Planning a trip to Lyon? Get some inspiration on what to do while you’re there with our idea of a perfect three-day itinerary. History, culture, entertainment, restaurants… Pack it all in at a comfortable pace and don’t miss a thing!
Lying at the confluence of the Saône and Rhône, the capital of ancient Gaul, the stronghold of la Résistance, and the cinematic and silk capital of France, the city of Lyon has developed a strong identity over the centuries, despite France’s eternal focus around Paris. Located in an area of great beauty, Lyon has several distinct facets to its character that have emerged over the centuries.
To begin your exploration of Lyon, follow in the footsteps of the first inhabitants of Lugdunum, and climb the Fourvière hill. The first Roman colony was established upon this hill, as evidenced by some notable relics such as the Roman theatre or Odeon, which is still in use today. During your walk you will be rewarded by a magnificent view of the city, but don’t miss the sanctuary of Cybele, the great baths, or the tomb of Turpio. At the top of the hill you will find a metal tower, which resembles the Eiffel Tower.
From the same hill, the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière watches over the city. Built in the nineteenth century in a neo-Gothic style, its interior was not completed until after the Second World War. On your visit you will discover its splendid mosaics, and the view from the forecourt is very impressive.
Then head down the slopes of the hill by funicular railway or just stroll through the Rosaire gardens to discover the Renaissance quarter, a Unesco World Heritage area nestled within the historic centre of Vieux Lyon. In this district the many mansions and medieval alleys are connected by traboules, passages through the courtyards and between buildings.
In the neighbourhood you will also find the Saint Jean Cathedral, which combines Romanesque and Gothic architectural elements and dates from the twelfth to the fifteenth century, and a fourteenth century astronomical clock. The clock was in fact damaged in 2013 by a man with an iron bar who claimed that its beauty prevented the faithful from focusing on their prayers.
When evening comes, stay in Vieux Lyon and eat at one of the city’s famous bouchons, typical restaurants where you can enjoy Lyon’s hearty cuisine with specialties such as tablier de sapeur (crumbed tripe) quenelles (dumplings) or cervelle de canut (a cheese dip).
The following day, cross the Saône to explore the city centre. Head north to the village-like district of Croix-Rousse and its famously steep lanes from which you can again admire a magnificent panorama of the city. This area in particular was historically occupied by the weavers’ buildings – workshops and apartments occupied by canuts or silk workers, who played an important role in Lyon’s historic class struggle.
Heading back towards the south, you will come across Lyon’s most chic and fashionable quarter. If you want to do some shopping, peruse the area around the Rue de la République, in the centre of the peninsula or presqu’île.
In the afternoon, turn northwards once more to the Croix-Rousse to visit the Museum of Fine Arts, sometimes called the Little Louvre, owing to the quality and size of its collection. This museum is a must-see during any visit to Lyon, however, like the Louvre, it is never-ending, and one afternoon will not be long enough to see everything. Instead, concentrate on the department that appeals to you most. The museum has a top quality selection of paintings, with works by Modigliani, Chirico, Brueghel, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin, Miro and Picasso, to name but a few.
The next day, you will cross some more bridges, those spanning the Rhône this time, to reach the Parc de la Tête d'Or, Lyon’s largest park and one of the largest urban parks in France. It is a relaxing spot that is particularly favoured by the Lyonnais, and events are organised here regularly, including concerts, plays, films and exhibitions.
Take the opportunity to enjoy a picnic here before heading to the Cité Internationale which is right next to the park. This area is one of Lyon’s most recently built districts, and is home to many sorts of activities and facilities, including a large casino, a cinema complex and the convention centre. This is also where you will find the city’s contemporary art museum.
Further south, you will discover the district of Guillotière, a cosmopolitan neighbourhood with many communities and restaurants serving cuisines from all around the world. Further south, Gerland houses the stadium of the same name, home ground for the local football club, Olympique Lyonnais. The Tony Garnier Hall, where concerts and exhibitions are held on a regular basis, can also be found in this district.
On your last night in the capital of ancient Gaul, if you want to sample some of the nightlife Lyon has to offer, head to the banks of the Rhone, nicknamed "the docks of thirst", where you will find several floating cocktail bars. For a more studenty, bohemian atmosphere, make your way to the sloping lanes of the Croix-Rousse. Alternatively, the Guillotière offers a host of bars with trendy, relaxed atmosphere.
After three days in one of France’s most beautiful cities, you'll probably be thirsty for more. This trip will nevertheless reveal Lyon’s three distinct faces: its right bank, left bank and the presqu’île. If you have the opportunity to spend a little more time in the city, take the chance to explore further afield, such as the district of La Part-Dieu and the sprinkling of art galleries south of the presqu’île.