beaujolais. Visit of the cellars and tasting are also on the program.

You can book your day in the vineyards of Beaujolais, directly here!

Excursion in the vineyards of Beaujolais, near Lyon

What to do in Lyon when it rains?

It’s not easy to know what to do when it starts to rain and the ride program is turned upside down.

To remedy this, I have prepared a list of activities to do when it rains in Lyon:

  • Visit the museums of the city. There are more than twenty in Lyon so needless to say that it can take care of you! And the good plan is that if you buy the Lyon City Card , they are all free!
  • Shopping at the Part-Dieu and Confluence shopping centers 
  • Go to the cinema: there is one in the 2 main shopping centers of the city, so you can mix shopping with a meeting
  • Visit the 6 greenhouses of the Tête d’Or park
  • Make an escape game: a very nice activity to do with friends or family in case of bad weather. The best known is the Way Out Lyon, rue Vendôme but there is also the I Scape or the Closed Escape Game.
  • Bowling: the Bowling Lyon 8   is located rue Marius Berliet.
  • Karting : Kart’In , Genas Karting and Only Kart all offer indoor circuits to avoid getting wet
  • Indoor skiing : the Only Kart complex has recently opened an indoor ski slope, unique in France!
  • Climbing in the biggest hall of France at Climb Up Lyon , rue Lortet
  • Experimenting with virtual reality: It’s at I-Reality that this is happening in Lyon. They also offer different simulators (Moto, F1 and Airplane). Address: 4 rue Jean Marcuit, Lyon 9.
When it’s raining in Lyon, try climbing!

Visit Lyon on foot

If you want to discover the city on foot, here is a route that will allow you to see  the maximum of tourist sites not to be missed in Lyon. This program will take you through the 4 main districts of Lyon.

You can start the day by exploring the Presqu’île district starting with the famous Place Bellecour, which will allow you to get the map of the city at the Tourist Office. Go through Place des Célestins, Place des Jacobins, Rue de la République then join Place des Terreaux where you will find the town hall and not far from the Opera House.

Continue your walk by going to the district of Croix Rousse, 25 minutes walk from the city host. Go first to the fresco of the Canuts, make a tour through the House of Canuts and climb to the Gros Caillou to enjoy the panorama.

It will surely be time to have a little lunch break in one of the famous Lyonnais corks.

Finish your tour of the Croix Rousse by going to see the Fresque des Lyonnais, at the bottom of the district, about 15 minutes walk from the Gros Caillou.

Join the opposite bank of the Saône crossing the bridge Saint Vincent.

You will then arrive in the North of Old Lyon, follow the quays of Bondy and fork on the place du change to arrive on the main street of Old Lyon, rue Saint-Jean. I advise you then to walk in the famous traboulesthen to pass by the Cathedral Saint-Jean.

At the end of the afternoon, come and admire the sunset on the Fourvière hill. If you are tired, I authorize you to cheat a little and finish climbing a funicular from the metro Vieux Lyon. But Fourvière is also accessible on foot by the Montée Saint Barthélémy.

Visit Lyon on foot

How many days to visit Lyon?

The ideal way to visit Lyon is to spend three days there.

This allows you to spend two days visiting and taking a break between the two days to enjoy, for example the Tête d’Or Park or go for a walk around Lyon  on a day.

To visit Lyon by saving money, the best way is to get the Lyon City Card. Valid for 1, 2, 3 or 4 days, it gives you free access to all museums in the city as well as public transport. 

boat cruise, a visit to the roofs of the Basilica of Fourvière or a guided tour of the House of Canuts, are also on the program. You can also benefit from discounted rates for Segway or tourist bus tours. A show at the Guignol Theater is also included. The Lyon City card is bought on this website (click on the button)

Visit Lyon in 1 day

If you only have one day to visit Lyon,  I recommend you to go for the walk that I detailed in the section ” Visit Lyon on foot”.

It allows you to discover the 4 main districts (Presqu’île, CroixRousse, Vieux Lyon and Fourvière) in one day.

If you do not want to walk all day, you can also remove some neighborhoods and visit one or two museums. Where then, why not take the opportunity to do some shopping?

Panoramic view of the city of Lyon

Visit Lyon in 2 days

In 2 days in Lyon, you have the time to deepen your discovery of the city. Take the walking tour of the first day and add:

  • A visit nature and greenery in the park of the Tête d’Or 
  • A shopping break in one of the largest shopping centers in France: the Part Dieu
  • Lunch break at Les Halles Paul Bocuse
  • A boat cruise on the banks of the Rhone or Saone
  • Visit one or more museums according to your interests: Museums Gadagne for history, Museum Cinema and Miniature for the cinema, Museum of Fine Arts for painting or the Museum of Confluences for natural history.

Visit Lyon in 3 days

To do in addition to the previous 2 days.

If you want to stay in the city, you can visit museums that you have not had time to do the previous days and do some more shopping.

If you prefer to visit the surroundings of Lyon for a day, there are several options:

  • For a family outing and if the weather is nice, I highly recommend the Great Park Miribel Jonage or a day at Walibi Park. What a great time with children around Lyon!
  • For wine lovers, it is definitely the excursion in Beaujolais that wins!
  • And if you are more interested in the beautiful villages of France, go visit Pérouges or Anse, where even the 2 in the day if you have a car. They are only 40 minutes apart. To reach Pérouges or returning to Lyon, you will pass in addition to the Grand Parc de Miribel.

And a last option: Why not spend the day in Annecy, the pearls of the Alps, located about 1h30 drive? In this case, you can read my complete guide: The 12 things to do and see in Annecy .

Where to stay in Lyon

  • HO36 Opéra: Located just 100 meters from Place des Terreaux, in the Presqu’ile. Hostel with bed in dormitory from 30 € per night, breakfast 8 €. The most: the geographical situation, the pleasant interior patio.
  • Kyriad Lyon Center: Located in the Presqu’ile district, 20 minutes from Place Bellecour. Double room but with single beds from 50 € per night, breakfast at 11 €. The most: the space and the comfort of the rooms, the kindness of the staff. Excellent benefit / price ratio if you do not mind sleeping separate from your half!
  • Campanile Lyon Center Part-Dieu: Located in the district of Part-Dieu. Comfortable and modern double room from 90 € per night, breakfast at 12 €. Most: the very good value for money, the competent staff, the good breakfast.
  • Villa Maia: Located on the hill of Fourvières. This 5-star hotel in Lyon has luxurious and super comfortable rooms with panoramic views of the city from € 450 per night, including breakfast. Most: the sumptuous setting, the exceptional view, the indoor heated pool. This is our recommendation for a luxury stay in Lyon!
Villa Maia, luxury hotel in Lyon

Where to eat in Lyon

In addition to the aforementioned Lyonnais corks and Halles Paul Bocuse, here are some good restaurants to eat in Lyon.

  • The restaurant Paul Bocuse: Located in Collonges-au-Mont-d-Or, the restaurant offers the most famous dishes of the famous chef who died in 2018. This restaurant is rated 3 stars in the Michelin Guide and allows you to taste the most popular dishes. known to the general public such as the VGE Truffle Soup which had been prepared for former President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. It is necessary to book at least a week in advance to have a table in this restaurant.
  • La Mère Brazier: In the first district of Lyon, the restaurant of the mother Brazier is classified two stars in the Michelin guide. The chef, elected Meilleur Ouvrier de France, offers a modern and creative cuisine with dishes that you will not find anywhere else.
  • The Museum:  Located on Forces Street. This Lyonnais cork offers of course the culinary specialties of Lyon like quenelles and the brains of the Canuts. The quantity and quality are at the rendezvous for a great value for money. Very warm welcome and great service.

Lyon Tourist Map

To help you visualize the city a little better, I made you a  tourist map of Lyon  listing the places to visit I’m talking about in this top 20 things to do in Lyon. You can display the legend of the map by clicking on the button at the top left with a small arrow.

And you ? What do you plan to visit during your stay in Lyon?

Looking for other travel ideas in France? To read also

Discover all our articles on French cities : All Our articles on France are listed here.

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Camille L.

Passionate about foreign languages, cooking and writing. I wish to share with you the places, the meetings and the gastronomic discoveries which gave relief to my travels.

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