Lyon is the third largest city in France. At the time of its founding in 43 BC, it was an important Roman city in what back then was referred to as Gaulˆ. Naturally, a lot of that history still remains. The city, in my opinion, has a typical French feel, mixed with Gothic architecture and a few remnants of Roman builds. All this history makes Lyon a great travel destination but a trip to Lyon is not complete without an in-depth exploration of their culinary and cocktail offerings. Personally, I really enjoyed Lyon and looking forward to coming back soon. This quick city guide for a two-day visit is how I fell in love with Lyon, maybe you will too.

Fun fact: the city serves as the capital for the Rhône département and the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes régions. This means it is uniquely located close to an important wine region and the French Alps and can be a convenient stop on many different road trips.

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Getting to and around Lyon

Lyon is located a distance away from Paris, either a 4+ hour drive or a 2-hour high-speed train* (tickets start at $14.30 CAD). Moving around the city is fairly easy, if you stay in the center you can walk pretty much anywhere and that walk will be nice and scenic. Lyon’s public transit network is quite extensive and includes a metro, multiple tram lines, and two funiculars. And yes, there is also Uber. 

EV note: If you have an electric vehicle, charge up before you head into the city and be prepared to find very few charging stations in the city itself. It is a dense city with heavy traffic so your battery will get exhausted quite fast.

Lyon’s notable attractions & historic stops

If you only have a couple of days I would recommend exploring on foot. A good starting point is Vieux Lyon, the historic center. Packed with gift shops, cafes, street crepe vendors, and casual entertainment it is also a good neighborhood to stay in. 

Among notable stops is the Traboule et Cour des Voraces, a very, very old urban passageway with an industrial staircase, the whole thing has a dystopian feel to it, very different from the rest of the city. Not too far from it is the Amphitheater of the Three Gauls, one of the few remaining Roman structures. The other, and much bigger structure is Théâtre Gallo Romain de Lyon-Fourvière, where they still occasionally host live music events. Odeon of Lyon offers a nice view on this site. 

As with any European city, there are many beautiful churches, one must visit the Basilica of Notre Dame of Fourvière.  The other city staple is a public square, here it is called Place Bellecour, this neighbourhood is great for shopping. If time permits, venture out to Lyon Botanical Garden, for an open field and a breath of fresh air.

You can do all of the above in a day or two, depending on how fast you’re moving. I prefer a slower pace with culinary stops and breaks which is how I would recommend seeing this city to maximize enjoyment. If you have more time there are a few lovely day trips available, like the scenic Grenoble, Beaujolais wine region, and a few other charming small towns. Lonely Planet has a good guide for Lyon day trips. 

Lyon is a great city for sipping cocktails

I have not visited all of these cocktail bars personally but they are on my wish list and there is no gatekeeping here so enjoy! My typical search includes local recommendations, award-winning bar teams, and unique spots. All links are Google links so you can see how close you are to your hotel.

The Phantom of the Opera has a theatrical vibe, nearby Groom is the opposite, clean and stylish. A bit further down we have The Monkey Club Cocktail Bar, red velvet and palm trees kind of cocktail spot. Following along the river we’ll find Black Forest Society, a modern cocktail bar with a very promising menu. Across on the other side is L’ Antiquaire which has a rather old-school vibe with an impressive backbar. Nearby is Soda Bar, this will be my first stop when I return. Across the bridge in Vieux Lyon is Bar Le Florian, a cozy interior with velvet couches and classical art and a great people-watching patio. We set here for over an hour working through the menu and observing foot traffic. Back in Cordeliers-Jacobins is L’Officine which has a clean interior reminiscent of a classic train car and a terrace. 

For the beer drinkers, check out Beer O’Clock, it is what it says it is, and near it a typical pub The Elephant & Castle. The King Arthur pub has a really interesting interior with an arched ceiling and wooden decor. 

A quick note on food

All of the above bars have food, and some have amazing food, so check the menu beforehand. Do eat the street food and sit around in cafes. They open a bit late but have plenty of breakfast options like fresh quiches and other baked goods. 

Where to stay in Lyon

We stayed in Vieux Lyon, which was convenient for getting around but, quite noisy. Our AirBNB was on the top floor and significantly smaller than it looked, I could not stand up straight in the bedrooms and I’m only 5.4”. When looking at listings in this area always ask if it is the top floor since those are basically cellar spaces and are hot and small.  This neighborhood does not allow cars so if you are staying here be prepared to drag your suitcases through cobblestones and more than likely up a lot of stairs. 

These Vieux Lyon hotels tickled my fancy for future visits, let’s look at them one at a time. 

Villa Florentine

Beautiful hotel with clean modern finishes, a scenic restaurant, and a terrace that looks over Vieux Lyon. There is a rooftop pool, gym, restaurant, bar, and spa. 

Room rate: Starting at $357/night

Book Villa Florentine*

Villa Maïa

Situated on the outskirts of Vieux Lyon this hotel feels like a garden. Room and rooftop restaurant view looks down at the river. There is an indoor pool, gym, restaurant, and spa. 

Room rate: Starting at $576/night

Book Villa Maïa*

Cour des Loges Lyon

Right in the heart of Vieux Lyon, this is a historic property with wooden beams and heavy curtains. Some rooms are multilevel, there is a pool, barrel hot tub, spa, restaurant, and bar. 

Room rate: Starting at 

Book Cour des Loges Lyon*

Gaulˆ is a region of Western Europe that encompasses current France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and parts of Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, and Northern Italy. 

In the gear bag: Fujifilm X-T100 with an XF50mmF2 R WR lens. To see the trip on Instagram look up #xoeurotrip21.

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  1. I have been contemplating a trip to Lyon for so long and this has definitely whet my appetite. Thanks for a lovely guide.

  2. I only had an afternoon to visit Lyon during my French River Cruise. I would love to go back. Great post.

  3. In my trips to France I still haven’t got to Lyon. Definitely need to visit. I love being able to submerse in the history of places and this looks amazing.

  4. Lyon is a beautiful city. I enjoyed the colourful buildings of Vieux Lyon. I agree with you, I had some of the best drinks at a canal boat restaurant by the river.

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