Lyon–France’s ‘second city’–warms heart, soul and senses with Italian-tinged dolce vita stemming from its Renaissance roots. Indagare contributor Ceil Miller-Bouchet reports.
Contact Indagarefor assistance planning an escape to Lyon.
“Less complicated than Paris, more discreet than Bordeaux. It’s an easy life here in Lyon, and you can walk or bike everywhere.” The words of a Lyon-based interior decorator friend resonated as I came upon a solitary painter one morning, en route for a brioche praliné, one of the many unexpected treats I discovered recently in France’s second largest city, which also happens to be its culinary heartland.
For now, Lyon remains somewhat of an untapped destination, but that will certainly change in July 2019 with the launch of the Cité de la Gastronomie: a vast experiential paean to French culinary arts and heritage that will draw international travelers to Lyon, just as the Cité du Vin (dedicated to wine) did to Bordeaux. Also, a five-star Intercontinental Hotel will open next to the Cité de la Gastronomie early next year, providing a much-needed addition to Lyon’s somewhat provincial hotel scene. Both newcomers will be located within the gorgeously restored and repurposed 17th-century Grand Hôtel-Dieu complex, which was one of Europe’s leading hospitals from its founding in the 12th century to its closing in 2010.
Saint Jean Cathedral, courtesy Julia Bidault
Lyon has long been beloved by culinary travelers for its world-renowned humble home cooking establishments and a slew of Michelin-starred restaurants (this is the hometown of Paul Bocuse and Daniel Boulud, after all). But Lyon is also an emerging hub of interior and fashion design and should be on the radar of decorative arts aficionados and art history lovers. Plus, the town is less than an hour’s flight or a two-hour train ride from Paris, making it an ideal destination for families seeking an authentic and slower paced taste of France.
Related:Southwestern France Getaway
Where to Stay
Lyon’s top hotels–each with spectacular views over the city–are all found in the airy Fourvière hill neighborhood. With a wildflower garden, indoor pool, spacious, serene rooms and attached private terraces, newcomer Villa Maia (opened in 2017, designed by Jean-Michel Wilmotte and decorated by Jacques Grange) is the best choice for travelers seeking a chic, understated vibe. It also ideal for those planning to dine at the adjoining Michelin-star restaurant, Christian Têtedoie.
Another notable newcomer, in a stylishly restored 19th-century convent, the Fourvière Hôtel is a good choice for those who prefer a more casual atmosphere with an authentic sense of place. Contemporary design meets historic influences throughout, exemplified by a stunning reception area in the convent’s former chapel and a hip neo-bistro restaurant in the former cloister, which has three distinctive sculptures by Brazilian artist Pablo Reinoso. A small spa and heated garden lap pool compensate for the somewhat monastic rooms with blond oak floors and white linens. Five-star baroque style Relais & Châteaux hotel Villa Florentine could use a refresh, but the pool area was redone in 2017 and is spectacular.
For more independent travelers looking to immerse themselves in local life, Mi Hotels is a new group of freshly renovated, comfortable apartment-style suites in two 19th-century buildings located in central Lyon’s elegant Bellecour neighborhood. Local designers were tapped to furnish the stylish suites, each one with unique décor (not to mention a small kitchenette stocked with drinks and local treats).
The 12-room boutique hotel, La Tour Rose, in a 15th-century Italian mansion is one to watch. Set to launch in 2019, this property provides on-call concierges and guests receive a special code in advance (there is no check-in desk) and let themselves in via a keypad by each door.
Related:Rive Gauche Renaissance: Left Bank Paris
Where to Shop
Rue de la Republique, courtesy Brice Robert
Lyon’s world-renowned luxury silk industry, the toast of Europe from the Renaissance through the early 20th century, is a source of the city’s roots in quality craftsmanship that translates today into home décor and, increasingly, fashion. Plus, with the country’s second-largest flea market just outside of town, the vintage shops are definitely the most accessible in France. There’s a fun “thrill of the hunt” shopping atmosphere in Lyon because of the vast range of local designers and cute boutiques. The best shops are within two easily walkable neighborhoods: posh Bellecour, where the silk merchants settled during the the 18th century, and hip Croix-Rousse, once home to the city’s weavers.
In the heart of the Bellecour neighborhood, Rue August Comte has emerged as Lyon’s decorative arts and lifestyle shopping artery. Since many of the shops are only open between 2–7 p.m., these delightful few blocks are best explored after lunch (perhaps at Maison Hand, for vegan cuisine du marché in the boutique’s cozy side salon or Café Arsène, on Rue Vaubecour, for light neo-bistro fare on the adorable terrace). Among the many quality shops, highlights include Maison Hand, with contemporary home furnishings and pottery inspired by the owners’ love of global craft traditions; ArtClub, for a vintage clothes and accessories; Maison Combier, a treasure trove of silk chiffon scarves in a rainbow of hues designed by Philée d’Astre; Tinsels, a new Lyon-based fashion brand with simply cut modern French casual pieces made from regionally produced fabrics; and Galerie du Désordre, owned by master vintage curator Serge Rosenzweig, who sourced décor for Anthropologie stores before opening his own shop last year. Do not miss Galerie Nathalie Rives, tucked away on nearby Place Gailleton. The colorful boutique delights with a mix of mid-century designer pieces, vintage home accessories and new pieces by the vivacious Rives, who is one of the city’s rising design stars.
Banks-of-the-Saône, courtesy Tristan Deschamps
Young creatives are also making their mark in the Croix-Rousse quarter, with its urban, hipster vibe. Two notable local jewelry designers are on Rue du Romarin: Madame des Feuillants, a boudoir-style boutique showcasing romantic handcrafted pieces inspired by the Second Empire period; and Mila Marin, where delicate contemporary pieces accented by small gemstones share a space with Heley, an oh-so-French lingerie and swimsuit brand. Sophie Guyot is a source for gorgeous scarves, pleated dresses and silk accessories. And the Village des Créateurs, where 30 emerging designers have showroom-boutiques in the restored 19th-century arcades of passage Thiaffiat, is worth a visit.
France’s second-largest flea market, Lyon’s weekly Puces du Canal, attracts shop owners, stylists and interior designers from throughout France who arrive early on Saturday mornings for the best finds from among the over 600 vendors (they ship internationally).
Related:Shopping with a Teen in Paris
Old Lyon, courtesy Marie Perrin
It’s nearly impossible to have a bad meal in Lyon, where eating well is basically a city pastime. Most everyone will vouch for their favorite family-owned restaurant, be it a “bouchon” (the humble old-school bistro famous for andouilette sausages and other variations on animal innards so beloved by the French) or neo-bistro, which translates to a lighter, farm-to-table twist on traditional favorites. And, at present count, the city has accumulated a total of 25 Michelin stars. Dining options stem from the tradition of ‘Les Mères,’ or intrepid female cooks, called “mothers” who founded Lyon’s famous gastronomic restaurants after World War I and trained the next generation of chefs, including native sons Paul Bocuse and Daniel Boulud.
Chef Christian Têtedoie’s small gastronomic empire adjoining the posh Villa Maïa hotel on Fourvière hill is a one-stop culinary destination. His eponymous Michelin-starred restaurant is a study in haute gastronomy with a panoramic view over the city, enjoyed by luminaries such as Emmanuel Macron when he met with the Italian foreign minister last year. On the terrace just below, his neo-bistro, Phosphore, has the same view, with a casual, shared-table vibe. In warmer months, there’s a buzzy rooftop tapas-style bar, La Terrace d’Antiquaille, as well. On Place Bellecour, the Paul Bocuse Culinary Institute offers a traditional prix-fixe dinner experience which is nice, especially for families, because of the open kitchen and pastry area. There is a full cooking school upstairs.
Among the hundreds of casual old-school bouchons, Les Adrets and Chez Chabert, in the Old Town, are fine choices for the wide range of typical Lyonnais specialties too numerous to list. Mr. Gabriel, a sweet and chic new restaurant near the new Hôtel Dieu complex, is an updated version of the traditional family-owned bouchon, owned by a father-son team (in the kitchen and serving, respectively). Reserve in advance (and polish off your French); this under-the-radar spot is popular with locals because of its ‘from scratch’ honest home cooking.
Old Lyon, courtesy Marie Perrin
The Café Gadagne, atop the Musée Gadagne in the Old Town, is a darling (if very casual) ‘country in the city’ spot for an outdoor brunch, lunch or aperitif in the summer. It’s located beside by the pocket-sized public park (which is a great stop for families) and next to an ancient fountain burbling from the century-old ramparts covered with grapevines.
Given all of Lyon’s culinary delights, travelers on a tight schedule will be happy to learn of a small gourmet grocery in the Old Town, called Le Sirop de la Rue, whose genial owner has amassed most every sweet and savory regional specialty in a one-stop shop. And if you want to picnic, he will prepare a basket for you, including the famous brioche-encased sausages, with a bit of advance notice.
Related:Paris Restaurant Guide
Old Lyon, Courtesy Tristan Deschamps
Lyon’s world-renowned textile museum and research center (inside a lovely 18th-century mansion) is a highlight of any sojourn and, for textile and design aficionados, a reason in itself to visit the city. Many of the world’s haute-couture and haute prête-a-porter designers still find inspiration among the museum’s extensive collection, which includes over 30,000 silk pieces. Of course, the museum is a repository for every Hermès silk scarf ever produced (the scarves are still produced outside of town). Only two of the city’s hundreds of original silk producers are still in business, thanks to commissions from Versailles and interior decorators who work with local artisans like Atelier Jouffre on luxury projects around the world. The atmospheric Museum of Decorative Arts, with one of France’s best collections of period décor, is next door. It can be visited with the same ticket.
In Old Lyon, the Musée Gadagne, located in adjoining Renaissance-era mansions, is two well-curated museums in one with excellent English explanations. The history section is worthwhile both for its displays and for the serene, beautifully restored Renaissance-era rooms and original spiral staircase. Families and theater buffs will want to linger in the second part of the museum, devoted to the history of the Guignol puppet theater–starring the impish Guignol–which originated in 19th-century Lyon and is a typically French tradition. Families (or children at heart) might want to take in a performance (in French only, but the simple slapstick plots make shows easy to follow) at either La Maison de Guignol in the Old Town or at the Guignol Theater in a local park.
With a quirky ‘cabinet de curiosité’ atmosphere in a Renaissance-era mansion, the warren of rooms at the Musée Miniature et Cinéma makes for a low-key family-friendly outing. Visitors explore the owner’s private collection of vintage movie sets and props (including from Star Wars and Jurassic Park) and doll house-like miniatures.
From an Insider
After high-flying careers in tech and marketing, respectively, best friends Nathalie Grynbaum and Stéphanie Marquez had a powerful vision on how they wanted to travel. So they decided to launch their own company, MiHotel, in 2013. They call it “l’hôtel autrement” or “another kind of hotel” because it’s a discreet, stylish, tech-enabled hybrid for independent-minded travelers and families. The formula marries the comfort and concierge service of a luxury hotel with the freedom of a high-design rental apartment, all of which are located in Lyon’s poshest neighborhoods. Here, they share their insider tips on the best of their city.
Why Lyon, why now?
In Lyon, you can live like a local, even if you’re a visitor. In fact, Lyon was awarded ‘Europe’s Leading City Break Destination’ at the World Travel Awards organization in 2016. With the launch of the Cité de la Gastronomie center next summer, even more travelers are going to discover the easy mélange of French lifestyle, culture, shopping and cuisine that makes Lyon so special.
What should every visitor do when visiting Lyon for the first time?
Explore the Old Town’s renaissance-era lanes and enclosed passages, called traboules, take in the city view from the basilica atop La Fourvière hill, and, above all, eat! Lyon is definitely the heartland of French culinary art de vivre.
What are your favorite restaurants?
Les Apothicaires, Chez Thomas, La Haut sur la Colline and L’Atelier du Square. Our favorite bakery is Chez Jeannine et Suzanne, for a homemade pastry or even a casual lunch.
What defines Lyon style? What are some of your favorite shops?
Lyon is a very elegant, classic city, with a touch of Italian fantasie. We love Chez Nyack, for unique European clothing brands with bohemian spirit (Sessun, from Marseille, Mascob, from Spain and 1984, from London). Also, Hyggelig, for home décor and Le Passage Thiaffait with all the young local creators.
What is your favorite secret spot in Lyon?
La Tour Rose, a boutique hotel-restaurant in a renaissance-era mansion. It’s a secret spot because, from the outside, you can’t imagine the magical interior courtyard or building facades, with their stone arches. We are excited because we are renovating the 14 hotel suites with Lyon’s ‘it’ interior designer, Nathalie Rives, and re-opening the hotel in early 2019, along with an intimate food hall featuring the best of local cuisine in the former restaurant area.
Related:Shopping Guide: The Marais
Contact Indagarefor assistance planning an escape to Lyon.
– Indagare on October 11, 2018
How many days in Lyon is enough? ›
For a solid itinerary in Lyon, we recommend at least three days to explore the city's hills, rivers, bridges, and parks. Alternatively, you could squeeze in the top draws in a day or two, or take your time and soak in the culture over a week or more.What is unique about Lyon France? ›
Lyon is the capital of the region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, but also the capital of gastronomy, how foodies call it, there are 16 restaurants from the Michelin Guide. People also love visiting Lyon during the “Fête des lumières”, Festival of Lights, which is held every year in December.What is Lyon France best known for? ›
The city is known for its historical and architectural landmarks and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Lyon was historically known as an important area for the production and weaving of silk and in modern times has developed a reputation as the capital of gastronomy in France.Is Lyon the heart of France? ›
Think of Lyon as France's heart. It is conveniently located in the country's middle and easily accessible by main roads and railway lines.What is the best month for Lyon? ›
The best time to visit Lyon is in September and October when the city empties of its summertime tourists, leaving behind crisp, cool autumn weather and colorful foliage. The months between November and April, while the coldest and darkest, are the best times to find deals on airfare or accommodations.How much money do you need in Lyon? ›
How much money will you need for your trip to Lyon? You should plan to spend around €125 ($138) per day on your vacation in Lyon, which is the average daily price based on the expenses of other visitors. Past travelers have spent, on average, €41 ($45) on meals for one day and €17 ($19) on local transportation.Why is Lyon worth visiting? ›
Despite its relatively small size, Lyon is home to many ancient structures, including several famous churches such as Saint-Nizier, Saint-Jean, and the Notre-Dame de Fourvière Basilica. This old-world splendor is mixed with an exceptional post-modern style, which emphasizes the revitalization of the city.What is a famous product from Lyon? ›
Le Sirop de la Rue
You'll find typical products of the region: brioche sausage, quenelles, tripe, cardons (an old-style vegetable), or "Coussins de Lyon," a chocolate and marzipan confectionery created by the Lyon confectionery Voisin.
Lyon is the culinary capital of France and boasts plenty of local specialties. The original Michelin food critic, Curnonsky, called Lyon the gastronomic capital of the world back in 1935, and ever since the nickname has stuck.Does Lyon France have good food? ›
Lyon is a city that's famous for its food. In fact, Lyonnaise cuisine is so famous, it is considered the gastronomical capital of France.
Is Lyon a beautiful city? ›
Not only is Lyon a beautiful city full of historic buildings (the inner-city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site), but it has also been known as the World's Capital of Gastronomy for almost one century.Is Lyon or Paris older? ›
They are the same age, over 2000 years old. Paris is crossed by a mighty river, la Seine, but Lyon has two, la Saône et le Rhône. Paris has two major islands, L'Ile de la Cité and l'Ile Saint Louis. Lyon has la Presqu'Ile, a peninsula located between le Rhône and la Saône.Do they speak French in Lyon? ›
What is the local language? French is the official language, but many people know and speak English as a second language.What part of Lyon is expensive? ›
The 6th arrondissement was created on July 17th, 1867, as a separation from the 3rd arrondissement previously created in 1852. It is widely regarded today as the most swanky and bourgeois neighborhood of Lyon.Is Lyon cheap or expensive? ›
Summary of cost of living in Lyon, France: A family of four estimated monthly costs are 3,701.5$ (3,426.5€) without rent. A single person estimated monthly costs are 1,045.9$ (968.2€) without rent.Is Lyon an expensive city? ›
Lyon is generally considered to be 20% cheaper than Paris, but that doesn't mean that it still isn't one of the most costly cities in France to live in. In fact, prices are high on just about everything.Do I need cash in Lyon? ›
Commonly-used forms of payment include cash, CB (Carte Bleue), debit cards and major credit cards. Checks are accepted by most stores with proof of identity.Are the people in Lyon friendly? ›
Lyon has friendly French people
Usually, French people love their French – and Lyonnaise love their language and their city the same! They care about the city, celebrate it, and cherish it whenever they can. In the past, they were not that focused on tourism so Lyon sat quietly like a hidden gem.
Lyon is a walkable city. The old part of the city can easily be seen on foot, as can several of the neighbourhoods. Beyond that, Lyon has an excellent and easy-to-figure-out public transport system which involves buses, tramways and the funicular that takes you up to Fourvière.What cheese is Lyon known for? ›
Saint Marcelin: The French cheese from Lyon
The Lyonnais consider this French cheese to be the local cheese of Lyon. Saint Marcelin actually comes from a small village close to the Vercors. It is a cow's milk cheese, that is pretty soft and not too big.
What sweets are from Lyon? ›
The coussin de Lyon is a sweet specialty of Lyon, France, composed of chocolate and marzipan and created by Voisin, a French chocolatier. This tidbit is a piece of pale green marzipan, with dark green stripe, filled with a chocolate ganache flavored with curaçao liqueur.What did Anthony Bourdain eat in Lyon? ›
In Parts Unknown – Lyon, Anthony Bourdain was treated to a meal of Paul Bocuse's specialties. The meal started with Truffle Soup Élysée, followed by a sea bass dish. The sea bass is filled with lobster mousse, chervil and tarragon, wrapped carefully in pastry.Is 2 days enough in Lyon? ›
As France's third largest city, there are plenty of things to do over 2 to 3 days in Lyon. Its architecture and museums demonstrate its significance in Roman, Medieval and Renaissance history, while the modern centre and universities modernise the city and give way to many different artistic and cultural events.Is Lyon more expensive than Paris? ›
Prices in Lyon are reasonable. Cost of living is about 30-40% cheaper and though a lot of that has to do with prices of rent, things like entertainment, food, transportation and shopping are all still a bit cheaper.When should I go to Lyon? ›
Mid-spring to late autumn is the best time to visit Lyon for good weather. The days are warm and, even in the summer, the city rarely gets unbearably hot. What is the peak season to visit Lyon? Summer is the busiest time of year in Lyon, especially from June to August.What does Lyon mean in French? ›
Origin:French. Meaning:lion, brave warrior; grey. Lyon is a boy's name of French origin. Traditionally used as a surname, Lyon means "lion" or "brave warrior." Journeying through history and originating in 7th century France, this name made its way to Britain and Ireland after the Norman conquest.What is the old town of Lyon called? ›
The Old Town centre is named “Saint-Jean” (St John). Just as for St Paul, the name also refers to a religious building.What is the food capital of the world Lyon? ›
Lyon is generally acknowledged by the French to be the gastronomic capital of France; there are more restaurants per head in this city than any other place in France and probably Europe. Food here is taken to another level and people see eating well, eating delicious dishes not just as a pleasure but a way of life.What is the biggest industry in Lyon? ›
It is economically one of the largest centers for banking, pharmaceutical, chemical, and biotech industries in Europe.What's the prettiest city in France? ›
Marseille. Marseille is one of the main cities in Southern France and another of the most beautiful French cities to visit. Bathed by the Mediterranean Sea, Marseille is essentially a port city with a particular character and soul. The capital of the region Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur is far from the clichés of Provence ...
Is Lyon a cheap place to live? ›
High Cost of Living
One of the biggest cons of living in Lyon is its high cost of living. Yes, it's cheaper than Paris, but it's still one of the most expensive cities in France. Rent prices are high and the food isn't cheap.
In either Paris or Lyon, you'll find plenty of activities to fill your time. Most visitors tend to spend more time in Paris than Lyon because of the overall number of sights and activities. The ideal length of time for a trip to Paris is 3-7 days, and the ideal length of time for a trip to Lyon is 2-5 days.What is the motto of Lyon France? ›
The motto of the city of Lyons is traditionally Virtute duce, comite fortuna ("Led by virtue, accompanied by good fortune"), quotations from Cicero to Lucius Munatius Plancus, the founder of Lyons.Does Lyon have snow? ›
I'll cut to the chase — yes, it does snow in Lyon, France! However, it doesn't snow a ton as it does in Montreal, Banff, or Zakopane. It just snows between November – April, for a few days per month.Which Roman emperor was born in Lyon? ›
Caracalla was born in Lugdunum, Gaul (now Lyon, France), on 4 April 188 to Septimius Severus ( r. 193–211) and Julia Domna, thus giving him Punic paternal ancestry and Arab maternal ancestry. He had a slightly younger brother, Geta, with whom Caracalla briefly ruled as co-emperor.How do you say hello in Lyon? ›
We all know that “Hello” in French is “Bonjour”. It is the universal French greeting: the classic French way of acknowledging someone, a simple way of wishing others a good day.What ethnicity is Lyon? ›
It is the name of an eminent Anglo-Norman family (originally styled de Lyons, or de Leonne, and also spelled Lyon) that is descended from Ingelram de Lyons, Lord of Lyons, who arrived in England with the Norman Conquest, and from his relation, Nicholas de Lyons, who emigrated from Normandy to England in 1080 and was ...Does Lyon have an accent? ›
The accent you'll hear in Lyon has been influenced by Arpitan (also known as Franco-Provencal), a language closely related to Occitan and Provencal.Is Lyon worth staying at? ›
Yes, Lyon is worth visiting. Absolutely. Whether you go to Lyon for a few hours or a few days, you'll find a lot of things to do in Lyon.Is Lyon worth visiting? ›
Despite its relatively small size, Lyon is home to many ancient structures, including several famous churches such as Saint-Nizier, Saint-Jean, and the Notre-Dame de Fourvière Basilica. This old-world splendor is mixed with an exceptional post-modern style, which emphasizes the revitalization of the city.
Is Lyon France worth going to? ›
Lyon is the Gastronomic Capital of the World
If you consider yourself a foodie, Lyon is absolutely worth visiting as the culinary capital of France. It has also been called the Gastronomic Capital of the World. Definitely something to experience for yourself.
French is the official language, but many people know and speak English as a second language.How walkable is Lyon? ›
Lyon is a walkable city. The old part of the city can easily be seen on foot, as can several of the neighbourhoods.Is one night in Lyon enough? ›
As such, you won't be able to cover everything that there is to do in Lyon over the course of 24 hours. With that being said, many of the French city's major attractions are focused over a pretty small area and so one day is more than enough to see all of Lyon's highlights.What is the nicest area of Lyon France? ›
The best area for tourists in Lyon is the Presqu'île, a very centrally-located administrative, shopping and tourist section in central Lyon. The Presqu'île, literally meaning “the peninsula,” occupies the long strip of land between the Rhône and Saône rivers and comprises the 1st, 2nd and 4th arrondissements.