Delicious cuisine is to be expected in France’s gastronomic capital, but Lyon also has UNESCO-listed landmarks, colourful street art, and buzzing nightlife. If you’re visiting Lyon for the France Rugby World Cup 2023, why not plan a few days before or after match day to take in the highlights of France’s third-largest city? To get you started, here’s our pick of the top 10 things to do in Lyon.
1. Take a Walking Tour of Vieux Lyon
The warren of cobbled lanes, traboules (hidden alleyways), and traditional buildings stretching along the west bank of the Saône River is Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon), Lyon’s oldest and most atmospheric district. Protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s a charming jumble of Renaissance and Gothic architecture, dotted with shops, cafés, and bakeries.
Stroll down the lively central boulevards of Rue Juiverie and Rue Saint-Jean, stop to admire the landmark Saint-John-the-Baptist Cathedral with its Astronomical Clock, then pause for a coffee at one of the many terrace cafés.
2. Explore the Traboules of Croix-Rousse
One of the unique features of Vieux Lyon is its historic traboules, and the quirky passageways are a throwback to the city’s silk-making heritage. Some of the most scenic can be found in the hilltop Croix-Rousse neighbourhood to the north, where they were used by the canuts (silk workers) to transport goods between the warehouses.
This bohemian district was made for wandering, ducking in and out of the traboules (look out for the small ceramic arrows that point the way), browsing the independent boutiques, and admiring the views over the city below. Stop by the Maison des Canuts museum to learn more about Lyon’s silk industry and watch a silk-making demonstration, walk through the famous Traboule de la cour des Voraces, and stroll around the morning market along Boulevard de la Croix Rousse.
3. Take in the Views from Fourvière Hill
Wherever you are in Lyon, you’ll be able to spot the Tour Métallique (Metallic Tower), Lyon’s version of the Eiffel Tower, and the Romanesque spires of the Notre Dame de Fourvière Basilica, rising up from the hilltop to the west of Vieux Lyon. Ride the funicular up Fourvière Hill to take a peek at the 19th-century basilica and climb the north tower for a magnificent view over Lyon.
Leave yourself time to explore, as the hilltop is also home to the Museum of Sacred Art, the Gallo-Roman Museum, and the evocative ruins of Lyon’s Roman Theatre, which date back to 15 BC. Behind the Basilica, the scenic Passerelle des Quatre Vents walkway leads the way to the hillside Parc des Hauteurs park.
4. Browse the Shops on the Presqu’île
Framed by the Rhône and Saône Rivers, Lyon’s bustling central district is brimming with shops, cafés, and museums. Start at Place Bellecour, where a statue of Louis XIV towers over the vast red square, then weave your way through the rows of shopping streets to Place de la République with its large pool and water jets.
Further north, Place des Terreaux is home to Lyon’s Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) and the Musée des Beaux Arts (Museum of Fine Art). From here, the tangle of narrow lanes known as ‘Les Pentes de la Croix-Rousse’ climb uphill to Croix-Rousse and harbour some of the city’s coolest independent boutiques, local artisans, and small art galleries—our favourite is the Village des Créateurs along Rue René Leynaud.
5. Admire Lyon’s Colourful Murals
Lyon shows off its creative side in its colourful fresques or murals, which brighten up building facades around the city. Famous murals include La Fresque des Lyonnais, a trompe-l’oeil depicting Lyon celebrities including Paul Bocuse and the Lumière brothers looking out from the balconies (2 rue de la Martinière), and La Bibliothèque de la Cité (Rue de la Platière and Quai de la Pecherie), which portrays a towering library featuring some 300 local and international writers.
Don’t miss Le Mur des Canuts (Boulevard des Canuts near the Henon metro station), which holds the title of Europe’s largest fresco, and shows the historic silk-weaving neighbourhood of Croix-Rousse.
6. Visit Lyon’s Foodie Paradise
One thing’s for sure: you won’t go hungry in Lyon. The hometown of renowned French chef Paul Bocuse is acclaimed as France’s culinary capital, and the number 1 stop on a foodie tour is Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse. This foodie paradise is the city’s largest market, housed in a historic covered market hall and packed with 55 shops, stalls, and café-restaurants.
Whether you’re picking up regional cheeses, charcuterie, and freshly baked baguettes for a picnic or sampling the vast selection of hand-made tarts and pastries, you’ll be in good hands at this local institution—this is where the city’s top chefs and Michelin-starred restaurants purchase their produce. Arrive early for your pick of the fresh seafood or come at lunchtime to dine on traditional dishes at one of the market restaurants.
7. Sample Lyonnaise Cuisine
Lyon’s foodie credentials are so impressive that they warrant two mentions on our top 10 list! After all, this is the city that food critic Curnonsky proclaimed the “world capital of gastronomy” and it boasts more Michelin-starred restaurants than any French city outside of Paris (just make sure you book well in advance if you want to secure a table).
A tasting tour of Lyon starts in the city’s bouchons, traditional family-owned restaurants, where you can try regional specialities such as poulet de Bresse (Bresse chicken), quenelles (fish dumplings), and—if you dare— escargots à la Bourguignonne (snails with garlic butter and parsley sauce). Sweet treats abound, too, so look out for coussins de Lyon (green marzipan cakes), brioche aux pralines roses (pink praline brioche), and tarte aux pralines (praline tart) at patisseries around the city.
8. Picnic in the Parc de la Tête d’Or
With 117 hectares stretching along the banks of the Rhône, the Parc de la Tête d’Or is Lyon’s green lung, and snags the title of France’s largest urban park. Escape the crowds with a walk or jog along the leafy paths, take a ride on the Petit Train tourist train, or hire a Rosalie (quadricycle) and pedal your way around the park, then find a scenic spot for a picnic.
There’s plenty to keep you occupied on a sunny afternoon—the park is also home to Lyon Zoo, Lyon Botanical Garden, a Rose Garden, and the Lyon Museum of Contemporary Art. Our tip? Head down to the pier, where you can rent a pedal boat or electric boat and cruise around the lake.
9. Discover Lyon’s History of Lights and Cinema
Lyon’s most famous annual event, the Fête des Lumières (Festival of Lights), has its roots in the 17th century and sees the city transformed with dazzling illuminations and light art installations. While you’ll have to wait until December to attend the big event, the illuminated landmarks around Vieux Lyon and the Presqu’île can be admired year-round on an evening tour of the city.
Another reason for Lyon’s love of lights is the city’s movie-making legacy. Forget Hollywood; the birthplace of cinema was actually right here in Lyon, where local icons, the Lumière brothers, first developed the art of cinematography. A visit to the Lumière Museum takes you through their early experiments, showcasing the antique movie cameras and projectors used to host the world’s first cinema screening back in 1895—a 46-second clip entitled “Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory in Lyon”.
10. Drink and Dine by the Riverside
With two rivers and four riverbanks to choose from, it’s little surprise that Lyon’s best bars come with a view of the water. Join the locals for a floating apértif or dinner onboard a péniche, the traditional riverboats permanently moored along the waterfront. You’ll find péniches moored along both rivers, including floating restaurants, bars, and nightclubs.
Can’t decide on the best view? Les Bateaux Lyonnais also offer sunset sailing and dinner cruises, so you can dine onboard as you float past the illuminated city skyline.