Lyon is often overlooked as a destination in France, with many gravitating towards the capital, Paris, or Nice and Marseille on the south coast. But you’d be surprised at all that Lyon has to offer as a European city break.
It’s regarded as the culinary capital of the world by some and has a fascinating history spanning centuries. Lyon was actually founded by the Romans in the 1st century BC and has plenty of ruins to show for it. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, there’s history and architecture in abundance from throughout the ages.
Lyon is resplendent all year round, but winter is certainly a breathtaking time to see and discover all that it offers.
Things to see and do in Lyon
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to things to see and do in Lyon. There’s plenty to entertain you on a weekend visit, but also more than enough to cater to a longer trip as well. During the winter, we’d recommend the following:
- Notre-Dame de Fourvière – The standout attraction of the whole city. This basilica sits high above the rest of the city, providing spectacular views across Lyon and even to the Alps on a clear day. Entry is free for most of the building, allowing you to experience this magnificent structure from inside and out, including dazzling mosaics and stained glass found inside.
- La Fête des Lumières – If you’re visiting Lyon in early December, you may have the chance to see the city’s Festival of Lights. This is a wonderful, inspiring event that takes place across 4 days. Lyon comes alive with an array of lights and visual spectacles, perfect for some early festive spirit while you’re away.
- Marché de Noël – Lyon’s most impressive Christmas Market is held on Place Carnot in the centre of the city. It’s a captivating event, where you’ll find a winter wonderland with sublime food, drink and a cosy festive spirit. It may not be one of the big European Christmas markets, but it’s a wonderful experience if you’re there in November or December.
- Musee du Cinema et de la Miniature – On a cold, rainy day, you may be best heading inside this museum celebrating film and miniature models. Housed in a beautiful building in Lyon’s historic district, inside you’ll find fascinating sets, props and costumes from films and TV shows throughout the decades. If you’re a film fan, this isn’t one to miss.
- Vieux Lyon – The city’s oldest district and charming historic town is an unmissable experience on any trip to this part of France. You’ll find narrow cobblestone streets towered over by buildings on either side and some of the best food and drink establishments around. It’s perhaps the most picturesque location in Lyon and even more atmospheric during the winter months.
There’s plenty more to see in Lyon, including incredible Roman ruins, Parc de la Tete d’Or and Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, which is one of the best indoor food markets to explore. See them all if you have enough time.
Local cuisine in Lyon
Lyon’s reputation as the gastronomic capital of France means it has a lot to live up to, especially considering French culinary heritage and standards. Some even refer to it as the food capital of the world – but we’ll let you make that judgement.
Whatever the title, Lyon’s food scene is mouth-watering and you’re in for a real treat. The ‘bouchons Lyonnais’ are the best local restaurants to savour the regional cuisine with a glass of wine and a pleasurable, warm atmosphere.
We would advise you to try some local dishes while you’re there. Perhaps the most famous food in Lyon is Quenelles, which is a savoury dumpling-like dish served with a creamy sauce – the perfect winter warmer. As an appetiser, Cervelle de Canut is a cheese spread served on crusty bread and a real treat before a main course. For dessert, Tarte aux Pralines is a pink pudding to die for and an iconic sweet delicacy in Lyon.
Accommodation in Lyon
Lyon has a broad offering of accommodation catering to different kinds of travellers and budgets. As with any destination, you’ll find more affordable options further away from the city, but it’s a fantastic experience to be within walking distance of all the main sites.
Presqu’ile, translating to the ‘Peninsula’, is the stretch of land between the Rhone and Saone Rivers. If available, we recommend finding somewhere here and possibly near the Place de Terreaux to give you excellent access to all the main attractions and a great view of all the surrounding architecture.
Transport in and around Lyon
Flights from the UK to Lyon are relatively affordable and rarely take more than a couple of hours. Once you’ve landed, you can take a Lyon Airport transfer to your accommodation or destination of choice. On average it takes 35 minutes to reach the city centre. If your flight arrives late at night, organising this beforehand will ensure that you arrive safely at your accommodation.
In the city itself, you can navigate on foot quite easily and reach many of the main attractions around the centre by walking. However, if you’re not one for steep hills, Lyon’s public transport is a convenient alternative. The Metro, bus and tram networks serve most of the city and are affordable for all types of travellers.