How to make the most of a long weekend in Lyon

James March

James March

Pierced by two rivers amid rising hills and crammed with colourful markets, postcard streets and some of Europe's finest gastronomic experiences, France's third-largest city is an elegant alternative to tourist-heavy hotspots like Paris and the Riviera.

Footbridge over the River Saône through Lyon
Footbridge over the River Saône through Lyon © Sanderstock - Adobe Stock Image

Read on to discover how to get the most out of a long weekend in Lyon at any time of year.

Getting to Lyon: check out the latest offers on breaks to Lyon with easyJet holidays*, which has the perfect combination of flights and accommodation for all budgets.

Take in epic views

With its grand statues and handsome buildings flanking all sides, the vast Place Bellecour is one of Europe's largest public squares and a good place to start exploring Lyon.

To the west you'll see the spectacular Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière looking out over the city on a high hillside. Head across the River Saône to the old town, Vieux Lyon, and take the vintage funicular railway up to the summit of Fourvière hill.

Lyon's 19th-century Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière
Lyon's 19th-century Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière © s4svisuals - Adobe Stock Image

While the elaborate golden decor inside the basilica is a gaudy delight, it's the immense views across Lyon and beyond into the hazy countryside that make this hilltop journey worth it. And on bright clear days, it's even possible to make out the jagged outline of the distant Alps.

Lyon's second grand hillside is an altogether less touristy affair. The winding streets of the rising Croix-Rousse neighbourhood are peppered with laid-back cafés, artisanal stores and bold street art.

Walk the cobbles of Vieux Lyon
Walk the cobbles of Vieux Lyon © Trishhhh - Flickr CC BY 2.0

As you climb higher, some interesting views begin to reveal themselves, especially later in the day. These aren't grand sweeping vistas; think more ethereal glimpses of crooked rooftops and skinny aerials with window lights twinkling as evening falls and Lyon's night comes to life.

Delve into 2,000 years of Roman history

Back at Fourvière hill, make the short five-minute walk south from the basilica to the well-preserved remains of a place known as Lugdunum, a significant Roman settlement founded in 43 BCE by Lucius Munatius Plancus.

While this was once an important city in the western half of the Roman Empire for centuries, all that remains today is the Ancient Theatre of Fourvière.

Built around 15 BCE, it's still an impressive sight and the arena's curved stone steps could seat up to 10,000 people.

Not only can you wander through its serene grounds by day but in summer the amphitheatre also hosts the Nuits de Fourvière concert series, with the high cityscape as a backdrop creating one of Europe's more memorable event settings.

Eat your way through the city

No city in France is better known for its gastronomy than Lyon* and the best place to start is a food hall bearing the name of the city's most famous son.

Paul Bocuse is everywhere in Lyon and the legendary chef put his name to Les Halles de Lyon, a beguiling food market with 50 vendors selling classic Lyonnais fare such as quenelle de brochet (a sort of fish mousse cake) and tarte aux pralines alongside a smattering of oyster and wine bars.

A traditional Lyonnaise bistro or bouchon
A traditional Lyonnaise bistro or bouchon © Rndmst - Dreamstime.com

There's also a host of magnificent restaurants here but make sure to eat at a classic bouchon, Lyon's rustic, family-owned bistros adorned with red-and-white chequered tablecloths.

Expect warm welcomes and handwritten menus featuring indulgent Lyonnaise cuisine that goes big on offal, onions and butter alongside generous helpings of local wines like Beaujolais or Côtes du Rhône.

Lose yourself in a grand park

If the buzz of France's third-largest city is getting a little overwhelming, then the Parc de la Tête d'Or is the perfect escape. Just a short 15-minute walk from the centre of town, the vast park is a 117-hectare oasis of calm.

Enjoying the peace in Parc de la Tête d'Or
Enjoying the peace in Parc de la Tête d'Or © Ondine B - Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Especially pretty in the autumn months when the trees are flush with vivid oranges, reds and golds, France's largest urban park features a boating lake and botanical gardens. In the glow of summer, the grand park is the place to relax on a blanket with a fresh baguette, indulgent cheese and a bottle of wine.

See where cinema began

"Cinema is an invention without a future," Louis Lumière once remarked at the turn of the 20th century.

While the Lyon native Lumière was clearly no Nostradamus, Lumière and his brother Auguste's impact on the burgeoning moving picture format was momentous and the city's 8th arrondissement is arguably the epicentre of modern cinema.

Considered to be the first true motion picture, the brothers' 40-second 1895 film La Sortie de l'Usine Lumière à Lyon (Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory in Lyon) enthralled audiences at the time and the factory grounds still exist today.

Head over to the Institut Lumière to learn more about the Lumières' pioneering impact (even if they thought it was just a novelty).

Explore Lyon's hidden tunnels

Found largely in the Vieux Lyon and Croix-Rousse neighbourhoods, Lyon's secret passageways, known here as traboules, are a maze of secret tunnels used by the silk workers of Lyon in the 19th century to transport their goods from one place to another without being exposed to the elements.

Silk production was once the major industry in Lyon and those precious goods were of huge importance. These days the hidden tunnels are a curious window into a bygone age and an unusual way of navigating the city's historic backstreets.

Go mural-spotting

With over 100 outdoor murals, colour-splashed Lyon is arguably the European capital of street art. The hillside Croix-Rousse neighbourhood is particularly great for this and its works run the gamut covering everything from hard-hitting political pieces to quirky offbeat illustrations.

Detailed street scene mural on the side of a building in Lyon
Detailed street scene mural on the side of a building in Lyon © CitéCréation - Lyon Tourisme et Congrès

The stand-out mural is the magnificent and ambitious La Fresque des Lyonnais, a soaring 800 square-metre tribute to 30 of Lyon's most influential sons and daughters.

Weather in Lyon

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Maximum daytime temperature °C
Hours of sunshine (daily)
Days with some rainfall

The above shows the weather in Lyon. You can find out more about conditions across the country in our complete guide to the weather in France.

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James March

James March

Posted on Thursday 9th February 2023 in: City Culture Europe

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