France is a large country overflowing with enchanting destinations, and one of its best cities has to be Lyon. France’s third-largest city and a major tourist destination, Lyon has a great mix of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and everything you look for in a grand city getaway. Located in the country’s west near the Alps, it shows yet another side of France after you’ve seen the likes of Paris and the French Riviera.
With our Lyon itinerary, we’ll show you exactly what to do in Lyon in two days so that you see as much of the city as possible without feeling overwhelmed.
Best Time to Visit Lyon
Unlike with many destinations in Europe, you don’t have to wait for the shoulder season to visit Lyon. Interestingly, Lyon is actually as busy in late spring as it is in the middle of summer. Its peak season is May to July, so it’s best to avoid visiting during that time.
The best time to visit Lyon is August or September, when the weather is still warm but the crowds are thinning. Being close to the Alps, Lyon doesn’t suffer terrible heat like some places in France do, so it’s pleasant to be out and about under the summer sun.
April and October are also decent options with reasonably nice weather, though there’s a higher chance of rain. Of course, some prefer a winter visit, as Lyon is just a couple hours away from ski resorts in the Alps.
How to Get Around Lyon
Considering how far apart some of the city’s attractions are, you probably don’t want to spend your 48 hours in Lyon walking to all of them. Lyon is a hilly city in some parts, and sightseeing is a lot more enjoyable when you’re not tired and sweaty. Luckily, the city’s public transport has you covered.
It starts with how you arrive in the city. If you take the train, which station you arrive at depends 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 intercity trains.
If you’re visiting Lyon by air, you’ll probably land at the international Lyon-St. Exupéry Airport (LYS). To get from the airport to the city center on public transport, your only real option is the Rhônexpress. This shuttle runs from Gare de la Part-Dieu around every 15 minutes, with a travel time of 30 minutes.
Once you’re in the city, you have your choice of trams, buses, and the metro. The simplest to use are the metro and tram, which should cover most of the places you’ll visit. Tickets work across the network, with the most basic fare being a single ticket that lasts an hour and costs €1.80 (about $1.97) from machines or €2 from bus drivers.
The funicular helps you make your way up from Vieux Lyon to Fourvière. If the stairs going up the hill look like too much for you, this is the gentler alternative.
Recommendation: Another great way to explore Lyon is a convenient hop-on hop-off bus tour. You’ll get to see all the top attractions – including Lyon Cathedral, the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière, and Place Bellecour – without dealing with complex public transport.
Where to Stay in Lyon
With the sprawling city broken up by rivers and hills, working out where to stay in Lyon can be daunting. The main attractions aren’t all in a single corner of the city, so wherever you stay, you’ll probably have to move around considerably to see everything. Thankfully, Lyon’s public transport helps close those distances and reduce the walking.
If it’s your first time in the city, you’ll want to stay in as central a location as possible for access to attractions and transit. That means the best places to stay in Lyon for you are in the central parts of the Presqu’île between Perrache and La Croix Rousse, Vieux Lyon, and neighboring Fourvière. The areas around St. Michel-Mairie and Voltaire-St. Amour could also work, given their public transit 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 spacious rooms with truly elegant decor and comfortable beds. You’re bound to have a great stay, largely thanks to the excellent staff and concierge who go above and beyond.
You’ll find quite a lot of accommodation in the heart of the Presqu’île, including some great midrange options such as Républik Hotel. This colorful hotel puts you right among the action close to Place Bellecour and provides a good breakfast.
Lyon’s not the most affordable city to visit, but you’ll still find quality dorm rooms in places like Le Flâneur Guesthouse. One of the cheapest options in the city, this clean and friendly hostel is only a short walk from a metro stop.
For more accommodation options in Lyon, check out Booking.com. This site consistently offers the best rates, and its customer 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 destination. That will be obvious once you’ve read through this Lyon travel itinerary!
To help you make the most of your two days in Lyon, this itinerary will take you through all the great attractions in the city center, starting with the essential spots along the Presqu’île. We’ll continue over the delightful riverfront to historic Vieux Lyon and Fourvière, then take in the sights of La Croix Rousse and Lyon’s more artistic side to finish.
However, before we get to our Lyon itinerary, 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.
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Now that you’re set for your trip, allow us to show you the best places to visit in Lyon. Once you’re done reading, you won’t want to wait!
Day 1 in Lyon
You’ll undoubtedly want to start your visit with the very best things to do in Lyon. To begin, we’ll explore some of the Presqu’île, the city’s central peninsula, before crossing over to the famous Renaissance area of Vieux Lyon and the overlooking neighborhood of Fourvière.
Recommendation: Get the exclusive Lyon City Card and let the city gates open to you! You’ll enjoy unlimited access to public transport and discounted access to museums, tours, theater shows, bike rentals, river cruises, and more.
When you arrive in a new city, it always helps to get your bearings at a central point. In Lyon, one of the best places to do this is the Place Bellecour. This dusty red square in the heart of both the Presqu’île and Lyon itself is actually the largest pedestrian plaza in Europe. Here you’ll not only find an impressive statue of Louis XIV and a Ferris wheel, but also see the hilltop of Fourvière not far away.
Place des Jacobins
After taking some time to explore the shopping streets of the Presqu’île and see their graceful old buildings, head for the Place des Jacobins. While not one of Lyon’s biggest squares, it’s certainly one of the prettiest. Surrounded by gorgeous architecture, this plaza is a great place to soak up the atmosphere of Lyon.
Lyon is a city defined by its two rivers, the Rhône and the Saône, so a stroll along at least one riverfront is surely in order. Considering its position, the Saône makes sense for this stroll. Its riverfront is a pleasant place to be, with pedestrian paths following the city streets and others down by the river. At some point, cross the river over one of the pedestrian bridges, such as the Passerelle du Palais de Justice.
Over the river, you’ll find the city’s most popular tourist area, Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon). This district is the best preserved of all of Lyon’s neighborhoods, so you can admire Renaissance architecture and alleyways to your heart’s content.
In its heyday, Vieux Lyon was the city’s liveliest area, being where wealthy merchants and bankers lived. While their homes may have looked modest from the street, venturing inside reveals a different story. Start at the district’s northern end and take your time working your way down streets like Rue St. Jean, ducking through side alleys as you please.
Vieux Lyon is also home to several unusual and fascinating cultural museums. First, there’s the Gadagne Museum, which houses both the Lyon History Museum and the Museum of Puppetry Arts. A short walk away is the Cinema and Miniature Museum, where you can learn about movie props and special effects.
One of Vieux Lyon’s most beloved quirks is the traboules, which are basically hidden passages that work their way through inner courtyards, staircases, and buildings. You could easily miss these entirely if you didn’t know about them. Of the hundreds that exist throughout the historic areas of Vieux Lyon and La Croix Rousse, only about 40 traboules are open to the public.
Although you can certainly take tours that will show you many of the traboules, it’s much more fun to go hunting for them yourself. Identified by a small bronze shield symbol, Vieux Lyon’s public traboules are only open in the daytime.
One of the other standout features of Vieux Lyon is Lyon Cathedral, found in one of the district’s few small squares. Dating back to the 15th century, the cathedral towers over its neighboring buildings and offers quite a striking sight with its mix of designs. This facade is even more interesting during Lyon’s Festival of Lights every December, when it becomes a canvas for light displays.
Inside the cathedral, you’ll spot a beautifully ornate ceiling and a magnificent astronomical clock. This clock has kept time since 1598 and even includes a perpetual calendar. Outside, just north of the cathedral, you can visit a small archaeological garden that holds the remains of other historic religious buildings.
Ancient Theatre of Fourvière
The history of Lyon stretches back millennia to when the Romans founded the city. Amazingly, there are still some ruins from this period in the city’s history, including the Ancient Theater of Fourvière. Found in the neighborhood of Fourvière above Vieux Lyon, this amphitheater could once seat 10,000 people, and it’s still occasionally used for performances. You can climb up the rows of the theater to appreciate what it must have looked like in Roman times.
Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière
When visiting Lyon, you can’t miss the sight of a beautiful basilica sitting high above the rooftops on the hill of Fourvière. This is the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière, a highlight of any trip to Lyon. While the hilltop has long been a place of religious importance, the basilica was built relatively recently in 1884.
Unlike most churches, the basilica has an upper and lower level. The upper sanctuary is where you’ll find the more lavish elements, such as stained-glass windows and large mosaics. The lower part is far more humble, and its solemn atmosphere feels like quite a sudden shift.
The real star of the show, though, is the panoramic view outside. From the church’s esplanade, you can see all across the city, taking in both the historic and modern parts. By saving this for the end of the day, you can appreciate the wonderful view without the sun in your eyes.
Day 2 in Lyon
To make the most of your second day, we’ll see a little more of the Presqu’île before venturing north. Today is all about seeing different sides of Lyon, which is best done by exploring parts of the city around La Croix Rousse.
Place des Terreaux
Much like the first, our second day starts with one of Lyon’s most impressive squares, this time a long gray plaza with imposing buildings. While Place Bellecour is the physical center of the city, Place des Terreaux feels far more like the cultural and communal center, largely thanks to the majestic Hotel de Ville, Lyon’s city hall.
Alongside the city hall, you’ll find the expressive Bartholdi Fountain and the Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon, home to an immense collection of art. Make sure to revisit this square in the evening to see its fantastic buildings illuminated.
Lyon is a city of many hidden talents, particularly street art. The artistic side of the city isn’t as well known to tourists as its historic side, but it’s definitely worth exploring. Simply walk a few blocks from Place des Terreaux to see some great examples of Lyon’s creative flair.
Just off the Saône riverfront, you’ll see a huge book-themed mural, known as the Library of the City, on the side of a four-story building. Further north along the riverfront is the Fresque des Lyonnais, a mural of people on balconies in a bygone era. Both are massive works of art and not to be missed.
Amphitheater of the Three Gauls
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 still has not only the Ancient Theater of Fourvière, but also the Amphitheater of the Three Gauls across town in the first arrondissement of the city. Only part of the arena remains, sunken among modern buildings, but when you visit this free site, you can easily imagine how it must have once looked.
La Croix Rousse
While we’ve walked through several districts of Lyon, we can’t forget the hill of La Croix Rousse. Once a working-class district for merchants and silk-weavers, La Croix Rousse is now full of youthful, entrepreneurial spirit. But there are reminders of its past, such as La Maison des Canuts, a museum that delves into the silk trade that was so vital to the city of old.
La Croix Rousse has long had a sense of local identity, which you can appreciate best by simply walking its streets. Along the way, seek out the Mur des Canuts, a colossal work of art depicting life in La Croix Rousse. You may even find some traboules, marked in this district with a lion’s head and an arrow.
Jardin des Chartreux
We hope you’re still hungry for views overlooking the rooftops of Lyon, because we’ve got another one for you. Over the Saône, you’ll find Jardin des Chartreux, a nice park with a terrace that offers superb views across Lyon. While the views aren’t as extensive as those in Fourvière, that district is actually part of your view this time.
The best way to end your day in Lyon is on a romantic dinner cruise. Enjoy a three-course dinner during a leisurely 2.5-hour cruise. You can choose your favorites from a variety of menu options and learn about the sights you pass from the interesting provided commentary.
That about sums up how you can see Lyon in two days. It should be clear now that this French city has plenty to offer for a perfect weekend getaway.
If you have some extra time, consider taking some day trips from Lyon. There is plenty to discover in this region of France.