Ask a Local: What Should I Do/See/Eat in Lyon, France?

Aug 14, 2017    /    ask a local

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Welcome back to Ask a Local, a series of posts in which I interview locals all over the world about what to see, where to go, what to eat, and how to fit in in their city or town.

Today, our travel tips come from the fabulous Miranda Malpeli, a foodie, photographer, blogger, and translator who lives in the foodie-loved French city of Lyon:

About Miranda

I hail from Melbourne, Australia, and am currently living in France’s third largest city, Lyon. I’ve traveled back and forth between the two since 2008, when I first moved overseas to complete my Bachelor of Arts in French. I recently returned to begin a Master’s degree in translation studies and have since started working as a freelance translator. In my spare time, I enjoy walking through the city, camera in hand, and later writing about my experiences. Cooking is another passion and I often participate in culinary workshops and foodie events.

What to do in Lyon (the Basics)

Lyon may not have the iconic monuments of the capital, but it’s a picturesque city with a more laid-back vibe, which means that tourists can take things at a relaxed pace and focus in- stead on getting a real taste of the lifestyle.

No trip to the city is complete without visiting Vieux Lyon, the historic center, which was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its significant number of Renaissance buildings. The area spans three distinct districts—Saint-Georges, Saint-Jean, and Saint-Paul—though most of the major tourist attractions can be found in the Saint-Jean area. Things to see include the Cathédrale Saint-Jean, Tour Rose (Rose Tower), Maison du Chamarier, Maison des Avocats, the hidden traboules (internal passageways between buildings), and Palais de Justice.

Lyon panorama
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After exploring the cobblestone streets and narrow alleyways, climb the hill to visit La Basilique de Notre-Dame de Fourvière, an ornate basilica built in 1896 in honor of the Virgin Mary. The surrounding gardens (Les Jardins du Rosaire) offer superb views of the city skyline and the little red rooftops of the medieval and renaissance districts. For those who don’t fancy taking the stairs, I recommend the Funiculaire de Fourvière, one of the oldest urban funiculars (in operation for over 150 years).

From the basilica, Lyon’s premier archeological site (the Roman amphitheater) is within walking distance and definitely worth the visit.

Finally, the busy calendar of international and local events includes such gems as the Biennale de la Danse (the dance biennial), Fête des Lumières (festival of lights), Nuits Sonores (an electronic music festival), Nuits de Fourvière (a mix of theater, dance, music, and cinema), Festival Lumière (a film festival), and Festival Quais du Polar (a crime fiction festival).


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Hidden Gems for Seasoned Travelers

Those spending more than a day or two in the city should de- finitely venture to the Pentes de la Croix-Rousse, a former silk- weaving district and UNESCO World Heritage Site located on a hillside. While the ruins of the Gallo-Roman amphitheater, ancient buildings, and maze-like traboules in the hillside district bear witness to the city’s past, the area is now home to crea- tive types and artisans, with several workshops and galleries worth visiting. La Montée de la Grande-Côte is a particularly picturesque pedestrian street lined with cute boutiques. It leads to the Croix-Rousse, another of the city’s older districts that has a distinctly village-like feel and wonderful weekend market.

For art lovers and photo enthusiasts, Lyon boasts numerous mu- rals and frescoes, like the popular Fresque des Lyonnais. While some are easily locatable, others require a little more explo- ration. The Office of Tourism has launched a bilingual (French/ English) iPhone app called Les Murs Peints de Lyon et d’Ailleurs that allows you to discover these works of art.
Foodies can’t visit Lyon without stopping by Les Halles de Lyon- Paul Bocuse—the city’s indoor food market, which sells the best gourmet produce from the region. Stop in for freshly shucked oysters, local cheeses, and other delights.

Lastly, fans of modern architecture should take a trip out to the Confluence district, whose former docks have been com- pletely transformed by recent developments including the Musée des Confluences, Cube Orange, and Centre Com- mercial de Confluence (a four-star shopping, entertainment and dining complex).

pastries
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Where to Stay

For those who want to splurge, there are several luxury and boutique hotels in Vieux Lyon that offer guests a glimpse of the city’s past. However, more reasonably priced accommodation on the Presqu’Île (notably the area from Place Bellecour to Place des Terreaux) also affords an authentic experience. The advantage of this location is its proximity to modern tourist attractions like the Opéra de Lyon, Musée de Beaux Arts, and Théâtre de Célestins. Rue de la République, a busy pedestrian mall with lots of shops and eateries, runs through the center and many of the adjoining streets lead to peaceful squares and spectacular fountains, including the Place des Jacobins.

Day Trips

First, I recommend visiting the Beaujolais wine region north of Lyon. Another must-see destination is the medieval village of Pérouges, located just 25 miles from Lyon. For those travelling by train, the towns of Vienne and Saint-Romain-en-Gal are only 20 minutes away and offer further examples of the region’s Gallo-Roman history. And a little farther afield (two hours by train), the turquoise Lac d’Annecy is spectacular in summer.

ice creams
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Where to Walk

Lyon is bursting with walking and cycling paths. Many locals enjoy strolling along the banks of the Rhône to the Parc de la Tête d’Or, a 290-acre oasis featuring a lake, botanical gar- dens, and a zoological park. The walk takes you past several péniches (barges converted into bars and restaurants, very characteristic of Lyon) and is part of the larger Via Rhôna trail, 280 miles of which runs through the Rhône-Alpes region.

Another nice urban walk is along the Rives de Saône from Confluence to Île Barbe, a nearly seven-mile stretch that takes you northwest past Vieux Lyon and Les Subsistances (an inter- national creative lab for theater, dance, circus, and music).

What to Eat & Drink

While Paris may be France’s geographic capital, Lyon is often touted as the gastronomic capital. The city has a high concentration of restaurants and a proud tradition of famous chefs, including Paul Bocuse. Typically Lyonnais dishes can be consumed in a bouchon (a no-frills tavern-style establishment where workers used to go to eat cheap and hearty meals). Local specialties and drinks include:

  • Quenelles: poached oval-shaped dumplings made with minced fish and served in a cream-based sauce or sauce nantua, which is made with crayfish;
  • Cervelle de Canut: curd cheese mixed with garlic and herbs;
  • Salade Lyonnais: a green salad with diced bacon, croutons, and a soft-boiled egg;

market Lyon
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  • Grattons: pork rinds;
  • Beaujolais nouveau: a young, internationally renowned wine produced north of Lyon and generally consumed in the same year in which it is harvested;
  • Praline rose: almonds coated in vibrant pink cooked sugar, commonly added to brioche buns or turned into a dessert known as la tarte aux pralines;
  • Coussin de Lyon: bright green “cushions” combining chocolate ganache, marzipan, and curacao created by renowned Lyonnais chocolatier Voisin, produced since the 1960s, and inspired by the cushion on which an offering to the Virgin Mary was placed in the hopes of protecting Lyon from a plague outbreak in 1643.

Where to Eat & Drink (Favorite Restaurants & Bars)

Some of the best places to find the praline rose sweets are La Boulangerie du Palais (8 Rue du Palais de Justice), Jocteur (5 Place Henri Barbusse), and Sève (29 Quai Saint Antoine).

Bar Le Melhor (20 Quai Gailleton) at the Sofitel Hotel is my favorite both for its breathtaking views of the city and its extensive cocktail list. The atmosphere is plush and elegant with twinkling candles and jazz music on weekends.

Another great option is l’Antiquaire (20 Rue Hippolyte Flandrin) a tiny prohibition-style bar with good classic cocktails, fine spirits, and a hushed atmosphere.

The Monkey Club (19 Place Tolozan) is a cool place to head after dark with its quirky British-inspired interior and DJ sets.

meats
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Restaurant-wise, my most memorable meals have been at Les Trois Dômes (a Michelin-starred restaurant at the Sofitel Hotel), Le Passe Temps (Asian fusion at 52 Rue Tronchet), and Le Splendid (one of the more affordable offerings from cele- brated Chef Georges Blanc, located at 3 Place Jules Ferry).

I’m also a big fan of the growing bistronomy movement—a trend all about skipping the astronomical prices, luxury atmo- spheres, and stuffy waiters and instead doing gastronomic food in a bistro setting.

For those who prefer to eat in the center, the two main streets to visit are undeniably Rue Mercière and Rue des Marronniers.

Budget Tips

A fun and inexpensive way of getting around the city is the Velo’v bike share system. A daily hire ticket costs less than €2 and the first half hour of every journey is free.

Bouchons, the traditional Lyonnais bistros, are generally good value for money and offer generous serving sizes. Some offer discounts to diners who eat earlier in the evening.
Many restaurants in Lyon offer both fixed-price menus and à la carte options. Opt for the former and choose the daily specials to keep costs down. If you want to save on lunch, many of the open-air markets are home to food trucks and caterers offering tasty home-cooked meals. Pick up paella, empan- adas, or even a pizza at the Marché Quai Saint-Antoine fresh market Tuesday – Sunday mornings.

Cultural activities tend to be affordable in France and many institutions offer free entry to young people (under 26). For those who plan to visit several museums or galleries, it’s definitely worth purchasing the Lyon City Card (a one-day card costs €22, two-day €32, and three-day €42), which includes entry to the city’s museums, several free guided visits and activities, and a host of reduced price admissions, including the opera and the aquarium.
For those who don’t have a city card and don’t want to pay for the Lyon City Boat cruise, you can take a vaporetto ride along certain sections of the Saône for just €2 on the Confluence shopping center riverboat.

On Sundays, the outdoor art and craft market along the Saône near the Palais de Justice is fun to visit. Cross the footbridge to check out the Marché des Bouquinistes along Quai de la Pêcherie for secondhand books and vintage memorabilia.

Lyon
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How to Meet Locals & Make Friends

For those who speak a little French, try the out the Franglish speed-dating style conversation exchange (franglish.eu) or take a cooking class at l’Atelier des Chefs. Sure, you may not understand everything, but food is a universal language and you should be able to follow the demonstrations. Meetup.com is also a good option; Lyon has a number of English-French language exchange groups.

Best Places to Take a Photo

There are several vantage points that offer stunning panor- amic views of the city, including Fourvière Hill, Les Pentes de la Croix Rousse (with views of the famous white basilica), and La Place du Gros Cailllou in the Croix-Rousse district.

Several beautiful bridges span the two rivers (the Rhône and the Saône) that flow through the city of Lyon. The footbridges (i.e. Passerelle du Palais de Justice, Passerelle Saint-Georges, Passerelle du Collège) are particularly good spots for pictures.

The expansive Place Bellecour, the heart of modern-day Lyon, is also a lovely backdrop. And an especially memorable snap is Fourvière Hill at sunset with the silhouette of the Louis XIV statue in the foreground.

Find Miranda at destinationlyon.com.


France - 100 locals tell you where to go, what to eat, and how to fit in Did I mention that I wrote a book full of these interviews?
Get 100 interviews from top chefs, culture buffs, and locals all over France.

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One Comment
  • Anthony N
    August 30, 2017

    Thanks Gigi! The most informative article I have ever read about traveling Lyon! It is exactly what I need to know

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