A note: I decided to try something new with this post, so unlike my previous journeys, I used video to document the beauty of the city. Watch the video above to see Lyon in motion and share your thoughts on this new approach in the comments!
Unpopular opinion: Paris is not the most beautiful city in France. I said it, I believe it, and by the end of this post, you will too. In the last couple of years, I have visited Lyon twice, partly because it is the home of my love, Greg, and partly because I have also fallen in love with the city’s scenery, culture and food. I emphasise food because, as you will soon come to understand, no trip to Lyon can neglect the mouth-watering, stomach-bursting, soul-feeding palette that this city has to offer. This particular post documents everything I had the pleasure of experiencing during my last visit to the city, a three-day weekend getaway. For a breakdown of this trip, head to the bottom of this page. Otherwise, scroll down for more.
Vieux-Lyon is the city’s oldest district and is one of Europe’s largest Renaissance neighbourhoods. In the 15th and 16th century the area acted as home to silk weavers and Italian banker-merchants, today it offers cosy streets, gift shops, restaurants offering traditional cuisine. While a popular tourist attraction, a little-known feature is its secret passages. If you take your time to walk at a slower pace than the other bustling bodies who tour this area, you’ll be able to spot a number of doors, stairways and allies that will transport you to contrastingly quiet traboules, 4th Century corners of the district that provided safe passage to the local silk weavers during a time of tension.
Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière
Perched high above Vieux Lyon and overlooking the entirety of the city, the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière is one of Lyon’s most well-known gems. While this attraction is almost guaranteed to be swarming with tourists from midday, it offers a heaping dose of visual eye-candy that can’t be missed. Inside you’ll discover an awe-inspiring interior adorned in ornate mosaic detailing, glistening candles and intricate figurines. And, as if this wonder isn’t enough, a short walk away you can find a bonus attraction – a Roman amphitheatre dating Lyon’s days as the capital of France.
I recommend seeking out the vernacular railway when visiting this beauty. While the on-foot journey to its doors offers more opportunities to admire Lyon’s intricacies, it is no easy feat. Let the design of the building take your breath away, not the journey to it!
Brasserie le Nord
Lyon holds the reputation as France’s gastronomical capital and renowned chef Paul Bocuse is honoured as one of the most recognisable the faces behind this. While this member of the country’s culinary royalty passed away in early 2018, there is no shortage of commemorating of his legacy. Throughout Lyon, you will find many of Bocuse’s institutions. Brasserie le Nord is just one of these. One of my favourite Lyon dishes is quenelle, a mixture of creamed fish of meat (traditionally pike) and eggs. While my most enjoyable serving of this was a version served by one of Greg’s aunts, Brasserie le Nord didn’t fail to satisfy my craving. Of course, for those looking to go très traditionnel with their dinner options, garlic drenched escargot sits at the top of the restaurant’s menu.
Les Halles de Lyon
Another ode to the Bocuse legacy, Les Halles de Lyon is a one-stop-shop for every culinary gift Lyon has to offer. Head here for lunch on a ~very~ empty stomach and spend some time tasting everything from lobster, wine, champagne, charcuterie, cheeses and desserts. Sit down for a multi-course meal or simply sample your way around. For those with a sweet tooth, a praline tart is a necessity – found almost exclusively in Lyon, the bright pink treat has a flavour just as loud as it looks.
Parc de la Tête d’or
More than just greenery, Parc de la Tête d’or (roughly: Park of the Gold Head) is a continuous source of surprises. Spanning 290 acres, it offers everything from a tropical conservatory, a courtyard of roses and numerous waterways. It is quite honestly one of the most stunning parks I have ever visited inside a city, as someone who feels strongly about ethical animal tourism, one thing I would prefer that they do without it the animal enclosure that houses numerous exotic wildlife including zebras, giraffes and flamingos. While I am sure this is done with the best intentions (acting as both a sanctuary and an opportunity to provide visitors with the chance to see these wonderful creatures up close) the space is far too small for them to live the life they deserve, and the French climate is not natural to a majority of their physiologies.
Located around a 20 minute Uber ride from Lyon’s centre, the owners of the Michelin-guide listed and simply titled Le Restaurant dedicated little time to thinking of a name and just the right amount to designing one of the tastiest and value-for-money menus known to (wo)man. Take a quick excursion to the Lyon suburb of St. Priest and sit down to a 3-course meal made from entirely locally sourced ingredients for just €27 (€31 with a cheese course). Each dish takes a slightly experimental take on a French classic – think deconstructed Creme Brule and architectured beef tartare – and is entirely worth the trip.
If I have ever had eyes bigger than my belly, it has been in this city. I have honestly always been impressed by my capacity to eat large amounts of food (especially good food!) but Chez Mounier put me in my place. In modern Lyon, few experiences are more authentic and traditional than a Bouchon. These classic Lyonnaise restaurants have a reputation for serving up ridiculously generous portions of the local cuisine which mostly comprises of sausages, duck pâté or roast pork. In line with the slow-paced eating culture of Southern France, you can expect a meal here to last up to three hours. Chez Mounier is one of Lyon’s best known Bouchon’s and offers a four-course set menu for around €30 per person.
How I travelled: We flew from London Gatwick to Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airport with EasyJet. There are multiple flights from London to Lyon a day and a return Friday-to-Sunday trip can be as cheap as £48. When in Lyon, I travelled mostly by foot, as Greg is familiar with the city, or occasionally by public transport or uber. As always, I recommend the app Maps.me to navigate the city’s streets with confidence.
What I did: We spent much of our time eating and wandering around the most popular attractions of the city. As mentioned in this post, during this visit we went to Vieux-Lyon, the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière and Parc de la Tête d’or addition to this, I also recommend visiting the incredible Confluence Museum.
Where I stayed: We stayed with Greg’s family.
Tips & Tricks: Plan your day around your food. If you know you’ll be visiting a Bouchon one evening, work up an appetite during the day and try not to overeat in your earlier meals (the may be difficult!)