Lyon, the capital of the Rhône-Alpes region in southeast France, is the country's third-largest city after Paris and Marseille. With a history stretching to the Gallo-Roman period, Lyon is now an important hub for art, culture, gastronomy, winemaking, and commerce. Keep reading to learn how to plan your trip to Lyon, with info on getting there, where to stay, what to eat, and the best things to do.
Planning Your Trip
- Best Time to Visit: Lyon is generally most pleasant from mid-spring to fall, when warmer weather makes activities such as wine tasting, strolls, cycling, and day trips ideal. However, you should also consider visiting in early December, when holiday lights, Christmas markets, and other festivities awaken the city from its winter lull.
- Language: French is the official language in Lyon.
- Currency: The Euro has been France's official currency since 2002.
- Getting Around: Central Lyon and the main areas of interest for tourists are fairly compact and easy to navigate by foot; make sure you're equipped with either a good navigation app on your phone or a print map. If you decide to take public transportation, the city has an inexpensive Metro, bus, and tram network. Tickets can be purchased in stations or onboard buses, but be aware that single tickets purchased on buses cost significantly more than ones purchased in advance. There are also two funicular lines bringing you up the city's two steep hills; you can use regular metro/tram tickets or travel passes on these lines. Meanwhile, if you wish to take a day trip to nearby vineyards or surrounding towns, local trains run regularly and efficiently from central Lyon.
- Travel Tip: You won't feel you're in a huge city if you find a hotel somewhere close to the major tourist attractions—and you'll save money on transportation, too.
Things to Do
Built up on a hilly site around the Rhône and Saône rivers, Lyon offers plenty to see and do, whether it's your first visit or third. Especially on a first trip, you'll want to explore the winding streets of Old Lyon (Vieux Lyon); the St-Jean Cathedral at its western edge is a stunning example of medieval Gothic architecture, while warm Italian-style buildings in ochre and warm pink mostly date to the Renaissance period. Be sure to walk along the banks and poetic bridges of the two rivers, and perhaps enjoy a picnic somewhere along the way. Finally, have lunch or dinner at one of Lyon's iconic bouchons: traditional, mostly family-owned eateries famous for their simple but delicious local fare.
Here are more of the top things to see and do during your stay:
- To the west of Old Lyon is Fourvière hill, dominated by Notre-Dame de Fourvière; you can enjoy stunning panoramic views over the city from the lookout point outside the basilica. The ruins of two Roman arenas, along with Lyon's fascinating Gallo-Roman archaeological museum (Musée Lugdunum), are located here as well. Fourvière is reached by a funicular that departs from the base of the hill in Vieux Lyon.
- By the 18th century, Lyon was renowned throughout Europe for its silk production. Tour the silk weavers' district on the high slopes of the area known as La Croix Rousse; wander through the old passageways, or traboules, that permitted silk workers to transport goods to the city center below. The Croix-Rousse neighborhood itself is also worth exploring, and is full of interesting street art, quirky boutiques, cafés, and restaurants.
- Lyon is an important historic site for film and cinema. Visit the Lumière Institute and the Museum of Miniatures and Cinema to learn more about the city's key role in the development of moving pictures.
What to Eat and Drink
Lyon is widely considered the gastronomic capital of France, and boasts more than 1,000 restaurants. You won't have trouble finding a good meal in Lyon. The city is awash with traditional, inexpensive tables—including the previously mentioned bouchons, with their intimate dining rooms and authentic vibe. Local specialties include a soft, herbed "silkweaver's" cheese called cervelles de canuts; tripes; quenelles de brochet (pike fish in a rich, creamy sauce); and Lyonnais-style salad. If you want to learn how to cook with the region's traditional ingredients, consider signing up for a single-day class with Plum Teaching Kitchen Lyon.
While you're in town, check out the Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, a covered market and food hall named after the renowned and late French chef. Wander through 48 bustling market stalls to taste and/or buy some excellent cheeses, produce, wines, pastries, and typical Lyonnais treats. Some of the city's better restaurants, both informal and formal, are situated in and around the market.
Located in the heart of the Rhône winemaking region, Lyon is also an excellent place to taste superb French wines, whether by visiting a local wine bar, or by taking a day trip to a regional winery or tasting cellar. Learn more about wine tours in and around Lyon on the city's Tourist Office and Convention Bureau website.
For more on where to eat in the city, explore our guide to the best restaurants in Lyon.
Where to Stay
As the capital of the Rhône-Alpes region and one of France's largest cities, Lyon counts plenty of hotels—from familiar global chains to quirky boutique accommodations and B&B-style lodgings. Many in the three- and two-star categories offer excellent value for money and above-average amenities. If you're traveling during peak season (mid-spring through early fall), make sure to book well ahead to secure the best rates.
If you don't mind preparing some of your meals, staying in a furnished vacation rental equipped with a kitchen can be an excellent way to save money on eating out. And with the number of high-quality markets and bakeries available in Lyon, you might find yourself in the mood to experiment with the fresh ingredients you get your hands on anyway.
In terms of where to stay within the city, expect hotels in Vieux Lyon and the Presque-île area to charge more per night. Areas a bit outside of the city center—such as Perrache (near the train station) or in Croix-Rousse—are often less expensive. Before booking any accommodations, consider factors such as access to the city center by public transport.
Lyon Saint Exupéry International Airport (LYS) is located 15 miles from the city center and features excellent links with France's high-speed rail (TGV) network. There is also a shuttle bus connection, called the Navette Lyon, that links the airport to the city center.
Air France, Austrian Air, Aer Lingus, British Airways, Easyjet, Ryanair, KLM, Emirates, and Lufthansa are among the national and low-cost carriers to offer both domestic and international flights to and from LYS. Several airlines, including Air France, offer direct service from Paris and other major cities around France; if you're flying from North America, you will generally need to connect through Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG).
If you're taking the train from another city in France or elsewhere in Europe, you'll arrive at one of Lyon's main rail stations: Part-Dieu or Perrache. There's a third rail station at LYS, which can be useful for continuing onward to cities and towns near Lyon, if you decide to explore the region further. TGV trains arrive and depart several times daily to and from Paris, and serve the Part-Dieu station. There are also direct Eurostar trains from London to Lyon; it takes around 4 hours and 45 minutes in total, and brings you from one city center to the next.
See more about getting to and from Lyon by train by visiting France's National Rail network, SNCF (in English).
- The Lyon City Card gives you free access to all bus, metro, tramway, and funicular lines in the city; free and discounted admission to many museums and shows; and some shopping discounts. The Lyon Card is available as a 24-hour, 48-hour, or 72-hour pass; there are separate rates for adults and children.
- Consider visiting Lyon in low season (roughly late October to early April). In addition to enjoying more of the city to yourself and benefiting from shorter lines at popular attractions, flights and hotel rooms are often less expensive at this time.
- Lyon has a number of annual festivals and events that are free, including the Fête de la Musique (June 21), which allows you to enjoy free music performances throughout the city.
- You can travel around cheaply on two wheels by using Lyon's city bike scheme. The first 30 minutes are free, and the hourly and daily rates after that are budget-friendly.
- In the spring and summer, Lyon's many riverbanks and parks can be perfect for enjoying a picnic. Stock up on inexpensive but delicious pastries, bread, fruit, and French cheeses from one of Lyon's neighborhood bakeries or farmers' markets.
- If you want to take advantage of Lyon's world-famous cuisine while watching your bank account, opt for eating out during lunch. Pre-set lunch menus are generally much more affordable than dinner à la carte.