The Best Things to Do in Lyon, France: A Local’s 2023 Guide

A city street in front of a building

Stepping off the train in Lyon, you are immediately smacked in the face with Big City Energy. France’s gastronomic capital a vibrant metropolis teeming with folks of all stripes striving and thriving. But Lyon’s history dates back to Roman times, and there are remnants of these clashing identities, ancient and modern, working class and cosmopolitan, that define France’s third-largest city. Sandwiched between the Rhône and Saône rivers, Lyon is one of the only major French cities with dual defining waterways.

There are plenty of things to do in Lyon: the city boasts some of the best French cuisine in the world, a variety of museums and Roman ruins, and an excellent nightlife scene.

Here are some of the top Lyon attractions, including the Croix Rousse plateau, the Basilique Notre Dame de la Fourvière on Fourvière Hill in Vieux Lyon, the botanical gardens and Lyon zoo, the Musée de Beaux-Arts, and the home of the Lumière brothers.

The Best Things to Do in Lyon

Dine at a bouchon

Lyon is, first and foremost, a food city, and one of the most crucial things to do in Lyon is eat like a local. This metropolis of Michelin stars is filled with restaurants to satisfy all tastes. Make your reservations well in advance, because the best places fill up quickly. Start with dinner at a bouchon, a traditional Lyonnais restaurant that serves local delicacies at reasonable prices. They tend to be meat-heavy, and some items are not for the faint of heart, so you may be better off googling your options before ordering. Andouillette, for example, is a sausage made from pig intestines that you can find on a bouchon menu. But don’t be turned off—the chefs here are so good, you’ll hardly care what you’re eating.

Our favorite Lyon bouchon is Le Bouchon des Filles (which offers an incredible prix-fixe for only €28), but you can check out our full list of Lyon restaurant recommendations here.

Address: Le Bouchon des Filles, 20 Rue Sergent Blandan, 69001 Lyon

Price: €28

Time to Spend: 2 hours

Visit Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse

One of the best Lyon attractions for foodies, Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse is Lyon’s biggest food market, and should be at the top of your list of things to do in Lyon. This historic food market in Lyon, France is named for Paul Bocuse, the legendary Lyonnais chef. Paul Bocuse was born just outside the city in the village of Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or, but spent his life contributing to the reputation of France’s gastronomic capital. Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse has stalls filled with produce, charcuterie, cheese, bread, meat and fish, and just about everything you could think of. There are also several restaurants inside that offer a taste of Lyon at a reasonable price, making this one of the tastiest things to do in Lyon.

Address: 102 Cr Lafayette F, 69003 Lyon

Price: Free to enter

Time to Spend: 45 minutes

Lyon Nightlife

Lyon’s nightlife is as diverse as its cuisine, and there’s a little something for everyone. Bars stay open until 3 or 4am, and clubs until 6, so night owls will fit in just fine here.

Fancy a party on a boat? Head to the bank of the Rhône River, where péniche boat bars are docked, each offering a different type of music. You can sit on the river bank terrace or on the boat to enjoy your drink, or head into the bowels of the barge for an underwater dance floor. Enjoy the porthole views of Lyon at night while you dance to reggaeton at La Marquise, or hip hop at Le Sirius.

Step back in time at one of Lyon’s oldest bars, Look Bar, for something jazzy and intimate. Sneak upstairs and nestle into a velvet armchair with a cocktail while you peer past the chandelier and into the leather-cloaked bar below.

Want to take in some live music? Bec de Jazz is a legendary spot in the Croix-Rousse neighborhood, while Trokson and Technoir on the Presqu’île cater to rockier crowds. But keep your wits about you late at night in the city center, and avoid side streets full of rowdy partiers and patient pickpockets.

Explore Vieux-Lyon

Wander the colorful streets of Vieux-Lyon (Old Lyon) for an unexpected architectural cityscape. While the “newer” Presqu’île has a more Parisian feel thanks to its 19th century Haussmannian buildings, Vieux-Lyon transports you to Tuscany. During the Renaissance, rich merchant families from Italy flocked to Lyon, recreating their pink, orange, and yellow-toned villas in the middle of France. The neighborhood is now marked by its traboules, or hidden passageways. Some are well-known, and can be found on maps like this one. But when in doubt in Vieux-Lyon, just try walking through any open door to see what secrets it might hold. (You can also sign up for a walking tour, which will likely meet at Place Saint Jean, and give you some hands on tips for exploring the traboules of Old Lyon.) When you’re tired of wandering, forgo the touristy restaurants on Place Saint Jean in favor of a taste of everything at the Food Traboule.

Address: Vieux-Lyon, 69005 Lyon

Price: Free

Time to Spend: 2 hours

Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière

Take a trip up to Fourvière Hill, where Lyon’s historic basilica, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, is located in Vieux-Lyon. The Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Lyon, because you can take in the whole city from the top, making it a popular sunset destination. But be warned: Fourvière Hill can get quite crowded. The guide books will direct you to take the historic funicular to the top of the hill, but you should opt to walk instead if possible. The journey is steep, but worth it. (The funicular ride goes through a dark tunnel, so the ride up isn’t exactly picturesque, and you have to wait for a while with other tourists before cramming, sardine-like, into the cars.)

Address: 8 Pl. de Fourvière, 69005 Lyon

Price: Free to enter the basilica, €3 to take the historic funicular

Time to Spend: 1 hour

Lugdunum (Gallo-Roman Museum of Lyon-Fourvière)

Lyon is a Roman city, and contains a marvelous variety of Roman ruins. History nerds will enjoy a visit to Lugdunum, formerly known as the Gallo-Roman Museum of Lyon-Fourvière. This UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is also on Fourvière Hill, also contains the Ancient Theater of Fourvière, one of the iconic Lyon attractions, which hosts the music festival, Les Nuits de Fourvière, every summer.

Address: 17 rue Cléberg, 69005 Lyon

Price: €4 for the museum, free to visit the theater

Time to Spend: 1 hour

La Croix rousse

If you’re looking for some more unusual things to do in Lyon, spend some time in La Croix-Rousse, the historic silk working district of Lyon, for a bit of interesting Lyon sightseeing. Visit La Maison des Canuts (the silk workers’ museum) or check out some street art. Picking up a scarf at one of the silk shops still found in this boho quartier is a great option when shopping for friends or relatives with high souvenir expectations.

Address: La Maison des Canuts, 10 Rue d’Ivry, 69004 Lyon

Price: €2 to view the Maison des Canuts, €9 for the guided tour (which we’d recommend)

Time to Spend: 45 minutes

Institut Lumière

There are also many Lyon museums worth visiting while embarking on your Lyon sightseeing adventure. Film buffs can take advantage of Lyon’s reputation as the “birthplace of cinema” by visiting the Institut Lumière. This museum, housed in the Beaux Arts mansion of the Lumière Brothers, Auguste and Louis Lumière, is devoted to the early days of film, the invention of the cinematograph, and the technical feats that would one day make your favorite Marvel movie possible. Even if you’re not a film geek, you’ll get a kick out of the collection of 50-second movies from the turn of the century (though keeping an eye on cultural standards of the time would be wise).

Address: Rue du Premier Film, 69008 Lyon

Price: €8

Time to Spend: 45 minutes

Musée des Beaux-Arts

Lyon has a remarkable Musée des Beaux-Arts, or fine arts museum, located at Place des Terreaux. This museum inhabits a building that was once a convent, and each art gallery within contains works of art from throughout Antiquity, all the way up to the Impressionists. They even have select contemporary art exhibitions. Even if you don’t want to go outside, there is an outdoor sculpture garden that is free to the public.

Address: 20 Place des Terreaux, 69001 Lyon

Price: €8

Time to Spend: 1.5 hours

Parc de la Tête d’Or

Prefer to be outside? Head to the Parc de la Tête d’Or, one of the largest urban parks in Europe (and the largest in France), with a free zoo and botanical garden. Bask in the sun or sneak through a hidden underwater passage to get to the lake’s Memorial Island.

Address: Parc de la Tête d’Or, 69006 Lyon

Price: Free

Time to Spend: 2 hours

Try some pink pralines

Once you’re done sunning yourself or geeking out over vintage film tech, and you’ve done all the things to do in Lyon, grab a sweet snack on the way to your train home. Lyon is famous for its pink pralines, which are often used for praline tart or praline brioche (known as the Praluline). Try this local specialty at Boutique Pralus Lyon at one of their five locations, including Vieux-Lyon, La Croix Rousse, and the Presqu’île.

Address: Various

Price: €10,40-16,90 for a bag of pink pralines, €12,90 for a Praluline

Time to Spend: 10 minutes

Féte des Lumières

If you’re willing to plan ahead, the annual Fête des Lumières is one of the most famous things to do in Lyon. This festival, which takes place in December, began as a celebration of the Virgin Mary. Today, it is a celebration of the coolest light installations in the world, and the talented artists who construct them. The cold winter of the city is transformed into a sparkling wonderland, and all of Europe flocks to Lyon for this special occasion. But be warned that hotels book up fast, and attending the festival can be expensive if you don’t plan far in advance.

Frequently Asked Questions – Things to Do in Lyon

What is Lyon famous for?

Lyon is famous for its culinary scene, the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière, and the home of the Lumière brothers.

How many days do you need to visit Lyon?

Since there are many things to do in Lyon, France, a minimum stay of five days is recommended.

Is Lyon, France worth visiting?

Lyon is one of the crown jewels of France, and a must-visit for foodies.

How many days is enough to visit Lyon?

Five days should give you the opportunity to enjoy most of the fun things to do in Lyon.

Catherine Rickman is a writer, professional francophile, and host of the Expat Horror Stories podcast. She is currently somewhere in Brooklyn with a fork in one hand and a pen in the other, and you can follow her adventures on Instagram @catrickman.

A close up of a sign


Get your weekly dose of Frenchly’s news.

Read more

Frenchly newsletter.

A close up of a sign

Get your weekly dose of Frenchly’s news.

Frenchly Newsletter.

A close up of a sign

Get your weekly dose of Frenchly stuff.