Whether you’re spending one day in Lyon or a weekend in Lyon, this guide will covers the best things to do in Lyon and how to structure your visit into a logical route!
Here’s one of my most nerdy “secrets” which really isn’t a secret: I actually really love organising things. Specifically, I love organising day trips. So when I realised that I didn’t really want to spend a lot of money on trains and accommodation but I really wanted to see as much of Lyon as possible, I was pretty excited to set myself the challenge of squishing all the top sights into one day.
And that’s exactly what I did.
A warning, first of all: I did this day alone, I am able-bodied, and I am pretty energised by doing lots of things. If you’re someone who prefers to take more time to see things in a lot of detail, someone who needs to take breaks more frequently, or someone travelling with a group who will all walk/sightsee at a different pace, or if you don’t have 10 solid hours in the city, you’ll need to adapt this guide. Look out for the parts labelled *must see* sites to help you pick the best bits!
Aim to arrive in Lyon at around 10am. Head straight to the Lyon tourist office (Place Bellecour) to pick up a “Lyon City Card”. This will cover all of your public transport use for the day, as well as giving you free access to dozens of museums. You can buy one online to pick up when you arrive to save time, and all of the museums on this list are included with the card unless otherwise mentioned.
From Place Bellecour, walk west over the bridge and into the old town (“Vieux Lyon”). Have a wander around the nearby streets and visit…
1. Lyon Cathedral
Inside, see if you can find the astronomical clock.
Next, stroll back out into the square facing the Cathedral and then take the Funicular from the Vieux Lyon metro station up to Fourvière Hill.
2. La Fourvière (*MUST SEE*)
Absolutely stunning both inside and out, this visit is accompanied by a view out over the whole of Lyon… cross your fingers your day is less foggy than mine!
Also, do check out the huge crypt beneath the Fourvière church. It’s pretty impressive and sometimes hosts temporary exhibitions (though these are not free unless you’re a student).
Walk down the hill a little way until you find the museum called…
3. LUGDUNUM (*MUST SEE*)
This museum is set into the hill beside a huge Roman amphitheatre, which has been restored and can be explored for free. If you’re saving time, skip the museum and explore the amphitheatre instead.
Break for a packed lunch lunch as you look over the Roman site – or take the funicular back down into the old town and get some lunch at one of the typical “bouchons” or from the many deliciously tempting bakeries full of Lyon specialities.
4. Try some Lyon specialities (*MUST DO*)
I definitely recommend some of the “praline” themed snacks from the bakeries – treat yourself! You can also buy a little packet of mixed sweet treats, each of which represent a different part of Lyon’s historical trades (silk, wine, and more).
5. Wander the “traboules”
These narrow streets can be found throughout the old town, but you’ll find a particularly pleasing one at 54 Rue Saint-Jean.
While you wander, peek in at…
6. Le petit musée du guignol
Another Lyon speciality, but a lesser known one, the “guignol” is a specific type of puppet invented in Lyon in 1808. This museum will take you less than half an hour; it’s only two rooms, but the friendly museum-keeper and the ever-so-slightly creepy walls lined with puppets makes it an experience worth the detour.
7. Musées Gadagne
There are two museums in this building: the Musée d’Histoire de Lyon (MHL) and a museum about the history of puppets. I chose the former – it’s an extensive overview of Lyon’s history, from the very first settlements right through the industrial revolution, the development of its trades, and into the 20th century and its role in the Resistance. I definitely recommend leaving yourself plenty of time for this one to absorb the information it contains – and take some water and a snack if you’re likely to get tired (I know I did)!
Walk up through the old town and along the river a little way, eventually crossing at the Passerelle Saint-Vincent. A little further away from the river you’ll find…
8. Le Fresque des Lyonnais (*MUST SEE*)
Stop a while and see how many of the characters you can recognise!
9. Modern city centre + Hôtel de Ville + Art Museum
At the Place des Terreaux, you’ll find yourself in the bustling city centre, with a whole host of typical shops lining the wide Rue de la République. Rest a while and do some shopping, or take in the atmosphere before moving swiftly on!
This is also where you’ll find the Musée des Beaux Arts, if you have time to pop in.
When you’re done, take the metro/tram from Hôtel de Ville down to..
10. Centre d’Histoire de la Résistance
This one is another one you’ll want to be well-rested for – it’s full of information, sometimes emotionally difficult to read, but is absolutely fascinating in terms of learning about the Resistance and its presence in Lyon, which was a “free zone” for a large part of WW2 before total occupation.
It’s a mixture of photos, texts, and videos including testimonies from participants, survivors and relatives, and makes for a really good way to close the evening.
If you’re still up and at it, now it’s time to think about taking advantage of a final museum of the day…
11. The Institut d’Art Moderne.
With a varying programme of exhibitions throughout the year, you might encounter something right up your street – or perhaps simply from another planet. When I went, there was an exhibition by Katinka Bock which featured cacti sticking out of walls and other strange fascinating objects with equally fascinating explanations provided in the guide.
Have you been to Lyon before? What was your favourite part? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below!