In 2016, Lyon was France’s #1 city in Global Liveability Ranking. Many have actually left Paris to live in France’s second-biggest city. But how is it from a tourist’s point of view? Is Lyon worth visiting? My partner lived there for about ten years, and he thought I was joking the first time I asked this question. I had been to many cities in France, but for some reason, Lyon hadn’t been on my radar before meeting him.
So here’s what I think of Lyon and the best spots we visited after finally planning a short detour to see why locals love it so much.
Is Lyon worth visiting?
Yes, Lyon is worth visiting. Absolutely. Whether you go to Lyon for a few hours or a few days, you’ll find a lot of things to do in Lyon. Not only is Lyon a beautiful city full of historic buildings (the inner-city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site), but it has also been known as the World’s Capital of Gastronomy for almost one century.
Plus, Lyon is surrounded by wine regions (the first vines grow only 10 kilometres from the city). It’s only a couple of hours away from Paris by high-speed train, with trains leaving three times per hour. As you plan your trip to France, remember Lyon also has a central position. It’s easy to add it to almost any itinerary, for a day trip or a short detour. Football fans will also find one of the best male and female football teams in Lyon. It’s actually hard to find a reason why Lyon would not be worth visiting!
Still undecided on which French city to add to your itinerary? If you like wine, gastronomy and architecture, check out this article about Lyon vs Dijon.
What to see in Lyon’s inner city
Here’s a walking tour of Lyon that will please those who want to see the best sites in the city in a limited time.
From Lyon Pardieu station to Le Vieux Lyon
We arrived by train at Pardieu station, where we started our Lyon walking tour. From the start, we could see the Basilique de Fourviere that dominates the city perched on its hill. We walked around town intending to reach it.
Like many European cities, Lyon is full of beautiful buildings that could all be considered monuments. No doubt why it is listed as a UNESCO site and why locals laughed when I asked if Lyon was worth visiting. We went to Place Bellecour (1), the Bonaparte bridge (2) and finally arrived in the Vieux Lyon, at the bottom of the hill we were aiming for. In the Vieux Lyon, you cannot miss the Cathedral Saint-Jean (3).
Le Vieux Lyon
There are many places where to eat in Lyon. The Vieux Lyon is the best place to experience the local cuisine in small restaurants locally called “Bouchons” (4). We had fun going through a few “traboules“, pushing doors to find secret passages leading to a maze from one street to another. So take the time to get lost in this area and try some food.
While in Lyon, a city highly reputed for its gastronomy, you may be interested in joining a guided food tour*.
From Le Vieux Lyon to Fourviere basilica
For less than 2€, we took the funicular (5), an old inclined railway from the 1850s that climbs to the impressive basilica. Make sure you take it from the right platform, as another funicular is going elsewhere on the left. You can also walk to the top of the hill, but it’s tiring: there are many stairs to climb! This option will considerably increase the time of this Lyon walking tour. However, it will take you around a park with great city views, so it can be worth it if you feel like exercising! Check out the map here for the details on how to walk to Fourviere.
The view from the Fourviere basilica (6) is unbeatable. It is a good place to look at all the things Lyon has to offer and plan the rest of your stay, if you have more time in the city. Lyon has two rivers, so a river cruise* could be a nice activity after all the walking. Plus, it will give view different views of the city.
If you are a wine lover…
The region around Lyon, the Rhone Valley, is famous for its wineries. A visit outside the city is also an opportunity to see some typical villages. Wine lovers can join a short tour from Lyon to the Beaujolais* (no need to drive; you can enjoy the wines!). If you are limited by time, you can join a wine-tasting class in the heart of the city*.
If you don’t like to walk, Lyon is still worth visiting!
My itinerary focuses on walking around town. I really think walking is the best way to explore Lyon if you have time. But even if you don’t want to walk, Lyon is still worth visiting. You can, for example, visit Lyon using the hop-on hop-off bus*, on a segway*, or join an e-bike tour*. For even less effort, just sit in the back of a pedicab*.
Do you think Lyon is worth visiting? Share your recommendations in the comments below!
Where to stay in Lyon?
We didn’t stay in a hotel in Lyon. But if you’re looking for a romantic, luxurious escape, have a look at accommodations in Le Vieux Lyon. La Cour des Loges* is one of the most reputed hotels, perfectly located and with stunning decors. If you prefer a quieter area, still with charms, Le Fourvière Hôtel*, in the monastery built in 1854 next to the Basilica, has more simple rooms but offers a fantastic experience too. And if you prefer a private spa and have the budget to book a room with a view, check out Le Gourguillon*.
If you’re after a cheaper option in a lively area, I recommend booking in the Presqu’ile côté Terreaux/Pentes de la Croix Rousse. Click here to view hotels in Lyon*
Where is Lyon?
Lyon is in the southeast of France, not too far from the French Alps or the Mediterranean coast. There’s a high-speed train going from Paris to Lyon in only two hours multiple times a day. It makes Lyon one of the best day trips from Paris by train. The high-speed train also goes to Marseille. Many other trains leave from Lyon to easily explore the centre and southeast of France. Lyon also has an international airport.