12 Incredible Experiences To Discover The Best of Lyon [With Local Recommendations]

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A city nestled between the Saône and Rhône rivers, Lyon is not just a Metropolis, but also has an incredibly charming side from its long history. As we spent a week wandering the mysterious traboules, discovering museums, and most importantly, diving into the food culture, here is our take on some of the best things to do in Lyon.

lyon-main-square

While many may assume Paris to be France’s gastronomy capital, Lyon actually holds that crown. The Lyonnais are passionate about food and proud masters of their culinary traditions.

As foodie travelers, this instinctively became a side of Lyon that we sought out the most, and it was totally worth the adventure. Of course, the main highlights of the city are not to be missed as well.

Taste the Traditions at a Lyonnais Bouchon

When we look at the food scene in Lyon, we have got to talk about the bouchons. This is a uniquely Lyon term referring to these cozy local eateries that serve up traditional Lyonnaise dishes.

traditional-lyonnaise-bouchon

Now, true bouchons are not just about the menu but also the overall vibe. For example, they usually have wooden tables and chairs cloaked in red and white checkered cloths, placed closely together with a communal and homey vibe.

While any restaurant can call themselves a bouchon, there is a certification badge for those that are officially recognized as Lyonnaise Bouchons. 

Out of the thousands of restaurants in Lyon, there are only 22 brands that have earned that official recognition. For an authentic Bouchon experience, you want to visit those with the badge.

Our recommendation, and the one we tried, is Daniel & Denise. It is run by renowned French chef Joseph Viola who holds a “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” title. This honor is awarded to top-quality craftsmen who are the best of the best in their craft. 

meat-pate-at-bouchon

There are 3 restaurants in the city, and we went to the one in Saint-Jean. Joseph Viola is particularly known for his pâté en croûte having won the world championship in 2009, so that is definitely a must-try dish. 

We also tried the homemade pike quenelle, which is a classic Lyonnaise dish; and the poached egg in red wine sauce. Both dishes were rich and flavorful. For dessert, we had the fluffy floating island which includes pink pralines that Lyon is so known for.

Savor Regional Produce at L’Atelier des Augustins

laterlier-des-augustins-restaurant

For a dining experience that will open your eyes to the incredible bounty of the Lyon region, you have to hit up L’Atelier des Augustins. This intimate fine dining spot takes you on a journey to rediscover local produce in the most creative and mind-blowing ways.

Rather than an a la carte menu, they do a 6-course surprise tasting menu highlighting ingredients that are all sourced within 200km of the city. You won’t know what inventive dish is coming until it’s placed right in front of you.

Let me tell you, it did not feel like 6-courses. By the end of it, it felt like I had gone through 8-9 courses and was more than full.

fine-dining-in-lyon

The dishes had an interesting combination of tastes and textures that guided us to appreciate the ingredients in a new way. Simple fares like beetroots and carrots take on a refreshing new form that we don’t usually think of.

There is usually a change in the menu every 4-6 weeks to showcase the best seasonal produce at the time.

It is incredible how the chefs are able to conjure up these plates, but it’s clear they have an obsessive passion for their craft as you observe them meticulously at work in the open kitchen.

You can go all-in with wine pairings if desired, either getting a different glass tailored to each course, or as many/few as you’d like. Just let your server know and they are more than happy to provide recommendations.

The restaurant can also cater to different dietary needs, and will check beforehand. I got to say, some of the vegetarian alternatives looked so attractive visually that I almost had FOMO (fear of missing out), but the amazing meat dishes quickly alleviated that.

where-to-eat-in-lyon

The restaurant only has a single seating per table each night, ensuring they deliver an impeccable dining experience. That is also why you should definitely make a reservation early. 

This is an experience we highly recommend, as you get to immerse yourself in the tastes of the region through an elevated, creative lens. It is also the perfect activity for a memorable evening with someone special as well.

Discover Up-and-Coming Culinary Talents at La Commune

visit-la-commune-lyon

Now that we have checked out the traditional restaurants and the high-end dining, it’s time to find out more about those who hold the future for the capital of gastronomy.

La Commune is the place to grab some seriously good eats at great prices. This is not just a food hall, but basically an incubator for up-and-coming food entrepreneurs to test out their restaurant concepts. This is a relatively huge space with an outdoor terrace.

la-commune-food-incubator

When we visited on a Sunday, the place was bustling with families, students, you name it. There were about 8 different food stalls representing cuisines from all over – Japanese, French, African, Chinese, Afghan, and more. These entrepreneurs typically stay for 6 months to a year, so you can also expect consistently changing options. 

Don’t assume that the taste or quality is compromised just because these are new entrepreneurs. We tried food from three different stalls and by the end, we were both full and satisfied. For a main dish, you’re looking at around €11- €13 on average, while similar places outside would cost you around €15+. 

almond-french-crepe

We can definitely see the appeal for locals to keep visiting. You have many different options under one roof at affordable prices. There’s also a self-serve beer station and a cafe operated by La Commune. 

In addition, La Commune hosts fun events like karaoke, drag shows, dance parties, and more, which is why it is extremely popular during the weekends. Check their website for what’s happening during your visit! It’s a really lively atmosphere. 

Graze Through the Delectable Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse

This iconic marketplace in the city center is named in honor of the “pope of gastronomy” – Paul Bocuse. Widely known to be the most legendary French chef, he is well respected throughout France, particularly in Lyon where he was based. 

At the Lafayette entrance, you will find a beautiful image of Paul Bocuse painted on the building facade across the street. We were told that if you visit at night, there is even an animated projection of the famous chef. 

seafood-at-paul-bocuse-market

The marketplace itself features over 50 different restaurants and vendors offering both local delights and regional produce.

While the prices at Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse tend to be higher than your average local market, this is reflected in the quality of the food and ingredients you can find here. Some of the stalls are even “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” awardees. 

charcuterie-plate-with-wine

If you have never tried frogs before, Baba La Grenouille is a popular spot for that. Another common snack/lunch option that locals indulge in here is really a board of cured meat and cheese with wine, complemented by a nice time with friends. This is what we went for and don’t let it fool you, it is surprisingly filling. 

pastries-in-lyon

Apart from food, one of the most interesting things here is learning the culinary heritage of Lyon. While male chefs tend to dominate the industry now, it was actually the “Mères Lyonnaises” or “Mothers of Lyon” that kickstarted Lyon’s gastronomic scene in the mid-1700s.

You will be able to learn more about some of the history and influential chefs of that time here. Many of the alleys in the marketplace are named in honor of them. 

Discover Specialty Coffee Bliss at Loutsa Cafe

You will notice in France that it is common for people to conclude their meal with a coffee.

While the French have a huge coffee drinking population, the specialty coffee market is actually quite new to the country. If you are into specialty coffee, Loutsa cafe needs to be on your Lyon itinerary. 

There are several outlets in Lyon, and most are rather well located around the tourist zones so it wouldn’t be hard to stop by any one of them. We actually passed by at least three locations. 

loutsa-cafe-lyon-7

This boutique but growing brand started right before the COVID pandemic and has battled through challenging times to its current success.

The branch at Pl. Jules Guesde (Loutsa Lyon 7) is a cozy spot with laid-back vibes. There were people working on their laptops, friends catching up over a cup of Joe, and even elderly folks just savoring each sip while reading their newspapers. It feels like your modern cafe, yet with a very local vibe. 

As soon as we walked through the cafe door, the rich aroma of freshly roasted beans hit our noses – roasting to order is their whole deal. 

loutsa-specialty-cafe

What stood out about the place is the passion of the staff; they really enjoy exposing more people to the nuances of specialty coffee.

While the consumer market is their main business, they also supply coffee beans to businesses, including some very reputable brands. This is just a testament to the quality they serve.

They’ve got their branding down too, like the clever periodic table-style flavor chart decorating the space. 

loutsa-coffee-beans

Apart from getting a freshly made cuppa here, you can also buy beans and other coffee-related accessories here. In addition, they have workshops that are great for getting acquainted with specialty coffee; you can even gift the experience to coffee-loving friends. 

Delve Into Intersecting Worlds at Musée des Confluences

As the most popular museum in France outside of Paris, you can’t miss the Musee de Confluences. The building itself which looks like a futuristic spacecraft is literally hard to miss, which is also why you should definitely visit even if you are not a “museum person”.

musee-confluences-architecture

You can wander through most of the museum for free; a ticket is needed only if you are visiting the exhibitions. Just the museum’s architecture and interior design are so worth exploring.

On the top floor, you have an impeccable view of the rivers, confluence, and cityscape; on a good day, you might even see Mont Blanc. 

Best of all, there is also a cafe here. If I were staying longer, you can bet this is one place I would revisit just to grab a drink, work on my laptop and soak in the views.

That said, we highly recommend going through the exhibitions. At €6 a ticket (at the time of our visit), this is really worthwhile. This museum is a mix of different topics from natural history and science to ethnography and anthropology. 

If you have the Lyon City Card, admission to the museum is included!

confluences-museum-exhibits

The thoughtful exhibitions exploring where nature and human worlds intersect do prompt deeper thoughts about life, culture, and human behavior. There are both temporary and permanent exhibitions so you can really spend hours here. 

Complementing its location at the confluence, the whole museum works around this theme of convergence of different perspectives/approaches/angles. You can see it in the architecture where lines going in different directions ultimately meet at a single point. You will see it in the approach they take toward designing exhibition spaces and the user experience. 

musee-confluences-lyon-interior

And how do I know this? One of the main reasons I think this museum is so successful is the free “flash visits” they offer. These are 10-15 minute guided tours where museum mediators give you a nice intro to the museum and the highlights of the exhibitions. I highly recommend doing that before going around on your own, it really gives you a great foundation to start exploring the museum.

Meander Along the Confluence’s Rejuvenated Riverfront

Speaking of the confluence, this area is where Lyon’s two major rivers – the Rhône and the Saône converge. The La Confluence is also one of the city’s most fascinating districts. This once gritty industrial neighborhood has been revitalized in recent years into an innovation hub with a vibrant waterfront.

lyon-confluence-riverside

One of the first things you’ll notice is the striking modern architecture that seems to defy gravity, such as the sleek Musée des Confluences with its deconstructed geometric forms.

Nearby, you have the luminous green Euronews building that cries out for attention, right next to the equally striking MOB hotel where we stayed in Lyon. On the way to the Confluence mall, the bright orange Cube Orange building houses galleries, creative workspaces, and a panoramic rooftop overlooking the rivers. 

la-confluence-orange-cube

The riverfront itself is a popular hangout, with paved pathways perfect for strolling, biking, or just watching the river traffic drift by. On sunny days, you’ll find locals and tourists relaxing on the grassy areas with picnic spreads.

Half the fun is simply wandering and taking in the modern architecture juxtaposed with renovated historic buildings and repurposed factories. Also keep an eye out for quirky public art installations that may pop up periodically. As night falls, the entire confluence area takes on a magical vibe, with the unique buildings and bridges lit up in dramatic lighting displays. 

Glide Along the Saône for Lyon’s Iconic Riverscapes

The Rhone and Saone rivers are both historically important and ever-iconic features of the city. And for a relaxing way to take in Lyon’s iconic sights, hop aboard a classic river cruise along the Saône. These 1-hour tours depart regularly from the docks near Bellecour Square in Vieux Lyon. 

If you have the Lyon City card, this is included as one of the free activities that come along with the card.

saone-river-lyon

As the ferry gently trudges along the tranquil Saône, you will get a different perspective of the city’s greatest hits from the water. For photographers, being on the water provides plenty of unique vantage points. Time your cruise for sunset hour to capture the city bathed in warm light.

You’ll float past different Renaissance buildings in Vieux Lyon, and of course, see the striking Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière atop the hill. Another highlight is the views of the elegantly arched bridges connecting the river’s two banks. On the modern end, catch a glimpse of the Confluences museum’s space-age architecture where the Rhône meets the Saône.

The cruise guides will narrate and point out other landmarks as you go, like the Vieux Lyon Renaissance district with its tiled rooftops and secret traboule passageways. There is both French and English commentary so you can learn all about Lyon’s rich history and ties to the rivers.

Admire the Views at Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière

Now, one of the most iconic landmarks that will catch your attention is this stunning church perched on the city’s famous Fourvière hill. It’s visible from just about every corner of the city. This is none other than the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière. 

basilica-notre-dame-fourviere

The ornate 19th century basilica is hard to miss with its impressive architecture, brilliant white façade, and clearly, its location. You can comfortably get up the hill using the funicular. And this is not one of those purely touristic things; it is used daily by locals and has been around since 1878.

As you approach the basilica, get ready to be amazed by the intricate details and soaring towers. This is one of those structures which is both impressive on the outside and inside. Spend some time in the ornate interior, marveling at the mosaics, stained glass windows, and beautifully painted ceilings. 

basilica-interior-architecture

You will notice that the interior is rather different from your typical European churches. The green and gold color combination is not a common sight, but no less majestic with a mix of Byzantine, Gothic, and Romanesque influences.

There is also a crypt that is open for visits. Note that this section closes earlier than the rest of the church, so if you plan on checking out the crypt you should go earlier (before 6pm is a safe bet).  

lyon-city-view

Apart from the basilica, another key reason people come up here is for the sweeping panoramic views of the city skyline. From this high vantage point, you can see the change in architecture as the city expands outwards, which gives you an idea of how Lyon developed through the different eras. 

Step Back in Time at the Théâtre Gallo-Romain de Lyon-Fourvière

Now that you’re on the hill, there’s another landmark here to visit. For a trip back to ancient Roman times, head down to the incredibly well-preserved Théâtre Gallo-Romain on Fourvière Hill. It is just 5 minutes walk from the Basilica.

roman-amphitheatre-lyon

This massive stone amphitheater dates back to around 15 BC, making it one of the oldest ruins of its kind in Lyon. Nevertheless, it is remarkably well restored, including some ornate carvings and columns.

The sheer scale of it is rather impressive, and it is said to have had an initial capacity of over 10,000 spectators! The theatre is free to visit but you can also take a guided tour. There’s also a museum detailing more of the site’s history which requires a ticket.

Along with the smaller Odeon Theatre nearby, the place is still used periodically today for concerts and performances, including the annual Nuits de Fourviér (Nights of Fourviére) festival. So if you are visiting then, definitely see if there’s an event going on here. We can only imagine how magical it is with the city view as the backdrop. 

Explore the Mysterious Traboules of Lyon

Regardless of whether you are taking the funicular up or down the Fourvière hill, you will be in the iconic old town. While the old city is clearly full of charm by itself, one of the most intriguing attractions here is the traboules – a network of hidden passageways that weave through houses and courtyards.

explore-lyon-traboules

These secret covered routes date back to the 4th century and are believed to have served several purposes. They were used to transport water from the Stone River to the upper districts. Some allowed silk workers to transport materials between the city and river without going outside, which helped keep the goods dry when it was raining.

It is said that about 500 traboules still exist across the different districts of Lyon today, and winding through them is like stepping back in time. The longest one at 54 rue St-Jean (in Vieux Lyon) cuts through several courtyards and leads to Rue du Boeuf.

Even French tourists come to Lyon just to experience strolling through these medieval pathways lined with vintage architecture. As the locals say, some of the best secrets of Lyon are behind closed doors, so always explore deeper than what you see on the surface. 

lyon-traboule-passages

Not all traboules are open to the public though, since many are located within private residential buildings. The ones that do allow visitors have a small sign displayed, so you’ll know which ones are okay to duck into. Just be mindful of residents going about their day – don’t go over locked gates or wander up to residential corridors.

As an incentive for buildings to open their traboules, the city government actually covers the cost of utilities for those who allow for public visits. It’s a small price to pay to allow visitors to experience this unique piece of Lyon’s cultural heritage.

Exploring the traboules is an adventure in itself, as you’ll never know just where the winding corridors may lead – from vaulted ceilings to spiral staircases to sun-drenched courtyards. You will even see a mix of features from different eras like an electric box next to an ancient well; it’s incredibly interesting. 

Retrace the Silk Heritage in Croix-Rousse

Lyon essentially has 2 hills, one is Fourvière Hill as mentioned, and the other is Croix-Rousse Hill. Apart from the old town, Croix-Rousse is another district that is so important in Lyon’s history.

croix-rousse-lyon-france

This distinctly working-class neighborhood was once the beating heart of Lyon’s booming silk industry in the 18th and 19th centuries. Although it is kind of a dwindling trade, you can still glimpse remnants of Croix-Rousse’s silk-making past. Most of the buildings here have relatively high ceilings since they also used to be factories. 

As you wander the winding passageways and climb the steep stairs between buildings, it is not just a good workout but also kind of thought-provoking, seeing how history has come and passed.

Today, the district is one of Lyon’s trendiest areas, while maintaining its historic character. Cafés, artisan shops, and street art installations have breathed new life into the renovated workshops and apartments.

Don’t miss the impressive Mural des Canuts, an immense trompe l’oeil (optical illusion) fresco covering the side of an apartment building. This is one of the largest murals in Europe and depicts the working lives of the silk weavers who once called this neighborhood home.

A City That Leaves You Wanting More

Croix-Rousse

From tasting our way through the city to exploring the revitalized riverfront, and unlocking its medieval past, Lyon has an incredible ability to charm the visitors that dive into its secrets. And we are sure this is only the surface of it.

The French Lion City seamlessly blends its rich history with modern innovation and an incredible food scene. You can experience the Lyonnais’ passion for gastronomy and pride in their heritage through multiple facets. And it is these contrasts and layers that make Lyon so captivating.

Whether you’re a foodie or a culture vulture, Lyon is certainly worth checking out. We can’t wait to go back and discover even more tucked-away corners of this enchanting city between the rivers.


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Welcome To NomadsUnveiled
This is Rax. For over a decade, I have traveled to over 60 countries - from a budget backpacker to a business traveler, expat and then a digital nomad. You can find insights and perspectives from myself and other world travelers that will inspire your journey of discovery.

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