Europe Travel

15 Reasons to visit Lyon, France

Lyon is one of the most beautiful French cities outside Paris. It is the second largest after Paris, and packed with exceptional experiences.

Lyon is one of the top 10 most googled cities, and in 2016 was elected Europe’s leading city break destination in the world travel awards.

It is a mini Paris, a dynamic, modern, liveable city with beautiful architecture, surrounded by water. Lyon is a UNESCO world heritage site, and it is the gastronomical home of food in France with diverse shopping and over 4000 restaurants.

Woman wearing black with red small handbag on huge bridge with French city of Lyon in background
Renae during a two hour walking tour of Lyon.

The local French wine is also of a high quality, and Lyon is even where the world’s first cinema was born.

But don’t be fooled into thinking this town is all history and no vibe. The nightlife is sensational, the wines are some of France’s best and the cultural scene will blow your mind. And there are endless walks to fill as many days as you can find to soak up all this city has to offer.

Building facades in Lyon, which  is a UNESCO world heritage city with classically beautiful French architecture
Lyon is a UNESCO world heritage city with classically beautiful French architecture

With a pretty old town packed with restaurants, coffee shops and bars, some fantastic shopping, and exceptional hotels, Lyon is a gorgeous place to stay. And much cheaper than Paris.

And when you need some space from the city of Lyon, the surrounding wine areas await bursting with some of the country’s best red and white wines.

This relatively unknown city is the best place to indulge in all things French.

Here are 15 quick reasons to add it to your next trip to France.

This Hotel: The five star Intercontinental Hotel-Dieu -this extraordinary building sits on the edge of the Rhone, and was a hospital for 800 years and is now a luxury Intercontinental Hôtel with 143 rooms, one of the top 5 most magnificent bars in the world (according to Forbes), with 32 metre ceilings and amazing cocktails, and the best location in Lyon.

It was a restoration and conversion project to highlight the spectacular architecture and heritage of this site which is a historical monument that dates back to the 18th century.

square shelves which see through to a kitchen
The in-house restaurant Epona, is also not to be missed for its modern takes on Lyonnaise classics,

A drink here is absolutely mandatory. The in-house restaurant Epona, is also not to be missed for its modern takes on Lyonnaise classics, but you must book .

The lobby of the five star Intercontinental Hotel-Dieau in Lyon is one of the city's many architectural delights.
The five star Intercontinental Hotel-Dieu in Lyon is one of the city’s many architectural delights.
  • 2. The Food. Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France and bursting with over 4000 restaurants. It is no exaggeration to say some fo the best food in France is found here thanks to astonishing local ingredients, but due to decades of talented chefs led originally by three star Michelin chef Paul Bocuse.
restaurant with wooden tables, wooden walls and black board with menu
The Buchons (such as the famed Comptoir Abel) are the highlight for new visitors.
  • The Buchons (such as the famed Comptoir Abel) are the highlight for new visitors. These are the old world Lyonnaise version of a local bistro and bursting with local Lyonnaise dishes, excellent service and extraordinary food.
a huge crustal chandalier hanging over a glass counter with cakes.
A glamorous gateaux moment in Lyon, where a chandalier hangs over some delicious pastries for sale
  • The local terroir can be celebrated at the Halles De Lyon – Paul Bocuse, a covered market established in 1859 packed with local produce from gourmet desserts to oysters, cheeses and meat produce, to sample and enjoy.
A food stall at the French food market Halles De Lyon - Paul Bocuse,
The classic French market in Lyon, Halles De Lyon – Paul Bocuse,
  • The wine. This is a city almost built around wine. Like all French locations, the wine is astonishingly good. It sits between Burgundy and The Rhone Valley, so the wine availability is extra-ordinary and great value for money.
  • You can rent a car to explore the surrounding areas or join tours, but a day can be pleasantly spent in the old town enjoying the well priced wines on offer (try L’Ange De Vin). There are a plethora of wine shops with patrons who know their stats and their bottles.
The Old Town in Lyon, France whA  building in the old town of lyon were much of this city's history lives on.
The Old Town in Lyon, France where much of this city’s history lives on.
  • The history – Lyon was founded by Romans in the first century BC, and has been a flourishing city since then largely due to its strategic geographic location.
Brunette woman standing in front of old style red building with windows
Hear the background as to why and how Lyon is now a UNESCO world heritage site
  • Today, the old town is virtually traffic free and has gorgeous old world architecture, offering a lot of insight into its history. The old town is packed with gastronomic indulgences. Tours are abundant, and not expensive and worthwhile to hear the background as to why and how Lyon is now a UNESCO world heritage site.
Spectacular 32 metre ceiling
The towering 32 metre ceiling at The Intercontinental Hotel-Dieu in Lyon.
  • The architecture varies throughout the city, making it full of stunning modern as well as classic design feats from the Opera National House to workshop buildings in La Croix-Rousse with large windows and high ceilings, the old town and more. It will fill your instagram feed for weeks.
A shopping street in Lyon, France with a girl on the street
Lyon has some sensational shopping in beautiful street-malls as well as indoor if you prefer.
  • The shopping – I’ve already mentioned the wines, but everything from delicious locally made chocolate to hand bags, the most luxurious stores from Hermes to Dior, and more plus high street fashion stores including two Zara stores and a Printemps are here.
woman shopping in handbag shop with bag in front
The city design with arcades, and elegant shop fronts makes shopping a necessary pleasure in Lyon.
  • The city is crammed with up-and-coming designers (mainly based in Croix Rousse pentes and Presqui’ile) and the history of silk in Lyon goes back to the 16th century, when the weaving loom was invented by Jacquard, and there is a silk market and silk discovery sites to visit. The city design with arcades, and elegant shop fronts makes shopping a necessary pleasure in Lyon.
Buildings in Lyon, France. Lyon is a pretty city packed with beautiful buildings, providing hours of sights to see on foot.
Lyon is a pretty city packed with beautiful buildings, providing hours of sights to see on foot.
  • Antiques; There are over 650 antique dealers, and the city is home to the second largest flea market in France, the Puces du Canal. People flock here from across the planet to check out the wares.
  • In March there is a huge vintage fashion market where many designs flock from around the world.
  • The prices – everything from hotels to wine both by the bottle or glass to fine dining is very reasonably priced in Lyon. This is real value for money.
  • The walking; with such amazing architecture and flat accessible streets, you will clock up 2,00 steps here before lunch, and not even notice.
  • Museums – Lyon is packed with 10 museums, there ‘s even one dedicated to gastronomy, La Cite Intertnaionale de la Gastronomie which reveals much about Paul Bocusse, who enjoyed half a century of 3 star ratings in the Michelin Guide. (He has four restaurants you can visit in Lyon too including one just outside Lyon.).
woman standing in front of grand old building  with 10 steps out front in Lyon, France
The architecture varies throughout the city in Lyon.
  • The Confluences Museum famous for its modern architecture and design questions to the origins of each and humanity as well as historically and geographically.
Beautiful old building lit up at night in Lyon
Stunning architecture greets tourists by day and by night in Lyon.
  • La Croix-Rousse, this trendy, local neighbourhood in a historical area of the city overlooks the whole city, and is home to a fabulous, bustling food market in the mornings and full of bars and restaurants at night,. It is like a village in the heart of the city,
Oversized roll of pork terrine
Culinary schools such as Institut Bocuse, Vatel and the catering school Tsuji provide individual cooking classes,
  • Cooking Lessons: Culinary schools such as Institut Bocuse, Vatel and the catering school Tsuji provide individual cooking classes, as do some of Lyon’s restaurants. What a great way to spend a day and ensure you leave with new skills.
  • Parc de la Tete d’Or – this incredibly vast park of 150 hectares is one of the largest in France, and home to the African inspired zoo where animals from the savannah live in semi-captivity.
  • The greenhouses are home to some 16,000 species. It is packed with beautiful trees, open spaces, some huge rose gardens and lovers having picnics. It is France after all.
Arcjways on a building in Fracne with yellow chairs out front
Lyon’s streetscape is beautiful and elegant.
  • Culture: Lyon is the second largest cultural city in France. 20% of is operating budget is devoted to culture.
Puppets on a shelf with tourists walking by in France
Lyon is the second largest cultural city in France.
  • Nightlife: A nightclub barge on the Rhone offers a trendy night out’ If the weather is fine, the shores on the left bank of the Rhone are packed with barges that turn into trendy nightclubs at night.
  • And the Brotteaux and Confluence districts is packed with bars, restaurants and nightclubs. The South off the Presqu’ile the confluence district (the mecca of the electro scene) also has plenty of trendy establishments for a big night out.

Brunette woman in bistro style restaurant with painting on wall behind and wooden tables and chairs
Renae at Cafe Comptoir Abel, one of Lyon’s most famous and best boucherons.

Local Knowledge: There is a Lyon City Card that gives you access from 1-4 days to 22 museums and temporary exhibitions and Guignol shows as well as performances at the Opera national, Theatre des Celestins, La Maison de la Danse and the Theatre Nouvelle Generation as well as the entire public transport network, a cruise and Only Lyon Guided Tours. (www.lyoncitycard.com).

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    Travel destinations to visit with kids after the Covid-9 lockdown ends
    April 1, 2020 at 10:17 am

    […] Lyon, France: This city was one of France’s great surprises for me when I visited in February, as it has so much to offer, and is easier to navigate and far cheaper than Paris. There are plenty of activities and fun for kids, and just as much for me. You can see the things I love most about it in the article here. […]

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