What to see in Lyon: guide with practical tips on the city

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Lluis Enric Mayans

wikipedia.org, lonelyplanet.com

Author and references

Far from the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Paris and practically a stone's throw from our country, Lyon is divided into three areas: the Presqu'Ile, the peninsula formed where the two rivers Rhone and Saone meet; the Corix-Rousse, the hill known for the historical presence of silk factories; and Fourvière, the hill which takes its name from the basilica of the same name.

Ideal alternative for lovers of transalpine art and culture, for those who are looking for an unforgettable stay, without necessarily having to stay in chaotic and, perhaps, too dispersive destinations. Let's get to know it better, here what to see in Lyon: guide with practical tips about the city!


  1. Old Town and Traboules
  2. Place des Terreaux
  3. Place Bellecour
  4. Museum of Fine Arts
  5. Saint Jean Cathedral
  6. Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière
  7. Gallo Romano Museum and Theater
  8. Opéra Nouvel
  9. Confluence Museum
  10. Institut Lumière
  11. Rue du Boeuf
  12. Mur Des Canuts, Croix Rousse and Maison de Canuts
  13. Park of the Tête d'Or
  14. Zoo de Lyon
  15. Les Halles market
  16. Other attractions to visit
  17. 6 things to do in Lyon
  18. User questions and comments

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1 - Old Town and Traboules

The Old Town of Lyon represents the heart of the city and was included in the prestigious list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It is also considered the largest European Renaissance district and many of the city's attractions are concentrated here!
For a first approach we advise you to take a guided walking tour, to identify the landmarks with a local guide and orient yourself better. Here are in fact some of the most important attractions: Place des Terreaux, the Cathedral of Sant Jean, the Museum of Fine Arts, but also delightful craft shops.

While walking through the streets of Lyon, keep your eyes open: you may in fact come across traboules, or gods covered passages characteristic of the city. Once they were used by citizens to transport goods without getting wet due to rain, or by partisans to hide during the Second World War. Many of these passages are nowadays closed to the public, as they are private homes, but some can still be visited and crossed, such as those in Rue St Jean 54 and 27 and in Place du Gouvernement.

The Old Town represents the historic center of Lyon. To get around the city, if you intend to travel by public transport, we recommend the Lyon City Pass with public transport included.

2 - Place des Terreaux

Place des Terreaux represents the heart of the city, which overlooks important attractions such as the Museum of Fine Arts and the Town Hall. The latter is housed in the marvelous Hôtel de Ville building, unfortunately closed to the public, so you can only admire it from the outside. Behind the Town Hall is the Opéra de Lyon, the city's theater.

In the center of the Place des Terreaux instead there is the marvelous Bartholdi Fountain, with a very difficult history behind it: the fountain was in fact destined for the city of Bordeaux, which did not purchase it due to lack of money, so Lyon won it. The work, called the triumphal chariot of the Garonne, was built by Auguste Bartholdi, the one who built the Statue of Liberty!

Visit the square in the evening: the illuminations involving the Bartholdi Fountain and the facade of the Hotel de Ville make this square wonderful in the evening, the top for super instagrammable photos

3 - Place Bellecour

Another unmissable square is Place Bellecour, the largest square in the city, in addition to being also the largest pedestrian square in Europe. Furthermore, this square is the point where Rue de la République, Rue Victor Hugo and Rue de President Edouard Herrier arrive, i.e. three of the main streets of the city, full of shops, clubs and restaurants!

The square is surrounded by numerous monumental buildings.
Here, during the Christmas period a large skating rink and a wonderful Ferris wheel are set up, from which to admire the whole city from above (Mon-Sat 9: 00-18: 00, € 9,00)

Take a selfie with the Little Prince: on the western side of the square is the statue of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and the protagonist of his novel, the Little Prince. The writer was originally from Lyon. The selfie is a must!

4 - Museum of Fine Arts

The Museum of Fine Arts, in French Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, is famous for containing the second largest coin collection in France, with about 50.000 pieces. It is located inside an old Abbey, on the Place des Terraux. The first construction of the Royal Abbey dates back to the th century, making it one of the oldest monasteries in Gaul. Over the centuries it underwent various works and extensions, up to the structure that we can admire today.

In addition to the large collection of coins, the museum also houses a wide range of works by well-known French, Italian and European artists, such as Gauguin, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Tintoretto, Perugino. There are also sections of more ancient artifacts, from the Romanesque, Greek and even Egyptian periods. These collections are exhibited in 70 rooms and on several floors, including the wonderful garden.

The museum is very extensive and spread over several floors. If you are passionate about art, we recommend that you dedicate at least one morning to it.

  • mer-lun 10:00-18:00, ven 10:30-18:00
  • full € 8,00, reduced € 4,00 / temporary exhibitions variable cost, consult the official website

5 - Cathedral of Saint Jean

The Cathedral of Saint Jean, located in the homonymous square e at the foot of the Fourvière hill, is dedicated to Santo Stefano and San Giovanni Battista. It contends for the primacy of the most important religious building in the city with the nearby Basilica Notre Dame de Fourvière. It was built between the th and th centuries, during the transition from the Romanesque to the Gothic style: in fact, you can admire the influences of both styles in every part of the Cathedral!

The main attraction of the Church is the wonderful Astronomical Clock, one of the oldest astronomical clocks in Europe. Located inside the Cathedral, between the central nave and the right transept, and dating from the th century, it is still in operation!
On the days of the celebration of Mass or important religious holidays, the entrance could be closed to the public

  • in Place Saint-Jean. Easily reachable on foot from anywhere in the historic center, such as from Place Bellecour (650 m, 9 min) and Rue du Boeuf (210 m, 3 min). Reference metro station Vieux Lyon-Cathédrale Saint-Jean (line D) - Get directions
  • Mon-Fri 8: 15-19: 45, Sat-Sun 8: 15-19: 00
  • free

Visit the church between 12:00 and 16:00: every day, at the stroke of every hour between 12:00 and 16:00, the cathedral clock comes alive: a rooster flaps its wings, an angel rings the bell and the Lord greets the faithful!

6 - Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière

In the Fourvière district, which develops on the homonymous hill above the Old Town, one of the main attractions is certainly the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, the most important religious building in the city! Being at the top of the hill and therefore being an uphill path, you can also reach it with the Cathedral of Saint-Jean / Fourvière cable car (7: 00-19: 00, ascent 6 min, € 2,00).

The construction of this impressive basilica, visible from all over Lyon, began in 1870 and was consecrated in 1896. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it is classified as a historical monument. Nowadays it has become a real symbol of the city, visited by many tourists and pelelgrini every year! Inside you can admire six large decorated windows, several mosaics and an imposing altar, on the top of which is the Virgin of Millefaut.

  • in Place de Fourvière 8. Easily reachable on foot from anywhere in the Fourvière district, such as the Gallo-Roman Theater (450 m, 8 min) or Rue du Boeuf (850 m, 15 min). Alternatively Cathedral Saint-Jean / Fourvière cable car (6 min) - Get directions
  • Basilica every day 7: 30-20: 00, gardens every day in winter 7: 00-22: 00, in summer 7: 00-23: 00 / cable car 7: 00-19: 00
  • free / cable car € 2,00, return ticket € 3,00

Climb to the roofs: the roofs of the basilica can be visited, and from the top you can witness a breathtaking view over the city. In case you travel by car, the Basilica has a large parking lot, open in winter on weekdays from 17: 15-22: 00 and on weekends from 7: 00-22: 00, in summer until 23:00

7 - Gallo Romano Museum and Theater

The Fourviere hill is also the point where the first Roman nucleus was born of the city of Lyon, dating back to 43 BC The ancient Gallo-Roman Theater testifies to this, marking the foundation of the Romans of Lugdunum, the fortress of the God Lug, warrior deity of Gaul.

The Gallo Romano Theater, also called the Great Theater, is the oldest theater in Roman Gaul, in addition to being, together with that of Vienne and that of Autun (both in France), one of the largest, with its 108 m in diameter. At the time, it could accommodate nearly 10.000 people. Near the theater is located the Odeaon, a smaller theater reserved at the time for musical performances or meetings.

Nearby is also the LUGDUNUM - Musée & Théâtres romains, which it hosts numerous testimonies of the Roman life of the city! Definitely an unmissable visit to get to know every side of Lyon's history.

  • Easily accessible on foot from anywhere in the Fourvière district, such as the Notre-Dame de Fourvière Basilica (450m, 8 min) or the Passerelle des Quatre Vents (900m, 13 min) - Get directions
  • Museum Tue-Fri 11: 00-18: 00, Sat-Sun 10: 00-18: 00 / Theater every day 7: 00-19: 00
  • full € 4,00, reduced € 2,50, guided tour + € 3,00

Visit it with children: it is an ideal visit for families, as an area of ​​the museum is dedicated only to children! Here they can dress like the Romans, participate in ancient traditional games and small cooking workshops are also organized

8 - Opéra Nouvel

The Opéra Nouvel in Lyon, located behind the Town Hall and Place des Terreaux, is the headquarters of the Opéra National de Lyon. It is one of the symbols of the city and is housed in an elegant building with a nineteenth-century facade. It was inaugurated in 1831 and has been hosting reviews and shows ever since. The calendar of events is always very rich. If you have the opportunity, we recommend that you absolutely attend a show. Find all the programming on the official website.

The Opera it can be visited with a guided tour, to be booked in advance on the official website. The tour lasts about 1 h 30 min and will take you to discover 17 rooms of this wonderful and spectacular building together with an expert guide. It is absolutely an experience to live!

  • in 1 Place de la Comédie. Easily reachable on foot from anywhere in the historic center, such as from Place des Terreaux (200 m, 3 min) and from Place Bellecour (1,1 km, 15 min). Reference Metro Station Hôtel de Ville-Louis Pradel (lines A and C) - Get directions
  • guided tours Mon-Sat 12:45 pm and 13:15 pm. Possible variations, consult the official website
  • € 10,00 per person, visits allowed from 12 years

9 - Museum of the Confluences

The Museum of Confluences, in French Musée des Confluences, takes its name from where it is located: it is located at the tip of the peninsula, where the two rivers of the city, the Saone and the Rhone, flow into a single river, the Rhone.

The museum is housed inside a absolutely contemporary building, with futuristic architecture. Inside you can instead visit an imposing one exhibition dedicated to humanity, which is told through the mixture of different knowledge and disciplines, from ethnology to science, from nature to mythology. From the origins of life and the universe to the theme of the afterlife, from the birth of man to his relationship with nature and animals to the theme of migration. It is a truly fascinating visit, to which you can devote the right time!

Also, after visiting the museum we advise you to stroll in the Jardin du Musée des Confluences, where the Confluence du Rhône et de la Saône is located, the point where the two rivers meet: a must-see photo on a trip to Lyon!

  • in Quai Perrache 86, southern end of the Lyon peninsula. Distant from the rest of the attractions, therefore reachable by bus and tram from the city center (Musée des Confluences stop, bus lines C10 and C15, tram line T1) - Get directions
  • Tue-Sun 10 am-30pm, closed Mon
  • full € 9,00, reduced € 6,00, reduced 18-25 years € 5,00

Also visit the gardens: since it is far from other attractions, we recommend that you come one afternoon and dedicate all the time to the visit. At sunset, take a stroll in the garden, where the Confluence du Rhône et de la Saône is located, the point where the two rivers meet: a must-see photo on a trip to Lyon!

10 - Institut Lumière

Dedicated to cinema lovers and not, the Institut Lumière is one of the must see in Lyon! This is indeed the place where cinematography was born. The exhibition will take you back to 1895, when the Lumière brothers developed innovative technologies for film and photography.

The Lumière Institute, built inside the family's Art Nouveau house in the Montplaisir district, it contains all memories related to the activity of the brilliant Lumière brothers: photos, documents and the legendary cinema, the object that started the magic of cinema!

  • in Rue du Premier Film. Accessible from the historic center by public transport or with a long walk from Place Bellecour (3,5 km, 45 min). Monplaisir-Lumière Metro Station (Line D) - Get directions
  • Tue-Sun 10 am-00pm, closed Mon
  • full € 8,00, reduced € 7,00, audio guide + € 3,00

The museum is located quite far from the other attractions of the city. For this reason we recommend that you insert it at the beginning of your itinerary and then approach the center around lunchtime

11 - Rue du Boeuf

In Lyon, a must for truly "alternative" and unique purchases is Rue du Boeuf, a pedestrian area at the foot of the Fourvière hill full of craft shops and ateliers, where you can admire the real local artists at work.

the moment of shopping becomes a sort of "ritual", a moment in which to carefully choose the souvenir to give to friends and relatives, a tangible testimony of our presence in this or that city. It is also the ideal place to enjoy an aperitif, after having visited all the attractions of the Fourvière district!
In this wonderful street there is no shortage of bars, cafes and characteristic restaurants. We therefore recommend that you stop here for dinner one evening and blend in with the local inhabitants

Easily reachable on foot from anywhere in the center, such as from the Basilica Notre-Dame de Fourvière Rue du Boeuf (850m, 15 min) or the Cathedral Saint-Jean-Baptiste (260m, 3 min) - Get directions

12 - Mur Des Canuts, Croix Rousse and Maison de Canuts

Among the must-see of the city of Lyon there is certainly the historic district of Croix-Rousse, the hill known for the historical presence of silk factories. The best way to enjoy this neighborhood is by strolling through its streets and squares, discovering little shops and hidden corners! Being on the hill of the same name, if you visit it in the afternoon you can enjoy a wonderful view over the whole city at sunset!

In the neighborhood we also recommend a visit to the Maison des Canuts museum: the "canuts" are precisely the silk workers. Through its displays and exhibitions it will allow you to discover the past of the city as a great silk producer. Also equipped with a shop where you can buy handmade silk products.

Finally, walking around Lyon you will come across wonderful murals paintings on the external walls of the buildings, real works of art in the open air! One of the most beautiful, perhaps the most beautiful of all, is the mural Le Mur Des Canuts, known as "The Wall of the Lyons", created on the facade of an old building, on which some of the famous faces of cinema are also portrayed, tailoring, of history, all born in Lyon. It is the largest mural in Europe, with an area of ​​1.000 square meters!

  • district north of the historic center of Lyon. Easily reachable on foot from any point in the historic center and served by several bus, tram and metro lines. Reference metro station Croix-Rousse (line C) - Get directions
  • neighborhood and Le Mur Des Canuts always accessible / Mason de Canuts Mon-Fri 10: 00-13: 00 and 14: 00-18: 00, Sat 10: 00-18: 00
  • neighborhood and Le Mur Des Canuts free / Mason de Canuts full € 2,00, reduced € 1,00

Locate the characters in the mural: in the scenes shown in the mural there are prominent figures of Lyon's history. Identify who they are: there is the Roman emperor Claudius, the Lyonnais writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (author of the Little Prince), the Lumière brothers, even the chef Paol Bocouse!

13 - Park of the Tête d'Or

If after visiting the city you need to take a break and relax, the right place for you is the Tête d'Or Park. It is about one of the largest parks in France and the largest in the city. Located north of Lyon, it is a wonderful green area where you can indulge in various activities.
The name derives from the legend that the Crusaders hid a treasure here, including a golden head of Jesus.

It is also about a perfect attraction to visit if you are traveling with children! Inside you will find a navigable lake, lots of play areas dedicated to them (such as rides, mini karts and train) and even the Lyon zoo. You can spend a few hours of relaxation, walking through its paths, admiring the beautiful gardens and discovering all the monuments and statues inside. The best seasons to experience it are definitely spring, when nature awakens, and autumn, due to the incredible effect of the foliage. In summer there are numerous events proposed and organized. We also recommend visiting the botanical garden and the huge rose garden of over 5 hectares!

Near the park there is also the Lyon Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC), designed by Renzo Piano and inside it houses several collections of contemporary art works.

  • in Place Général Leclerc, in the northern part of Lyon. Charpennes-Charles Hernu metro and tram reference station (from the historic center lines A and B) - Get directions
  • in summer every day 6: 30-22: 30, in winter every day 6: 30-20: 30 / botanical garden every day 9: 00-18: 00 / MAC Wed-Sun 11: 00-18: 00
  • free / botanical garden free / full MAC € 8,00, reduced € 4,00

14 - Zoo de Lyon

Inside the Tête d'Or Park is the Zoo de Lyon, a 150-year-old zoo ideal for visiting with the family. And what's more, admission is free!

Inside the park you will see animals from all over the world, such as zebras, monkeys, buffaloes, crocodiles and many more. The mission of the zoo is to protect animal species and to offer an educational approach to learn about the animal world while respecting it. It is in fact involved in various breeding and conservation projects for endangered species and in the conservation of biodiversity.

  • in the Tête d'Or Park, Allée de l'Orangerie, in the northern part of Lyon. Charpennes-Charles Hernu metro and tram reference station (from the historic center lines A and B) - Get directions
  • every day from November to March 9: 00-17: 00, from May to September 9: 00-18: 30, April and October 9: 00-18: 00
  • free

15 - Les Halles market

While traveling, one of the best ways to get closer to the local culture is to visit its characteristic markets. In Lyon you will find the Les Halles Market, full name Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse. It is a large covered market, the most famous in the city!

The market extends over 3 floors and inside you can find any type of product, such as typical local and regional specialties such as foie gras, excellent wines, desserts and French cheeses! In addition, inside there are several refreshment points and small places where to be able to taste the dishes of the local tradition, ideal for a typical lunch break! Because in the end a journey is also accomplished through the cuisine of the place you are visiting.

  • in Cours Lafayette 102. Accessible on foot from Place Bellecour (1,9 km, 25 min) and from Place des Terreaux (1,8 km, 22 min). Reference Halles Paul Bocuse bus stop, next to Part-Dieu metro and train station - Get directions
  • every day 7: 00-22: 30
  • free

Other attractions to visit

The city is full of museums! If you like puppets, you can find several in the historical center, such as the Museum of Cinema and Miniatures (€ 9,50), the Musee des Automates (€ 7,00) and the Musée des Arts de la Marionnette (€ 8,00). For lovers of history and communication there is the Museum of Printing and Graphic Communication (€ 8,00).

If you are traveling with children, in addition to the zoo you could visit the Aquarium of Lyon, even if a little inconvenient to reach (€ 15,00). Furthermore, outside the city center, a few kilometers away, you can find the Mini World Lyon amusement parks (€ 13,00) and Wakoo Park (€ 10,00). For a few hours in nature, we recommend that you reach the Grand Parc Miribel Jonage (for free)!

6 things to do in Lyon

  1. River cruise: Lyon is located at the point where the two rivers that cross it, the Rhone and the Saone, converge. One of the best experiences to live in the city is definitely a river cruise
  2. Discover the large murals of the city: not only Le mur des Canuts, the city is strewn with huge murals. Among them, La Fresque des Lyonnais near the Town Hall and La Bibliothèque de la Cité at the corner of quai de la pecherie and rue de la platiere
  3. Dinner in a typical Bouchon: they are the typical trattorias where you can breathe a homely atmosphere and eat traditional dishes. Checked tablecloth, wooden furniture, and poor but ... mouth-watering dishes!
  4. Guided tour with a local: for a first approach to the city we recommend a guided tour with a local guide, to identify the landmarks, ask for valuable advice and optimize the rest of your visit
  5. Discover the haunted places and stories of Lyon: try a different experience from the classic walking tour, we recommend the haunted Lyon exploration game, to discover the city and its dark side through games and puzzles
  6. Lyon by bicycle: Lyon is a green city with an eye for the environment and eco-sustainable transport. In the city there is an excellent bike sharing service to use to get around, but you can also opt for a guided electric bike tour to explore the city safely

Plan your stay in Lyon: flights and hotels

As in all of France, in Lyon the cost of living is high, very similar to what we have in Italy. From Northern Italy it is also possible to reach the city by car (Milan-Lyon 447 km, 5 h 15 min), alternatively the city is served byAéroport Lyon-Saint Exupéry (compare flights - from € 75,00).

The best neighborhoods to stay are the central ones, ideal for having all services close at hand and for being close to the local nightlife, which is mainly concentrated around the large squares of Place Bellacour and Place des Terreaux. We recommend comparing the best accommodations on Booking.com.

Visiting Lyon only on foot is difficult, but this is a winning choice when it comes to visiting individual neighborhoods. To reach more distant points, you can rely on an efficient integrated transport network which includes metro, bus and tram. We recommend that you buy the Lyon City Pass with public transport included.

If you are traveling with children, in addition to the zoo and the large city park, the city offers green areas and equipped play areas and many museums have areas completely dedicated to their youngest visitors. An ideal time to visit Lyon is during the Fête des Lumières, or the Festival of Lights. During the period of 8 December, for four days the city and its buildings are filled with plays of light and colors.

Finally, if you are planning a low cost trip, the city offers you many opportunities: you can stroll through the streets of the historic districts, admire the view from the Fourvière hill, look for the large murals or stroll along the riverside. In addition, the large city park, the zoo and the botanical garden have free entry!

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