As France’s second largest metropolitan area, Lyon boasts a rich architectural and cultural heritage. For a long time I have been dreaming of visiting Lyon. I made it on two occasions. And I have to say that what I saw and discovered really impressed me. Lyon is an attractive and fascinating city. And there’s so much to see you might need a bit of help planning your visit. Particularly if this is your first time in Lyon! To this aim, here’s a suggestion of my top 10 things to see in Lyon.
What are the Top 10 things to see in Lyon?
On this article I have listed 10 sites which alone are enough to justify a trip to Lyon. In doing so, I have collected info based on my own visits. There are so many things to see in Lyon that this list is by no means exhaustive!
Where to stay in Lyon?
You can choose from a great range of accommodation in Lyon, from hotels to B&B and campings! My recommendation is to book your accommodation near the city-centre. Although it’s a more pricey option, you’ll save time on transportation and can access most of the 10 things to see in walking distance.
Also, when possible, don’t wait the last minute to book as finding hotel rooms can be a problem, especially on weekdays.
To book your accommodation in Lyon, click on this affiliate link which will redirect you to our partner booking.com… or use the interactive map below:
Let’s start the visit by the picturesque old town of Lyon…
1. Vieux-Lyon (Old Town)
This is my favourite part of Lyon.
The historic centre of the French city underwent a vast programme of restoration in the 1960s. The most visited part of the district stretches from the churches of Saint-Jean to Saint-Paul, via the cathedral Saint-Jean-Baptiste.
Colourful façades and secret passageways
Red, orange or yellow façades dating from the Renaissance era line paved and car-free streets.
You’ll find winding and secret narrow lanes connecting one street with another called “traboules“.
2. St. Jean Cathedral
The Gothic cathedral is the largest church in Lyon.
Construction started in 1180 on the site of a former church from the 6th century. The cathedral was completed in 1476 however the towers were left unfinished.
The façade that opens onto place Saint-Jean and the nave are of Gothic design whereas the choir and apse are Romanesque.
Lyon Cathedral is also famous for its astronomical clock. Since 1379, it has struck every day. The automated figures spring into action at 12 noon, 2 pm, 3 pm and 4 pm.
3. Place des Terreaux and the City-Hall
The square is located in the Presqu’île. This is a sort of a peninsula. Like a tongue of land between the Saône and Rhône rivers.
Place des Terreaux is one of Lyon’s must-see squares.
There, you can see a gigantic fountain designed by sculptor Auguste Bartholdi in 1894.
Place des Terreaux is bordered by the monumental City-Hall of Lyon, built from the 17th century.
Opposite is the Palais Saint-Pierre, a former Benedictine abbey which now houses the Lyon Fine-Arts museum. Many consider it as France’s second largest museum of the kind after the Louvre in Paris.
Behind the City-Hall is the Opera House, easily recognisable by the huge glass roof designed by Jean Nouvel in 1993.
The shopping street of Rue de la République will lead you towards the Hôtel-Dieu.
4. Cité Internationale de la Gastronomie
The Hôtel-Dieu de Notre-Dame-de-la-Piété was a hospital during the Middle-Ages. The first buildings date the 12th century. As for the monumental façade opening onto the Rhône, it was built by Soufflot in the 18th century.
Since October 2019 the historical complex has housed the International Gastronomy Centre. The world’s only cultural centre devoted to fine food!
The centre occupies the oldest parts of the Hôtel-Dieu. The Cité de la Gastronomie’s theme is food as a nutrition and a guarantor of good health (after all, we’re in a former hospital!)
? More info about the International Gastronomy Centre in Lyon (official website)
5. The Banks of the River Saône River
The Saint-Georges footbridge gives a charming view of the Old Lyon and the church of Saint-Georges, and the Fourvière hill as a backdrop.
You’ll see many colourful houses fronts with their lines of windows.
Take a cruise!
Before the advent of railway, the Saône was a busy navigable waterway in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today the traffic includes many river boats offering cruises to the Ile Barbe, a small island occupied by a Romanesque church.
The banks of the river Rhône are also of interest. A pleasant walk along the river links the Parc de la Tête d’Or to the Parc de Gerland.
Get the Lyon City Card!
Before introducing the next 5 things to see in Lyon, let me pause a little bit and tell you about the Lyon City Card.
It’s kind of a city-passport that will give you unlimited access to public transport and free entrance into 23 museums (and their temporary exhibitions).
You also get free river cruises, guided walking tours, visits and activities, as well as huge reductions on the city’s best leisure activities, shopping, and more!
- Free access to all public transport in Lyon (bus, metro, tram and funicular, except on 1 May) as well as park-and-ride facilities
- Access to 23 museums, including temporary exhibitions, and numerous discovery activities
- Guided walking tour
- River cruise
- Discounts for numerous other shows and activities (Guignol puppet show, etc.)
- Self-guided tour
Click here to discover the entire list of attractions/activities included in the Lyon City Card.
All righty, now let’s continue our exploration of Lyon! 🙂
6. Fourvière Hill and the Basilica
Fourvière Hill is a district worth visiting at least for two sites: the Roman remains and the Fourvière Basilica.
Arguably Lyon’s most emblematic churches is the Basilique de Fourvière (Fourvière Basilica). The sanctuary’s foundation stone was laid in 1872. Architect Pierre Bossan was inspired by both Romanesque and Byzantine architecture.
7. The Roman remains at Fourvière
The antiquities are a testimony of the Roman occupation of Lyon. This is where Lucius Munatius Plancus, governor of the Three Gauls (Belgian Gaul, Celtic Gaul, and Aquitaine) laid the fondation of a colony: Lugdunum.
The city became one of the largest in Gaul, with an estimated population of between 50,000 and 200,000 in the 2nd century AD.
The Roman remains consist of two ruined theatres built into the hillside. The larger seated 10,000 spectators under Emperor Hadrian.
8. The Croix-Rousse district
La Croix-Rousse is a name for a hill and a district of Lyon. It comprises the “pentes” (slopes that leads down to the Terreaux neighbourhood) and the plateau atop the hill.
Its name means ‘the red cross’. It comes from a reddish-brown stone cross that was placed there in the 16th century.
The neighbourhood is closely link to the history of the silk industry in Lyon. This is seen in the architecture of the buildings with large vaulted ceilings.
Today La Croix-Rousse has its own atmosphere, although the district has become very trendy (and pricey to live in).
9. Parc de la Tête d’Or
The Parc de la Tête d’or is one of the best public parks in Lyon. One of the largest too, covering 117 hectares. It features a lake, four rose gardens, huge greenhouses, a botanical garden, a velodrome, a miniature train and rides for children, and a zoo.
It is a popular destination for the people of Lyon, particularly for joggers and cyclists.
Don’t miss the monumental and elegant gilded wrought-iron gate (Porte des enfants du Rhône) from 1901.
10. Musée des Confluences
The Musée des Confluences is one of the latest great contemporary museums in France. It is definitely one of the most interesting things to see in Lyon.
It sits at the southern tip of the Presqu’île, at one of the most spectacular sites in France: the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers.
The deconstructivist building has been designed into two distinct blocks:
- the crystal – the main entrance (bright, transparent and clear)
- the cloud – the core of the edifice (the flowing shape of the steel-clad section evokes a spaceship)
The Confluence museum was designed by the Austrian firm Coop Himmelb(l)au and inaugurated on 20 December 2014.
A collection of 2 millions pieces!
The Museum possesses over two million pieces collected from the 16th and today. It is therefore referred to as “the 21st Century’s Cabinet of Curiosities”.
The permanent exhibition covers 3,000 m2. It is divided into four major sections:
- Origins: Stories of the World stages a scientific and symbolic outlook on the origins of the universe.
- Species: the Web of Life contemplates the relationship between Homo sapiens —as an animal— and the complex biodiversity in which the species evolves.
- Societies: the Human Theatre observes the evolution of social structures, cultures, and knowledge.
- Eternities: Visions of the Afterlife focuses on the perception of death in different cultures.
What’s included with this ticket:
- Fast-track access to Musée des Confluences
- Access to the permanent and temporary exhibitions
- Free lockers
More places to see around Lyon
There are many other places to see in Lyon and in the surroundings. Here’s a list of more sightseeing ideas you might be interested in:
- the beautiful countryside of the Monts du Lyonnais around Saint-Martin-en-Haut, Yzeron, Vaugneray and L’Arbresle.
- the limestone hills of the Monts-d’Or: the Paul Bocuse restaurant in Collonges, the château of Rochetaillée-sur-Sâone, the château and gardens of Ombreval in Neuville…
- The wine region of Beaujolais with its picturesque hills and valleys.
- The historical centre of Villefranche-sur-Sâone, including the Gothic church.
- The historic little town of Crémieu
- Pérouges, one of France’s most beautiful villages
- The Dombes region and the multitude of rain-water pools created in the 15th century.
- The historic town of Vienne and its impressive Roman remains.
Things to do in Lyon
Looking for activities and things to do in Lyon? Check out the offers from our partner Get Your Guide:
Find out more about Lyon
- Our article about Lyon
- Our article about the Gastronomy of Lyon
- The website of the tourist office of Lyon
- The page about Lyon in Wikipedia
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