Lyon can be characterised by orange roofs and shallow steps, I concluded after a visit here in . The passers-by are more polite than the North of France – They actually greet you as you pass them by! I noticed a huge population of school-going children and teenage athletes here in Lyon, a stark contrast to the retiring population I noticed in Nice.
Lyon was founded by the Romans in 43 BC and was one of the most important cities in the Roman Empire. It became the capital of the French silk weaving industry and is now a major business hub in France.
In this mere 29 square kilometres, it’s less than half the size of Paris! Here, you’ll find a mesh of old charming buildings and new swanky architecture.
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Weather in Lyon, France
I visited Lyon at the end of February 2015 when it was still winter. Lyon is generally pretty cool throughout the year. The warmest it gets is in July but it barely ever hits 30°C/ 86F sometimes.
November to March is the coldest time of the year, hitting negative temperatures in January.
One thing about Lyon is that it usually rains every 3 days of the entire month, so if you’re there for a couple of days, you can be certain that it would rain a day or two.
Where to stay in Lyon, France
As with all cities, one of the major concerns is where should you stay in Lyon. Read on as I break it down for you based on the neighbourhoods in Lyon.
Let’s start with the budget traveller. If you’re like me, you would probably love Guillotière. This neighbourhood is to the east of the main city centre La Presqu’Ile. Home to two universities, this is where you will find hostels, bars, restaurants all at a more manageable price tag.
Best Hotels in Guillotière, Lyon
We move on to the central area of La Presqu’Ile, where the peninsula is formed by the Saône and Rhône Rivers.
For first timers to Lyon, this is one of the ideal neighbourhoods to stay in due to the close access to attractions such as Place Bellecour and Place des Jacobins. Of course, the price tag matches the central location.
Best Hotels in La Presqu’Ile, Lyon
- Hotel Carlton Lyon – MGallery by Sofitel (From USD200/night)
- Hotel Le Royal Lyon – MGallery (From USD199/night)
- Mercure Lyon Centre Beaux-Arts (From USD155/night)
- Hotel des Celestins (From USD137/night)
- Globe Et Cecil (From USD70/night)
- Away Hostel & Coffee Shop (From USD26) – Located slightly off La Presqu’Ile
Another great option for Lyon first timers to stay is Vieux Lyon, the old Renaissance town where 300 Renaissance mansions still stand.
Here, you would be close to the city’s museums and a short 10-15 minute walk would take you to Place Bellecour.
Vieux Lyon does get really crowded as it is a UNESCO Heritage Site filled with amazing restaurants and bars, hence it is popular with tourists and locals alike.
Best Hotels in Vieux Lyon, Lyon
- Cour des Loges (From USD220/night)
- MiHotel Vieux Lyon (From USD132/night)
- Collège Hôtel (From USD132/night)
- La Loge Du Vieux Lyon (From USD99/night)
Fourvière is another option to consider if you prefer to live more comfortably. Like I mentioned previously, this is the highest point of the city, so being above the old town of Vieux Lyon, you get amazing views!
Best Hotels in Fourvière, Lyon
Fourvière Hotel (From USD233/night)
Le Jardin de Beauvoir (From USD180/night)
Things to do in Lyon, France
The first place to visit in Lyon is of course the central piazza. Place Bellecour is the biggest pedestrian square in the whole of Europe and is home to the statue of Louis XIV and a large ferris wheel which lights up the square at night. Surrounding the square are century-old buildings housing many little cafes and bars.
Walk 2 minutes north through the shopping area and you will find Place des Jacobins. While it is not the largest square, I found this square more beautiful than the rest. It kind of reminded me of the Trevi fountain in Rome.
A 10-15 minute walk from Place Bellecour is Vieux Lyon, which essentially means the old part of Lyon. Whatever impression I had of Lyon was immediately challenged the minute I stepped into the quarters of View Lyon.
The streets of Lyon used to be lined with cobblestones but were soon removed and replaced with concrete/ cement as people in the past used to pluck these cobblestones out from the ground during the war to hurl and attack others.
Known as the largest Renaissance townscape in Europe, wandering around the entire old town takes you back to the 16th century.
You can also visit Cathedral Saint Jean, a medieval gothic cathedral famed for its astronomical clock. If you’re visiting in December, you might be lucky enough to catch the cathedral beautifully lit up in the Festival of Lights.
If not for reaching out to a local (through Couchsurfing!), I would have never found the Traboules that hid so inconspicuously between those brick houses, much less sneak into them. The traboules are characterised by narrow and steep steps that curve upwards (like walking up Rapunzel’s dungeon).
The long traboule or passageway winds its way through 4 different buildings and courtyards.
Inside, it was a whole new world. It resembled a little like walking into a cave, only to be greeted by traditional houses.
I don’t remember feeling more excited than this in my entire time in Lyon when I discovered this local residence that half resembled a dungeon and half like the modern houses you see today.
Later in the day, it was time for lunch. My friend Soumaya wanted to introduce me to local Lyonnais food, so we entered this restaurant that served 3-course that was on offer!
In France, the French baguette goes with every meal.
If there’s another thing I learned about French food, it’s that onion soup is also a common occurrence in typical French cuisine. It has a sweet flavour and thick texture, nothing like what I’ve ever tasted in Singapore.
Classed as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1998, Fourvière Hill offers the highest viewpoint of Lyon. In the picture below across the river sits the modern side of Lyon. Vieux (old) Lyon is directly under the hill.
Fourvière is where you are able to visit the Galo-Roman Theatre ruins. This outdoor theatre used to seat around 10,000 people and is still used occasionally for performances till today.
The brick walls that have chipped and broken down at asymmetrical heights, offering a natural beauty of its own. I encourage you to climb to the top of this theatre and admire the view from above. It is so serene to simply sit on the walls and gaze at the vast land beneath you.
At the foot of Fourvière Hill, you would definitely be able to spot the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière. It is a beautiful cathedral built in the late 1800s. If you have time, definitely climb up to the top to get a breathtaking panoramic view of the rest of the city.
Instead of turning back to familiar sightings, I decided to wander aimlessly ahead. Surely there’d be a path back, I thought. The deeper I went, the more residential it looked and the quieter it felt. Guess what! I spotted this playground. It was so classic, I had to snap a picture of it. 🙂
I got lost while attempting a roundabout. The route was going downhill and I thought, no way will I be climbing back up to take the metro down. An equivalent to 2 or 3 stops of the metro later, I reappeared back at the foot of the hill, where the modern Lyon resides.
Venture back across the River Saône to the northern part of the city, the first arrondissement of the city. If you have the time, take a walk along the waterfront upstream to admire the architecture, or catch a glimpse of the many murals along the waterfront.
There is Fresque des Lyonnais – depicting 30 famous Lyon people and Fresco “The library of the city” – a wall mural on a building painted like a library.
Walking to Croix-Rousse from the riverfront would take around 20-30 minutes. Break up the walk with a quick pit stop a third of the journey in at the Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls.
Lying among all the modern buildings is this gargantuan ancient amphitheatre. Take a moment to ponder how huge the Roman empire used to be – it’s really overwhelming.
Continue your journey along one of the streets named Montée de la Grande-Côté. Up the shallow, sloping flight of stairs lay rows after rows of houses in every imaginable pastel colour. I was bubbling with joy inside at how colourful they are.
Continuing upwards, you will finally reach the Croix-Rousse plateau, which offers a view from a height of the steps you’ve conquered, and the beautiful row of colourful houses.
Along the way, I passed by a chocolate shop with classic wooden adornments in its interior. 🙂
Getting from Paris to Lyon, France
Lyon is the third largest city in France and is located about 400 km (250 miles) south of Paris. Getting to Lyon from Paris is pretty straightforward.
Lyon by Train
If you would like to save time, you may choose to take the TGV high-speed, fast train from Paris to Lyon. It takes slightly more than 2 hours.
However, if you have the time to spare and are looking for a budget option, take the SNCF regional train. It does take around 5 hours.
You can book your ticket online here on Omio. Round tickets are slightly cheaper so if you are sure on your dates, this would be the best option!
Lyon by Bus
A one-way trip on the bus would take around 6-7 hours and would cost around half the price than a train ticket. If affordability is what you’re looking for, then the bus is for you.
Similarly, I recommend searching for your transport on Omio as it gives you all the options from different companies – just toggle between the train, bus and flight option all on the same page!
Blablabus is also a good alternative to search for buses and provides very competitive rates.
Lyon by Flight
Flying to Lyon from Paris is a quick 1 hour journey. Flight tickets are pretty cheap and might I even say, cheaper than the train sometimes. That said, do include the cost and time of getting to the airport when you weigh your options!
Getting around Lyon, France
Attractions in Lyon are pretty scattered. While you can walk to save money, if you’re tight on time, a single journey on public transport is 1.80€ if you buy it from the machines. The ticket is available for an hour and you can make as many transfers just by validating the ticket.
Another option is a one-day unlimited travel pass, available for 5.50€.
And that brings us to the end of this pretty long post about Lyon, France! Hopefully you’ve gleaned everything you need to know about Lyon!