Located in east-central France, Lyon is the capital of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region and the epitome of riverside majesty, perfect for train travel.
As the third-largest city in France, Lyon is known for its strong commercial and industrial roots. For those on a leisurely visit, its numerous sites, natural hideaways, and historical landmarks are waiting for you to explore. Here are the five best things to see and do in Lyon.
La Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière
The 19th-century masterpiece, designed by architect Pierre Bossan, overlooks the entire city and is the best landmark to use if you’re looking to navigate yourself around Lyon’s many sites. Known by locals as the 'the upside-down elephant’, it contains decadent ornate internal walls, featuring mosaics and stained glass windows that captivate its era and magnificence. Constructed in both Byzantine and Romanesque styles, the basilica contains a bell tower adorning a gold statue of the Virgin Mary.
Climb to the top of its steps for panoramic views over Lyon, or travel up and down the Fourvière Hill, often hailed as the ‘Hill of Prayer’, on the funicular situated at the metro station in Vieux Lyon, to save your legs for more exploring. And explore you will, as the hill dates back to the Roman settlement and is home to many ancient ruins.
The nearest station to the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière is Lyon St-Paul.
Opening times – 07:00 to 19:00 daily.
8 Place de Fourvière, 69005 Lyon, France
Théâtre antique de Lyon
Sitting beside the Basilique is the oldest Roman amphitheatre in France, dating back to between 17 and 5 BC when its construction was ordered by Augustus, considered by many as the first Roman emperor. In Roman times, this area was the heart of the city and would seat 10,000 in its decorated galleries. Step back in time and imagine yourself amongst the entertainment hub of historical Lyon.
The remains of Odéon antique de Lyon, a smaller theatre nearby, are a must-see and tell the story of creative endeavours that took place centuries ago, with poetry competitions and musical shows charming the crowds.
In the summer months, visitors descend on the theatre for Lyon’s famous Les Nuits de Fourvière festival. Taking place between 1st June to 5th August this year, the music, dance and theatre festival welcomes artists from all over the world, such as Iggy Pop and Bjork, to wow those that have travelled from near and far.
The nearest station to the theatre is Lyon St-Paul.
Opening times – Tuesday to Friday from 11:00 to 18:00. Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 to 18:00.
6 rue de l'Antiquaille, 69005 Lyon, France
Parc de la Tête d'Or
The renowned park, which welcomes its guests with beautifully regal golden gates, is home to a fragrantly inviting rose garden and a lake, where visitors can take a boat ride, enjoy a picnic or just a saunter along its stunning shore.
Geared towards families, the vast park contains a zoo, carousel, puppet theatre and miniature train to keep the youngsters of the family entertained.
Popular with walkers, joggers, cyclists and those looking to get away from the busy city, the park is the largest urban area of its kind in the whole of France.
Be sure to visit its pièce de résistance, the Jardin Botanique de Lyon. It contains a wide and unique range of Amazonian tropical plants and water lilies, some of which are 100 years old.
The nearest station to the park is Lyon-Part-Dieu, from here hop on the C1 bus.
Opening times – 06:30 to 22:30
69006 Lyon, France
Lyon’s Old Town is a must for those who want to truly get under the skin of the city. Hours can fly by as you wind through its numerous alleys and pirouette around. Traboules are this area’s best-kept secret, located behind hidden doors, these unique passageways were once used by thriving silk makers and sellers in the medieval times and played an important role during the Second World War.
To reach Vieux Lyon, take the Metro to Viex Lyon – Cat. St Jean station, from here it’s a five-minute walk.
Vieux Lyon, France
La Croix-Rousse is filled with delightful second-hand bookshops and street art, loved by the explorer and creative within us all. Known for its cool and trendy vibe, go in search of the many one-off flea markets that spontaneously pop up and offer rare finds for the opportune buyer. Get your haggling skills at the ready and stop off for one of the area’s celebrated French favourites, Croque-monsieur.
To get to this area of Lyon, jump on a metro to Croix-Rousse station.
69004 Lyon, France
Inspired to take a trip to Lyon? Thanks to regular convenient services from SNCF (France's main train operator) it's easy to travel to this fascinating city by train.