Skip to main content

There must be a good reason why France rates best in Europe and the world, as a travel destination. I might be the romantic Paris, the chic Mediterranean coast with its famous Cannes, and Nice, or maybe it is the sunny, wine-loving Bordeaux region that has something to do with it. 

It might also be that France is a magnet for gourmet travelers, art lovers, and history enthusiasts as well as for those that love the sea, the ocean, or the mountains! You have everything, you just need to decide on where to head first. 

So, by now you know all about France’s first choice destination: Paris. But, what you don’t know is the second largest city in France, Lyon is probably the most underrated one. And that’s just fine as this gives the chance to be really pleasantly surprised when choosing it for your next destination. 

The surprising city of Lyon unfolds its secrets from the get-go. Considered to be the culinary capital of France, the city unveiled its Unesco Heritage-worthy sites for all beauty lovers. Rich in history, and architecture the city has grown majestically on the banks of rivers Rhone and Saone. Let’s dig into the 30 Top-rated attractions and things to do in Lyon without any other ado.

1. Vieux Lyon

Charming, interesting, and charming again! Renaissance and medieval architecture, the famous traboules (secret pathways and passageways) lead to gourmet restaurants, cafes, and even more charming views. It is safe to say that the Old Town of Lyon should be on the must-roam places while in Lyon. And take your time as you have hours and hours to admire as the entire area is worthy of the Unesco Heritage site status. And has the history to back it up. 

2. Le Mur des Canuts

Speaking of history, another landmark in Lyon is the huge mural, le Mur des Canuts. And what a sight it is! Considered to be one of the largest public artworks in Europe, you will be fascinated to uncover all the intricate details of the mural depicting the life of the silk weavers. And it is packed with beautiful details of what used to be ordinary life in the La Croix Rousse neighborhood: colorful buildings, a traditional silk shop, a stairway, and of course the inhabitants of the hood, all life-like and 3D effects. You cannot miss it! 

3. Fresque des Lyonnais

And if you found Le Mur des Canuts interesting and want some more murals like that, here is another one: Fresque des Lyonnais. This time you can test your attention and knowledge of Lyonnais’s famous people by trying to find them on the 800-square meter wall! I can give you at least one hint to find one: It is a worldwide famous little blond child on an asteroid with a rose and his creator! 

4. Place de Jacobins

Considered one of the most beautiful squares in Lyon, Place de Jacobins will be a good point to add to your Lyon tour. It is conveniently located in the Presque Ile district in the Unesco Heritage part of Lyon having a beautiful central fountain at the center of the square. It feels open and welcoming as a pedestrian, but to be fair it is the magnificent fountain that is the main attraction. Just so you know, the name of the square comes from a former Jacobin convent, that stood here centuries ago.

5. Cour des Voraces

The old Town of Lyon is filled with narrow streets and traboules – passages for the silk workers to get across. And of the most impressive ones, the Traboule et Cour des Voraces is famous for the large courtyard, named after the group of silk weavers – Voraces, that led the 1848 revolution, and the 6-floor open-air staircase. Enter the cour and the traboule, discover its secrets or simply admire it as it is one of Lyon’s calling card locations.

6. Abbaye de Saint Martin d’Ainay

The only 11th-century Romanesque-styled church that still survives is the Abbaye de Saint Martin d’Ainay. Luckily it survived centuries of war and troubles, the French Revolution, and even got to such a bad state that during the 19th century was almost demolished, but instead got renovated using the original style. It would have a real shame to lose this monument now included in the Unesco World Heritage List. 

7. Hotel de Ville

Don’t let the name Hotel de Ville fool you, as the remarkable building is the city’s, Town Hall. Located in the city center, in the Presqu’Ile district, the almost island inland in between the river, that has some of the most impressive historic buildings in town. And if the Town Hall is a majestic sight to admire by day, it gets even more beautiful in the night lighting! The decorated facade, the clock tower, and the dome-shaped pavilions create one proud royal vibe. 

8. Bartholdi Fountain

When getting into the beautiful square, Place des Terreaux you can spot the majestic Bartholdi Fountain also known as the Triumphal Chariot of the Garrone. You get to admire an impressive sculpture done by the famous Frederic Bartholdi, who is best known for designing the Statue of Liberty. But what does a 4 horse allegoric chariot of Garrone have to do with Lyon? The first thing you need to know is that the fountain was initially designed and commissioned by Bordeaux, hence the river Garrone allegory, but since the city failed to acquire the fountain was bought by Lyon. 

9. Flower Tree

It looks to me like Lyon has a very artistic soul, from all the 150 murals to the sculptures and museums. And here is another example. A gigantic tree, a splash of vibrant colors: the Flower Tree. Created by the Korean artist Jeong-Hwa Choi for the 7th biennial festival of Contemporary Art in Lyon, the tree stayed on. And you might raise an eyebrow and wonder how it fits into the solemn and historic architecture of Lyon, but I say it brings a youthful and colorful vibe that simply befits Lyon. 

10. Rue Saint-Jean

If you want to truly experience the feeling of the Old Town of Lyon, Rue Saint-Jean is where you need to head to. The pedestrian street hides a few traboules for you to explore, plenty of restaurants, cafes, gift shops, silk shops, bars, and of course little museums to wander into. It is the perfect kind of neighborhood to let yourself be a tourist in Lyon. 

11. Opera National de Lyon

Without any doubt, a tour of Lyon should absolutely include a visit to the Opera National de Lyon. It is simply a stunning piece of architecture, not to forget to mention the fact that it is considered to be one of the best Opera houses in the world. So whether you are an opera connoisseur or not, you have the chance to be part of a great performance opera or ballet-wise! Enjoy it!

12. Palais de la Bourse

Majestic and royal in looks, the Palais de la Bourse is one of the most emblematic buildings in Lyon. The Palace, located central in Presque’Ile, is also a central jewel as a venue for splendid events. Entering the Palace you discover a marvel of architecture, imposing and grand in all, it really is one of the landmarks of Lyon, deserving of its Historic Monument status. 

13. Pont Raymond Barre

Leaving aside for a moment the historic architecture of the city, here is one piece of contemporary: the Pont Raymond Barre. The steel tied-arch bridge across the Rhone makes for a great piece of modern architecture and it is a sight, especially in the evening lights. Note that it’s also just a pedestrian, bicycle, and tram-only bridge so take your time and capture the best photos. 

14. Passerelle du Palais de Justice

If Pont Raymond Barre is designed to help you get across the Rhone river, on the Saone river you have Passerelle du Palais de Justice. The footbridge connects the two riversides of Saone right in front of the Justice Palace. It is also a great photo spot to capture the lovely surroundings as well as photo sight in itself with its specific color and design that’s really setting it apart. 

15. Parc de Gerland

After this much walking and sightseeing, how about some more walking and seeing, but this time into one of the largest and most interesting parks in the city: Parc Gerland? A huge diversity of trees, plants, and animals, different types of gardens, pastures, and even a fog system. There are also skate park areas, a villa where you can learn all about the beavers that live down by the Rhone river, and an Urban Bee sanctuary. Prepare to have a lot to see and be entertained 

16. Eglise Saint Georges

Located in the Vieux Lyon quarter, the Saint George church is a sample of beautiful neo-gothic architecture inside out. And the fact that it sits on the banks of the river Saone makes its sight even more enchanting. And if you felt charmed by its exterior appearance, you should step inside the church and experience one of the most uplifting feelings and admire the impressive stained glass of Saint George slaying the dragon.

17. Jardin Botanique du Lyon

Considered to be one of the largest botanical complexes in France, the Botanical Garden of Tete d’Or, or the Jardin Botanique feels very much like a huge outdoor museum with thousands of species of plants, gardens, and greenhouses. Take your time and roam the different parts of the Botanical gardens from the International Rose Garden to the Alpine Garden, the Madagascar Greenhouse, and the historical monument of Collection Greenhouses, a real cathedral of steel and glass

18. The Rhone

There is always something charming about a city located on the banks of any river. Maybe it’s the views it creates, the character and it always makes it more prosperous. And Lyon has two: the Rhone and the Saone. But returning to the Rhone, the rivers played an important role as a natural defense of the city with its tumultuous waters. Today it is crossed by imposing architectural masterpieces of bridges and footbridges and the relationship between the city and the river changed bringing along urban development projects for the banks of the Rhone and green spaces. 

19. Place des Terreaux

One of the most famous squares in Lyon, the Place des Terreaux is the centerpiece of the Presqu’Ile, between the rivers Rhone at Saone, sitting at the feet of the Croix Rousse hill. It might just be the perfect location to start sightseeing in Lyon with vies such as the Hotel de Ville, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Bartholdi fountain. What better place to sit on a terrace and enjoy a cup of coffee or simply admire the vibrant atmosphere of the city?

20. Cimetiere de Loyasse

If you have a bit of free time to spare and are in search of a tranquil paced walk you might be inclined to give the oldest cemetery in Lyon, Cimetière de Loyasse, a go. Located on Fourviere Hill, the tour will give you a sense of how aristocratic the city was, you will see amazing monuments and read the fascinating stories on Lyon’s most prominent personalities. 

21. Place Carnot

Place Carnot might not be as famous as Place de Terreaux but there are several reasons you should include it, when trying to see the real Lyon. First of all, it has such a traditional welcoming vibe with beautiful buildings surrounding it, the parc and the statue of Allegory of the Republic. The entire square turns into a Christmas wonder market during the holidays and if you would like to buy something traditional it is Wednesdays that you should come here for the farmer’s market. 

22. Berges du Rhône

There used to be a time when the waters of Rhone would flood violently the city shores. But today Rhone’s banks are looking a totally different sight. A walk through the parks, quays, and paths along the river bank are what we refer to when talking about the Berges du Rhone. The entire area was transformed into the most pleasant space for cyclists and for walking, a place for relaxation and admiring the beauty of Rhone.

23. La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière

Considered to be one of the most recognizable symbols of Lyon, Basilica Notre Dame de Fourviere looks like it’s looking after the city from its top-of-hill location. Its unique architecture is a mix of byzantine, gothic, and romanesque styles, and 4 majestic towers. And if you thought the exterior is impressive, the interior will leave you in awe with its wonderful murals, mosaics, and stained glass windows. Everything emphasizes the importance of this holy place and the rich decors underline that.

24. L’Ile Barbe

Another spectacular spot in Lyon is the island in the middle of the Saone river: L’Ile Barbe or Barbe Island. The island greets you with impressive views of the abbey and it very much feels like a hidden gem or maybe quite a secret gem. What makes it so special? Well, first of all only a part of the island is open to visiting while the rest of it is still a residential area for a very few lucky people. But still, the vestiges of old religious buildings and some old lodgings make a very interesting visit away from the city.

25. Place Bellecour

Where is kilometer 0 in Lyon? It is in one of the largest squares in Europe: Place Bellecour. What can you do here? First of all, admire some of the statues and see if you recognize the personalities they depict. Next, you can listen to concerts, take part in the outdoor vents, and fairs, and if you visit the square in winter, you get to enjoy the ice ring and the Ferris. Just imagine how spectacular this place must be all lit up and decorated!

26. La Longue Traboule

For sure that discovering and crossing the famous traboules in Lyon is one of the most charming and unique experiences you get here. Who can say no to secret passageways? And although out of the more than 400 ones that exist in Lyon only a few tens are open to the public in the Vieux Lyon and Croix Rousse. We have already seen the most famous of them: Cour de Voraces, but that is not the longest one as well. That title is held by La Longue Traboule, which crosses through 4 buildings and 5 courtyards, and it is still used by locals not just curious tourists.  

27. Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon

This is one particular landmark of Lyon that should be included in all tours of the city. The Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon is considered to be the richest one, outside of Paris, in terms of collections. And it is one of the most beautiful ones, inside-out. The Museum is set in an old and most impressive 17th-century convent. A good idea would be to take time to admire the exhibitions of the “petit Louvre”, and then spend some time in the zen garden of the Museum. You get to admire the statues, and the fountains, and just marvel at the beauty of the surroundings. You will not be disappointed!

28. Fourviere Hill

You can not visit Lyon and skip the Fourviere Hill, which has been the center of the city ever since Lyon was called Lugdunum and was inhabited by the Romans. Getting from Lyon’s Presqu’Ile area to Fourviere Hill, you must go through Vieux Lyon and though it is quite a climb, the views will for sure be worth the effort. And if climbing is not something you fancy doing, you can take the Fouviere line of the Saint Juste line, the funicular trains that take you to the top of the Hill.

29. Pont Wilson

There are quite a few bridges in Lyon. But, to be fair, having two major rivers crossing the city kind of makes this a need-to. One of them is Pont Wilson, and it was state of the art when it was first opened in 1918. But, also in all fairness, even though you might have seen more spectacular bridges in Paris or Budapest, what makes Pont Wilson special is the incredible views you get of the city and some of the most spectacular ones of the Rhone River. It is a must-try experience, especially at night. 

30. Theatres Romains de Fourviere

Build on the Fourviere Hill, the Roman theatre is part of the Unesco Heritage Site, and was built in two stages starting the year 15BC. Nowadays, the Theatre and the Odeon part are included in the archeological park, and most of the archeological finds are exhibited in the Roman Civilisation Museum, located close by the site. But the Theatre Romains de Fourviere is not just an archeological site. It still functions as a cultural space and the Fourviere Night Festival is held yearly every summer. Isn’t that amazing?

I hope you enjoyed your visit to the ever-spectacular and surprising Lyon as well as the 30 Top-rated attractions & things to do in Lyon. There is something hidden in plain sight about this place that just makes you want to come back and uncover it more!

And for more discoveries like this, take the first step and download your Framey App (available on Google Play and App Store) for other inspirational destinations.

📲 Find more in our mobile app.