10 Best Things You Can Only Do in Lyon

Unveiling Lyon: 10 Unique Experiences You Can't Miss

Experience Lyon's Exclusive Charm


Anna is the author of the Lyon chapter for our latest France guidebook. Here she shares the best experiences you can find in Lyon.

Lyon passes remarkably under-the-radar, but once you’ve been, it’s near impossible not to go back. Vast parks, two rivers and a vibrant (and often al fresco) dining scene all feature prominently in a city that’s small enough to get around on foot.

From May until September, Lyon largely bathes in sunshine, the péniches (barge bars) spring to life and the riverbanks become giant picnic spots. In winter, the proximity to the Alps is tangible – skiers stomp through the Metro in the early hours, and the snow-capped mountain peaks are visible from the city heights.

1. Climb the city's hills - Experience Lyon's Exclusive Charm

Lyon’s two hills are known as the working hill (Croix-Rousse) and the praying hill (Fourvière), the former being the old silk-weaving district (hence the "working") and the latter crowned by Fourvière Basilica. 

The views from both are spectacular. To reach Fourvière, either zig-zag through the Jardin de la Rosaire from Vieux Lyon or take the funicular. On a clear day, Mont Blanc is visible from the square next to the basilica. There’s a metro line running to Croix-Rousse, too, but if you tackle it on foot, you’ll pass painted staircases, street art and plenty of boutiques, bars and restaurants to break the climb. At the top, stop for a drink at Barabaar, where you can enjoy views of Rhône, Part Dieu’s towers and Fourvière.

2. Relax on the banks of the Rhône - Experience Lyon's Exclusive Charm

One of the biggest joys of Lyon is visiting its two rivers — you’re never far from the water. The Saône is quieter and you can rent kayaks or motorboats to explore it, but unfortunately, one side of the river is still multi-story car parks from the days when the concrete revolution threatened to destroy the most beautiful parts of the city. The Rhône is more lived in, with a cycle route running all along the bank, and péniche (barge) bars that brim over at a whiff of sunshine. In summer, grab a cheap bottle of wine to enjoy on one of the little beaches just opposite Avenue Marechal Foch. Swimming is forbidden, but even if it weren’t, the river is hardly squeaky clean. Instead, head to Centre nautique Tony Bertrand for a dip in an open-air pool with views of the river and Fourvière.

3. Spot Lyon's hidden mosaics - Experience Lyon's Exclusive Charm

Looking at your feet as you explore a new city usually would be boring, but not in Lyon, where an incognito street artist going by Ememem fills in potholes with mosaics. Their creations – known as "flacking" – are now all over Europe, but they started here. The trompe l’oeil wall murals are what the city is best known for, enormous frescoes that tell the history of a certain part of the city. The Fresque des Canuts (silk weavers’ fresco) in Croix-Rousse is one of the largest and most impressive. 

4. Sample Lyon’s nouvelle cuisine - Experience Lyon's Exclusive Charm

For too long, Lyon has been associated solely with red-checked tablecloth bouchons serving hearty quantities of offal. If offal is your scene, by all means, tuck into andouillette and fried tripe, but avoid the tourist trap bouchons of Le Vieux Lyon like the plague and book into Le Café du Peintre in the 6ème instead. 

New on the menu is Franco-Lebanese fusion restaurant Ayla, also in the 6ème, which opened in late 2022. Fusion dining is ruling the roost, and at Franco-Italian Boulangerie Frères Barioz, it’s difficult to say whether the croissant or focaccia steals the show. Pioneering new chefs try out their ideas at food court La Commune, so there’s always plenty of variety. It’s pot luck with regards to quality and portion size, but there’s always a lively vibe.

5. Dive into Lyon's cinematic history - Experience Lyon's Exclusive Charm

The Institut Lumière, former home of the Lumière brothers (widely credited as being the inventors of cinema), shows films, and has a fantastic museum tracing the history of cinema and the first films to be made. In Vieux Lyon, the Musée Cinéma and Miniature takes a more contemporary approach, with props and costumes from everything from Harry Potter to Star Wars. The Festival Lumière, held at the Institut Lumière each October, welcomes some of the biggest names in cinema and hosts all-night movie marathons.

6. Get behind the wheel - Experience Lyon's Exclusive Charm

Lyon is infernal for driving, but the Musée de l’Automobile has even the most reluctant motorist captivated. Housed in a château in Rochetaillée-sur-Saône, the collection includes the Popemobile, Hitler’s personal car and plenty of vintage bicycles.  And did you know that the number plate was invented in Lyon, for carriages crossing the immense urban park, the Tête d’Or? 

7. Wander the city's diverse galleries - Experience Lyon's Exclusive Charm

The Musée des Confluences looks like a futuristic, asymmetric igloo, but the permanent collection is anything but, instead covering largely the ancient world. MAC, the contemporary art gallery hidden in the fringes of the Parc de la Tête d’Or, always has great temporary exhibitions, but the gallery that steals the show is La Demeure du Chaos. Open for private visits on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons (book online), this collection of anarchistic art paints a bleak yet powerful story of the last few decades of world history. The grinning silver skull which leers over the walls is a complete contrast to thered-brickk,blue-shutteredd houses of one of Lyon’s wealthiest suburbs. 

8. Go industrial chic - Experience Lyon's Exclusive Charm

Lyon narrowly escaped becoming a full-blown industrial town in the 20th century, but now the factories that threatened to eclipse its beauty have been reclaimed. Le Sucre, a former sugar factory, has rotating exhibitions and events, and La Sucrière, the on-site club, has a fantastic rooftop and late-night raves. At Halle Tony Garnier, a former abattoir (slaughterhouse) has been transformed into an events space hosting cinema concerts, live music and regular food and wine events (the Independent Winemaker’s Showroom each October is particularly good). The former SNCF workshop in La Mulatière, Grandes Locos, now hosts Lyon’s largest festival, the five-night electro extravaganza Nuits Sonores, in May.

9. Take a Sunday market stroll - Experience Lyon's Exclusive Charm

Locals don’t go to the Halles de Paul Bocuse unless they’re getting an expensive-looking present to impress someone. On Sundays, head to Marché alimentaire Saint Antoine/Céléstins, which attracts a pleasing mix of locals and tourists. In good weather, the riverbank is full of market-goers enjoying oysters and wine. Take a walk through Vieux Lyon afterward to digest — you’re just across the river from Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste, which was constructed over 300 years between the 12th and 15th centuries. Les Puces du Canal is the other big Sunday market. If you know your antiques, you can pick up some diamonds here; if not, it’s a great place to grab lunch and people watch in a typical guinguette (open-air cafe).

10. Tap into your inner oenophile - Experience Lyon's Exclusive Charm

Wine flows in abundance here, with Beaujolais to the northeast, the Rhône Valley to the south, and Lyon’s own appellation, Coteaux du Lyonnais, served in most bars. Blend your own during an "assemblage" class at Chai St Olive, or get experimental over tapas at Les Assembleurs, where guests are invited to mix and match wines. To drink with the locals, Canard de Rue in the 3ème always attracts a jovial crowd. Décor and food are duck-heavy, and the reception couldn’t be warmer.



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