France is a large country positively overflowing with enchanting destinations, and one of its best city destinations has to be Lyon. The country’s third largest city and a major tourist destination, Lyon has a great mix of UNESCO-recognized historical sites and everything you look for in a grand city break getaway. Situated in the country’s west near the Alps, it offers yet another side to France once you’ve seen the likes of Paris and the Riviera.
With our Lyon itinerary, we’ll show you exactly what to do in Lyon in 2 days so that you see as much of the city as possible without feeling overwhelmed.
Best Time to Visit Lyon
Unlike many destinations in Europe, you don’t have to wait for the shoulder season to visit Lyon. Interestingly, Lyon is actually at its busiest during late spring rather than summer. I’d reconsider traveling to Lyon during the months of May, June and July since that’s when the city’s peak season is.
This means the best time to visit Lyon is actually in August and September when the weather is sunny and warm and the crowds of tourists are thinning. Also, with its location close to the Alps, Lyon doesn’t suffer through terrible heat like some places in France, so it’s pleasant to be out and about under the summer sun.
For other times of the year, both April and October are decent options as things haven’t cooled down too much yet, even though there’s a greater chance of rain. And then there’s winter, when Lyon is just a couple of short hours away from ski resorts in the Alps.
How to Get Around Lyon
Considering how spread out some of the city’s attractions can be, chances are you’re not going to walk yourself silly during your 48 hours in Lyon. After all, Lyon is a hilly city at times and sightseeing is often a lot more enjoyable if you’re not tired and sweaty from walking everywhere. Luckily, Lyon has got you covered with the city’s network of public transport.
It first starts with how you choose to arrive in the city. Coming by train, which station you arrive at will depend on where you’re coming from. Lyon’s two main train stations are Gare de Lyon-Perrache and Gare de la Part-Dieu, with Perrache being used mostly for regional trains and Part-Dieu for high-speed TGV trains.
For those visiting Lyon by air, Lyon–Saint-Exupéry Airport (LYS) is a large international airport. To get between Lyon Airport and the city using public transport your only real option is the Rhônexpress. This shuttle runs from Gare de la Part-Dieu around every 15 minutes and travel time is 30 minutes.
As for getting around Lyon with public transport you have your choice of trams, buses, the metro and in a few cases, the funicular. The simplest to use are the metro and tram, which should cover most of the places you’ll want to visit. Tickets work across the network, with the most basic fare being a single ticket that lasts an hour and costs 1.8€ from machines or 2€ from bus drivers.
Lastly, the funicular helps you make your way up from Vieux Lyon to Fourvière. If the sight of all the stairs going up the hill is too much, this is the gentler alternative.
Recommendation: Another great way to explore Lyon is on a convenient hop-on hop-off bus tour. On this tour you get to see all the top attractions, including the Cathedral Saint Jean Baptiste, the Basilica de Notre Dame de Fourvière and Place Bellecour, without having to deal with the complex public transportation network.
Where to Stay in Lyon
With the sprawling city broken up by rivers and hills, working out where to stay in Lyon can be a daunting challenge. Lyon’s attractions aren’t all found within a single corner of the city, so chances are you’re going to have to move around a bit to see everything. Thankfully, Lyon’s public transport helps close those distances and reduce the amount you have to walk.
For first timers to the city, chances are you’re going to want to stay as central as possible for both attractions and access. That means the best places to stay in Lyon for you are likely going to be in the central parts of the Presqu’île island between Perrache and Croix Rousse, Vieux Lyon and neighboring Fourvière. Areas around St Michel – Mairie and Voltaire – St Amour may also work because of their public transport connections.
To enjoy your weekend in Lyon in style and comfort, treat yourself to a stay in the luxurious Hôtel Le Royal Lyon. This five-star hotel right on Place Bellecour has large rooms with truly elegant decor and comfortable beds. You’re bound to have a great stay thanks to the hotel’s excellent staff and concierge who go above and beyond.
In the heart of Presqu’île you’ll find quite a lot of accommodation, including some great mid-range options such as Republik Hotel. Close to Place Bellecour, this bright and colorful hotel puts you right among the action and provides the essentials and a good breakfast.
Lyon’s not the most affordable city to visit, but you’ll still find good quality dorm rooms available to you in places like Le Flâneur Guesthouse. One of the cheapest options in the city, this clean and friendly guesthouse is only a short walk to the nearest metro stop.
For more accommodation options in Lyon check out Booking.com. They continuously offer the best rates and their custom service is on point.
The Perfect 2-Day Lyon Itinerary
Lyon may not receive quite as much attention as Paris or the French Riviera, but there’s no doubt that it’s an entertaining tourist destination. After reading through this Lyon travel itinerary, that fact should become perfectly clear.
In order to make the most of your 2 days in Lyon, this itinerary will take you through all the great attractions in the centre of Lyon. Starting with the essential spots along the Presqu’île island, this guide will continue over the delightful riverfront to historic Vieux Lyon and Fourvière. Then to finish, we’ll take in the sights of Croix Rousse and see Lyon’s more artistic side.
However, before we get to our itinerary and the best things to do in Lyon we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and trust us, you do not want to get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it. We recommend World Nomads.
Even if you don’t get travel insurance with World Nomads, please make sure to get travel insurance from somewhere.
Now that you’re set for your trip, allow us to show you the best places to visit in Lyon for your upcoming visit. Once you’re done reading, you won’t want to wait!
Day 1 in Lyon
To start your time in Lyon, you’re no doubt going to want to see the best of Lyon first. To do that we’ll explore some of the Presqu’île before crossing over to the famous old Renaissance area of Vieux Lyon and the neighborhood of Fourvière that overlooks it.
Recommendation: Get the exclusive Lyon City Card and let the city gates open to you! Enjoy unlimited access to public transport, and with a single swipe get discounted access to museums, tours, theater shows, bike rentals, river cruises, and more!
It always helps when you first arrive somewhere to get your bearings at a central point in the city. For Lyon, one of the best places to do this is the Place Bellecour. This dusty red square in the heart of both Presqu’île and Lyon is actually the largest pedestrian square in all of Europe. In the square you’ll find not only an impressive statue of Louis XIV and a ferris wheel, but you’ll also see that the hilltop of Fourvière is not far away.
Place des Jacobins
After taking some time to wander and explore the shopping streets of Presqu’île that are lined with graceful old buildings, head for the Place des Jacobins. This is not necessarily one of Lyon’s biggest squares, but I’d argue that it’s certainly one of the city’s prettiest. The Place des Jacobins is completely surrounded by gorgeous architecture and is a great place to soak in the atmosphere of Lyon.
Lyon is a city defined by its two rivers, so a stroll along at least one riverfront is surely in order. Considering its position, it makes sense to choose the Saône river for a place to stroll. It certainly helps that the Saône riverfront is a rather pleasant place to be, with pedestrian paths following the city streets and others down by the river. At some point it’s best to cross the river over a bridge like the Passerelle du Palais de Justice pedestrian bridge.
Over the river you’ll find the city’s most popular area for tourists, Vieux Lyon, or “Old Lyon”. This district has been the best preserved of all of Lyon’s neighborhoods, so visitors today can admire its Renaissance architecture and alleyways until their hearts are content. After all, for quite some time Vieux Lyon was the most lively part of the city.
During its heyday, Vieux Lyon was where wealthy merchants and bankers lived. While their homes may have looked modest from the street, venturing inside reveals a different story. For your visit, I suggest you start at the district’s northern end and take your time working your way down along streets like Rue Saint-Jean and ducking through side alleys as you please.
Vieux Lyon is also home to several unusual but still fascinating cultural museums. First, there’s the Gadagne Museum which houses both the Historical Museum of Lyon and the Museum of Puppetry Art. A short walk away you’ll find the Movies & Miniature Museum, where you can learn about movie props and special effects.
Hunt for Traboule
One of the quirks about Vieux Lyon that people love the most is the district’s traboule. Basically hidden passages that work their way through inner courtyards, staircases and buildings, you could easily miss these entirely if you didn’t know better. That’s because, of the hundreds that exist through the historic areas of Vieux Lyon and Croix Rousse, only around 40 traboule are open to the public.
Although you can certainly take tours that will take you through many of the traboule, it’s much more fun to go hunting for them yourself. Identified by a small bronze shield symbol in Vieux Lyon, public traboule are only open during the day time.
One of the other standout features of Vieux Lyon is the Lyon Cathedral found in one of the few small squares in this district. Dating from the 15th century, the cathedral towers over its neighbouring buildings and offers quite a striking sight thanks to its mix of designs. This facade becomes even more interesting during Lyon’s Festival of Lights every December when it becomes a canvas for light displays.
Inside the Cathedral you’ll not only spot a beautifully ornate ceiling among its arches, but also a magnificent astronomical clock. This clock has not only kept time since 1598, but also includes a perpetual calendar. Designed to only reach the year 2019, it’s soon about to get an upgrade. Outside to the north of the Cathedral you can also visit a small archaeological garden where you can find the remains of other historic religious buildings.
Ancient Theatre of Fourvière
The history of Lyon stretches back millenia to when the Romans first founded the city. Amazingly, there are still some ruins from this period of the city, including the Ancient Theatre of Fourvière. Sitting in the neighborhood of Fourvière above Vieux Lyon lies this large theatre that could once seat 10,000 people. Still used on occasion for performances, you can visit the theatre and climb up the rows to appreciate what it must have once looked like in Roman times.
Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière
When visiting the city of Lyon, it’s hard to miss the sight of a beautiful basilica sitting on the hill of Fourvière high above the rooftops. That is the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière and it’s certainly a highlight of any trip to Lyon. While the hilltop of Fourvière has long been a place of religious importance, this basilica was only built in 1884.
What may interest some people is that this basilica actually has an upper and lower level, unlike most churches. The upper sanctuary is where you’ll find the more glamorous and lavish elements of the basilica, from the stained glass windows to the large mosaics. The lower part is far more humble and its solemn atmosphere can be quite a sudden shift.
Arguably though, the real star of the show at the basilica is the panoramic view from the esplanade outside. From up there you can see across the city of Lyon, taking in both the historic parts of the city as well as the modern ones. By waiting until the afternoon, you won’t have to worry about the sun being in your eyes and you can fully appreciate the wonderful view.
Day 2 in Lyon
To make the most of your second day, we’ll see a little more of Presqu’île before venturing north. Today is all about seeing different sides to Lyon, something best done by exploring parts of the city around Croix-Rousse.
Place Des Terreaux
Much like yesterday we start the day with one of Lyon’s most impressive squares, this time a long grey square with imposing buildings. While Place Bellecour may be the physical centre of the city, Place Des Terreaux feels far more like the cultural and communal city centre.
That’s probably in part due to the majestic sight of the Hotel de Ville, Lyon’s city hall. Alongside City Hall you’ll find the expressive Bartholdi Fountain and the Lyon Museum of Fine Arts with its immense collection of art. Make sure to revisit this square in the evening to see its fantastic buildings illuminated at night.
In many ways, Lyon is a city of many hidden talents. Take for instance, it’s love of street art. The artistic side of the city probably isn’t as well known to tourists than its historic side, but it’s definitely worth exploring. Simply walk a few blocks from Place Des Terreaux and you can start to see a couple of great examples of Lyon’s creative flair.
Just off the Saône riverfront you can find a huge book and library-themed mural known as the Library of the City on the side of a four-storey building. Then further north along the riverfront there’s the Fresque des Lyonnais, a mural of people on balconies living life in a bygone era. Both are massive works of art and something you can’t and shouldn’t miss.
Amphitheater of the Three Gauls
Sometimes it can be hard to get a sense of how large Roman cities used to be. That’s why it’s so great that Lyon not only still has the Ancient Theatre of Fourvière but also the Amphitheater of the Three Gauls across town in the first arrondissement of the city. Sunken among modern buildings, only part of the arena still remains. but when visiting this free site, it’s easy enough to imagine how it must have once looked.
While we’ve walked through several different districts of Lyon, one not to forget is the hill of Croix-Rousse. Once a working class district for merchants and silkweavers, Croix-Rousse is now full of a youthful, entrepreneurial spirit due to recent gentrification. Still there are reminders of its past, like La Maison des Canuts, a museum that delves into the silk trade that was so vital to the city of old.
Croix-Rousse has long had a sense of local identity, something best appreciated by simply walking its streets. Along the way, seek out the Mur des Canuts mural, a colossal work of art that depicts life in Croix-Rousse. You may even find some traboule along the way, marked in this district with a lion’s head and arrow.
Jardin Des Rigolards
Hopefully you can’t get enough of views overlooking the rooftops of Lyon, because we’ve got another for you. With a spot over the Saône river, you’ll find Jardin Des Rigolards and its terrace that has superb views across Lyon. While the views may not be as extensive as those in Fourvière, this time Fourvière is actually part of your view.
The best way to end your day in Lyon is on a romantic dinner cruise. Enjoy a 3-course dinner during a leisurely 2.5-hour cruise. Choose your favorites from a variety of menu options and learn about the sights you pass from the interesting commentary provided.
That about sums up how you can see Lyon in 2 days. It should be crystal clear now that this French city has plenty to offer those looking for a perfect weekend getaway.
If you have some extra time to spare, consider doing some day trips from Lyon. There is plenty to discover in this region of France.