If you were planning a city break, Lyon probably wouldn’t be the first city to come to mind. Cities like London, Paris and Amsterdam tend to spring to mind first; second-cities rarely get a look in. Lyon, however, has cultural gems aplenty, stunning panoramic views and a foodie scene (or should that be boulangerie scene?) worth writing home about; in other words, all the essential ingredients for a memorable city break. While I was living in Lyon, I had a number of visits from family and friends, and therefore played tour guide a fair few times, pruning and refining my itinerary each time. Whether you’re plotting a city break or simply fancy an armchair getaway, here’s part one of my tried-and-tested guide to Lyon*. On y va !
09:00 | Start in Place des Terreaux, home to the Fontaine Bartholdi, labyrinthine Musée des Beaux-Arts and majestic Hôtel de Ville. (If you’re there for the Journées du Patrimoine in September, then join the queue and venture inside of the Hôtel de Ville, the interior of which is spectacularly ornate.) If you haven’t had breakfast, pick up a pastry from Chez Joules (4 Rue Joseph Serlin) en route to the Opéra de Lyon.
09:30 | Leave the crowds behind, and head up towards the Croix-Rousse, also known as ‘La Colline Qui Travaille’ (‘The Hill That Works’) for this was where the canuts (silk workers) used to live in years gone by. It’s a picturesque neighbourhood, and the best way to see it is by following its network of traboules – that’s narrow, covered passageways to you and me – to the top of the hill. Originally used by the canuts to transport their wares, today they provide visitors with a glimpse into Lyon’s industrial past. Either download the Croix-Rousse Est map from this site or let the blue and yellow signs fixed to walls and buildings point you in the right direction.
Related: Trabouling Lyon
11:00 | If you’ve successfully followed the trail of traboules to the top of the hill, you should emerge by the Gros Caillou, a large boulder left behind by glaciers thousands of years ago. Stretching the length of Boulevard de la Croix-Rousse is the Marché de la Croix-Rousse, open Tuesday through Sunday, 06:00 to 13:00. A few euros go a long way, so this is the place to bag yourself a gourmet picnic for later if the weather’s nice enough.
11:30 | While you’re up in the Croix-Rousse, don’t miss the chance to see one of Lyon’s famous fresques, on the corner of Boulevard des Canuts and Rue Denfert Rochereau. ‘Le Mur des Canuts’ truly is a sight to behold, and the opportunity to be part of the fresque was too good a photo-op for my guests to resist.
Related: Lyon’s Secret Garden
12:00 | Head back to Boulevard de la Croix-Rousse – a straightforward stroll down Boulevard des Canuts – and turn onto Rue des Pierres Plantées. Where Rue des Pierres Plantées meets Rue du Bon Pasteur, there’s a viewing platform with a stellar view of the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière. Meander down Montée de la Grande Côte, a pretty street lined with boutiques and cafés, until you reach Rue Burdeau. Turn right, and you’ll soon spot what remains of the Amphithéâtre des Trois Gaules.
12:30 | Continue along Rue Burdeau and you’ll reach Place Rouville (and see a rather nice fresque to boot). There’s a gorgeous view across the terracotta-coloured rooftops from here, and plenty of benches to picnic at if your stomach is crying out for fuel.
13:00 | Retrace your footsteps, and take the steps on your right down to Rue Fernand Rey. A right turn onto Rue Bouteille followed by a left onto Rue Pareille will take you to Quai St. Vincent and the famed ‘Fresque des Lyonnais’, which depicts some of the city’s most celebrated citizens, including Antoine de St. Exupéry, Paul Bocuse and the Lumière brothers.
Related: Best of the Fresques
13:30 | If you picked up food at Marché de la Croix Rousse, take a break by the Saône for lunch. Otherwise, a brisk walk along Rue de la Martinière and a left turn up Rue Romarin will take you to La Broche (14 Rue Romarin), a tasty and reasonably-priced lunch joint. If you want to sit in, you’ll find plenty of cafés, bars and restaurants around Place des Terreaux and in the side streets which lead off it.
14:30 | The Parc de la Tête d’Or, the crowning glory of the sixième and my former stomping ground, is your next stop. From Place des Terreaux, follow Rue Puits Gaillot towards the Rhône and turn left onto Quai Jean Moulin. Cross Pont Morand, and stroll along Quai de Serbie until you reach Rue Duquesne, which leads to the park. Between the deer park, botanic garden, zoo, rose garden and expansive lake, there’s enough to keep anyone busy for a few hours at least. I’d recommend starting with the Jardin Botanique de Lyon – both the serres (greenhouses) and landscaped garden – before paying a visit to the city’s furry friends at the Zoo de Lyon. (It’s free, so there’s no excuse not to say bonjour to the adorable red pandas.)
18:00 | If you’re visiting over the warmer months, grab an aperitif (or a soft drink) at one of the barges-come-bars along the banks of the Rhône. Head on over to Vieux Lyon if you want to try some typical Lyonnais fare at a traditional bouchon, or try one of the following options for tasty, reasonably-priced grub: L’Eau Salée (4 Rue des 3 Maries), Casa Nobile (3 Place de l’Hôpital), Thaï Suois (59 Place Voltaire) or Chez Song (71 Rue Ney).
If you’ve ever been to Lyon, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the city! Stay tuned for 48 Hours in Lyon (Part II).
*I took all of my visitors around the city on foot, but Lyon does have an efficient network of buses, trams and metros should you prefer to use them. (Or you could do as the locals do and whizz around town on a scooter.)