Things to do in Lyon

Vieux Lyon

Lyon is the third largest city of France and the French capital of gastronomy! With its beautiful old town, its many restaurants, museums and shops, there are plenty of things to do in Lyon. Here are all our tips for a perfect weekend trip to Lyon.

Top five things to do in Lyon on a weekend trip

1. Wander through the old town streets of Vieux-Lyon

Vieux-Lyon, or the Saint-Jean area, is the most picturesque part of Lyon. The cobblestone streets with colorful houses are filled with small shops, cafés and restaurants. Wander around the streets Rue Saint-Jean, Rue du Boeuf, and have a drink on a terrace on Place de la Baleine.

There are cute little shops with typical products from Lyon. Grab a ‘brioche’ bread with pink colored pralines at one of the bakery shops, or try the local ‘Coussins de Lyon’ which are colorful sweet treats of chocolate and marzipan.

2. Visit the Traboules, hidden passage ways

What are Traboules in Lyon?

Traboules are old passageways through buildings and to inner courtyards who often get you from one street to another and are a part of the city’s rich history. The first traboules date from the 4th century and were made due to lack of water and allowed people to have quicker access to the water of the river Saone. There are about 40 of them still open to the public in Lyon and they are usually indicated with a sign next to the entrance door. They are mainly located in Vieux-Lyon and in the Croix Rousse areas of the city.

During WWII the traboules were also used for secret meetings of the Resistance.

To enter a traboule if the door is not open, you simply press the ‘open door lock’ button on the interphone next to the door. Bear in mind that people do live here, so try to remain silent while visiting.

Addresses of Traboules in Vieux-Lyon

There are guided tours of the traboules, or you can explore them for yourself. Here are the 3 traboules in Vieux-Lyon that we went through, but of course, there are more.

  • 27, rue Saint-Jean to 6, rue des Trois-Maries
  • 2, Place du Gouvernement to 10, Quai Romain Rolland
  • 16, rue du Boeuf, which is not a traboule from one street to another, but to an inner courtyard with Vieux-Lyon’s famous Tour Rose building.

3. Head up to Notre-Dame de Fourvière with the funicular and walk back down for the views

From a lot of parts of the city you will always see the Notre-Dame de Fourvière cathedral towering over Lyon on top of the hill. From Vieux-Lyon you can take the cute funicular up to Fourvière. The short funicular ride will take you right to the cathedral and to the beautiful viewpoint over the city. Once up there you will also see the Metallic tower of Fourvière which looks a bit like the Eiffel Tower in Paris but serves as a television tower.

We recommend you to walk back down the stairs and through the park to head back to Vieux-Lyon as this gives you more beautiful views over the rooftops and the Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste of Vieux-Lyon.

4. Eat in a typical Bouchon Lyonnais restaurant

Lyon is the Capital of French gastronomy and eating out in Lyon is a real pleasure! There are cafés, bistrots, and streets filled with restaurants like the Rue Mercière. A must-do when in Lyon is to eat in a real Bouchon Lyonnais.

What is a Bouchon Lyonnais?

Not every restaurant can call itself a Bouchon Lyonnais. The Bouchon Lyonnais has existed for centuries and is part of Lyon’s cultural heritage. There are specific criteria a restaurant needs to meet to be able to call itself a Bouchon and one of those criteria is of course to serve typical Lyonnaise dishes. The food is usually prepared using local products.

Traditional meals in a Bouchon Lyonnais

So, what to order in a Bouchon Lyonnais? There are plenty of dishes that you will find in most of the Bouchons.

  • ‘Salade Lyonnaise’ (salad with poached eggs and hot bacon)
  • Oeufs Meurette, poached eggs in Bourguignon sauce
  • Quenelle, sort of dumpling sausage, often made with pike fish and bread crumbs
  • Tablier de sapeur, beef tripe marinated in white wine
  • Lyon sausage with pistachios
  • Cervelle de canut, firm cottage cheese with garlic, herbs and onions
  • Praline tart for dessert

We had dinner in these two Bouchons in Vieux-Lyon that we can highly recommend. On weekends, make sure to reserve your spot in advance:

5. Visit the Presqu’ile with its beautiful squares Place des Terreaux and Place Bellecour

The Presqu’ile in Lyon is the area located between the two rivers that flow through the city: the Rhone and the Saone. It is the very center of Lyon, with all the shops and lively city squares.

If you like to go shopping, the Presqu’ile is the one of the best places to go (the other place would be the big Part Dieu shopping center).

Place des Terreaux

Place des Terreaux is one of the most beautiful squares of Lyon with the big Bartholdi fountain dating from 1892, and the city hall. It’s usually very lively and a place where people meet. What we like about this place is to feel the difference when you enter the garden of the Musée des Beaux-Arts located on the square. You hear the sounds of the city on Place des Terreaux, and when you enter the inner courtyard of the Museum it slowly becomes silent.

Place Bellecour

The biggest city square of Lyon is Place Bellecour. It is only pedestrian and connects shopping streets. From Place Bellecour you will have a nice view on the Notre-Dame de Fourvière cathedral. There are often street performers and musicians on Place Bellecour.

Rue Mercière

Said to be one of the oldest streets of Lyon, and full of restaurants with terraces today. We had lunch at ‘Le Bistrot de Lyon‘ which was very nice.

From Rue Mercière you can also stroll to the beautiful Place des Jacobins, another beautiful town square with a fountain dating from 1885.

More things to do in Lyon

Of course there are many more things to do in Lyon, and we will for sure go back for that! There are plenty of museums and there is the well-known Parc de la Tete d’Or. We’re saving that for our next trip!

Where to stay in Lyon

If you are on your first trip to Lyon, it would be nice to stay in Vieux-Lyon. What I like is that in the morning the streets are quiet and you can hop into a bakery to get your breakfast before the streets will be filled with people again. You can also have the chance to see some of the traboules by yourself in the morning.

We stayed at an apartment in Vieux-Lyon which was very well located close to Place de la Baleine. The apartment recommendation is here.

Did you like this article? You may also like our posts on Chambéry or Chamonix.

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