How to have the perfect holiday in France's gastronomic capital

Lyon guide
A weekend in Lyon provides the perfect city break for foodies and culture lovers alike - alxpin/alxpin

That Lyon is a sterling choice for bon vivants becomes evident within seconds of tucking into coq au vin in a jam-packed bistro, admiring fine art in a Renaissance abbey, or getting deliciously lost in a traboule (secret passageway) used by 19th-century silk weavers. It's a enthralling, richly storied city.

Street-smart Romans first spotted the city’s extraordinary topography, founding Lugdunum (Lyon's predecessor) in 43BC on the sunny slopes of Fourvière. And to this day, this basilica-crowned hill above Lyon’s quaint Unesco-listed Old Town (Vieux Lyon) is the perfect perch for clocking the mighty Rhône and Saône Rivers that wend their way so gracefully though the centre.

The city's quays, landscaped with peaceful water gardens and floating bars, buzz night and day – while culture lovers can explore a bounty of museums. Then there’s the gastronomy: among France’s finest, thanks to the unfaltering creativity of Lyonnais chefs, both past and present.

For more Lyon inspiration, see our guides on the best hotels, restaurants, things to do and nightlife.

In this guide

How to spend your weekend

Day one: Morning

Start with coffee and croissants at any of the pavement cafés on 19th-century Place des Terreaux. Admire the writhing horses of Frédéric Bartholdi’s landmark fountain (constructed in 1889), the 17th-century Hôtel de Ville (city hall), and 15 playful fountains by conceptual artist Daniel Buren.

At the Musée des Beaux-Arts you can immerse yourself in 5000 years of art history, from Egyptian antiquities to contemporary graphic arts, showcased with architectural aplomb in a 17th-century Benedictine abbey. Seasonal exhibitions bolster the rich permanent collection. Cool down afterwards with an artisan lemonade or juice in the museum’s elegant tea room or summertime cloister garden.

Back outside, hit the fashion boutiques on shopping streets Rue Édouard Herriot and Rue de Brest. End with lunch at Le Grand Réfectoire inside historic Grand Hôtel Dieu. If it’s a Sunday, consider a guided tour of the monumental hospital complex before lunch; book through Lyon’s super-efficient tourist office. In warm weather, enchanting summertime terraces in the medieval hospital’s impeccably restored courtyards promise hours of more casual eating and drinking, any hour.

Le Grand Réfectoire, Lyon
After a morning of shopping and sightseeing, head to Le Grand Réfectoire for lunch - DILLIES


No trip to Lyon is complete without a ramble into its medieval heart. Walk five minutes to the 16th-century Place des Jacobins, and beyond to the River Saône. Cross the Passerelle du Palais de Justice footbridge to the riverfront Palais de Justice, one of France’s finest neoclassical monuments with its 24 Corinthian columns. Delve into Cathédrale Saint-Jean – the heart and soul of Unesco-protected Vieux Lyon – and get lost in the surrounding terracotta-hued maze of medieval and Renaissance streets.

End the afternoon with a funicular ride uphill to Fourvière and its wedding-cake Basilique de Fourvière. The city panorama that unfolds from the basilica terrace is magical, but the view from the statue-crowned rooftop is even finer: to see it, buy tickets for an afternoon tour in advance online.

Basilique de Fourvière, Lyon
Take a funicular ride up to Fourvière to admire views of Lyon from the basilica - VENTDUSUD


As the sky turns pink, return to the Presqu’île and zip across the Passerelle du Collège footbridge to join locals promenading along the river-hugging Berges du Rhône. Its landscaped quays buzz with summertime cyclists, serenading lovers lounging on pristine lawns, and students hanging out in hammocks or in bars afloat traditional péniches (river barges).

Linger over drinks on the Rhône at La Barge, followed by dinner at French-Japanese restaurant Takao Takano or legendary La Mère Brazier for traditional Lyonnaise cuisine. Here, Michelin-starred chef Mathieu Viannay puts a modern spin on classics such as poularde demi-deuil (poached chicken from Bourg-en-Bresse with black truffle), and a dangerously lavish cheese trolley.

Later, night owls can sip a sparkling French CanCan (with champagne, lemon and cassis) and other craft cocktails at The Monkey Club or Barãgone.

The Monkey Club, Lyon
The vintage-styled Monkey Club cocktail bar is a longstanding hot spot for Lyon's hip crowd

Day two: Morning

Ride the metro from Hôtel de Ville up to Croix-Rousse, to drive your taste buds wild at the Marché de la Croix-Rousse, Lyon's best, local, open-air food market running much of the length of Boulevard de la Croix-Rousse. Meander its plane tree-shaded length, stopping to taste and buy: dégustation (tasting) is very much au rigueur in this foodie city. Consider a guided tour (in English) of the 'hood's unique traboules (secret passageways) and silk-weaving workshops, run by the Lyon tourist office. Alternatively, download its Traboules app on the App Store and DIY.

Complete your Croix-Rousse foray with a Communard (glass of red Côtes du Rhône wine with blackcurrant liqueur) and a charcuterie or cheese platter to share at Café du Gros Caillou – or hit Les Desjeuner for a decadent brunch. Afterwards, stroll downhill through the Pentes de la Croix Rousse neighbourhood, threaded with tiny boutiques, friperies (second-hand shops) and artist workshops. On clear and sunny days, linger at the top of hillside garden Jardin de l’Esplanade de la Grand-Côte, and see if you can spot Mont Blanc.

Traboules, Lyon
Get lost in Lyon's traboules, which weave through the Old Town - Javier García Blanco/arssecreta


Take the metro two stops from Hôtel de Ville to Place Bellecour, said to be Europe’s largest car-free square. Sail downstream along the River Saône in a Vaporetto riverboat to La Confluence, Lyon’s most modern district constructed on wasteland where the city’s two mighty rivers meet (see 'Neighbourhood watch', above).

At the Musée des Confluences you'll find fascinating anthropological and science exhibits – and dramatic city views from the dazzling glass atrium and rooftop. Later, mooch past the former docklands on the Saône quayside to clock more eye-popping contemporary architecture. End at 1930s sugar warehouse-turned-rooftop bar Le Sucre (50 Quai Rambaud) for drinks with Lyonnais cool cats.

Le Sucre, Lyon
An upcycled 1930s sugar warehouse is the venue for the hip bar, Le Sucre - GAETAN CLEMENT


Back in Bellecour, sunset cocktails beckon at designer Le Rooftop, followed by revisited French classics at polished old-timer Léon de Lyon. Stand-out dishes include the veal sweetbreads with aromatic truffle-laced mashed potato, and sweet Grand Marnier-flambéed crêpes suzette.

Or, for cutting-edge vegetarian cuisine, book a table at Culina Hortus: a feast of flavoursome and seasonal fruit, vegetables, grains, herbs and edible flowers from France’s finest small producers.

Culina Hortus, Lyon
Round-off your day with a meal at Culina Hortus, Lyon's first haute cuisine vegetarian restaurant

When to go

Spring is predictably one of the most delightful times to visit. Temperatures can be positively tropical compared to the UK, and China-blue skies are a given as urban life spills outside. Summer raises the curtain on fantastic arts festivals, including Les Nuits de Fourvière at Lyon’s Roman amphitheatre. Lyon’s signature sunny days might be shorter in Autumn, but visitors are well-compensated with the surrounding Rhône Valley’s seasonal grape harvest. December in Lyon translates as the city’s spectacular Fête des Lumières (Festival of Lights) and brilliant boutique shopping and bistro dining before hitting the ski slopes, two hours’ drive away.

Where to stay

Luxury Living

The swish Villa Maïa sits high on Lyon's 'Hill of Prayer' and is the embodiment of French art de vivre craftsmanship. The 37 sublime designer rooms have sensational 180-degree city views, and the spa (complete with 20-metre indoor pool) overlooks a wild flower garden. The Michelin-starred dining is gastronomic, wine-bar casual, or irresistibly à la rooftop.

Doubles from €410 (£361). 8 Rue du Professeur Pierre Marion; 00 33 4 78 16 01 01


£ 361


Check availability

Rates provided by

Villa Maïa, Lyon
Villa Maïa has just 37 designer rooms, with sensational 180-degree city views

Designer Digs

Lyon's dazzling ‘hotel of the people’ ticks every box with its sharp design, contagious creativity, and packed agenda of events. Mob Hotel’s modish rooms have a terrace, and some offer river views too. Larger Master Mobs include a sofa, Smeg fridge, coffee machine and projector screen for movies. Contemporary dining is organic and locally sourced. Thanks to its lively weekend DJ sets, Mob is a local favourite too.

Doubles from €99 (£87). 56 Quai Rambaud; 00 33 4 58 55 55 88


£ 87


Check availability

Rates provided by

Mob Hotel Lyon, Lyon
Mob Hotel Lyon boasts sharp design and a packed agenda of events

Budget Bolthole

This Scandinavian-styled, new-generation hostel sits on Lyon's Rive Gauche (Left Bank). Slo Living's attractive rooms are a mix of bespoke doubles and dorms, and its courtyard garden and lounge bar are decorated with stencil art by a Lyonnais street artist.

Doubles from €75 (£66). 5 rue Bonnefoi; 00 33 4 78 59 06 90


£ 66


Check availability

Rates provided by

Slo Living Hostel, Lyon
Slo Living is decorated with stencil art by a Lyonnais street artist

What to bring home

Pick up something silky from Maison Brochier, a family-run silk business dating to 1890 that has worked with Picasso, Miro, Chagall and other modern artists. Its new showroom inside Hôtel Grand Dieu is the epitome of timeless elegance.

Foodies should stuff their suitcases with saucisson (cured sausage) studded with Comté cheese, or a sweet bag of pralines roses (hazelnuts or almonds enrobed in flamingo-pink sugar) from Les Halles de Lyon – the city’s legendary indoor food market on the Rive Gauche.

Maison Brochier, Hôtel Grand Dieu, Lyon
Family-run silk business Maison Brochier has an elegant showroom inside the Hôtel Grand Dieu.

Know before you go

Essential information

  • Tourist board information: 00 33 472 77 69 69;

  • Emergency fire: 18

  • Emergency ambulance: 15

  • Emergency police: 17

The basics

  • Flight time: (from UK) 1¾ hours

  • Currency: Euro (€)

  • International dialling code: +33

Local laws and etiquette

  • Tipping culture: Service is actually always included in restaurant bills in France, rendering tipping an appreciative gesture rather than obligation. Consider rounding the bill up by a few euros or leaving between 5% and 10% of the bill to compensate good service.

  • Public transport: Being fairly compact and undeniably handsome, Lyon is an ideal city for navigating on foot or public sharing Vélo’v bike. The small but efficient, four-line metro run by TCL makes light work of longer distances and/or the hill up to Croix-Rousse; ditto for the vintage funicular line linking Vieux Lyon with the hilltop Fourvière neighbourhood. Single metro tickets cost €2/£1.70 (contactless payment possible) and are valid for one hour on buses and trams too; a handy 24-/48-hour ticket (€6.70/12.90 or £5.70/10.95) is also available. Metro trains run from 5am to midnight, and are generally safe to use. Download the TCL Lyon app for route planning, schedules and real-time traffic information.

  • Taxis: There are taxi ranks in front of Lyon’s two central train stations (Gare de Perrache and Gare de Part-Dieu), or order a city taxi online, by telephone or through the TaxiLyon app with Taxi Lyon. Daytime rates are €0.98 to €2.94 (£0.83 to £2.50) per kilometre plus an immediate €3/£2.50 picking-up fee.

  • Driving Etiquette: On the right side of the road. Lyon is notorious for traffic congestion however and anyone in their right mind will either leave their voiture at home or dump it in a covered car park such as Parking Bellecour (€3/£2.55 per hour) on central Place Bellecour upon arrival and explore the city on foot or by public transport.

  • Greetings: Two skimming kisses – one on each cheek – is the norm among the Lyonnais, among both women and men.

  • Local dining: When eating in a bouchon (Lyonnais bistro) don’t be surprised if the waiter asks you to keep the same knife and fork for the duration of your meal – lick it clean discretely with the final bite of your entrée (starter) and place it back down on the table either side of your plate waiting to be cleared. Equally standard is for the final addition (bill) to be totted up with a pen on the paper red-and-white-checked tablecloth.

About our expert

Nicola Williams is The Telegraph’s France travel expert. At home across the Channel for more than half her life, it was in Lyon that she became an insatiable foodie and mastered the finer subtleties of the French language while renovating a 19th-century canut (silk-weaving workshop) in Croix-Rousse. She now lives a short train ride away on France’s southern shore of Lake Geneva.