2 Days in Lyon: Itinerary for a Culture-Filled Trip [2023]

Nestled between the Rhône and Saône rivers, the enchanting city of Lyon offers an exciting (and more relaxed) alternative to Paris. 

With its grandeur and historical splendor, culinary wonders and vibrant culture, the third largest city in France is a must-visit destination for urban lovers and cinephiles alike.

Yes, cinephiles — did you know Lyon is considered the birthplace of cinema? 

Lyon’s famous Lumière brothers are named amongst the first cinematographers!

They first presented their apparatus capable of projecting a series of photographs, thereby creating the first motion picture cinema, around the end of the 19th century.

The city is also a paradise for food lovers, with its number of Michelin restaurants rivaling the capital.

view of lyon over the river with a bridge and a church
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The surrounding Rhône region is world renowned for its Côte du Rhône wine, which is the perfect choice to accompany hearty Lyonnais dishes such as coq au vin and andouillette

Once the capital of Roman Gaul, Lyon was a major trading center during the Renaissance and a hub of silk production in the 19th century. 

Its historic old town, Vieux Lyon, is a maze of narrow cobblestone streets, Renaissance-era buildings, and hidden traboules (passageways) that were used by silk traders as well as resistance fighters during World War II.

With just 2 days in Lyon to explore this gastronomic haven, prepare to embark on a delightful journey filled with beautiful sights, mouthwatering food, and a touch of bohemian charm. 

Our Lyon itinerary is your ideal companion to make the most of your time in Lyon, leaving no stone unturned and no taste bud unsatisfied!

Day 1 of Your Lyon Itinerary

Get a feel for the city’s splendor in Vieux Lyon.

Colorful alleyways of vieux lyon with painted building facades and bright blue and yellow pops of detail

Begin your adventure in Lyon’s atmospheric Old Town, Vieux Lyon, where the enchanting blend of cobblestone streets and Renaissance-era buildings creates a nostalgic setting.

As you wander through its charming alleys, lined with artisan shops and lovely cafés, you’ll be quick to understand what makes this French city so enchanting.  

Start your day off on the right foot with a visit to a local boulangerie, where the aroma of freshly baked croissants fills the air.

Indulge in a delicious pastry paired with a cup of strong café au lait (or espresso however you like it), and get ready to immerse yourself in the lively atmosphere of daily life in Lyon.

Take a glimpse into the past at Fourvière Hill.

View of the top of the staircase, on Fourvière Hill in Lyon, with the Basilica our lady of Fourvière visible in the distance.

The iconic Fourvière Hill is a historic site that towers over the city, offering a glimpse into Lyon’s majestic past.

This part of the city dates back to Roman times when Lyon was founded as Lugdunum in 43 BCE. 

Many of the monuments on the hill are now part of a UNESCO World Heritage site, emphasizing Lyon’s historic significance in French (and also world) culture.

Fueled by your delicious breakfast in Vieux Lyon, ascend the hill’s summit for the breathtaking panoramic view just waiting to unfold before your eyes. 

From this vantage point, you’ll have an unobstructed view of Lyon’s landscape, with the Rhône and Saône rivers intertwining down below.

Take a moment here to soak up the view before you continue your walk to one of the crown jewels of Lyon’s architectural splendor.

Admire the stunning basilica.

triple arch of the marble white basilica of fourviere with two spires with crosses atop it and lots of detail in the marblework sculpted into the building

At the pinnacle of Fourvière Hill, the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière stands as a symbol of Lyon’s rich heritage. 

Go inside to admire the golden mosaics that adorn the walls and ceilings of the basilica, as well as the stained glass windows which create a kaleidoscope of soothing colors.

If you’re interested, you can take your time here to explore the various chapels before you begin your descent from the hill. 

Be sure to also take a look at the Roman amphitheaters nearby as you head back down!

Have lunch on the Presqu’île between the Saône and Rhône River. 

Narrow streets surrounded by historic buildings of Presqu'Ile, looking up to the church on the hill

Descend from the hill and head to the tongue of land nestled between the Saône and the Rhône for a leisurely lunch at a highly recommended restaurant.

The lovely Le Sud is an esteemed culinary establishment and a cherished part of the legacy left behind by the late Paul Bocuse, the revered high priest of Lyon’s gastronomic culture. 

Alternatively, you may have spotted one of the many bouchons, Lyon’s traditional restaurants, while wandering through the Old Town.

Not sure where to look? You’ll find an array of mouthwatering menus on Rue St Jean in this district. 

For a more specific recommendation, Daniel & Denise, located just a few steps further on Rue Tramassac, comes highly recommended for a traditional meal in a rustic-chic ambiance.

To be honest, though, you can’t really go wrong in a bouchon; this is the food capital of France, after all, and standards are high! 

Of course, when in Lyon, you simply have to try the ever-popular coq au vin or the regional favorite, the quenelle (a fish dumpling that tastes so much better than it sounds) at least once! So long as you’re not a vegetarian, that is.

Fish quenelle in sauce with red wine and water

Savor the rich flavors while sipping on a glass of local wine for a perfect feast.

For an incredibly sophisticated culinary experience, Restaurant Paul Bocuse awaits you just 20 minutes outside of Lyon.

Culinary experts will know: this restaurant is amongst the select few establishments to have ever received 3 prestigious Michelin stars! 

This isn’t your everyday lunch, but it is a must-do pilgrimage for the Michelin-obsessed.

Take a walk along the riverfront.

Classical view on Lyon over the Pont Bonaparte bridge, which crosses over the Saone river, as seen in summer with the famous basilica on the hill.

After a satisfying (and stylish) late lunch, it’s time to walk off the calories and embark on a leisurely stroll along Lyon’s picturesque riverfront.

You’ll find a blend of Renaissance and Gothic buildings and monuments as far as the eye can see. 

Cross the charming Pont Bonaparte, a bridge that connects the two banks of the river, and venture into the vibrant Presqu’île district.

With its lively streets and boutique shops, this district is the perfect place to spend an afternoon exploring — time passes a little too easily here. 

As you wander around, be sure to take in the grandeur of the Place des Terreaux, a magnificent square adorned with fountains and surrounded by architectural masterpieces.

The Terreaux square in Lyon, with a majestic fountain with marble sculpturework.

This cosmopolitan quartier is a great spot to mingle with locals in pursuit of fashion, culture, and culinary delights.

On the southern tip of the Presqu’île, the Confluence district proudly rises from the docklands, aspiring to propel the modern Lyon into a bright future. 

The heart of this district is the futuristic Musée des Confluences

The architectural design itself is a work of art, resembling a floating cloud or a spaceship in a distinctive shape with a reflective façade.

The museum creates a mesmerizing visual against the backdrop of Lyon’s urban landscape and rich cultural heritage. 

Embark on a late-afternoon adventure through the traboules.

A traboule, a small passageway that leads to a courtyard, with pink building in Lyon

Technically, it might be best to embark on this next adventure before sunset… unless you’re feeling really (really) adventurous. 

Lyon is riddled with a hidden network of covered alleyways, each one a fascinating architectural wormhole weaving its way through buildings, revealing glimpses of courtyards and leading to unexpected street corners.  

The answer to what purpose the traboules serve remains elusive – so, naturally, many urban legends have been told.  

What remains undisputed is the invaluable role these traboules played during Lyon’s occupation by the Nazis in World War II.

Like masterful magicians’ tricks, they provided a vital means of escape for resistance fighters. 

Now, they’re an interesting way to pass some time in Lyon.

Have dinner out, go on a food tour, or wine taste.

sampling different florence tuscan wines

When it comes time to eat dinner, return to one of the restaurants on the list recommended above for lunch.

Alternately, if you want a little more guidance, you can treat yourself to an evening food tour to get to know Lyon’s gastronomy scene even better.

For the wine lovers amongst us, you can also do a wine and cheese pairing with a sommelier before you dine!

There’s a 2.5-hour wine tasting of local wines hosted at 6 PM, spitting you out flushed and prepared for dinner at the respectably French hour of 8:30 PM.

Day 2 of Your Lyon Itinerary

Start your day in Lyon’s gastronomic heart.

Gourmet food sold at Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, at a cheesemonger who is preparing fresh cheeses

Remember the Michelin restaurant we mentioned yesterday? Les Halles de Lyon – Paul Bocuse is a legendary gourmet food market named in his honor.

A haven for foodies, this market’s aisles are a delightful tangle of fresh produce, aged cheeses, mouthwatering charcuterie, and irresistible pastries.

Savor eying everything and consider selecting ingredients for a picnic by the river or a late-night feast later that night.

Nestled amidst the bustling stalls are charming coffee bars, which invite you to pause, sit down, and savor as many patisseries and macarons in every possible shape and color as you can stomach.

Visit the Musée des Beaux-Arts and the Institut Lumière.

Green patina of a bronze female figure sculpture in Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon, France (Beaux-Arts)

The esteemed Musée des Beaux-Arts, nestled within the walls of a former 17th century Benedictine convent, is a true temple for art lovers.

Mostly European art is showcased here, spanning from ancient times to contemporary works. 

Wandering through the museum, enjoy the feeling of traveling through history, taking in the works of artists such as Monet, Rembrandt, and Picasso.

The Lumiere brothers' house in Lyon (France) view of the detail of the ceiling

If you have some time to spare, or as an alternative to the Musée des Beaux-Arts, the Institut Lumière celebrates Lyon as the birthplace of cinema, paying homage to the cinematographic legacy of the Lumière brothers. 

Housed in the former residence of the Lumière family, inventors of the cinematograph, the museum pays homage to the history of cinema through exhibits, film screenings, and an extensive collection of film-related artifacts. 

Breathe in the fresh air at the Botanical Gardens.

Garden tete d or  in the greenhouse section of the park with lush pond with lotus plants and lily pads

The Parc de la Tête d’Or offers a (much-needed) serene escape from the bustling city streets.

Considered the lungs of Lyon, the park invites visitors to unwind with its lush greenery, tranquil lakes, greenhouses, and botanical gardens. 

To further unwind, check out the paddle boats which are available to rent on the lake — you’ll feel like you’re in an Impressionist painting as you do! 

As though all that wasn’t enticing enough, there’s also a rose garden at Tête d’Or, for you to quite literally stop and smell the roses.

If you’re visiting Lyon in the spring, make sure to stop by the Jardin du Rosaire nestled on the Montée Saint-Barthélémy.

arches with red, white, pink roses looking up at the beautiful white basilica on the hill in lyon while in a garden

You’ll find beautiful archways adorned with a magnificent array of blooming roses, in a wild spectrum of hues, from striking reds to soft pinks and creamy whites.

Want another place to get some fresh air? You’ve got it, but let’s keep it between us. Le Jardin Rosa Mir is one of Lyon’s best kept secrets. 

This garden was designed by the Spanish worker Jules Senis Mir, who, after an illness, dedicated years of his life to creating this artistic oasis in his backyard.

The pathways are lined with sculptures, roses, lavender and thyme, creating an eclectic (and rather Spanish) haven in the middle of the bustling city.

Explore the bohemian atmosphere of Croix-Rousse.

Croix-Rousse houses in shades of pink, orange, and yellow pastel, all on a hillside

Once known as the weavers’ quarter, the district of Croix-Rousse retains a slightly rebellious and working-class vibe, while slowly emerging into one of Lyon’s most fashionable areas. 

At the heart of the revitalized La Croix-Rousse stands the Village des Créateurs, a 19th-century passage brimming with artisan workshops and boutiques.

From unique ceramic pieces to designer vintage clothes, you can find anything and everything here. 

With its fusion of old and new, La Croix-Rousse provides a haven for artists, start-ups, entrepreneurs and designers looking to bring Lyon forward. 

Of course, you’ll also find a variety of coffee shops, bistrots and restaurants. 

For a light and healthy lunch, head to MOMENTO, a very chic café inspired by Australian coffee shops.

This is where you’ll find your almond lattes and matcha teas, should you tire of French espresso!

mural called "Mur des Canuts" (1987) in the Croix-Rousse district of Lyon with realistic garden-like trailing flowers

The mural paintings in Croix-Rousse are an integral part of the neighborhood’s artistic identity and add to its vibrant atmosphere.

The paintings showcase the neighborhood’s history, culture, and social issues as well as historic moments and local legends. 

Keep your eyes open for the Fresque des Lyonnais and the Fresque des Canuts, two monumental murals depicting daily life, notable residents and the iconic steps. 

End your trip with a boat cruise along the Rhône River. 

A beautiful lit up night view on the water, from St Georges bridge in Lyon with Fourviere cathedral on a hill

As the afternoon sun casts a warm glow over Lyon, end your Lyon itinerary by cruising along the Rhône River — with a dinner option, too!

Drift past the city’s picturesque landmarks, such as the Hôtel Dieu and the iconic Place Bellecour, while savoring a glass of local wine or even one more delicious dinner. 

You can book a 2.5 hour guided tour including a dinner here.

Whether you opt for a dinner cruise or a simple 1-hour sightseeing tour, most boats will depart from the Quai des Célestins or the Quai Rambaud, both conveniently located in the city center.

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