Both Lyon and Dijon are cities south-east of Paris reputed for gastronomy, wines and historic districts, and easily accessible by train. Although they sound similar when described like this, they do not offer the same experience at all. So should you visit Lyon or Dijon? I’ve compared Lyon vs Dijon for different topics below to help you make a decision.
Is it better to visit Lyon or Dijon?
It’s not easy to say if it is better to visit Lyon or Dijon. Both French cities are worth visiting and fun to explore, especially if you’re interested in food, wine, history and monuments. According to my partner, who lived in Lyon for ten years, it’s an easy question to answer: Lyon is so much better than Dijon. But I disagree. I visited both Lyon and Dijon for one day and preferred Dijon.
Lyon vs Dijon: trip organisation
Both cities are easy to reach by train from Paris; it takes less than 2 hours to get there on a high-speed train. So you shouldn’t struggle too much organising a trip to either Lyon or Dijon. You’ll also find guided tours in English in both cities.
But if you don’t want to join a guided tour, I found it really easy to see the best things in Dijon in one day. It’s a very walkable city with an easy-to-follow self-guided circuit around town (the Owl Trail), which is ideal for seeing a lot in a short time.
Lyon is a much bigger city. It’s possible to visit the best spots in the city centre on foot. But if your time is limited, or if you cannot do long walks, you may need to catch a hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus*, a river cruise*, a pedicab*, public transport or a cab from one place to another. It’s no issue at all, but a bigger city can be more impressive for first-time visitors. From my experience, Lyon was not as tourist-friendly as Paris or Dijon.
If you’re not coming from Paris, then Lyon will very likely be easier to get to as it’s a transport hub with international connections by bus, train and plane.
Lyon vs Dijon: the gastronomy
You’ll find delicious French local specialties all around the country. But Lyon and Dijon are particularly reputed for gastronomy. They were both chosen to host each their own International Cité of Gastronomy, created to give tourists an opportunity to learn more about French gastronomy when the gastronomic meal of the French was added to the UNESCO heritage list.
We visited the International Cité of Gastronomy and Wine in Dijon and had a great time. It’s like an interactive museum with multiple galleries to develop your tastes and smell, but also learn more about wines. A few deli shops there offer to taste local specialties like the famous Dijon mustard. Everyone will find an experience they can enjoy, even kids.
Another common point between the two cities is that they both have covered markets (Les Halles) that food lovers will love to explore to try local products, including delicious cheese.
But if you’re really looking for a trip solely focused on gastronomy, then you should really consider going to Lyon.
After all, some say Lyon is the world’s capital of gastronomy, and it has one of France’s highest density of restaurants per capita. Plus, there are many places where to eat in Lyon, so you’ll find an experience to suit your style. There are many small restaurants with local specialties in the old town (les bouchons) and quite a few reputed Michelin-star fine dining restaurants. You can also join tasting tours for something different (see below).
We enjoyed our fine-dining experience in Lyon a lot. But many travellers may find it expensive or not suitable for a family with kids. The bouchons are much cheaper and with an authentic and more relaxed atmosphere. However, the food they’re known for isn’t necessarily attractive to everyone as many dishes are meat-based (even including offals).
Lyon vs Dijon: the wines
Both cities are surrounded by wineries, and you’ll find opportunities to do wine tasting in cellars in the city centre. It’s really hard to say which region produces the best wines. They’re all internationally famous. Some say the wines from the Rhone Valley (near Lyon) are the best in France. But I know a few people who would argue Nuit Saint Georges, just south of Dijon, is the best wine they ever had.
Burgundy’s climats are on UNESCO World Heritage List, and you can learn a lot about how special they are when visiting the International Cité of Gastronomy and Wine in Dijon city centre or directly at the wineries. Plus, at the Cité, you’ll get the opportunity to taste very expensive wines from different regions, so you can compare Burgundy wines and Rhone Valley wines to judge yourself.
Lyon vs Dijon: the surrounding region
It’s easy to join a tour or hire a car to visit the surrounding regions of both Lyon and Dijon. You’ll find many wineries and also charming villages, such as Perouge near Lyon and Beaune near Dijon.
Lyon vs Dijon: charm, history and architecture
We could almost end this debate by highlighting that Lyon is on the World Heritage List for all the well-preserved historical buildings in the town centre from various eras. It was built more than two thousand years ago and was already an important place for the Romans. It’s a charming city with two rivers and two hills to give visitors stunning viewpoints. But you’ll need time to experience it all.
And that’s why I preferred visiting Dijon historical centre. It’s a lot smaller than Lyon, so you can experience different building styles and atmospheres every time you change streets in the historic district. Many places caught my attention, including stunning Art-Nouveau and Renaissance buildings, beautiful half-timbered houses, a fascinating jacquemart on the cathedral, and colourful roof tiles. And they are all only a few hundred metres apart.
Lyon vs Dijon: nightlife
This may be the only one where I can provide a straight answer. If you’re after nightlife, then you should visit Lyon rather than Dijon. Dijon is a much smaller city that isn’t as lively as Lyon, especially at night. The river banks in Lyon are lovely to chill in summer, and you’ll find more opportunities to go out in France’s second-biggest city.
Why Dijon is better than Lyon
It’s close; both cities live up to their reputation for wine, gastronomy and beautiful architecture. But when looking at the categories in more detail, as nightlife isn’t important to me, I find Dijon is better than Lyon overall:
- Trip organisation: Dijon wins; it’s easier to visit, especially for first-timers or short stays.
- Gastronomy: Lyon wins; it has some of the best restaurants in France.
- Wines: draw.
- Surrounding region: draw.
- Charm, history and architecture: Dijon wins; there’s a lot to see in a more compact area.
- Nightlife: Lyon wins; it’s more lively after dark.
Do you prefer Lyon or Dijon? Share your experience in the comments below!
Where are Lyon and Dijon?
Lyon and Dijon are both located in the east of France. Lyon is 200 km south of Dijon.
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