Lyon used to be the capital of Gaul under Roman rule. Today, it is a city where history and modernity meet at the convergence of the two rivers that cross it. There are many things to do in Lyon regardless if you are there for sightseeing, romantic getaways, or family trips.
Visiting Lyon attractions entails discovering ancient theatres, Renaissance and Middle Age architecture, vast parks, and long murals. The city is also home to various world-famous restaurants whose chefs invented dishes and concoctions that will dazzle your taste buds.
Whether you like strolling along river docks or spending sleepless nights in bubbly neighborhoods, here are some of the best things to do in Lyon, France.
Lyon Card – City Pass
There are many things to do in Lyon and dishes to sample. Consider purchasing a Lyon City Pass if you want to make the best of your stay cost-effectively. Your wallet, feet, and stomach will thank you.
This pass lets you thoroughly explore places to visit in Lyon via free and unlimited public transport. It also gives free access to museums, cruises along the Saône, and access to tour guides for historic districts and monuments. You’ll even get discounts on specific shops and theatres.
You can even get the Lyon City Pass with Airport Transfer included if you can flying in. This gives you access to the RhôneExpress which takes you between the airport and city center.
For convenient transportation to the various major sites, consider getting the Hop On Hop On Sightseeing Bus pass. This can help time on route planning and is a relaxing way to see the city along the way.
Most Popular Thing To Do In Lyon
Sample one (or 20) Lyonnaise cuisine dish
One cannot think about Lyon without their stomach gurgling in anticipation. The city is a gastronomical haven and is home to more restaurants per head than any other in France. We can’t do justice to the plethora of dishes you should try in Lyon.
Still, we’ll mention a few: La Quenelle (fluffy dumplings), Salade Lyonnaise, Grougères au Fromage (cheese puffs), Rosette de Lyon (cured pork sausage), Le Tablier de Sapeur (beef tripe), Tarte à la Praline (Almond-filled pastry) and Vacherin’s ice cream cake.
For authentic places to visit in Lyon, head to the city’s numerous local bistros. You can identify them by their name, which will be followed or led by ‘Bouchon’ – only certified restaurants can use this title.
Local Things To Do In Lyon
Explore the Parc de la Tête d’Or
Parc de la Tête d’Or is France’s largest urban park, encompassing 117 hectares of centuries-old trees, lawns, flowers, and riverbanks. This is a Lyon must-see, home to numerous attractions and activities that cater to all ages: botanical gardens, a zoo, rose gardens, lake boating, miniature railways, and pony rides.
Stroll or ride a bicycle along the Saône and Rhône river docks.
Lyon is traversed by two important French rivers: the Rhône and the Saône. Their banks provide a place of leisurely strolls and respite from urban life, and you’ll find locals and couples hanging around the area’s docks or cafes.
If you’re wondering what to do in Lyon, consider cycling along them in either direction. The site is mostly flat, and you’ll get to pass by other attractions on this list, like the Parc de la Tête d’Or (you can spot the giraffes from the docks!).
Best Indoor Things To Do In Lyon
Rediscover cinema at the Institut Lumière
The Lumière brothers introduced cinematography to the world in Paris in 1895 with the first paid public screening in cinema history of a film entitled ‘Going out of the Factory,’ shot in Lyon’s street aptly named ‘Street of the first Movie’.
This same street is now home to the Lumière brothers’ museum, a Lyon must see, where you’ll immerse yourself in the heart of their extraordinary universe.
Observe light pass through the windows of the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Cathedral
The Saint Jean Cathedral is a mix of traditional Gothic and Roman architecture and took 400 years to complete between 1180 and 1480.
It is home to large, breathtaking stained-glass windows depicting important biblical passages and symbolism. They date back to the 1300s and survived the second world war thanks to the cathedral’s caretaker that dismantled and stored them during the bombings.
On-site, you’ll also find a 9-meters tall clock that showcases the position of the earth, sun, and moon and automated figures that perform a little show when the chimes ring.
Today, it is one of the main Lyon attractions, popularized by its leading role during the December festival of light as its facade serves as a projection of various intricate light displays.
Eat at a Michelin-starred restaurant
Lyon is considered the world’s capital of gastronomy. You’ll find an abundance of Michelin-starred restaurants within the city’s jurisdiction, each guaranteed to reward your palate in various ways.
If you’re looking for things to do in Lyon regarding food experiences, then we recommend checking out the Michelin guide for choice variety.
But if you want to experience something truly unique, head to the Restaurant Paul Bocuse – your stomach and palate will thank you. This establishment specializes in experimental takes on classic French cuisine.
Outdoor Things To Do In Lyon
Sail the Saône and Rhône Rivers
This city’s two main French rivers provide travelers with the perfect experience to take in the full variety of Lyon attractions.
Many sightseeing cruises are offered on both the Rhône and the Saône. Most of them are guided and will present you with a fascinating historical recollection of the emblematic monuments you’ll sail by.
Some itineraries include gourmet meals, wine tasting, and even hiking or discovering nearby natural areas and towns like Avignon – which would be too far to reach via other modes of transportation.
In the 1970s, local students gathered in Lyon to discuss their perception of the art world, which seemed closed off to everyday folks. They decided to start creating murals that would enable them to bring art to regular citizens, opting to release their talents to the streets of Lyon instead of restricting them to galleries and museums.
The movement has continued to this day, and Lyon is now home to more than 150 outdoor murals. We encourage you to look up and observe the buildings as you go along your day, as you are sure to spot a few.
Alternatively, you can also partake in a Lyon mural city tour. If you’re on a time crunch, the most popular mural is “Le Mur des Canuts,” a Lyon must see, which depicts everyday life in the La Croix-Rousse neighborhood of Lyon, France.
Explore the intricate system of the Traboules
The population of Lyon massively increased during the Renaissance. New buildings saw the light of day almost every week back then, with no regard to older ones or the Medieval design that implemented wide spaces for easy passing.
As the housing problem slowly got solved, the city faced a new one: buildings had been built behind and in front of older ones, and to reach adjoining spaces, pedestrians had to traverse long detours.
The solution came in the form of a ‘Traboule’. This word translates as ‘to circulate through,’ which is what these walkways did. They were built to cut through houses, private courtyards, and old quarters; some passed under dwellings or stairs, while others would go over them – today, they serve as popular Lyon attractions.
While the city is said to have around 500 Traboules, most have been closed down since they allow pedestrians to cross private property. But some are open to the public, and taking a tour with a local guide is one of the best things to do in Lyon.
Step back in time at the Ancient Theatre of Fourvière & Gallo-Roman Museum of Lyon-Fourvière
The Ancient Theatre of Fourvière is the oldest in France, built by Augustus in 15BC. It comprises a semi-circular orchestral space which used to host choirs, theatrical shows, and dancing performances.
A few columns and states remain from the olden days, back when it accommodated 10,700 spectators weekly. The space also has a smaller theatre known as The Odéon, whose usage was reserved for the political, philosophical, and intellectual elite.
If you are thinking about what to do in Lyon during the summer, head to the ‘Festival Les Nuits de Fourvière’ in these ancient theatres. We also recommend checking out the nearby museum of Gallo-Roman antiquity that chronicles five centuries of Lyon’s history under Roman rule.
Cheap and Free Things To Do In Lyon
Sample food at the local Lyon markets
Another great way to sample Lyon’s cuisine is to head to the food markets. The most popular is Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, where you can find a wide selection of cheese, wines, regional charcuteries, and sample fresh oysters.
Fifty vendors host it, with bars and restaurants with a reputation for serving fine gourmet food. For other food-focused places to visit in Lyon, we recommend the Saint-Antoine Market, Lyon’s largest outdoor farmer’s market.
Climb atop the ‘hill that prays’ at the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière
The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière offers one of the best panoramic views of Lyon from its vantage point on the top of the Fourvière hill – nicknamed ‘the hill that prays.’ It was designed to incorporate Romanesque and Byzantine architecture and has become one of the best places to visit in Lyon, attracting 2 million individuals annually.
The basilica is part of Lyon’s history as it is said to have protected it from the Black Death in 1643 and from the Prussian invasion in 1870. During the Fête des Lumières in December, the people of Lyon light candles in it as a tribute.
Best Neighborhoods To Explore In Lyon
Rediscover Historical Past In The Vieux Lyon neighborhood
Vieux Lyon is the city’s historical district, composed of narrow paved alleyways, colorful façades, and a mix of Renaissance and Medieval architecture. This neighborhood has remained almost intact for centuries and is classified as a UNESCO heritage site.
If you’re thinking about what to do in Lyon in this neighborhood, points of interest include the Palais de Justice Historique de Lyon and the ‘Rue du Boeuf’ and ‘Rue Saint-Jean’ streets – home to numerous shops and Michelin-starred restaurants.
Take a Futuristic Step into the Confluences neighborhood
While many of Lyon’s attractions emanate from its old and historic soul, we encourage you to also step into its contemporary scene.
The Confluences district is regarded as Lyon’s future-facing neighborhood, settled by whimsical, modern architecture, sleek streets, and green spaces – all designed in an experimental eco-friendly approach.
One Lyon muse see in this neighborhood is the Musée des Confluences, a science and anthropology museum focusing on the origins of life, death, and the societies and civilizations of our history.
Explore Lyon’s ‘best’ neighborhood: la Croix Rousse
La Croix Rousse neighborhood used to be the home of the Canuts – Lyon’s silk workers whose revolution influenced the city’s living conditions and socialist philosophies.
Today, the district still houses huge high-ceiling buildings that used to contain weaving machines, now repurposed as cultural spaces, bars, cafes, shops, and restaurants. There, you’ll most notably find many ‘cafe-theatre,’ a type of comedy-club coffee shop.
We recommend equipping yourself with water and exploring the hill of Montée de la Grande Côte, which offers remarkable panoramas of Lyon. Other nearby places to visit in Lyon include the Maison des Canuts and The House of 365 Windows.
Pretend you’re on an island at the Presqu’île (‘almost island’) neighborhood
The Presqu’île is Lyon’s heart which beats at the rhythm of the flow of the rivers that border it. This neighborhood is a melting pot of the city’s history, combining Renaissance, Bourgeoisie, industrialization, and contemporary into a lively atmosphere.
While you stroll its distinct streets, you’ll encounter iconic fountains, monuments, theatres, and cultural venues, all housed in pastel-colored buildings of different eras.
Popular nearby places to visit in Lyon include the Opera house, the Hotel de Ville, the Bartholdi fountains, the Place Bellecour, Place des Terreaux and Place des Jacobins.
Best Museums To Visit In Lyon
Examine the artistry at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon
The Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon is set in a former 17th-century monastery and is France’s second-largest fine arts museum after the Louvre. Its 70 rooms cover a 7,000 m² space of works by renowned painters such as Rubens, Rembrandt, and Gauguin.
Sculptures and paintings date back to the 14th century and include Egyptian and oriental art, guaranteed to captivate and enchant any lover of fine art. If you get the chance, we recommend checking out its tea room restaurant’s terrace that overlooks the surrounding garden – a Lyon must see.
Pretend you’re a Florentine Banker at the Musée Gadagne
Musée Gadagne’s building is classified as a historical monument and the largest Renaissance building in Lyon. It is one of the best places to visit in Lyon and used to be a mansion built for two Florentine bankers.
Today, it is home to a splendid interior courtyard, and its 4th floor presents views of the surrounding hillside in terraced cafe gardens that are more than 500 years old.
The museum itself is comprised of two separate spaces, one belonging to the Lyon History Museum and the other to the Museum of Puppetry Arts. The first recounts the city’s layout and history, while the second serves as an homage to Lyon’s iconic puppet: Guignol.
Enter the world of the really small at the Musée Miniature et Cinéma
Movie buffs thinking about what to do in Lyon should not miss this museum. It houses a collection of authentic filming objects from some of the biggest American and European film studios.
You’ll discover more than 450 realistic pieces of film and miniature realistic set reproductions from various movies such as Harry Potter, Spiderman, and Le Parfum.
The pieces are fascinating to look at, and the museum also provides educational tools to learn more about the different special effects techniques that implemented them – most of which were used before computer image processing.
Experiment with Art at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Lyon
The Museum of Contemporary Art of Lyon was established in 1995 to create an entirely adaptable and malleable space to serve artists’ whims and desires. It comprises a series of removable and flexible walls that allow various artistic works to become part of its dimension.
The space is considered a Lyon must-see, allowing visitors to experience immersive and sizeable creative work.
Where To Stay In Lyon
Lyon has a variety of neighborhoods, each with its own characteristics and style. There is no one district we recommend in particular since the majority offer an abundance of sights and things to do in Lyon.
Although this city is known for its high accommodation price point, there is a couple of well-rated ones that will suit any budget and more luxurious options for those inclined to self-indulge.
Budget Accommodation In Lyon
Away Hostel & Coffee Shop: Located in a 19th-century building, this hostel offers superior-quality and spacious dormitories where lower prices still provide plenty of comforts. Their central location is frequented by many locals who like to mix in with travelers at the downstairs Coffee shops. Guests enjoy the staff’s knowledge and recommendation when it comes to offering advice on things to do in Lyon (most of them are Lyonnais born and raised), as well as the many weekly hosted events.
Alter Hostel: This is an accommodation that radiates comfort, warmth, and sunlight – thanks to its glass roof! It is located near the docks of the Saône, offering guests the opportunity for nearby morning or evening strolls near many Lyon attractions. Visitors often comment on how they ‘‘feel at home’’ within this hostel and enjoy the bar and many activities they can partake in, such as kayak rentals, DIY workshops, and local volunteering.
Mid Range Accommodation In Lyon
Hotel Elysée: This repurposed 19th-century residence is located in the heart of the city, near many places to visit in Lyon. Although the area is quite lively, guests don’t have to worry about sound as the rooms are well-isolated and quiet. Breakfast can be enjoyed in a former vaulted cellar, while evening drinks can be spent at the hotel’s bar or in the nearby gastronomic restaurants and cafes.
MEININGER Hotel Lyon Centre Berthelot: Although this hotel isn’t as central as the others, it is a 5-minute walk from the city’s main train station and the metro, giving you easy access to many Lyon attractions. Visitors love the place for its outstanding facilities, which consist of clean and modern amenities, a bar, parking spaces, a shared lounge, and a terrace.
Luxury Accommodation In Lyon
InterContinental Lyon – Hotel Dieu, an IHG Hotel: This luxurious hotel in Lyon has for home a noteworthy historical landmark of the city. It used to be a hotel that tended to well-known French figures such as the writer François Rabelais. You won’t run out of places to explore within its walls with a restaurant, fitness center, bar, garden, and terraces.
MHL – Maison Hotel Lyon: The hosts of Maison Hôtel provide you with centrally located and self-catering duplex cottages. They serve as a perfect luxurious place to stay in Lyon for people looking for more privacy. You’ll find diverse grocery shopping or dining options nearby, and the cottages are well-connected to various things to do in Lyon.
Discovering Things To Do In Lyon
Lyon has plenty to offer everyone, whether you want to admire its Renaissance architecture or grandiose modern murals, stroll along its hilly neighborhoods or ride a bike on its docks.
This mosaic city of old and new will reward all your senses, most notably: your sense of taste! If there’s one thing we can recommend when it comes to what to do in Lyon, it’s to always leave room for dessert.