Things to do in Lyon: 15 beautiful places you must see [with map]
The beautiful city of Lyon in southeastern France is waiting for you with its numerous sights and charming places. The capital of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region is the third largest city in France after Paris and Marseilles and has both typical French culture and a modern and cosmopolitan atmosphere to offer.
Here we show you the most important tourist attractions and absolute highlights in the UNESCO World Heritage city - places that will make your city trip an unforgettable experience. On top of that, as always, we show you secret places, hotel tips, and great restaurants for you.
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The top 15 sights to see in Lyon at a glance
Although Lyon is often overlooked next to tourist magnets like Paris or the Côte d’Azur, it’s definitely worth a visit. Due to the city’s unique location, built at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers, Lyon really does offer a lot of great views and photo spots. The city is known for its historical and architectural masterpieces, many of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Want to see for yourself the beauty and uniqueness of Lyon? And you’re still wondering what to see there? Of course, there are many other beautiful sights but you can get to know and explore the must-dos already in one or two days, for example, during a short trip on a weekend.
- Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière
- Presqu’île district
- Vieux Lyon district
- Ancient Roman amphitheater with Musée de la Civilisation Gallo-Romaine
- Saint Jean
- Croix-Rousse district
- Musée des Confluences
- Place Bellecour
- Rue Saint-Jean
- Parc de la Tête d’Or
- Place des Terreaux
- Hôtel de Ville
- Wall paintings trompe-l’œil
- Musée des Beaux-Arts
- Mini World Lyon
Map: All places of interest in Lyon
On our interactive city map you will find all sights in Lyon at a glance. Have fun discovering the most beautiful places of the metropolis.
1. Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière
The first and possibly most famous sight to see on our list is the Basilika Notre-Dame de Fourvière. No other building in all of Lyon represents the city as well as Fourvière, with its four Romanesque and Byzantine style towers. The white basilica stands on a hill directly to the west next to the center, so it towers high above the rest of the city’s rooftops. Therefore, you can admire it from different perspectives and angles and use it well as a landmark when exploring the city.
Good to know: when Fourvière was built, it served as a symbol of the Renouvau catholique and thus against secularism, i.e. for the connection between state and church. The basilica was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
From the old town of Lyon, you can take a funicular to the basilica. If you like to be active, you can also walk. The winding path from the old town is relatively short at about one kilometer but it’s also steep. Once there, you’ll also have a unique view of the Presqu’île de Lyon (“Peninsula of Lyon”), Vieux Lyon, the Part-Dieu business district and the general surroundings of the French metropolis.
If needed and if you want an even better view from the top, then you can also join a tour in the form of a guided rooftop tour These take place daily in the summer and on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at lunchtime during the other seasons. With a price of 10 euros, however, this is only worthwhile for you if you are also interested in the tour and thus in the architecture of the church. However, since the tours only take place in the local language, we recommend the tour only if you speak French.
From Fourvière you can walk in a few minutes to the old Roman theater and the Musée de la Civilisation Gallo-Romaine.
2. Presqu’île district
The next sight is also a top thing to do. Presqu’île. is the most famous and most distinctive district of Lyon and is located in the center of the French metropolis. It’s the point of view of many other sights. These include the important squares Place des Terreaux Place Bellecour as well as the Théâtre des Célestines and the Hôtel-Dieu.
Translated from French, the name of the district means “almost island”, which is due to the fact that the Rhône flows along one side of the elongated district and the Saône on the other. This quickly gives you the impression that you’re actually walking on an island.
You’ll still find a variety of cafes, restaurants, luxury stores, government buildings, and cultural institutions in this area of the city, all within easy walking distance. The neighborhood is therefore ideal for going out, for a leisurely shopping trip or sampling the many regional and national products. There is always a lot going on and a colorful hustle and bustle of people. Especially the Rue de la République stands out as the main street for pedestrians, which stretches across the peninsula and has an almost endless number of cool places and stores.
The historical value of this area is particularly important: already during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the Presqu’île was an important trading center. You can still visit some of the streets from that time in their most original forms, such as Rue Mercière.
It’s also definitely worth walking along the waterfront on either side of the district to admire the bridges and views of other parts of the city.
Since the district is a tourist highlight of the city, you should have no inhibitions about large crowds. Therefore, outside the high season (for example, in winter) and in the early morning hours you have the best chance to enjoy the district in peace.
3. District Vieux Lyon
This sight is the historical center of the city and therefore – as the name suggests (fr. vieux: old) – the oldest part of Lyon Vieux Lyon is located on the western side of the city center right between the Fourvière church and the Presqu’île. It’s characterized by a maze of old streets and alleys. This makes the neighborhood ideal for exploring on foot.
Particularly noteworthy are the Les Traboules. This is another highlight of Lyon: the hidden passages and paths between the main streets, buildings, and courtyards. Be sure to take some time to explore the secret corners and stop at one of the many chocolate stores along the way.
As early as the 16th century, this place, which is one of Europe’s largest Renaissance neighborhoods, was considered a hub of regional politics and religion. Then, in the middle of the last century, there were plans to demolish the area, which was run-down at the time and build a highway instead. The French Minister of Culture at the time, André Malvaux, prevented this by recognizing the neighborhood as a secteur sauvegardé (meaning saved sector). Thus, it was finally restored in the 1980s
The religious history and orientation of the district are also clear in the three areas of Vieux Lyon: Saint Jean, Saint Paul, and Saint Georges bear the names of the respective churches refer to the revered Christian saints. All three of these churches are not far from each other. So it’s worth a stroll to take in the ancient architecture
Insider Tip: Especially at dusk, a visit to Vieux Lyon becomes really romantic. Then the small streets and old houses shine in a completely different light
Travel guide for your Lyon vacation
We can highly recommend the following travel guides for your Lyon vacation: Lyon France (Starting-Point Travel Guides) (get it here*) and also have a look at Complete Guide of Lyon (buy it here*).
4. Ancient Roman amphitheater with Musée de la Civilisation Gallo-Romaine
The next cool thing to do on our list consists of two parts: a combination of two ancient Roman theaters and the accompanying museum: the Teatro Galo-Romano (Théâtre Gallo Romain de Lyon-Fourvière).
On an elevation above the city right next to the Basilica of Fourvière, you’ll find an ancient Roman amphitheater and an adjacent Odeon. Both date back to the time of the ancient Romans. The theater originally had room for 5000 visitors and a diameter of 108 meters, while the Odeon is somewhat smaller and with a diameter of 73 meters had only about 3000 seats. These structures were built on the site where the city of Lugundum (the ancient name of Lyon) was founded in 43 BC.
Thus, the theater is considered the oldest of its kind in all of Gaul. Initially, these two sites were used as centers of entertainment and culture but also as meeting places for the noble citizens of the city. Even today they serve not only as places of learning: especially in summer there are regular theater performances or open-air concerts, to which the view and the unique location above the city give a unique flair.
It’s also interesting to note that although several parts were destroyed over time and then restored in the mid-20th century, the theaters are considered one of the best archaeological sites in all of France .
If you want to learn even more about the history of the Romans in Gaul and in particular in the Lyons region, then we additionally recommend a visit to the Musée de la Civilisation Gallo-Romaine, which is dedicated to private as well as public life in Roman times. The museum is located right next to the theaters underground and features bronze statues, mosaics, weapons, coins, related archaeological explanations, and much more.
Admissions to the Théâtre Gallo Romain de Lyon-Fourvière is free.
Tip: Especially the Nuits de Fourvière (Nights of Fourvière) event, held in and around the amphitheater for several weeks each summer since 1946, is worth a visit. Each year, well over 100,000 visitors enjoy performances ranging from music and dance to circus acts, theater, and film screenings.
17 Rue Cleberg (Google Maps)
Tuesday – Friday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
4€ for museum (+3€ for a tour), theater free
The theater is open every day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Tip: on the first Sunday of each month, admission to the museum is free.
Cool activities in Lyon
|Private quad bike excursion followed by ultralight flight near Lyon
|Hot air balloon ride in Beaujolais, near Lyon
|Lyon: Aquarium entrance ticket
|Lyon: Ghost Town Exploration Game
|Lyon: ticket for the Musée des Confluences
5. Saint Jean
For locals, the church is called Saint Jean. for short. Its full name is La primatiale Saint-Jean-Baptiste-et-Saint-Étienne. The imposing cathedral is the second most important church building in Lyon after the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière Saint Jean was built as early as 1165.
The church in Romanesque and Gothic style is a protected monument. Be sure to take a closer look at the facade because the original stones of the old Roman forum were used here
Inside the church, you should definitely take a picture of the huge rose windows. But also the astronomical clock is worth seeing. It’s one of the oldest clocks in Europe and makes a visit to the church a top thing to do in Lyon.
Photo tip: The view of the cathedral from the banks of the Saône is particularly beautiful. Directly behind it, you can see the Basilica Notre-Dame de Fourvière.
6. District Croix-Rousse
Another neighborhood you definitely shouldn’t miss is Croix-Rousse. This is located immediately to the north of Presqu’île and can be quickly reached from there by metro line C. It’s also not far to walk. However, since the area of the city was built on a hill, you should be prepared for some stairs and steep streets.
Once you arrive, you’ll find yourself in a neighborhood that has changed a lot since it was founded. The area, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its 18th-century architecture, was originally known as a poorer zone where many working-class people wove silk.
Over time, however, the zone then became heavily gentrified and is now one of the hippest and trendiest neighborhoods in the entire country. This is inhabited by artists and young people from all over the world. It’s a great neighborhood for dining out, shopping, or just sitting in a cozy café and watching the hustle and bustle of people.
You’ll also find many other sights here, such as the center of the zone, the Place de la Croix Rousse, fantastic viewpoints over Lyon, or great street art like the Mur des Canuts.
Interesting: Because of its stories, Croix-Rousse is often called “colline qui travaille” (hill that works), whereas Fourvière, with its basilica, has the nickname “colline qui prie” (hill that prays).
7. Musée des Confluences
If you are interested in science and especially human history on our planet, then we recommend the next thing to do on our list, the Musée des Confluences. It is the last building located on the southern tip of the Presqu’île de Lyon, that is, right at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers.
The museum, which was only founded in 2014, consists of four main parts, in addition to regularly changing temporary exhibitions. The first deals with various questions about the foundation of the universe and the origins of the human species. The second section goes a step further in time and is dedicated to the evolution of various life forms and the connection between humans and animals.
The third section is our personal favorite: there it is about human coexistence in our and other societies and the influence of different cultural aspects. The last section deals with the perception and interpretation of life and death in different societies. So your visit will definitely make you think and reflect. Especially when it rains we recommend a visit to the museum, of course.
In addition: The museum has a lot to offer not only from the inside. The architecture of the building is particularly striking. The museum, which was 14 years in the planning and construction period, represents a floating crystal cloud of steel and glass. The extraordinary design was created by an Austrian architect. Thus, the Musée des Confluences is definitely a unique destination and photo motif.
86 Quai Perrache (Google Maps)
Tuesday through Friday 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; first Thursday of each month until 10 p.m
Adults pay 9 euros (free for minors).
It’s worth visiting, especially on rainy days, as you can easily spend several hours in the museum
8. Place Bellecour
Our next cool thing to do is the most central square in Presqu’île and in all of Lyon Place Bellecour. This is located in the middle of the most touristy area of the city, which among other things contributes to the fact that the square is very busy at any time of the day. Moreover, this square is the starting point of Rue de la République, the main pedestrian shopping street.
Visually, the square is quite something: with its red background and the many cherry trees, it offers great photo opportunities. You also have a nice view of the Basilica Fourvière from the north side. Another cool thing to see are the statues on the square: The central statue represents Louis XIV, the Sun King of France, on his horse. On the edge, you’ll find a statue of the Little Prince and his inventor Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. With its 62,000 square meters, the square, which is an important traffic and crossroads of the city, is the third largest square in France. Moreover, it’s the largest square for pedestrians in all of Europe.
At different times of the year, the square continues to offer various activities: In winter, for example, there is an ice-skating rink and a Ferris wheel, whereas at Whitsun there’s a competition of the popular French sport pétanque. In addition, the square is often used for concerts, markets, demonstrations and similar events. So, a visit here is a fun thing to do
Tip: If you want to find out more about current events or have general questions, you can go to the tourist information center on the square. You can also get tickets there.
9. Rue Saint-Jean
To experience all the charm of the Vieux Lyon district, you should not miss Rue Saint-Jean one of the most popular places to go. The street runs across the neighborhood not far from the passage to the Presqu’île and the funicular to the Basilica of Fourvière.
With its numerous cozy cafes, authentic restaurants, good-smelling bakeries, and winding side streets, the street is definitely one of the most famous things to do. The street, which is accessible only to pedestrians, invites you to linger and you can easily pass the time there strolling and strolling. As previously explained, the street was named after the church of Saint Jean, which is also worth a visit.
Tip: If you are looking for souvenirs, then the Rue Saint-Jean with its many small stores is definitely worthwhile. Since the street is a hotspot among tourists and therefore often busy, we recommend you to discover Rue Saint-Jean at the early morning hour for photos.
10. Parc de la Tête d’Or
To allow for the enormous 117 hectares of the city’s largest park, it was built just outside the then-center in the sixth arrondissement. You can reach it either by taking Metro lines A or B, or by setting off from the Presqu’île on foot in a northeasterly direction.
This way, you enter the site through the metal main entrance. It’s called porte des enfants du Rhône (gate of the children of the Rhône) because of its proximity to the river. From there you can directly see the large meadows that the citizens of Lyon use to relax, play sports and get together. You can also immediately see the large lake in the middle of the park. Boats sail on the lake in the summer. You can use them to get to the two overgrown islands. Throughout the park, you will find more gardens, sports equipment, and playgrounds.
Two absolute crowd-pullers are the botanical garden Jardin botanique de Lyon and the Lyoner Zoo, both of which can be visited free of charge. What’s to see there? In the botanical garden, you will find a large collection of different plants from different parts of the world. Several mini-biotopes have been created there through several greenhouses and undergrounds.
The garden is a place of science, culture, and education, so you can expand your knowledge of botany. The Lyon Zoo is considered one of the most beautiful in France. Originally, only some local animals were to be kept and protected there. Over the years, however, the area has expanded more and more. Since 2006, there is even a large African sector, where animals such as giraffes, zebras, and various big cats are waiting for you.
- Opening hours botanical garden alpine sector: March-October daily 9.00-11.30 a.m.
- Opening hours botanical garden greenhouses: daily; October-March 9:00-16:30; April-September 9:00-17:30.
Daily; mid-October to mid-April 6:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m.; mid-April to mid-October 6:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Daily; November-March 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; April + October 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m.; May-September 9:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m.
Greenhouses: daily; October-March 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; April-September 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
11. Place des Terreaux
The Place des Terreaux is one of the most important squares of Lyon and therefore a sight that definitely belongs to a visit to this city. This square is worth seeing, among other things, for its historical importance: in the Middle Ages, a wall was built here for protection, which was demolished in the 16th century. During the French Revolution, this was the site of the Guillotine, used to publicly behead criminals.
You can find Place des Terreaux by walking north from Place Bellecour for about a kilometer. For a large part of it, you can walk along Rue de la République to get acquainted with the turbulent shopping street. As soon as you arrive at Place des Terreaux, located on the border of the Presqu’île and on the edge of the Croix-Rousse hill, you’ll see directly the enormous old buildings that stand around the square.
On one side is the Lyon City Hall, which is called Hôtel de Ville, and on the other side you’ll find the Musée des Beaux-Arts. The square itself has a fountain set directly into the ground, which is colorfully illuminated in the evening. A real eye-catcher is the larger fountain right next to it, created and built by Bartholdi, the exhauster of the Statue of Liberty in New York, Both activities make great photo opportunities
12. Hôtel de Ville
What else is in Lyon to do? One of the most imposing buildings in Lyon is the Hôtel de Ville right on Terreaux Square. Lyon’s city hall was built in the 17th century. Unfortunately, the city hall was almost destroyed twice by a devastating fire. What you should see in the city hall? Well, the facade from the outside is already extremely impressive. But be sure to climb the bell tower. There are a total of 65 bells there, which are part of one of the largest carillons in Europe
Also, great things to do are the Upper Courtyard, the Staircase of Honor, and huge historic murals inside. But also the Red Salon, the Hall of Arms, and the room for the Sun King Henri IV are absolutely impressive.
13. Murals – Trompe-l’œil
What graffiti is in Berlin Murals (französisch trompe-l’œil). (trompe-l’œil in French) are in Lyon. These impressive works of art can be found in various places in the city, so you should always keep your eyes open. They tell stories about Lyon and its neighborhoods, making Lyon a kind of open-air museum. Partly you can see regular illustrations but some of them show deceptive illusions. The French name for this art form is trompe-l’œil. The vast majority of these paintings are by the CitéCréation group of artists, which has its roots in Lyon but is now active all over the world.
Due to a large number of murals, we have chosen two particularly beautiful ones, which we will discuss in more detail here. Further below you will find a short list with the addresses of some more famous and worthwhile murals.
The painting „Le mur des Canuts“ (Google Maps) is located in the middle of the former working-class neighborhood of Croix-Rousse. With more than 1200 square meters, it’s one of the largest works of art of its kind in the whole of Europe. At first glance, the painting has the appearance of actually looking into a busy alley with stairs, which is why the artwork is a good example of trompe-l’œil. The motif is dedicated to the history of Croix-Rousse: you can see different people involved in the work of silk spinning, reminding you of the original importance of the district.
Another highlight and great sightseeing is the artwork „La fresque des Lyonnais“ (Google Maps) on the banks of the Saône River not far from Place des Terreaux. This 800-square-meter painting depicts 31 famous personalities from Lyon of various eras and is meant to connect several generations of the city. Among those depicted, you will find mainly historical figures, such as the Roman Emperor Claudius, Saint Blandina, or the writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry with his little prince. But on the first floor, you can also see six contemporary celebrities, such as the soccer player Bernard Lacombe.
More great trompe-l’œil artwork:
- “Lyon en 2046”: 106 Avenue Jean Jaurès (Google Maps)
- „La mur du cinéma”: Kreuzung Cours Gambetta / Grande rue de la Guillotière (Google Maps)
- “La fresque de Gerland”: 18 Rue Pierre de Coubertin (Google Maps)
14. Musée des Beaux-Arts
Another interesting thing to do on our list is the Musée des Beaux-Arts, which is one of the most important art museums in all of France. The museum, whose name translates to “Museum of Fine Arts, is located right on Place des Terreaux, so you can quickly and easily integrate it into your sightseeing tour. It’s one of the best things to see in Lyon!
In the museum, you will find various exhibits, such as antiques, paintings, and statues. They come from different eras, starting from Ancient Egypt to our modern times. Therefore, you can get a great overview of art history in the museum. Especially the pieces from the past centuries are partly from France but also from artists from countries like Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands.
Tip: Usually it’s enough to get a ticket for the permanent exhibition because there you can already visit a large part of the museum and get a lot of information. We only recommend admission to the temporary and regularly changing exhibitions if you are really interested in the respective topic. Of course, you can also take more time if the weather is bad.
20 Placee des Terraux (Google Maps)
Every day except Tuesday 10am to 6pm, Fridays only from 10:30am.
Adults pay 8 euros for the main exhibition, 12 euros for temporary exhibitions.
People under 25 pay 4 euros or 7 euros, children are free
15. Mini World Lyon
Mini World Lyon is a huge miniature park that is very popular with families and young people. On a huge area you will find an animated miniature world in the leisure center Carré de Soie in Vaulx-en-Velin.
A Jurassic Park tour, a Playmobil exhibition, cartoons, and many other worlds are shown in miniature. 30,000 mini figures and 4000 mini animal figures were used. The huge theme park in France was inspired by the Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg and is a cool place to visit!.
So if you are in Lyon, you should definitely visit this attraction.
Another Tipp: If you like Mini World Lyon, you might also like the Musée Cinéma et Miniature (Google Maps) which is also a top thing to do in Lyion.
Where to stay in Lyon? The best tips
Lyon has a wide variety of places to stay. Below, we suggest some of our favorites.
If you’re looking for something more luxurious, we recommend the five-star InterContinental Lyon – Hotel Dieu (check prices here*). It’s centrally located on the Presqu’île, which makes exploring the city quick and easy. Plus, you can really let yourself be taken care of at the hotel. In addition to an excellent restaurant, there is also a SPA area that leaves nothing to be desired.
If you want to spend a little less money, we suggest the four-star Grand Hotel des Terreaux (check prices here*) In the immediate vicinity of the Place des Terreaux, you can get to all the sights of the Presqu’île and Croix Rousse in no time. The accommodation has large rooms that invite you to stay. The hotel also offers a delicious breakfast and has an indoor pool.
You might also be interested in the four-star Hotel Le Jardin de Beauvoir (check prices here*). It’s located west of the Saône in the Vieux Lyon district. From there, you can also quickly reach the Fourvière Basilica. This accommodation has a quiet atmosphere and comfortable rooms.
Restaurants and Food in Lyon
During your trip to Lyon, you can’t miss the opportunity to try the local cuisine. France is generally considered a country of good food uand Lyon is definitely no exception. The city is known for its good food: There are a total of 14 Michelin-starred restaurants.Moreover, one of the most famous French chefs, Paul Bocuse, was born here.
Among the dishes we recommend when visiting are, for example, the macarons. These are small meringue pastries that come in many different flavors and colors, and you’ll find them in many bakeries throughout the city. The cervelle de canut is a spread made of white cheese and some spices. It’s considered a specialty of Lyon. Quenelles are also perceived as such. The elongated flour dumplings are served either with different kinds of meat or vegetarian.
We can recommend the following restaurants in Lyon:
- Restaurant Paul Bocuse – exquisite but relatively expensive (with two Michelin stars) (Google Maps)
- Le Gourmet de Seze – typical French cuisine but not very cheap (Google Maps)
- Les Eclaireurs Pâtissiers (Boutique Jacobins) – best place in Lyon to try French desserts (Google Maps)
- Toké Vieux Lyon – this restaurant offers delicious local cuisine at affordable prices (Google Maps)
- Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse market hall – a center of good tastes from Lyon’s Michelin-starred chef near the Parc de la Tête d’Or; in particular, great selection of wine, cheese, and fish (Google Maps)
Special things to do in and around Lyon
- Lyon, with just over half a million inhabitants, is the third largest city in France and ranked 52nd largest city in the EU.
- The entire Lyon metropolitan area (in French, aire urbaine) is quite a bit larger: about 2.3 million people live there. This makes it the second largest metropolitan region in the country after Paris.
- According to the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit, Lyon is the most livable city in France.
- Lyon is where the Saône flows into the Rhône. Both are among France’s most famous and longstanding rivers.
- In 1862 the first funicular railroad in the world was built in Lyon.
- Cinema has its birthplace in Lyon: the brothers Louis and Auguste Lumière developed this art form in 1895 and produced the first film in the Montplaisir neighborhood.
- The original name for Lyon came from the ancient Romans who founded the city and was Lugundum. At that time, the city was the capital of the Gaul region for over 300 years.
- From the 15th century, Lyon was the capital of the silk industry, which can still be seen today in the form of architecture and works of art mainly in Croix Rousse.
- The largest part of the city is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This includes about 500 hectares of the city center.
I hope you enjoyed my article on the most exciting must-see sights in Lyon and it will help you during your stay in the city. The city is a real eye-catcher with its attractions and is definitely worth a short trip over a long weekend. Have fun exploring, tasting, and enjoying!