From the food to the architecture: This proud french city is worth discovering.
After Paris and Marseille, Lyon is France’s third biggest city. And in a way, it’s the most French of them all. Paris has this worldly aura about it (read our 12hrs in Paris), Marseille is utterly Mediterranean, but Lyon? Lyon is truly French!
Its buildings looks like they fell out of time, beautiful facades in washed out yellows, grandiose buildings line the streets, and in between it all, modern houses mix it up.
People have settled here for over two millennia, and they all left their marks on the city, from the Romans to the silk weavers in the 16th century to Auguste and Louis Lumière. The Romans left – among many other things – a beautiful theater overlooking the city. Long after, Lyon was the center of European silk production for many years and still has this sense of quality and beauty running through its veins. And the brothers Lumière, the first filmmakers ever, invented the cinema here. Then, there’s the food.
Lyon lies nestled between two rivers, the Rhône and the Saône, but it’s also right in the middle of two of the world’s most important wine regions, the Beaujolais to the North, and the Côtes du Rhône to the South. Traditional Lyonnaise cuisine features lots of sausage, tripe and quenelle, little dumplings made out of creamed fish or meat and egg. You can try all of these dishes in the traditional bouchons, hearty bistros scattered all around the old town, often run by the same family for generations.
Lyon is not a hip city, you won’t find tons of third-wave coffee roasters or concept stores, although there are a few of those, and we’ll guide you to them. What you will experience here instead is the true France. With rather charming, creative people that are happy to show you around, places steeped in history, and a massive love for food.
A great way to get here is by train. Eurostar has a new, direct service from London starting May 1st, taking you from Britain’s capital to the city center of Lyon in just under five hours. To celebrate the launch of their new route, Eurostar sent us to Lyon to explore the city and make the best travel guide we could, so you can skip all the research and just follow it to experience the city at its best. This is this guide, which will take you from the hills of Croix-Rousse to the hyper modern buildings at Confluences, and from bustling food markets full of regional specialties to the coolest shops in town.
Let’s spend 12hrs in Lyon!
Lyon is the third largest city of France, located in east central France in the Rhône-Alpes region and the capitel of this region.
Good to know: Lyon is known for its historical and architectural landmarks and is a UNESCO heritage site.
The city is the birthplace of cinema and the silk capital of the world.
The world’s biggest culinary competition, the Bocuse d’Or, takes place every two years in Lyon.
Population (metro area): 2.2 Million
Currency: Euro (€)
8am – Hotel Okko
A design hotel that hits all the right marks
Our day starts after a good night’s sleep at Hotel Okko. This hotel is part of a small but growing chain of hotels around France that try to upgrade the idea of affordable hospitality. Behind it all is Olivier Devys, who worked for the mega-brand Accor 16 years and managed to convinced his superiors that there is room on the market for another hotel chain that is a bit different than all the others.
The results are stunning and make this hotel our first choice in Lyon. There is a big focus on interior design, something that is evidently as soon as you enter the beautiful historic building. The staff is super friendly and helpful, the rooms cleverly designed. Apart from the bigger picture, it’s the small things that made us fall in love with this place: Free and fast wi-fi, a lobby with plenty of space to hang out in, a canteen that serves free (!) drinks and snacks all day long and power outlets next to both sides of the beds so you can charge your gadgets while you sleep. Luckily, part of the concept are also affordable prices, rooms start at 99 Euro/night (approx. 112 USD). So this stay won’t break the bank.
To start your day, walk along the banks of the Rhône and over the Pond Morant bridge into the city center. You pass the wonderful bookshop Datta which is still closed at this hour. But peek inside if you like. Walk up a small hill, and you’ll end up on a lovely square. Time for breakfast.
Hotel Okko // 14 bis, Quai du Général Sarrail // website
8.30am – La Boite Á Café
Breakfast at the best cafe in town
La Boite à Café serves the best coffee in Lyon, hands down. The small coffee shop belongs to Moxka, a small-batch coffee roaster in the city. It’s a tiny place that is always busy. Pick your favorite from the selection of baked goods (baked by Konditori a few streets down where we will have lunch), order your drink and squeeze in. It’s going to be a long day.
La Boite à Café // 3 Rue Abbé Rozier // Mon-Fri 8am-7pm, Sat 9am-7pm, Sun 11am-7pm // website
10am – Fourviére
This hill overlooks the whole city and hosts some of Lyon’s most famous sights
Hello // Salut
Thank you // Merci
Yes // Oui
No // Non
Maybe // Peut-être
Do & Dont’s
Do: Wear sunglasses! The city gets 300 days of sunshine per year.
Don’t: Don’t insult Olympique Marseille. Football is serious business here.
After breakfast, it’s time for some sight seeing. Our next destination is on the other side of the Saône river. You can walk this first stretch of the way, or you take the Metro for two stops starting at Hôtel de Ville, the city hall, and walk from there. The whole walk should take about 20 minutes, and it’s a nice one, so if you can, opt for that.
Cross the Saône and walk through the cobbled streets of Lyon’s old town. This area is always flooded with tourists, and it’s easy to see why. Old, colorful houses line the narrow streets. Find the Metro stop Vieux Lyon (‘Old Lyon’) and purchase a return ticket for the cable car at the machines. There were once five different routes of the old Funiculaires de Lyon in operation, but now, the only two remaining funiculars are going up the Fourvière hill.
Once you are on the hill, find your way to Notre Dame de Fourvière, the cathedral overlooking the city. From here, you have a spectacular view of Lyon. Soak up the sight, and then walk down the hill a bit, following the signs that point to the Minimes Theatre Romain, the Ancient Theater of Fourvière.
This Roman theater was built in two phases and could house up to 10.000 people when it was completed. Today, it’s the venue of the popular Les Nuits de Fourvière festival of performing arts. Take your time to explore the place and make sure to snap plenty of pictures. At this time of day, it shouldn’t be too crowded up here.
Afterwards, take the funicular down the hill and switch to Metro line D at the bottom. At Saxe – Gambetta, change again to the B line. Get off after just one stop at Place Guichard – Bourse du Travail. Our next destination is just a very short walk away from the exit.
11.30am – Les Halles Paul Bocuse
French food at its best, from meats to seafood, vegetables to pastries
Lyon is a food city and home to several legendary dishes and chefs. The most famous of them all is of course Paul Bocuse. Considered one of the best chefs of the 20th century, he was named ‘chef of the century’ by Gault-Millau in 1989. Bocuse also founded the Bocuse d’Or, the world’s most famous cooking competition, that takes place every other year in Lyon. He left his mark all over the city, where he is in charge of no less than five restaurants.
The food market Les Halles Paul Bocuse exists since 1859, and its housed in this building since the early 1970s. It was only in 2006 that the city of Lyon decided to change its name and dedicate the structure to Bocuse.
When you enter, you can see why. It’s basically a showcase of culinary Lyon. All the iconic staples of the local cuisine are here: the quenelles, little dumplings that come in all sorts of shapes and varieties, the truffles, the sausages, the foie gras, the pastries. There is a lot to see here. Walk through the stalls, maybe buy yourself some edible souvenirs, but hold up on the sweet stuff. Next stop: wine and chocolate!
Les Halles Paul Bocuse // 102 Cours Lafayette // Tue-Sat 7am-10.30pm, Sun 7am-4.30pm // website
12.15am – Vavro & Co
A charming wine store that also looks good
Dressing the part
Chances are it’s going to be sunny and warm, so wear your favorite summer clothes and don’t worry too much about fashion. .
The Bourne Identity
A short walk away from Les Halles lies Vavro & Co, a modern wine shop that we love. The interior is stunning – tall shelves line the walls and hundreds of oversized light bulbs illuminate the place – and the staff here is the most welcoming and friendly. They ae the opposite of snobbish wine folks but know so much about wine. If you have any questions they are happy to help, and you can find decent bottles for under 10 Euro (approx. 11,50 USD).
Vavro & Co // 46 Cours Franklin Roosevelt // Tue-Thu 10am-12.30pm & 2.30pm-7.30pm, Fri & Sat 10am-7.30pm // website
12.30pm – Bernachon
Sweet treats for chocolate lovers. You won’t find better chocolate anywhere
Next we visit Bernachon, a wonderfully old-fashioned chocolate shop and patissier two houses down the street. No matter what time of day, there is always a line here. Do yourself a favor and buy yourself a treat. The small petit fours are rather cheap and worth every cent. This is heaven in two bites!
Bernachon // 42 Cours Franklin Roosevelt // Tue-Sat 8.30am-7pm, Sun 8.30mam-5pm // website
1pm – Konditori
Lunch comes in a very fancy box today
Marseille’s public transport system includes two subway and three tram lines, the rest of the city can be reached via bus. Buy your tickets at the machines before boarding or from the bus drivers.
What to order:
Food: Bouillabaisse, the fish stew containing at least three varieties of fresh local fish.
Drinks: Pastis, made with aniseeds and spices is the drink du jour.
Time to get back to the 1st Arrondissement where we were earlier. The walk is almost the same as this morning when we walked to the city center from Hotel Okko. Just walk towards the river Rhône, cross the Pont Morand, and walk past the town hall up the hill. After looking at so much great food in the past hour, it’s finally time for lunch.
Konditori is a small batch bakery that specialises in take-away lunch boxes and pastry. It was probably one of their sweet treats you had for breakfast at La Boite à Café this morning. For lunch, they offer different lunch boxes every day, filled with fresh, tasty meals for both meat eaters and vegetarians, think sandwiches, foccacias, tartes and salads. Have your pick from today’s selection, maybe also get a cookie to go (they also make gluten-free ones, if that’s your jam) and a drink, and head out of the small store and back down the hill in the direction of the town hall.
Konditori // 9 Rue des Capucins // Mon-Fri 11.30am-2pm // website
1.30pm – Courtyard of the museum of Fine Arts
Eating lunch, surrounded by statues
The Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, the Museum of Fine Arts, is one of Europe’s largest art museum, displaying works from ancient Egypt up to modern art. It is housed in a spectacular building from the 17th century.
While we won’t have time to walk through the more than 70 rooms today, we still get to soak up some of the atmosphere. The beautiful courtyard of the former Benedictine convent is the perfect place to have lunch. Antiques statues line the space, and although we’re in the heart of the city, it is calm and quiet here. Wander around a bit and then sit down on one of the benches and enjoy your lunch box.
Museum of Fine Arts // 20 Place des Terreaux // website
2pm – Village Des Creteurs
Lyon’s creative scene showcases its many talents
Walk back once again past the cafe to the Passage Thiaffait, where you’ll find the Village des Createurs. The goal of this project is to promote local creatives from the Rhône-Alpes region, so you’ll be able to discover lots of young labels that produce fashion, jewelry and prints.
Every brand has their own little workspace and shop. Among our favorites were fashion brand Cae that works a lot with denim, Poisson Bulle that sells beautiful paper products and the Pola Café, where you can buy Polaroid cameras, films, and play a round of Mario Kart on the old Nintendo NES.
Village des Createures // Mon-Thu 9am-6pm, Fri 9am-3.30pm, opening hours may vary, check website and Facebook page // Passage Thiaffait, 19 rue René Leynaud // website
2.15pm – Galerie La Réverbére
300 square meters of great photography
The area around Croix-Rouges is the creative heart of Lyon. It is here that you’ll find the most galleries, studios, and creative agencies. This tradition of creative output here goes back to the 16th century, when Lyon was the capital of the European silk trade. Back then, these streets were where the workshops of the fabric makers were. Little passageways called Traboules connected buildings and courtyards, and to this day, you can still find them behind small doors in the wall. Today, the walls around Croix-Rouges are full of street art.
Let’s visit the Galerie La Réverbère. It showcases contemporary photography, and owners Catherine Dérioz and Jacques Damez have a keen eye for established artists and newcomers alike.
2.45pm – Montée De La Grande Côte
A stroll down one of Lyon’s loveliest streets
Walk back, then turn to your right and walk up the tall steps of Rue Pouteau. You could continue all the way up to the Jardin de la Grande Côte, a beautiful park at the hilltop, but for the sake of this 12hrs tour, it’s enough to turn left on the Rue Imbert Colomes. The next street on the left is the Montée de la Grande Côte.
This steep street showcases the quarter at its best. It is lined with small, independent stores, and the facades are painted in radiant tones of yellows and reds. Stroll down this beautiful road towards the city center.
On your way, make sure to visit Cinitic, a small menswear shop with a lovingly curated selection of hip street wear brands like Wood Wood, Billionaire Boys Club and Garbstore.
Opposite Cinitic you’ll find La Fabriq where you can buy handmade jewelry, cool prints and paper products.
3pm – Market Place
Shopping for vintage lovers
A bit down the street, turn left into the Rue des Capucins again. Market Place is a rather big vintage store that sells used clothes and accessories for women and men. Go here if you are looking for quirky souvenirs, pre-loved handbags or a nicely worn-in leather jacket.
Market Place // 1 Rue des Capucins // Tue-Sat 11am-7pm // Facebook
3.10pm – Make Noise
Streetwear for fashionable skaters
Just on the other side of the road lies Make Noise, another skate and streetwear shop that is worth a visit. The focus here lies more on heritage brands, so you’ll find lots of denim, plaids and outerwear. They also sell a wide selection of Herschel bags and caps.
After Make Noise, let’s make our way to the more commercial shopping streets of Lyon for the final stretch of our day.
Make Noise // 4 Rue des Capucins // Mon-Sat 11am-7.30pm // website
4pm – Summer Store
The best concept store in town
Walk back and take the Metro line A from Hôtel de Ville to Bellecour. Bellecour is the largest pedestrian square in Europe, a UNESCO heritage site and truly impressive. Surrounded by historic buildings, it leads to the three major shopping streets of Lyon. In winter, a large ferris wheel is installed here, and there’s a statue of Louis XIV and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, another famous son of the city.
The Rue Victor Hugo is one of the three streets lined with mostly high street shops. Walk down there for a while until you reach Rue Saint-Hélène. Turn left there to get to our next destination.
Our favorite shop in the shopping streets around Bellecour is the Summer Store. Again, this one is for the guys only – Lyon seems to have a thing for cool menswear – but it’s still worth a visit if you’re a female. You never know, you might find something for yourself.
Of all the shops we visited, this is the fanciest, carrying great, cutting edge brands like Jack Purcell, Comme des Garçons Play, Visvim and Y3. They also sell a great selection of sneakers and shoes.
To get to our final stop before dinner, we’ll need to take the Metro again. Find the Ampère – Victor Hugo station and take the A for one stop to Perrache. There, change into the tram T1 and take it all the way to the stop Musée des Confluences.
Summer Store // 1 Place Gailleton // Tue-Sat 10.30am-7pm // website
4.45pm – Musée Des Confluences
A new architectural gem in Lyon, and one of the most interesting museums
Confluence is a booming, newly developed city part of Lyon, sandwiched between the Rhône and the Saône at the very tip of the city center. It features stunning modern architecture with a big emphasis on green construction, fancy new apartments at the water and a giant mall and shopping center. The star of the whole ensemble, though, is the brand new Musée des Confluences that we will visit now.
The building by Austrian architecture firm Coop Himmelb(l)au is the star here, and also the main reason why this impressive endeavor in city development took much longer (and was much more expensive) than anticipated. But that is all forgotten now that the museum opened its doors. Meant to represent a floating crystal cloud, it seems to hover over the tip of the peninsula. It’s a science center and anthropology museum that showcases scientific human achievements of the last centuries. There are three permanent as well as six temporary exhibitions on display. If you traveled to Lyon by Eurostar, show your train ticket at the ticket counter and you’ll get an extra ticket for a friend for free. Have fun exploring!
Musée des Confluences // 86 Quai Perrache // Tue/Wed & Fri 11am-7pm, Thu 11am-10pm, Sat/Sun 1oam-7pm // Admission: 9 Euro // website
8pm – 23 Restaurant Caviste Bio
Light and local dishes for dinner
What better way to close out a long, eventful day in Lyon than with a nice dinner. For that, we are heading back to the 1st Arrondissement. Get there by public transport (taking the route way we took to get to Confluences) or take a taxi.
For dinner today, we visit 23 Restaurant Caviste Bio. As mentioned above, Lyon is famous for its typical, rather heavy French food. This restaurant is the exact opposite of that. Focussing on seasonal, local ingredients, Caviste Bio offers a small new menu daily. Each of three courses on offer has three options for you to choose from and put your own menu together. But your best bet is to order the Menu Carte Blanche au Chef, that puts the choice in the chef’s hand and lets him choose what’s best today. This menu is not expensive at all, setting you back only 36 Euro (approx. 40 USD) for four courses including dessert or 40 Euro including dessert and a cheese course.
Another great thing about 23 Restaurant Caviste Bio is the large selection of truly great organic wines that are on display on the shelves in the restaurant. Just ask your waiter for a recommendation or pick a bottle yourself, and you get the bottle for the retail price and a small corkage fee. Santé! You just spent 12hrs in Lyon!
23 Restaurant Caviste Bio // 23 Rue René Leynaud // Mon 7pm-10 pm, Tue-Sat 12pm-2pm & 7pm-10pm // website