Lyon sits at the confluence of two of France’s most important rivers – the Rhône and the Saône. Renaissance-era townhouses in sandstone yellow, burnt sienna, and russet brown line its riverfronts. Soaring church spires dot the old town. There’s art and culture in spades, not to mention Lyon’s enviable position as the gourmet capital of France. Here’s how to spend 48 hours in Lyon, France.
Take in the art
Musée des Beaux-Arts is Lyon’s most important art museum, and its setting lives up to its name. Located on Place des Terreaux, the museum is housed in a former Benedictine abbey dating back to the 17th century.
Walking into its tree-shaded central courtyard garden is like stepping into an urban oasis. The museum houses an impressive collection, covering everything from Egyptian antiquities to modern art. It has the largest collection of Impressionist paintings in France, second only to Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
Some of the important works include sculptures by Rodin, and paintings by stalwarts such as Van Gogh, Renoir, Rubens, Manet, Tintoretto, Degas, Picasso, and more.
Check out food shops & markets
Lyon, France lies in the country’s richest agriculture region. Surrounded on all sides by nature’s bounty, it’s little wonder that it has established itself as the gourmet capital. The food mecca that is Les Halles de Lyon – Paul Bocuse is a must-visit for any self-respecting foodie. This indoor food market has more than 60 stalls selling high-quality, artisanal products from the region. Pick up the local speciality St. Marcellin cheese from Mère Richard fromagerie, bread from Maison Claude, and foie gras, paté and terrine from Constant Frères. Throw in some chocolate from Maison Sève and you have a delicious picnic basket!
Lyon’s outdoor food markets are also worth a look. Marché Quai Saint-Antoine is a favourite with locals as is La Croix Rousse Market. Both markets are open on all days except Mondays and run from 6 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. Come early to avoid the crowds and enjoy a delicious breakfast of bread, cheese, and fruit purchased from the market.
Eat & drink your way
Lyon, France is known for two speciality wines from the region – the light-bodied Beaujolais, and the rich, deliciously fruity Côtes du Rhône. The latter is my hands-down favourite! These wines are best sampled over a hearty meal at a bouchon, a traditional, homely restaurant. Don’t miss typically Lyonnais dishes such as tripe soup, andouillette (pork offal sausage), quenelle (fish dumplings in sauce), boudin noir (blood sausage served with warm apples), and praline tart.
I highly recommend Le Bouchon des Filles.
It has a rustic-chic look with wooden beams, red-patterned wallpaper, and warm lighting. The bouchon has a daily changing menu depending upon what’s in season and what’s available in the market. This is what my meal looked like.
Explore the old town
Vieux-Lyon or Old Lyon is the heart of the city. It is one of the largest Renaissance neighbourhoods in Europe and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The best way to explore this part of town is to lose yourself in its cobbled streets.
These are lined on both sides by tiny cafes & bars, bouchons, and souvenir shops, all housed in townhouses that go back to 15th-17th centuries.
The area is divided into three distinct quarters, all of which are presided over by their own church – Saint-Jean, Saint-Paul, and Saint-Georges.
Perhaps the most delightful part of rambling around the old town is discovering the traboules. Silk merchants used these medieval passages to transfer their goods to the riverfront. The passages run between the cobbled streets and through building courtyards. There are more than 200 traboules in Lyon, some of which are open to the public. Check out the video below.
Don’t miss the traboule at 16 Rue du Bœuf where the inner courtyard features the Tour Rose – an impressive staircase inside a pink tower.
Remember that the traboules run through residential buildings, so respect the inhabitants by keeping quiet.
Lyon, France has several churches of all denominations spread throughout the city.
The most famous of them is the 19th-century Basilica of Notre-Dame, which stands atop the Fourvière hill. It is built in the Romanesque style and its interiors are richly decorated with elaborate stained-glass windows and mosaics.
The garden behind the basilica gives a sweeping panoramic view of the city and the two rivers.
Take the funicular from Vieux-Lyon to reach the basilica.
Close to the Vieux-Lyon metro station stands the other important church of Lyon – the Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptist de Lyon, also known as the Lyon Cathedral.
The 12th-century Gothic cathedral was built over 300 years and is an impressive sight. It houses the 14th-century Lyon Astronomical Clock.
Look out for the murals
In Lyon, the walls tell tall tales. The city has taken modern urban art to new levels with nearly 60 outdoor murals decorating the façades of buildings. Many of these murals use trompe-l’œil techniques to create elaborate optical illusions. Here are three murals that you cannot miss:
- La Fresque des Lyonnais on the Saône riverfront, which depicts some of the most important historical and present-day Lyon residents. These include the Lumière brothers, Antoine de Saint Exupéry (writer of The Little Prince), and Chef Paul Bocuse.
- Le Mur des Canuts in Croix-Rousse, which mirrors the neighbourhood’s design and architecture, and celebrates the canuts (silk workers).
- La Fresque de la Bibliothèque de la Cité on Quai de la Pêcherie, which honours Lyon’s literary icons.
Get the Lyon City Card if you have limited time in the city. The card gives you free access to some of the best museums and attractions, as well as free use of Lyon’s extensive public transport system. The card is available from 1-3 days and starts at €24. Buy the card online for exclusive deals.
Lyon is easily accessible from Paris. There are several trains that run between the two cities and the journey takes about 2 hours.
Have you visited Lyon, France? What was your favourite thing to do? Leave us a comment below.
This article was commissioned by Jet Wings. A version of it appears in their December 2017 issue. Read it here.