Things to Do in Lyon

All Photos (c) Donna Dailey

The best things to do in Lyon include enjoying the mediaeval splendour of Vieux Lyon (the Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the Fourviere, and the Croix-Rousse districts, seeing the cathedral, the basilica and the city's several museums. These  include the Musee Lumiere, the Fabrics Museum, the Resistance Museum, and the outstanding Beaux-Arts museum. This museum has the best collection of fine art in the country, outside of Paris.

Even without these star attractions the city would be such a beautiful place to wander around, with its beautiful architecture and colourful buildings, its markets, its fine restaurants and cafes, and its two rivers providing pleasant riverside walks and a lovely setting for one of Europe's finest cities.

Dining in The Old Town, Vieux Lyon


Vieux Lyon 
Its narrow streets may be packed with visitors but the historic atmosphere remains. There are over 300 Renaissance mansions in this cramped quarter, and don't miss the opportunity to peek inside their courtyards. Look for the signs indicating the traboules too. These covered alleys link streets and pass through courtyards, and were used by silk weavers to keep their goods dry in wet weather. Others exist in the Croix-Rousse district.

It was in these streets that a character named Guignol was born. With his wife Madelon and Beaujolais-drinking friend Gnafron, these puppets created by a silk weaver are still seen and celebrated today. The Musée International de la Marionette collects examples of these and puppets from around the world. Read about it and the Musée Historique de Lyon, collectively known as the Musée Gadagne, on our Lyon Museums page.

Astronomical Clock in the Cathédrale St-Jean

Cathédrale St-Jean
An essential part of the old town is the Cathédrale St-Jean, which faces away from the Saône and the more modern Presqu'île as if in disapproval. There are ornate carvings around the front door on the western side, and inside some of the original 13th-century stained glass miraculously survives. Another notable feature is its 14th-century astronomical clock, a fascinatingly detailed machine which tells the time, day, date and feast day, as well as having ornamental figures that move around.

Cathédrale St-Jean
Place St Jean, 69005 Lyon
Tel: 04 78 42 28 25 

Close to the entrance to the Cathédrale St-Jean is the funicular/métro station that hauls people up to the Fourvière district of the city. More energetic visitors might prefer to walk, as there are some enjoyable views on the way up and down, over the rooftops, with some of the streets climbing incredibly steeply. At the top is the ornate Basilica of Nôtre-Dame de Fourvière, visible from all over the city. It was built in the late 19c, and even the fanciful exterior does not prepare you for what's inside. Large decorated pillars either side of the nave hold up the high roof, which is a series of domes painted in turquoise and gold. The walls have similar turquoise and gold mosaics of grand Biblical scenes, while the entire floor is covered in patterned mosaics. A stone balcony runs beneath the high stained glass windows, while above each window is an elaborately decorated arch. It's unique and very impressive.

It's thought that the Basilica is on the site of the ancient Roman Forum, as here is where the Romans settled in what they called Lugdunum. Not much remains apart from two theatres, which are used for concerts, but the Musée de la Civilisation Gallo-Romaine (Gallo-Roman Museum) is well worth seeing. See our Lyon Museums page.

8 place de Fourvière, 69005 Lyon
Tel: 04 78 25 13 0

Roman Theatres
6 rue de l'Antiquaille, 69005 Lyon
Tel: 04 72 38 81 90 

The Fontaine Bartholdi in the Place des Terreaux, Lyon

La Presqu'île
The Presqu'île is the more modern face of Lyon for the visitor. Here are the shops, bars, cafés, restaurants, markets, banks and museums. Here are the grand squares like the Place Bellecour, the city's traditional meeting place (and home to the Tourist Office). It's one of the largest squares in Europe. South of here is the lovely Fabric Museum, the Musée des Tissus.

Further north is the other main square, the Place des Terreaux, with its much-photographed fountain and site of the Musée des Beaux-Arts. Read all about both of the museums on our Lyon Museums page.

View of Lyon from the Croix-Rousse District

La Croix-Rousse
Walk through the winding streets north from the Place des Terreaux and you start to climb up into the Croix-Rousse quarter of the city. An easier option is to take the métro, and walk down. A booklet you can find in the Tourist Office will enable you to pick your way down through some of the old traboules, the semi-secret passageways that lead through courtyards and around houses, enabling the silk workers to get from one street to the next while sheltering from the weather. You need the leaflet as the entrances to the traboules are often closed and look just like private doorways. 

Not much remains of the silk-weaving business these days, but you can learn more about it and see some modern work at the Maison des Canuts. This shop has a workroom at the back where some of the old silk looms are kept, and twice a day at 11.00 and 15.30 a guide gives a talk (in French) about the looms and the silk-weaving business. The shop sells some beautifully-coloured examples of modern silk production: ties, scarves, wraps and other clothing items.

Maison des Canuts
10-12 rue d'Ivry, 69004 Lyon
Tel: 04 78 28 62 04

Centre d’Histoire de la Résistance et de la Déportation
You can read more about this powerful reminder of the city's wartime past on our Lyon Museums page.

Musée Lumière
This is where the movies were invented. More details on our Lyon Museums page.

Lyon's Top 5 Attractions

See this YouTube video for someone else's list of
the five top things to do in Lyon

Buy Our Lyon and Beyond Travel Guide

Lyon Travel Guide
Naturally we recommend our own Lyon and Beyond travel guide (left) for your visit to Lyon. It is available for the Kindle and contains practical information, guides to the top sights in Lyon, maps, lots of colour photos, our picks for eating, hotels, shopping and sport. It also has a detailed section on what to do outside Lyon, including a full guide-within-a-guide to the lovely and lively nearby town of Saint-Étienne. You can buy it at Amazon UK, Amazon USA, and other Amazon stores worldwide. For more information see our Beyond Travel Guides page. 

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