The Best Things To Do In Lyon In 2 Days (+ itinerary & map)
Lyon was one of those places that totally took us by surprise. Starting life as the Roman city Lugdunum (capital of Gaul) back in 43BC, we knew from a historical perspective there would be so many things to do in Lyon. But, we had underestimated how much France’s 2nd largest city would get under our skin. I had read a ton of Lyon travel guides before our trip and thought I had built up a picture in my mind but I was about to fall in love more than I ever could have imagined with Lyon.
The city of Lyon, France has bags of personality and to us felt like 3 different cities rolled into one. The atmospheric neighbourhoods of Vieux Lyon (old town) are a living museum to Lyon’s heritage and Europes largest collection of Renaissance housing – it’s of no surprise that it’s listed as a UNESCO site and there are loads of things to see and do here. Then, the neighbourhood between the two rivers (Saône and Rhône), known as Presqu’ile, might as well be Paris with its 19th century elegance and grand squares, and perfect for shopping. Finally, perhaps a little less beautiful but certainly no less interesting is the 1st Arrondissement (particularly the top half), with neighbourhoods like Croix-Rousse and the streets around Croix-Paquet Metro showcasing some of Lyon’s famous murals and street art along with local cafes, restaurants and businesses – here you’ll get a real feel for how the residents of Lyon, France actually live.
You have it on our authority that Lyon would make for a great short break destination. Maybe you’re thinking of booking a trip but are wondering how to make the most of 2 days in Lyon or which things to do in Lyon are especially worth your time? We’ve got you covered with our city guide of the best things to do in Lyon and an additional Lyon 2 day itinerary suggestion. We’ve also got tips of where to stay in Lyon and the best ways of getting around, plus some foodie highlights and a few hidden gems off the beaten path. We have compiled a list of Lyon’s attractions and places of interest which you can then use to organise your Lyon itinerary. However, this is by no means a completely inclusive list and we are sure there are many more things to do in Lyon if you just had the time, but we hope it’s a great place to start and will give you a good idea of how to plan your Lyon visit.
The Best Places To Visit In Lyon
There are several things the city of Lyon is famous for; first of all, it’s pretty old and is home to France’s oldest ancient ruins, along with one of the most beautiful old towns (Vieux Lyon) you will ever see. Lyon is also well known for its gastronomic connections (Lyon’s very own Paul Bocuse changed the way the world saw French cuisine and mentored some of worlds best chefs) and renowned as the culinary capital of France – big words indeed for such a food-loving nation! And finally, in more recent years it has gained another nickname as the City of Murals after an artist-society known as CiteCreation transformed some of Lyon’s darkest corners into some of the worlds largest murals – they have to be seen to be believed!
So, as you can see there are many places of interest in Lyon and here’s a list of our favourite Lyon attractions and places you really mustn’t miss…
1. Wander The Old Town Streets Of Vieux Lyon
The medieval old town on the west bank of the Saône was one of our favourite places in Lyon and we could have wandered those pedestrianized cobbled streets for days. Thanks to the French Minister of Culture in the 1960’s, André Malraux, this ancient part of Lyon was saved from demolition and a revitalisation was jump-started. Narrow lanes are lined with traditional storefronts with hand-painted signs and an air of olde-worlde, but every now and then a turned corner would spring up a beautiful Tuscan-style villa or pretty courtyard out of keeping with the tightly packed streets. It’s the kind of place you’d find ancient book-shops and quirky boutiques, independent cafes and sardine shops with their array of colourful tins.
Vieux Lyon is broken down into 3 neighbourhoods – Quartier Saint-Georges, Saint-Jean and Saint-Paul, each named for the local church. You may wish to make a brief visit to the Cathedrale St-Jean to see the famous astronomical clock and the church’s beautiful collection of stained glass windows. Also in Quartiere St-Jean you must visit A La Marquise, if only to stare at the pink praline tarts that have become a Lyonnaise delicacy. (Tip; The tearoom at La Marquise does get busy with Instagrammers but it’s the perfect little place for breakfast and the crowds don’t build up until 10.30am.) Place Du Change (Exchange Square) in Quartiere St-Paul is a really pretty square to do a spot of people watching and along with the nearby Renaissance street Rue Juiverie (Jew’s Street) you build up a picture of how wealthy merchants have lived here in Lyon over the centuries – beautiful facades (see No. 8 on Rue Juiverie) and architectural wonders commissioned by those who were in the money in bygone times.
2. Eat At A Traditional Bouchon Lyonnais
Being the culinary capital of France, making food a big part of your Lyon itinerary goes without saying. So, one place you are guaranteed a traditional Lyonnaise meal is at a Bouchon. A Bouchon is a restaurant serving traditional dishes like Quenelles de Brochet – a fish dumpling with a creamy sauce, and other hearty Lyon dishes. Don’t expect nouveau cuisine at a Lyon Bouchon – it’s all about the homely atmosphere, personal service and food that will have you throwing away your belt as soon as you exit the restaurant!
To find an authentic Bouchon in Lyon, look for a sticker with the marionette Gnaffron (he symbolises the pleasure of dining), there are many to choose from in the Vieux Lyon area. Or, failing that, a good old red and white gingham table-cloth is the surest giveaway! Officially there are only around 20 authentic Bouchon’s in Lyon and here are some of our recommendations…
- Les Fines Gueules at 16 Rue Lainerie
- Le Bouchon des Cordeliers at 15 Rue Claudia
- Bouchon Les Lyonnais at 19 Rue de la Bombarde
3. Ride The Lyon Funicular
You could argue that taking the Lyon funicular is great because you avoid a steep climb to Fourviere Hill, my personal logic though is How can I pass up a chance to see a counterbalancing at its most impressive? I mean, what if you had one carriage of slim passengers and the other of Obese? The mild-peril of an out-of-balance journey has me buying a ticket in an instant!
Fourviere Hill is the area of Lyon which sits very high above Vieux Lyon below. In fact, it’s so high it’s the best place in Lyon for views of the city – it’s just a shame it faces the wrong direction for sunsets. Once you’re at the top you’re in the right neighbourhood for visiting a few of Lyon’s main attractions too – Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière and the Roman ruins.
Tips : The Lyon funicular ticket is classed as part of their metro system so you can ride as part of an all-day metro card or if you are within the hour or starting a single metro ride. Otherwise, you need to buy your ticket at the Vieux Lyon Metro station. Once inside, follow the directions for the funicular. Lyon has 2 funiculars though, both leaving from Vieux Lyon Metro station, but one goes all the way up the hill to Fourviere station and the other part of the way to St-Just which will leave you with quite a steep climb still. A one-way ticket costs €1.90.
4. See The Notre Dame Basilica in Fourvière
Visible on Fourvière Hill from almost everywhere as part of the Lyon cityscape, you’d be a fool to not see this Byzantine beauty close up as well. Local’s nickname it the upside-down elephant because of its 4 towers. Stunning mosaics and stained glass make this a really pretty church and don’t miss the little door that leads you down to a ginormous crypt! There’s a 10 minute video at the back of the crypt which delves a bit deeper in the church’s history. Basilica Notre Dame is visited each year by 2.5 million Lyon tourists so you can imagine it can get quite busy.
Tip: The basilica opens at 7am and crowds are much quieter at the start of the day. And, if you’re an early bird, why not couple a visit to Notre Dame with a show of a Lyon sunrise – the view from the adjoining esplanade is incredible.
5. France’s Oldest Roman Ruins – The Fourvière Theatre
Fourviere is the oldest part of Lyon, France, and the Theatre Antique takes you back almost 2,000 years to when the city of Lugdunum was established. As far as amphitheatres go this one is quite the gem – it remains fairly intact and is a great place to sit and reflect upon the last 2 millennia. And, all for free! There are great views of Lyon and the nearby Gallo-Roman Museum (€4 entrance fee) is a cool little museum if you’re more interested in Central Europes Roman capital, it’s modern and funky in design too.
Every year in June and July over 100,000 people visit Lyon to attend the Nuits de Fourvière Festival which takes place at the Fourvière Theatre – a performing arts event of over 60 shows. French Newspaper Libération says;
“Year on year, driven by its director Dominique Delorme, the festival Les Nuits de Fourvière asserts its desire for daring and originality. Behind its conventional aspect a vast array of initiatives are to be found, all contributing to a rich two-month programme (theatre, classical music, dance, rock, world music…)“
TIP : The area is particularly notorious for thieves, be warned.
6. Visit Lyon’s Famous Traboules
A traboule is a passageway which cuts through buildings to make a short-cut of a grid-style neighbourhood. A trip to the river for water became a bit of a bind when every time you had to go the long way around. It was the river which had caused them to set up homes in the first place so it wasn’t long before these wonderfully detailed passageways were being built into the buildings. Fast forward to the 19th century and they continued to have their uses for Lyon’s silk working community (Canuts) and other manufacturers needing to transport their goods to the river, or collect fresh water for the manufacturing process. They were ideal for keeping the silks and other garments dry too.
The best places to see Lyons traboules are in the Vieux Lyon and Croix-Rousse neighbourhoods and are a beauty to behold. They are all designed a bit differently from their neighbour and were a feat of engineering for their time, as well as being aesthetically impressive. There are over 40 available for the public to see and most are found in residential buildings so remember your neighbours and keep the noise down when you enter. It’s said that you are only a true Lyonnais if you know your way around the traboules and this knowledge saved their skin when the Nazi’s moved in in the second world war.
The ThisIsLyon website has a more detailed account of their history and how they helped the Resistance, plus a map of where you can find most of them. I particularly liked their free walking tour, just click on the arrow in the top left corner of their Lyon map.
7. See The Murals Of Lyon
I’m a bit of a street-art fan so seeing the murals was obviously going to be top of my Lyon bucket list. And, of our 2 days in Lyon, this was definitely my highlight.
But even if you’re not a street-art enthusiast you cannot fail to be impressed by the incredibly realistic murals of Lyon – some of them you feel like you could just jump into a là Mary Poppins! They’re not just gigantic and detailed, some of them are also optical illusions creating more than just a smidgen of realisticness. And, on our quest to see some of the more famous ones, we ended up in a neighbourhood we otherwise wouldn’t have ventured into just north of Croix-Rousse – we’d really recommend getting off the beaten path in Lyon, you’ll come across some great local gems.
So, why does Lyon have so many murals? Well, back in the 1970’s a group of art students left to study modern wall-art in Mexico and returned to Lyon with a vision that could regenerate some of the city’s less attractive areas and at the same time bring art to the masses – et voilà : the Lyon Mural Scene was born! CitéCréation is the cooperative behind the innovation and today there are nearly 60 outdoor fresco’s across the city.
But they’re the not the kind of artwork you just give a fleeting glance – many of the Lyon murals paint a picture of the city’s heritage and remind both locals and tourists of all the things Lyon is famous for. Tracing the history of a specific area, the paintings tell stories about important residents and Lyonnais trades – you really mustn’t miss this Lyon tourist attraction.
Tip: We have included some of the main Lyon Murals on our Lyon map but our favourites were the Mur de Canuts and La Fresque des Lyonnais and we definitely recommend squeezing them into your Lyon itinerary.
8. Visit Parc De La Tete D’Or
One of the best places to visit in Lyon when you’re done with buildings and traffic and you just want time to slow down and relax is Parc de la Tete d’Or. It may be one of the top Lyon tourist attractions but there’s so much space you needn’t worry about crowds – 290 acres ensures that the visitor still gets a piece to themselves. You may have noticed that there aren’t a lot of green spaces in the city but Tete D’or very much makes up for that; it has a zoo, a boating lake, flower gardens, an orangery and several sporting facilities. Looking for things to do in Lyon with kids specifically? Just bring them here and be done with it!
That’s not to say it only appeals to kids though; groups of friends, couples and families alike converge on this park at all times of the day just to hang out or enjoy one of its many attractions. You could easily spend a full day here exploring Parc Tete d’Or’s many features but equally, it’s also a great place to visit for a stroll in the evening, using up an hour just walking the perimeter and taking in the free section of the zoo, the rose gardens and the lake. There’s a reasonably well-supplied supermarket nearby the main gate – Porte des Enfants du Rhône – if you need to pick up supplies for a little picnic in the park.
Note : Opening times – 6.30am – 10.30pm mid-April to mid-October (closes at 8.30pm during the winter months)
9. Visit The Presqu’ile District
If the neighbourhoods of old Vieux Lyon are more akin to Italian renaissance towns like Rome or Lisbon, then let Presqu’ile be compared to Paris. Broad boulevards of grand 19th-century architecture were built to impress and reflect the wealth of Lyon, France at that time and will still dazzle you today. Rows of designer boutiques and posh cafes converge in some of Europes largest squares filled with statues and fountains for people to rendezvous and take selfies.
Lyon attractions to note are Place Bellecour (the largest pedestrianized square in Europe), Place des Terreaux (with the very beautiful Hôtel de Ville and the Bartholdi fountain) where folk while away the hours sipping coffee from pavement cafe’s and reflecting on their recent purchases from nearby parallelling shopping streets Rue Victor Hugo and Rue de la République. The shopping in Lyon is gooood and being more compact than say rivalling Paris, you’re onto a winner if your weekend in Lyon was booked for a spot of retail therapy.
(Note : as in most of France, a lot of shops do not open on Sundays)
There are also any number of eating establishments in this area of Lyon too – some traditional bouchons, more modern dining from all country’s of the world and many fast-food joints as well.
Top Tip : As Presq’ile Lyon is situated between the River’s Saone and Rhone you could not pick a more central point to stay in Lyon. We have selected some of the best-located hotels in Lyon at the end of the article.
10. The Best Placecs To Eat In Lyon
Lyon has more restaurants per capita than anywhere else in France – this city takes food seriously! But it’s not just stuffy French Cuisine decorating plates in France’s foodie capital, and the fame goes far beyond the well-known traditional Bouchon’s people are longing to dine at. Lyon has an abundance of restaurants serving international food in all manner of settings. and there are one or two Lyonnaise delicacies you must try too.
By all means though, start with a Bouchon. Where traditional French dishes aren’t as overcooked, over-salted or over-presented as their Bistro-cousins and you’re more than likely going to get a warmer welcome from the proprietor – who even knew that was possible in France!? (Especially if you’re English!)
Then try some of the food markets in Lyon. One of the bucket list things to do on any Lyon itinerary should be Les Halles des Lyon Paul Bocuse. It’s a covered food market showcasing some of Lyon’s best known local delicacies and over 40 traders have turned this into a literal feast for the eyes. The best time to go is mid to late morning as all the stalls keep different hours and many close for lunch (some not even reopening in the afternoon). Pick up a taster plate of meat or cheese and settle down for a picnic-style affair with some lovely French bread, or seat yourself at one of Les Halles’ stalls where you can dine from a menu – either way, this is French food at its finest (even if you do need to sell a lung to afford it!).
Another great market we loved was a local street market up in Croix-Rousse just along from the metro stop on Boulevard de la Croix-Rousse. A very typical French affair with all the fresh produce stalls you would expect. However, a bustling local atmosphere made us feel off the beaten path a bit and it was lovely to mingle with the very friendly locals – a completely opposite experience from Les Halles above. We stopped for a glass of wine at one of the nearby bars and tried out our French with the punters – it took us a second to translate ‘are you sure it’s only €2 for 2 glasses of wine?!’.
Lyon has a thing for pink praline’s. The cakes, pastries and tartes are a beauty to behold and unique to Lyon so you really must sample one of them. We’ve already mentioned A la Marquise in Vieux Lyon but another great salon de the vying for praline-press is Boulangerie du Palais on Rue du Palais de Justice – the queue out the door gives it away.
Another Lyonnais staple, especially in the bouchons, is the little pike dumpling in a crayfish sauce, known as quenelles. But if you’ve not got the stomach for a 3-course meal, local soup bar Quenelles Giraudet is the perfect solution; downtown Presqu’ile, you can take your pick from a handful of varieties from scallops to mushrooms, or cheese with your soup of choice. Quenelles Giraudet is a fantastic way to do a Lyonnais budget lunch with all the French flavour.
Our final recommendation for places to visit in Lyon for great food and drink would be the péniches on the left bank of the Rhône (that’s the east side to you and me). Péniches are barges and boats with onboard bars and as you can imagine for something so close to the water, the atmosphere on a sunny summer evening is nothing but delightful. Funny thing is, the food was great too – but then this is Lyon. It’s fast-food fare, like burgers and fries, but regardless – top nosh all round and made even more appetising that you’re eating outdoors amidst a frisson of youthful French people as they embark on an evening of happy socialising. You’d struggle to feel more ‘on holiday’ any other place in Lyon!
So, they would be our top recommendations for things to do in Lyon – the main attractions in a very beautiful city.
Suggested Lyon Itinerary For 2 Days
Below we have put together a two-day itinerary to help you plan your time if you want to include all the best places to see in Lyon. This is just a suggestion though and you may want to shuffle things around to suit you more. A lot depends on how much you want to walk between places or if public transport would suit you better.
Day 1 in Lyon, France
- Start your morning with something pink and praline, either seated at A La Marquise in Vieux Lyon or from one of Presque’ile’s traditional Boulangeries.
- Spend an hour or two meandering the streets of old Vieux Lyon dipping into the pretty little shops, cafes and churches as you fancy.
- Take the Lyon funicular up to Fourviere Hill and visit the Basquile Notre Dame and Roman ruins.
- Head back down to Vieux Lyon for a Bouchon lunch then choose a bridge and cross the River Saône over to the island section of Lyon.
- Spend the afternoon either shopping or visiting museums in the Presqu’ile district or catch the metro up to La Croix Rousse to see Lyon’s murals.
- Buy some picnic food for an early evening jaunt at Parc de la Tete d’Or and maybe a punt on the lake or a stroll around the zoo. Finish off your day in Lyon with a bunch of friendly locals at the péniches on the left bank of the Rhône.
Day 2 in Lyon, France
- If you spent the afternoon in the Presqu’ile district yesterday then make your way up to La Croix Rousse to spend the morning visiting the Lyon murals and more traboules (see our Lyon map). This whole area has a great restaurant and cafe scene so choices for lunch are abundant. Or swap the murals for a morning in Presqu’ile, heading to Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse food market for lunch. (The market is on Cours Lafayette where lots of buses run frequently, or the Metro stop Part-Dieu is just around the corner)
- If you have time left to do anymore Lyon sightseeing, the city has some excellent museums. Most of the best museums in Lyon are free (or very good value for money) and seeing as Lyon is famous for so many things there are plenty of museums to choose from. Musée des Tissus is great for an insight into the Lyon silk industry, Musée des Arts de la Marionnette is a Lyon highlight if you’re interested in the cities history with puppets and Musée d’Histoire de Lyon will at the very least connect your Lyon-knowledge to your Lyon holiday experience and allow the city the make more sense. The most obvious museum choice for visitors though is usually the Musée des Beaux Arts – set in a beautiful former convent, this collection of fine art is one of the largest in France, second only to The Louvre.
Lyon Guided Tours Worth Your Time
Guided tours can be a great way to pull in a lot of Lyon attractions in a short amount of time, and even better if you can save your legs and see things from the comfort of a tram or boat. Here are a few of our favourites which you could choose to complement our Lyon itinerary or swap out for various activities…
- There is a 1 hour City Tram audio-guided tour of La Croix Rousse district which pulls in a lot of Lyon’s murals with explanations and takes you by a few old Roman sites and tells you about the history of Lyon’s silk workers.
- Use your lunch break to kill two birds with one stone by taking a Lunch Cruise on the Hermes restaurant boat – enjoy a 3-course lunch with a Lyon commentary as you pass various sights. This tour takes 2.5 hours.
- See as Lyon is the foodie capital of France, a Lyon Secret Food Tour might be your sort of thing? A gastronomic journey infused with a bit of local history sounds like a great way to spend an evening to me.
How To Get Around Lyon
- Old Vieux Lyon is best explored on foot, but bring sensible footwear for those uneven cobblestones.
- The Lyon Metro runs on a grid system, is very efficient and extremely good value for a city : Starting around 5am and ending just after midnight. One journey costs €1.80 (any number of journeys taken within one hour) or a day ticket is €5.50. For more information check out the Lyon metro website.
- You may see many people using electric scooters in Lyon. We used these several times on our weekend in Lyon as our hotel was a long way from many attractions – it was a really fun way to cover a lot of ground quickly and very easy to use with the Lime app. There are paths all along the left bank of the Rhône where scooting was very safe – you might want to familiarise yourself with the local rules of scooter-riding before you make this choice.
- A more picturesque way of getting from north to south (or vice versa) in Lyon is to take the Vaporetto (River bus) up the Saône. It is free as part of the Lyon City Card or €4 for a one way trip. There are 4 stops; Vaise, St Paul, Bellecour and Confluence. The boat runs from March 30th to December 31st from 9.30am – 9pm. Check their website for more details.
Where To Stay In Lyon
Whether you are in Lyon for 2 days or just visiting for 1 day we would recommend staying in the Presqu’ile district to make the most of your time here. There are certainly cheaper alternatives in the outer districts but you will lose precious sightseeing time just travelling. The choices of restaurants and bars are a lot more sparse in these outer areas too. Presqu’ile is central to all of the Lyon attractions you will want to see and the transport links are good too. We have carefully selected some hotels for every price range based on recommendations, reviews and our own personal experiences.
(If you book through our links we make a small commission at no extra cost to you – we greatly appreciate these bookings as they help to fund our blogging expenses – Thank You.)
Budget Hotels Lyon
Mid-Range Hotels Lyon
- For a really stylish and central hotel with both a rooftop restaurant and sauna, Maison Nô Hotel is very good value for money – many 5* hotels in Lyon aren’t this nice or convenient and we have it on good authority that the staff are lovely and welcoming. I will definitely be booking this particular Lyon hotel on our next visit!
- If you are in Lyon with kids the HAMAC Suites apartment is in a great location, beautifully decorated and has a sofa bed that would sleep 2 children comfortably. Cooking facilities are also often a bonus for families and this apartment comes with a fully equipped kitchen.
Lyon’s Best Boutique Hotel
- If I was booking a hotel for a special occasion in Lyon, my choice would undoubtedly be Hôtel de l’Abbaye not far from Place Bellecour. It’s not the most expensive hotel in Lyon (for some reason Mercure feel their tired boring hotels should demand the top prices) but it could be the most glamorous. Prices start from €170 a night but the attention to detail and beautiful designer pieces of furniture make this a real luxury choice of hotel. The hotel is set in a beautiful old Abbey, each room is unique and the communal areas are perfect for a quiet coffee or glass of wine.
So, this is our guide to Lyon for 2 days. As you can see there are many things to do in Lyon and you will have a great trip. We hope our Top 10 list and travel itinerary have been a good place to start as you begin to plan your trip. Do let us know how you got on and what were your favourite highlights of Lyon. Bon Voyage!
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