Lyon, one of France's largest and most important cities, boasts diverse neighborhoods and districts that each have their highlights and charms. When visiting for the first time, make sure to acquaint yourself with Lyon's nine arrondissements (districts), numbered 1 through 9. Getting familiar with these before your trip will allow you to get around with ease, and form a mental picture of the city's main highlights as you prioritize what to see and do. Keep reading for an overview of each neighborhood and its highlights.
1st Arrondissement: Place des Terreaux & City Hall
The 1st arrondissement occupies much of Lyon's present-day city center, boasting numerous sites important to both local life and tourism. Situated on the northern part of the natural island known as the Presqu'ile (between the Rhone and Saone rivers), the area lies south of the Croix-Rousse neighborhood (4th arrondissement); Old Lyon and Fourviere lie to the southwest. Metro lines A and C serve the area, with the most convenient stop being Hôtel de Ville-Louis Pradel.
What to Do: The heart of the area is the elegant Place des Terreaux, with its neoclassical buildings, a fountain from the sculptor Bartholdi, Fine Arts Museum, restaurants, and bustling cafe terraces. On the east side of the square, you'll see the ornate 17th-century City Hall. Also make sure to visit the Lyon Opera, blending a 19th-century base and a futuristic, domed rooftop designed by architect Jean Nouvel.
2nd Arrondissement: Place Bellecour & Confluences
Stretching from the lower part of the Presqu'ile between Lyon's two rivers, southward to the Confluences area where the Rhone and Saone meet, the 2nd arrondissement covers a vibrant part of the city center, packed with shopping districts, a grandiose square, restaurants, theaters, and remarkably diverse architectural styles. Get there by taking Metro Line A to Cordeliers or Perrache; the latter is one of two major train/TGV stations in the city.
What to Do: Start at the enormous Place Bellecour, Europe's largest square; it's graced with an equestrian statue of the "Sun King" Louis XIV. From here, explore streets such as Rue de la Republique and Rue Victor Hugo, lined with global shops, cafes, and restaurants. The Theatre des Celestins is one of France's oldest theaters, situated on the eye-catching Place des Celestins. Finally, head south to see the natural history collections (and futuristic architecture) at the Musee des Confluences.
3rd Arrondissement: Part Dieu and Les Halles Market
It may not be Lyon's prettiest district, but the 3rd arrondissement has plenty to offer international travelers especially anyone interested in food, wine, and local market life. Located just east of the Presque'ile across the Rhone, the area is often considered Lyon's second city center and is home to the busy Part-Dieu train station. It's an excellent hub for tourists arriving in or departing Lyon, with shopping centers, one of France's best covered food markets, and a bustling, contemporary vibe. The area is served by several metro and tram lines, and the Rhoneexpress airport tram/shuttle also stops at Part-Dieu.
What to Do: Reserve a couple of hours for a whirl through the Halles de Lyon-Paul Bocuse, a covered market named after the late and celebrated chef and boasting dozens of stalls, selling everything from fresh local produce to cheeses, bread, chocolate, and wines. There are numerous good restaurants in and around the market, too. Meanwhile, head to the riverside path known as the Berges du Rhone for a long stroll with city views, or a drink on the rooftop on a peniche (boat-cafe/bar).
4th Arrondissement: Croix-Rousse
Situated north of the city center in the 1st district, the Croix-Rousse (4th arrondissement) is one of Lyon's most colorful and artsy neighborhoods, combining the city's industrial history with current-day local life. When Lyon was a global center of silk manufacturing, the neighborhood housed numerous silk workers' workshops, evidenced by the passageways (traboules) that connect the buildings to the city center, permitting workers to transport materials and goods to market. Get there by walking from the Fourvière area, or take Metro line C to the Croix-Rousse stop.
What to Do: Start at the Place de la Croix Rousse (the area's central square), and explore the winding streets, panoramic viewpoints, and busy, laid-back cafes, shops, and restaurants. In many ways, the neighborhood feels like an independent village. Make sure to see the Mur des Canuts, a dizzying trompe-l'oeil mural that captures the history of the area's silk workers, and iconic spots such as the Theatre de la Croix-Rousse, a theater with a striking 1920s facade.
5th Arrondissement: Old Lyon and Fourviere
The historic heart of both Gallo-Roman and medieval Lyon, the 5th arrondissement stretches along the left bank of the Saone River into the hilly heights at Fourvière Basilica. This is an area where most tourists will want to spend a good deal of time time, as it's packed with popular attractions, breathtaking architecture, and picturesque viewpoints over the city. It can be easily reached by Metro line D (Vieux Lyon station).
What to Do: After visiting the 12th-century Saint-Jean Cathedral, explore the winding streets lined with restaurants and shops, handsome riverside paths and bridges along the Saone, and warmly hued, Renaissance-era buildings of Vieux Lyon, with their secretive passageways (traboules). Then take one of two funicular trains up Fourviere hill to explore the Basilica and its panoramic viewpoints, as well as the Gallo-Roman museum and ancient arenas.
6th Arrondissement: Parc de la Tete d'Or
The 6th arrondissement is an affluent and mostly residential area located northeast of the city center, on the right bank of the Rhone river and north of the 3rd arrondissement and the Halles de Lyon/Part Dieu area. Studded with 18th-century residential buildings and mansions, stately footbridges over the Rhone, and the city's largest central park, the 6th offers both elegance and fresh air. Take Metro Line A to the Foch or Massena stops to get there by public transport.
What to Do: After crossing one of the bridges over the Rhone into the 6th (the Passerelle du College footbridge offers especially picturesque perspectives), wander northward to the Parc de la Tete d'Or, France's largest urban green space. The romantic-style park features tree-lined lanes and walking paths, man-made lakes and grottoes, and plenty of grass for a lazy picnic.
7th Arrondissement: University District & Parc Blandan
One of Lyon's more recent districts, the forward-thinking 7th arrondissement is home to several universities, some of whose stately buildings overlook the banks of the Rhône and its greenery-lined walking and cycling paths. It's situated southeast from the city center, and easily reached on foot from central Place Bellecour (by crossing the Pont de la Guillotière) or via Metro (Line B or C).
What to Do: Explore the University District, with its laid-back student life, cafes, and diverse street food options around Rue de Chevreul and Rue de Marseille. The Berges du Rhone riverside path offers miles of walking and cycling paths, while the lush Parc Blandan is another of the city's loveliest green spaces. Finally, stop at the Centre d’Histoire de la Resistance et de la Deportation (CHRD), a museum and memorial center that explores the history of Lyon during World War II.
8th Arrondissement: Institut Lumiere
The 8th arrondissement is a vibrant, traditionally working-class district located to the east of the city center, bordered by the 7th and 3rd districts. One of the newer areas to be incorporated into Lyon, it has a contemporary and diverse feel to it, and transport links to the city are excellent (via Metro Line D or Tram Line T2 at the Sans-Souci and Monplaisir-Lumiere stations, among others). Accommodations here are generally less expensive than in the city center, making it a good option for budget-conscious travelers.
What to Do: The Institut de Lumiere is a must-see for movie fans and cinephiles, with a collection focused on the history of film and the contributions made by the Lumiere brothers, Lyon natives, and cinema pioneers. It's situated in the sub-district known as Montplaisir.
9th Arrondissement: Place Valmy and Ile Barbe
Finally, the 9th arrondissement is a residential and green district located roughly 4 miles northwest of the city center, nestled above Old Lyon and adjacent to the Croix-Rousse district (4th arrondissement). It offers good public transport links to Lyons' main attractions (from Metro Line D at Gorge de Loup, Valmy, and Gare de Vaise stations). It may be a good option if you're looking for budget-friendly accommodations or want to get a quieter taste of local life.
What to Do: The 9th boasts both charming riverside walking and bike paths along the banks of the Saone, and lush green spaces such as the Ile Barbe, a natural island on the Saône housing a 5th-century monastery. The Place de Valmy area (where you can catch the metro to the city center) is also worth a quick look, with its shops, restaurants, and easy access to the riverside paths.