The sweet scent of freshly baked croissants hits your nose the moment you wake up; the narrow streets are already warmed from the morning sun; and the city is already alive with the sound of commuters. This is Lyon, France — the capital of the stunning Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. If you’ve a few days to spare, here are some tips on exploring this fine city.
Getting Around the City
Surrounded by looming steep slopes, the center of the city is surprisingly walkable, so long as you have a decent pair of shoes. However, there are many faster ways to get around that won’t cost you a fortune too.
The Lyon City Tram is just €9 for a day pass and will take you around some of the hotspots of town. There’s just one drawback — it does feel a tad “cheesy.” After all, both this and the guided bus tours offered in the city are heavily structured and planned. That means you only get to see the points of interest that have been picked out for you. It’s not exactly an authentic experience.
Without a doubt then, the best way to truly see and take in all that Lyon, France has to offer is by bike. The moment you set foot here, you’ll notice that cycling is a massive deal. The Lyonnaise are famed for their love of this mode of transport. Luckily for you, you can hire a Grand Lyon bike for just €1.50 from Vélo’v, although you will need to make an account on their site ahead of time.
Relaxing in the Lyonnaise Sun
Head to the city between May and August, and you can all but guarantee brilliant sunshine on a daily basis. The fact that this region is far from the coast means that you don’t get that sharp breeze to break up the heat, though. Needless to say, you’ll need to take the time to relax during the warmest hours of the day, if only to conserve energy.
While much of the area is urban and bustling, there are a couple of quieter spots where you can pass the hours and perhaps indulge in a picnic. Fountain Morand, just near the riverside, is a popular spot in which to unwind. Surrounded by florists and cafes, the sun hits this area at the peak of the day, which is also when it tends to get busy.
For those lazy afternoons, though, there’s genuinely only one place you ought to visit. The Parc de la Tête D’or is the city’s major green space and, as such, it’s one of the most frequented by the outdoorsy Lyonnaise too. The ample greenery here makes for a stunning space in which to unwind. What’s more, there’s a botanical garden to explore and even a small zoo. The latter is free to enter and has everything from brightly coloured flamingos and monkeys to a large male lion who sits atop his mount regally.
Brunching, Lunching, and Dining
Often called the foodie capital of France, the city of Lyon certainly packs a gastro-punch. Many a book has been written on the fine-dining eateries that this area has to offer and you could even argue that there’s too much choice. Still, here are a few highlights and tips that will get you started on your gourmet journey.
We’ll start with the most important meal of the day and, frankly, everyone’s favorite — brunch. You really needn’t go far to find a small dish to start your day off. On almost each and every street, you’ll find a brimming bakery or quaint cafe where you can sit, relax, and have a light bite to eat. As the culture dictates, there’s no need to rush this affair.
If you happen to fancy a morning ramble, L’Instant is just about a kilometer from the River Rhône. Be aware that much of that distance spans an ultra steep slope. It’s enough to wake you up. Once you’ve reached the patisserie in the heart of a small local square, you won’t be disappointed. Freshly-made pastries, macaroons, and bread adorn the window space and the bohemian vibe of it all will lift your spirits. For just €6.50, you can get a set-meal consisting of a sweet pastry, strong coffee, and some fresh fruit juice.
As you wander the city streets, there are plenty of eateries where you may well want to grab a quick bite. The heat will likely mean that you can’t face a heavy dish, and so it may well be worth grabbing a baguette or, indeed, a pizza slice on the go. Each of these savoury treats will set you back no more than a few euros per piece.
There’s also plenty of opportunity for a hearty, sit-down meal too. The traditional saucisson et pommes (sausage and potatoes) dish is simple, yet moreish. This low-cost meal originates from the nearby countryside, but has been souped up somewhat over the years. It makes for the ideal lunch dish and you can find it in most of the pubs and cafes around the center of the town.
As the sun sets and the streets get a little cooler, it’s time to warm yourself up with a gastronomic experience. This is where Lyon excels. The city is renowned for its extensive range of Michelin Star and Michelin Guide restaurants. You don’t need to spend an arm and a leg to sample some delicacies for yourself.
Tucked away on a side street in the centre of town, you’ll find Le Nord. The authentically French brasserie may look a tad intimidating at first glance, with its fine dining aesthetic and well-dressed clientele. And yet, it offers an incredibly reasonable three-course set-menu for just €26.90, which changes with the seasons. From delectably tender guinea fowl to duck terrine, there’s something for every taste.
Wine lovers rejoice; in the city of Lyon, the vin is always flowing. Of course, there are many hideouts where you could grab a glass or fillette (mini carafe) of your favorite grape, but one you may just adore happens to be Bar Le Florian. This place is open until 3:00 a.m. and serves a decent bottle of Hautes-Côtes De Nuit for just around €30. Sitting on the terrace by candlelight with the beautifully retro bar as your backdrop is a memory you will never forget.
Places You Have to See
Finally, if sightseeing is your game, there are a couple of places that you may well want to check out for yourself. Surrounded by gorgeous winding gardens, visit the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Be warned: the walk up to the building itself is a long one and especially tricky if it’s a warm day. It’s worth it, though. The spectacular religious monument is home to an impressively large crypt, several prayer rooms, and a main space packed with art and sculptures.
Just a little along the street from the Basilica, you’ll find the Ancient Theatre of Fourvière — an amphitheater that plays host to concerts during the summer. You can go and visit the outdoor venue anytime you please too; and if you’re at the top of the hill anyway, it’s worth a quick look. Standing at the top of the steps here, you get a simply awe-inspiring view of the city as a whole. Oh, and selfie-lovers, it’s also the perfect photo opportunity to boot.