The third-largest city in France, Lyon is a sophisticated, bustling place that’s packed with fascinating things to see and do. Founded in 43 BCE by the Romans, the city boasts a compelling past that’s highlighted by a huge number of striking museums and thought-provoking art galleries.
Around 10% of Lyon, including 162 buildings, is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Make your way to the top of Fourvière Hill, and you can admire more than 2,000 years of well-preserved history from Vieux Lyon to the Presqu’île!
With so many hidden secrets to discover and mysteries to unveil, you’ll never be stuck for what to do in Lyon. The city’s excellent galleries, ancient streets, breathtaking murals, and lively festivals will certainly keep you busy.
With such a fantastic choice of things to check out, you might not know where to begin. To help you out, we’ve created a list of the absolute best things to do in Lyon. Add these activities and attractions to your Lyon bucket list, and you’re guaranteed to have an incredible time discovering one of the most historically rich cities in the world.
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15 Fun and Unique Things to Do In Lyon
1. Discover one of the largest renaissance old quarters in Europe
Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon) is one of the largest and most stunning old quarters in all of Europe. Between the 15th and 17th centuries, the city’s silk industry was booming. This attracted rich merchant families from across Italy, Germany, and France who settled in Lyon.
The immigrant families built magnificent homes in Gothic and Renaissance styles, hundreds of which can still be seen today throughout the Saint-Paules, Saint-Georges, and Saint-Jean districts.
As well as the refined residences, Vieux Lyon is home to many other centuries-old attractions. So many, in fact, that it can be easy to rush between them and miss out on the atmosphere and character of the neighborhood itself.
Take your time to explore the narrow streets, stopping by small boutiques that take your fancy and family-run bakeries that smell amazing. Enjoy a coffee from an independent cafe and watch daily life happening around you. Vieux Lyon is the place to take things slowly and appreciate every moment.
2. Admire countless works of art at Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon
Lyon is filled with great art galleries and Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon is one of the finest. Set inside a former abbey that dates back to the 1600s, this museum is the largest fine art gallery in France, after the Louvre.
Step inside its doors, and you’ll discover 70 rooms full of remarkable artwork. Here you can admire all kinds of pieces from the 1300s up until the 1900s, as well as detailed sculptures and valuables from ancient Egypt.
Even if you know absolutely nothing about art, this museum is still one of the top Lyon attractions. You’re sure to recognize some of the most famous pieces from iconic European artists such as Picasso, El Greco, Cézanne, Degas, Renoir, and van Gogh.
The antiquities exhibit is one of our favorite parts of the art gallery. This is where around 600 ancient Egyptian artifacts are stored. From busts and reliefs to statuettes and sarcophagi, there are countless treasures to marvel at.
3. Treat your taste buds to quenelle
When lunchtime comes around, one of the best things to do in Lyon is to order a quenelle. One of Lyon’s most famous and popular dishes, a quenelle is a delicate and refined fish dumpling entrée.
The dish features a light and tender pike dumpling soaked and baked in a rich, decadent langoustine sauce. You know you’re in for a treat when the menu says there’s a 15-20 minute wait for the dish! This means the chef is making it from scratch, and it should be amazing.
Café du Soleil is where we had some of the most incredible quenelles. Nestled in Saint-Georges in Vieux Leyon, this restaurant has a cozy setting and dishes up several different variations.
You can order them for an appetizer, as part of a salad with eggplant caviar, or as an entrée with rice and a special sauce. The restaurant even does a chicken version with mushroom sauce if you’re not a fan of fish.
4. Seek out Lyon’s street art
Lyon is one of the best places in France to admire street art created by incredibly talented artists. As you’re exploring the city, it’s totally normal to turn a corner and come face-to-face with a giant colorful mural.
There are around 100 murals to discover throughout the city. You’re most likely to find them in working-class neighborhoods and on social housing. Plus, seeking them out is a great way to come across places you wouldn’t have seen otherwise!
États-Unis is one of the top areas to see local street art. Here you’ll find an outdoor museum with 25 unique murals created in the 1980s. Many are dedicated to Tony Garnier, who designed the district in the 1920s.
Le Mur des Canuts is Lyon’s original piece of street art. It’s in the La Croix-Rousse neighborhood and features a fascinating optical illusion with hyperrealistic imagery and remarkably intricate details. This mural is so spectacular and important that it’s renovated and updated every 10 years.
5. Get tipsy at the Lyon Bière Festival
If you’re visiting the city in April, one of the most fun things to do in Lyon is to check out the city’s Bière Festival. Held over one weekend each year, the beer festival invites brewers from all over the world to showcase their finest creations.
More than 100 craft breweries attend the event every year to serve their one-of-a-kind beer to thousands of hop enthusiasts. As well as getting to sample beers from all over the world, the festival also gives you the chance to learn more about craft beers and the brewing process through masterclasses.
To help soak up the alcohol, loads of food trucks park onsite for the weekend, selling all the types of snacks you crave when you’re a bit tipsy! To keep the party going, there’s lots of live music throughout the weekend, too.
If you’re not a fan of beer, you’re in luck. Although almost all the stalls serve beer, there is a small number that serves hard cider and even a couple with local wine.
6. Creep through secret traboules
One of the coolest things to do in Lyon is to explore the city’s clandestine traboules. These are hidden passageways that run underneath the buildings toward the Saône River. They were created during the Renaissance period, and around 40 of them are open to the public today.
They were originally built to provide Lyon’s silk workers with a quick and easy way to move textiles between their factories and the river while also offering shelter during times of bad weather. Today the obscure tunnels are an engrossing tourist attraction that you’ve absolutely got to check out.
The best place to start your adventure is around Quai Fulchiron Rolland and Rue des Trois Maries. The passageways weave their way in and out of buildings, across courtyards, and over staircases. Some of them pass through public property, so make sure you’re not accidentally trespassing while exploring!
If you get lost, look for the green and yellow arrows. These point in the direction of traboules.
7. Kicks things off with a salade Lyonnaise
If you thought all salads were boring, think again! A salade Lyonnaise is a deliciously decadent way to start any meal.
It’s made of green leaves (usually frisée) and topped with crispy bacon bits, a soft poached egg, and crunchy croutons. It’s tossed in a sharp, tangy mustard dressing before being served as one of the best appetizers in Lyon.
Le Poelon d’Or is one of the top places in the city to treat yourself to a salade Lyonnaise. This restaurant serves it with huge chunks of crispy bacon and a poached egg with a wonderfully soft center.
Bouchon Les Lyonnais is another place we highly recommend sampling this iconic dish. If you want a gourmet dining experience, order the chef’s menu.
It’s a three-course menu with a huge range of indulgent dishes to choose from, including salade Lyonnaise for an appetizer. Skip the sweet stuff for dessert and try one of their amazing local cheeses instead!
8. Unveil ancient history at the Gallo-Roman Museum of Lyon-Fourvière
If you want to learn more about the city’s history, one of the best things to do in Lyon is to spend a few hours at the Gallo-Roman Museum of Lyon-Fourvière. The museum is set within the same complex as the ancient theater of Fourvière, which is also worth a look if you want to see some genuine Roman ruins that date back more than 2,000 years.
The museum is located underground and features futuristic, bunker-like galleries, which provide a stark contrast to the ancient artifacts and gems the museum guards. The exhibitions and displays are arranged around a concrete ramp that gradually rises up.
Despite its small size, there’s a huge collection of things to explore. The Circus Games Mosaic really caught our eye! This valuable piece dates back to the 2nd century and shows a fantastically detailed chariot race.
Other pieces worth seeking out include the Lyon Tablet, which displays the transcription of a speech delivered by Roman Emperor Claudius in the 1st century, and the Gaulish Coligny Calendar.
9. Pick up fresh ingredients at Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse
If you’re planning on cooking your own meals, visiting Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse is one of the must-do things in Lyon! This colossal indoor food market is named after the famous Michelin-starred chef and is home to some of the finest quality ingredients you’ll find in the city.
Here you can buy everything from seasonal vegetables, fruits, meat, and fish to cold cuts, cheeses, baked goods, and seasonings. It’s the best place to go if you want to whip up some delicious food that’s worthy of being served in a restaurant.
Even if you’re not planning on cooking, the food market is still definitely worth checking out. There are plenty of goodies you can pick up to take home with you, including wines, chocolates, and spices.
If you get hungry, there’s a small food court with bars and restaurants serving up all kinds of local dishes. They can get really busy around lunchtime, so consider having brunch or an early lunch if you want to eat here.
10. Broaden your horizons with the Nuits de Fourvière
One of the top things to do in Lyon is to take part in the Nuits de Fourvière. This high-octane festival has been going strong since 1946 and is one of the most popular in the city’s events calendar, with 130,000 people attending it each year.
The festival takes place in the city’s ancient Roman amphitheater on Fourvière Hill, where a jam-packed program of arts and culture awaits. From music performances and theatrical shows to opera productions, dance presentations, and even circus spectacles, there’s a huge variety of entertainment going on here, with something for all tastes and ages.
It can get pretty uncomfortable sitting on the centuries-old hard stone seats. So do what we did and bring your own cushion!
Tickets for the headline acts (which have included everyone from the Arctic Monkeys to Sting) sell out months in advance. So if you know you’re going to be in Lyon for the festival, it’s worth reserving your tickets online ahead of time.
11. Admire the magnificent Fourvière Basilica
You can see the Fourvière Basilica from almost every part of the city. And while it looks spectacular from any viewpoint, it’s best appreciated when you see it up close.
The basilica is set in the oldest part of the city and is just one of the many churches that were built on top of French hills in the late 19th century. At 282 feet long and 115 feet wide, the basilica is surprisingly large and features four towers, each of which is 157 feet high.
Step inside the basilica, and you’ll be presented with even more beauty. The interior is strikingly extravagant and home to the Museum of Sacred Art. For one of the best photo opportunities in Lyon, climb up the north tower and soak up the views.
While you can walk up the hill to the basilica, it’s an incredibly challenging walk! If you don’t want to tire yourself out for the rest of the day, we recommend taking the funicular to the top. The journey only takes a few minutes, and the funicular service runs several times every hour.
12. Feel the buzz at Presqu’île
When evening falls, one of the best things to do in Lyon is to head for Presqu’île. This part of the city is located on a narrow strip of land between Rhône and Saône. It was artificially created during the 18th century and today is one of the trendiest and coolest parts of Lyon!
As soon as the sun goes down, Presqu’île comes to life. Sprawling plazas, chic boutiques, tempting restaurants, bustling cafes, elegant bars, and lively nightclubs provide you with hours of fun, whatever you’re into. For something a little more high-end, you can also check out Lyon’s opera house, which is located in this district.
If you visit during the day, you’ll have the chance to wander the peaceful streets and admire the stunning architecture. While you’re there, it’s worth checking out Rue de la République. This pedestrianized street is full of international stores with well-known brands, and the prices are pretty reasonable.
13. Check out the Ampère Museum
If the weather takes a turn for the worst, one of the top Lyon activities is to spend some time at the Ampère Museum. The electricity museum is named after its former owner, Andre-Marie Ampere, who is responsible for the amp – the unit we measure electric current in today.
The museum is made up of 11 rooms, each of which is brimming with all kinds of intriguing trivia, historical documents, and cool items. You’ll get to see old telecommunication systems, electrostatic machines, and early examples of photovoltaic technology.
As well as a huge number of displays dedicated to the discoveries of Andre-Marie Ampere, the museum also showcases the work of Faraday, Oersted, and Volta. It’s unlike any other museum we’ve ever visited and gives you a great insight into how inventions hundreds of years ago helped develop the comfy, high-tech lifestyles we enjoy today.
The museum is usually only open on weekends, but the timetable changes according to the season. Check the website before you visit to make sure it will be open!
14. Spend the day at one of the largest parks in France
When all the Lyon sightseeing gets to be too much for you, take it easy at the Parc de la Tête d’Or. This enormous park encompasses a botanical garden, a zoo, and a huge lake that you can sail across during the warmer months.
Spring is one of the best times to visit the park. During this season, you can admire a stunning rose garden made up of different varieties of roses from around the world. Even if you miss the display, you can still check out more than 20,000 different varieties of plants inside the park’s botanical garden.
If you’re visiting with kids, you’ve got to explore the zoo. There’s no charge to enter, and you’ll have the chance to see deer, giraffes, lions, primates, zebras, reptiles, and a few other species. It’s not particularly exotic, but it’s free!
The park also features a selection of sports equipment and grounds. There’s a modern velodrome and boules court, plus a cute mini-golf course.
15. Take a romantic evening cruise
For a romantic evening for two, take a slow-paced boat trip along the Saône and Rhône rivers. There are loads of different boat trips available. But for an experience that includes it all, we recommend the Restaurant Boat Hermès.
The luxury ship sets sail at sunset when the city begins to sparkle with twinkling lights. You’ll get to admire the gorgeous architecture of Vieux Lyon, as well as the artistic statues that line the river.
The best part about the cruise is that it includes dinner. There are several different set menus to choose from (we opted for the Gourmand Menu and recommend you do, too!), and you can add on a drinks package if you wish.
For the best experience, request a table by a window. You have to pay a little extra, but it’s definitely worth it! If your schedule makes it impossible to do an evening cruise, you’ll be glad to know that Restaurant Boat Hermès also offers lunchtime sailings.
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Lyon. What’s your favorite thing to do in Lyon?
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