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20 Things to do in Lyon, France

Updated September 7, 2023

Thousands of years ago the Romans founded Lyon, the city that is now the second largest in France. With so much history and so much present-day status, there is, as you might expect, so much to see and do in Lyon. To many, Lyon outranks even Paris for the most impressive French dining, walking its streets you’ll regularly pass by jaw-dropping architecture from centuries past, and despite all of that it is still an extremely approachable city that won’t overwhelm you but will leave you in awe. Don’t waste any time planning your trip. Start with these 20 must-dos, then chat with a local travel planner to piece together your custom Lyon itinerary.

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Uncover Roman ruins

Under the rule of the emperor Caesar, Lyon was conquered by the Romans around 120 BC. At the time, the city was more populated than Paris – so you can find some pretty spectacular Roman ruins amongst modern-day Lyon, and uncovering these types of ruins is one of the best things to do in France! Three of the best in Lyon are theaters of varying sizes and construction. To figure out the best way to visit them all, chat with a local Lyon trip planner to help you put together the perfect itinerary.

Head to a summer concert at Théâtre Romain

While visiting the Roman ruins and learning about their history can be a total treat, an even more exciting way to experience them, and one of the coolest things to do in France, is when they actually come to life in the way they were originally intended. Through the summer months (primarily June and July), there are just about weekly shows put on in the Amphitheater. The program is called Les Nuits de Fourvière and if you’re planning to visit in the season, you should definitely see about snagging a ticket!

Step into the movies at the Lyon Cinema and Miniature Museum

If you have any fleeting interest in movies or TV, the Lyon Cinema and Miniature Museum is worth visiting. It presents full-sized sets, costumes, props, and other items from a myriad of recognizable productions of the last century. Beyond that, there is also a section completely dedicated to sets in miniature. Locals say that this museum is not to be missed!

Wake up early for La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière

Image by christian hardi from Pixabay 

This gorgeous church overlooks the city of Lyon from its perch to the west. It was built in the 19th century and does draw crowds so you should plan to arrive as early as you can manage – the basilica opens at 8 am daily. Since it’s a bit out of town, you’ll have to plan how to get there, and you have a few options: a guided tour is always an option, but that means you’ll arrive just as everyone else on a tour arrives. Alternatively, you can take the funicular or walk. A lovely early morning option for great views and to make sure you’re the first to arrive is the walk.

Get lost in Vieux Lyon

A view of Old Town from the river - Pass Horizon/Unsplash

Walking around old towns is one of the best things to do in France. And Vieux Lyon – old town – is an area of Lyon which you should not, and likely cannot, miss. There are hundreds of mansion-like houses dating back to as early as the 15th century, these can make a tour in and of themselves. Then there’s the eating (check out Cosy Corner) and the drinking (for coffee check out Café popine and for cocktails check out Jack’s Bar). With so many options, your best bet for making sure you miss nothing is to check in with a local Hero for what they recommend you prioritize.

See how many traboules you can find

Want to learn Lyon’s secrets? Head to the traboules – hidden passageways throughout the city. There are about 40 which can be accessed by the public (though it is said there are something like 400 in total in the city). While you could wander the city and try your luck at stumbling upon them, you might want to avoid disappointment by going to find them as part of a tour. A group tour is an excellent option, but you could also put together a self-guided tour with the help of a knowledgeable local!

People watch in La Place Bellecour

Image by Thomas Sabatier from Pixabay 

La Place Bellecour, or Bellecour square, is one of the largest squares in Europe and is an exquisite spot to hang out and catch some rays in Lyon. If you like people-watching, this is for sure the ideal spot for you – and people-watching is a must-do in France! Or if you like reading there’s a fabulous English bookshop nearby: Decitre. If you fancy dining nearby, check out the quirky Le Wagon Bar, where you can eat your dinner on a bus. 

Wander through Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon

The Museum of Fine Arts in Lyon is housed in a 17th-century abbey and is the largest museum in France outside of Paris. You do have to book tickets in advance online and have them either accessible on your phone or printed out. All tickets are timed, and even if you have a free pass (Lyon card, for example) you still need to book a timeslot. In terms of what you’ll find in the museum you can expect to see masterpieces by Rembrandt, Monet, and Degas, to name a few.  

Eat everything

Eating in Lyon is an absolute France bucket list item. Whether you want to go out and sample some ground fish dumplings (Quenelles – a Lyonnaise specialty), try out a Michelin-starred restaurant (give Prairial a try), or prefer something more laidback (how about Le Book-Lard) – you should definitely give plenty of time during your Lyon stay to exploring the cuisine the city has to offer. And the best way to get tips on where not to miss is to chat with a local who has all the knowledge on what’s new and exciting and what can be missed. 

Eat even more on a Lyon food tour

Another way to make sure you sample all of the best food in Lyon is to go on a food tour. There are some excellent companies in town like Lyon Food Tour or Do Eat Better Experience. But if you want something that’s truly unique to you it’s much better to work with someone who can personalize your trip and make sure you hit all of the must-eats like:

  • Salade Lyonnaise

  • Quenelle

  • Salade de foies de volailles

  • Rosette lyonnaise

  • Andouillette

Make sure you don’t miss any food at Halles de Chef Paul Bocuse

Yet another must-do of the Lyon food scene is a visit to this epic market. Even if you have no interest in the food, the building, and everything happening inside it, is worth a visit on its own. But if you are interested in the food, you will have a field day. Keep in mind that while the hall stays open for the better part of the day, many of the stalls will finish selling by early afternoon, so you’re best to go before then to get the full experience and walk out with all the goodies you want! 

Check out the astronomical clock in Lyon Cathedral

One of the top tourist attractions in Lyon, the cathedral was built in the 12th century, and amongst its amazing features, perhaps the most impressive is the astronomical clock – which actually had to be remade in 2020 as its ability to calculate saints' days stopped in 2019. Overall, the cathedral is worth passing by and stopping in for a short visit. 

Explore the scene after dark in Place des Terreaux

Another gorgeous square in Lyon worth visiting, this one is most impressive after dark – though you’re pretty likely to pass through at other hours of the day too. One of the nicest ways to watch the square after dark is to head for dinner at Restaurant l'étage which is on the second floor and gives a perfect viewing point for the goings-on in the square (ask for a window table!).

Roll the film at Museé Lumière

It may seem peculiar that a city with a population of barely half a million has not one but two museums dedicated to films and cinema. But this city is in fact where the cinematograph was invented, allowing the public to watch movies for the first time. And this museum is the place to go to learn more about that groundbreaking invention.

Go back in time at Musee des Confluences

Now that you’ve satisfied your art and cinema cravings, head to this museum to learn more about science and anthropology. It is more than a simple museum, it is a must-stop where you can take in the entire, full history of man. While that may feel overwhelming, the Musee des Confluences does an excellent job of presenting so much material in an easily digestible manner. 

Listen to music at Le Transbordeur

This music venue – created in an old factory – is only worth visiting when there is a show of interest on. But with such a packed schedule year round, there is likely to be something happening when you’re in town. You may also consider looking at planning everything you do in France around an event here, depending on how much it appeals to you.

Tour more ruins at Gallo-Roman Museum

Further aspects of the Roman legacy in Lyon are housed in this museum. Beyond Roman artifacts, you’ll also find Gau and Celtic pieces, both of whom had a hand in the making of Lyon over the centuries. While the museum, located in the heart of what was once the Roman city (and near the theaters), has much of interest on display, the building itself is also worth mentioning and visiting. 

Go off the beaten path in Croix Rousse

North of Old Town and central Lyon, this neighborhood will give you another perspective on Lyon. While you could hop on the metro to get here, walking is a better option – if you’re able – to really see the area’s vibe. And why not check to see where you should stop along the way by asking a local Hero for some tips? One highlight not to miss in Croix Rousse is the Mur des Canuts mural on Boulevard des Canuts.

Breathe in Parc de la Tête d'Or

With nearly 300 acres of green space, needless to say, this is the ideal spot to head to if you’re in need of a little break from the city and some fresher air. There are excellent paths all throughout the park, so whether you want to go for a quiet stroll, train for your next marathon, or pop on some rollerblades, you’ve got space for it all.  

Day trip to Annecy

Photo by Yongs on Unsplash

If you’ve got enough time in Lyon that you can sacrifice a day to leave the city entirely, consider heading for Annecy. The drive is about 90 minutes or you can hop on a train and be there in a little over two hours. Annecy is a gorgeous town right in the mountains. It has a great amount of WWII history plus stunning, quaint scenery.  

Now that you know where to start with planning your trip, it’s time to get booking! Ask a local Hero for assistance to make sure your ideas come to fruition and your trip to Lyon is exactly what you’re dreaming of!

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