Lyon, one of France's most important cities, is famous for its architecture, history, food and wine, and superb museums. It's also a convenient gateway to the Alps and the south of France. But when is the best time of year to visit the old Gallo-Roman city? Most would agree that the best time to visit Lyon is from late spring to mid-autumn, when activities such as outdoor dining, vineyard tours, and numerous festivals are at their peak.
However, the year-end is also an excellent time to go, as the city comes alive with festive decorations and holiday events. Keep reading to decide what time of year might be best for you.
The Weather in Lyon
Lyon has a humid subtropical climate that borders on oceanic, due to relatively warm average temperatures. Summers are often hot, with frequent storms and heat waves, while winters are typically cold and dry. Summers see high temps of around 81 F (27 C) and lows of approximately 61 F (16 C). The winters, while milder than in some French regions, can nevertheless bring temperatures hovering near or even slightly below freezing. Annual high temperatures in winter are around 44 F (6.5 C), and lows a brisk 34 F (1 C). Springtime is generally warm, with increasingly balmy and sunny conditions starting in May.
Peak Season in Lyon
Late spring through early fall are peak season in Lyon, drawing the greatest number of visitors. The late spring brings longer, often sunny days ideal for outdoor meals, sightseeing, and day trips, while summer is popular for outdoor concerts and festivals. Autumn, however, is the ideal season for wine tasting in nearby vineyards. During high season, especially summer, fares for flights and hotel room rates are generally at their highest. If you plan to visit France during these popular months, make sure to book your trip well in advance.
Traveling in Off-Season
Visiting Lyon during off-season (roughly November through early April) offers a few benefits, including quieter conditions and fewer crowds; less expensive airfare, train tickets, and hotel room rates; and an opportunity to get to know the city from a more local point of view. But going outside of peak months can also have significant downsides: shorter days and often cold conditions, fewer available tours, and a city that's generally a bit less accommodating to tourists. If you do decide to visit during the off-season, make sure that the attractions, restaurants, and guided tours you're interested in will be open or operating.
Spring in Lyon isn't as oversubscribed by tourists as Paris is, but it has many of the same charms as the capital does: lush blooms and greenery; warmer conditions ideal for strolls, picnics, or day trips; farmers' markets overflowing with fresh produce; and longer days. Take long walks along the Rhône and Saône rivers, and admire the spring blossoms at Lyon's Botanical Gardens. Wander through Lyon's best brocantes (antique markets), and enjoy coffee on a terrace overlooking Place des Terreaux.
Event to Check Out:
- Le Printemps des Docks trade show is a trendy design event featuring houseware, jewelry, clothing, artisanal foods, and more.
Summer can be idyllic in Lyon—especially after sunset, when the river quays, illuminated bridges, and winding streets really come alive. Stage a picnic at a park or on the banks of the Saône river, and head to the viewing platform outside Fourvière Basilica for stunning sunset panoramas over the city. Enjoy alfresco dinners on city terraces, take in live music, and join summer street parties such as Lyon Pride. The long days and nights seem (blissfully) endless in summer.
Events to Check Out:
- On June 21, the Fête de la Musique brings free musical performances to the streets of Lyon for a long night of celebration.
- Lyon Pride (Fierté) is a week-long festivity that takes place every June; complete with street parties and a parade (Marche des Fiertés), it is the second largest gay pride festival in France.
- The Nuits de Fourvière festival, held in the city's Roman amphitheaters, feature live music, theatre, and dance in late June and July.
Fall in Lyon is crisp and inspiring. The summer crowds start to really thin out by late October, and a cozy yet stimulating vibe takes hold. Temperatures drop and the air is chillier, but sunny days are common. Book a table on a stunning rooftop terrace, explore the city's most interesting neighborhoods, see fall foliage at the beautiful Parc de la Tete d'Or, and take a guided tour of nearby vineyards and wineries.
Event to Check Out:
- The third week of November marks the celebration of Beaujolais Nouveau wines, and many wine bars and wineries in the region hold special tasting events to mark the occasion.
A winter trip to Lyon can be memorable and relaxing. Enjoy a hearty lunch at one of the city's intimate, traditional restaurants, known as bouchons, and wander around the stalls at the world-famous covered market, Les Halles Paul Bocuse. Bundle up and amble through Old Lyon, and take advantage of cozy seasonal events such as holiday decorations and markets. The city's many interesting museums offer a good way to escape the cold. Finally, consider a day trip to nearby Alpine towns such as Annecy for a fairytale winter getaway, often complete with snow.
Events to Check Out:
- From around late November, the city's main Christmas market (Marché de Noël) takes over the enormous Place Carnot square in the city center, with some 140 booths peddling holiday gifts, mulled wine, crêpes, toys, decorations, and more.
- On December 8, check out the Fête des Lumières (Festival of Lights), a Lyonnais event that sees numerous buildings around the city taken over by illuminations and light shows. It's also traditional for residents to place votive candles in their windows, to mesmerizing and memorable effect.