Nestled in the Rhone Valley at the point where the Rhone and Saône rivers meet, Lyon is a fairly green city. It's surrounded by vineyards and rolling countryside, and the riverside strolls alone can be idyllic. Still, sometimes you need a good park to get away to, for a quiet stroll, picnic on the grass, or play session with restless kids. From large, leafy squares to enormous parks complete with lakes and grottoes, playgrounds, and botanical gardens, these are the best parks in Lyon.
Parc de la Tête d'Or
The largest and most impressive green space in central Lyon, the Parc de la Tête d'Or (Parc of the Golden Head) is an ideal spot for a long stroll, picnic, activities for young visitors, and (in the autumn) leaf-peeping session.
Opened in 1857 (the same year as New York's Central Park), this lush city haven is located in the posh 6th arrondissement, on the east bank of the Rhone. The sprawling, Romantic-style park measures nearly 300 acres. It’s crisscrossed by numerous, wide paths for strollers and joggers, hundreds of varieties of trees, flowers, shrubs, and plants, as well as artificial lakes and grottoes frequented by ducks, geese, and other wild birds. Locals covet it for its jogging and cycling paths, ample space for picnics, and, in the summer, boating on the lake.
How to enjoy it: Enter through the grandiose, gilded gates and take a leisurely walk around the winding paths, noting the hundreds of species of trees, flowers, and plants that flank them. In the spring, stop to admire the park’s many elaborate flower beds and four rose gardens; in the fall, the foliage often turns to dramatic yellows, oranges, and reds. Kids will enjoy the zoo, where you can see animals including giraffes, elephants, and monkeys, a mini-golf course, and the miniature train that winds around the park. There’s also a puppet theater. If you haven’t packed a picnic, there are several snack bars and more formal restaurants in and around the park. Make a longer day of it by visiting Lyon's Botanical Gardens during the same excursion, whose entrance lies a the southern tip of the Parc de la Tête d'Or.
Botanical Gardens at the Tête d'Or
Exhibiting one of Europe’s largest collections of plant species, the Lyon Botanical Gardens—located at the southern tip of the Parc de la Tête d’Or—feature some 15,000 varieties of plant life within its greenhouses and meticulously tended outdoor spaces. Stretching over nearly 20 acres, the gardens include an international rose garden, several thematic greenhouses, an Orangery, an Alpine garden with some 1,700 mountainous plant species native to the Alps, an arboretum, a collection of ferns, and numerous other areas.
How to enjoy it: Go from late April to June to enjoy the plants, flowers, and trees at their best. Enter the gardens from the Avenue Verguin, and explore the open-air gardens before venturing into the various greenhouses, making sure to admire their fine architectural details as well as the plants they house. The historic rose garden boasts more than 360 types of roses in different, dramatic colors, and the Mexican garden (open from April to October) is worth a look. Finally, an educational experience awaits adults and young visitors alike at the Lambert Farm, which includes an herbarium collecting hundreds of thousands of species, a seed store, a laboratory for rare plants, and a botanical library.
Parc des Hauteurs (Heights Park)
A green belt on Fourvière hill that runs behind the Basilica of the same name, the Parc des Hauteurs is a green oasis in the heights of the ancient city. The winding paths that run through the urban park here are flanked by trees, flowering plants and shrubs, and connect the main Esplanade at Fourviere basilica with a footpath built on a defunct tram track called La Passerelle des Quatre-vents, the Loyasse cemetery and old fort, a picturesque rose garden, and the archeological garden (where you can see artifacts from Lyon's Gallo-Roman period and society).
How to enjoy it: After exploring the rose garden at the foot of the Basilica, venture onto the Quatre-Vents footpath for dramatic views of the Basilica, lush gardens, and buildings that formerly served as convents. Continuing down the hill, the path will eventually bring you to Old Lyon and the banks of the Saône river, affording numerous perspectives over the city as you amble along.
This interesting new park, opened in 2014, was created on the site of a former military fort; in 2019 it was significantly expanded, adding several acres of green space and leisure facilities. It’s situated at the meeting point of several different Lyon neighborhoods, with the entrance in the residential 7th arrondissement.
Composed of three main areas—a large open space called L’Esplanade, the fortress, and the moats—the Parc Blandan brings together centuries-old architecture with contemporary urban design, and is an ideal space for a walk, picnic, sports match, or nap in the sun. It’s a green haven within the urban environment, with dozens of species of plants and trees, plenty of green grass on the large “prairie” for play or relaxation, and walking paths.
How to enjoy it: Take the roughly one-mile-long walking path around the park to explore its different areas, visiting the remnants of the former military fort and admiring its dramatic structures. You can have a picnic on one of the tables set up in the area, or on the grassy “prairie” nearby. Young visitors will appreciate the large playground near the “Sardou” plaza, featuring toboggans and a climbable wall with secret passageways.
Parc de la Cerisaie
The name of this green space and manor (which literally translates to "Cherry Tree Park") may lead you to believe that it's full of cherry trees. While it now lacks these flowering trees, a grove filled with them once stood here—hence the name. Now it’s the site of a Tuscan-style manor and formal gardens planted with oak trees, built in the early 19th century by a French architect named Joseph Folléa. Formerly owned by a wealthy family of Lyonnais industrialists, the site was purchased by the city in the 1970s, when it was opened to the general public as a green space.
How to enjoy it: Visit this charming park and manor after exploring the hilly reaches of the neighborhood known as La Croix Rousse, formerly the center of silk textile workers’ workshops and now one of the city’s most diverse, artsy, and interesting areas. Have a picnic and admire the harmonious architectural details of the manor and surrounding landscapes. Painted frescoes and contemporary statues offer an interesting contrast to the Tuscan-style decor.
Parc des Berges du Rhone
This "green corridor" is nestled along the banks of the Rhone river toward the south end of the city, not far from the contemporary art museum known as the Musée des Confluences. The upper part of the park features a large, grassy terrace area offering viewpoints of and over the river and a north garden with clusters of fig trees. The lower part boasts a leafy promenade, itself lined with poplar trees.
How to enjoy it: Go see an exhibit at the Musée des Confluences in the morning, before crossing the Pont Pasteur bridge from the Presqu'Ile (Lyon's central "island" between the Rhone and Saône) to the riverside park. Take a leisurely stroll along the promenade and perhaps settling on a bench for an impromptu picnic. This is also a great spot for people-watching and scenic bike rides. Finally, for a longer stroll, take the promenade northward along the Rhone to reach the city center, or south until you get to the Parc de Gerland, another lovely park.