There are way more than seven things to do in Lyon, but if you’re short on time and want to tick off some of the lesser known must-dos, consider this your checklist…
Les Halles de Lyon
This indoor food market is a little on the touristy side but like Borough or Broadway market in London, it’s an attraction that the locals love too. Get there early to avoid the coach-loads of visitors piling through and blocking the small lanes between each stand and be sure to hover long enough to sample ends of cheese and slithers of charcuterie. There’s a mini supermarket too, which is unlike anything back home, boasting about 30 different types of mustard – I even saw gold mustard – pâté and preserves, and some rather pricey fresh veg. If you only buy one thing, make it a slice of pâté en croute. You’ll know the stand I mean once you’ve passed it as they sell only pâté en croute, about 30 varieties, and they are real works of art. I still think about the chicken and mustard slice I had.
See lions and tiger and bears!
When we went to Lyon, we spent about 40 euros on picnic stuff at the aforementioned market – like the ballers we are – and took it to the nearest park Google maps would show us. That park turned out to be quite a lot more than the name suggests. Parc de la Tête d’Or is home to lots of green space, naturally, but also woodland, deer, lakes, medieval watchtowers, several cafes and a restaurant, a puppet theatre AND A ZOO. It’s completely free and you could easily spend the whole afternoon taking it all in. Afterwards, find a route back into the city that takes you along the motorway. As you walk the pavement, you’ll see steps leading down into trees. Follow them down into throngs of trees and patches of wild flowers, which break to reveal beach-like areas along the river. This is THE spot for those great shots of Lyon’s colourful buildings you see on Instagram.
Lyon is a great place to shop, whether you’re searching for beauty mecca (that’s Sephora for the uninitiated and there’s three in the city), designer labels or achingly cool independent brands. The main high street has everything most shoppers might need but those looking for something unique to take home should stop by Les Puces de Canal on a Sunday. The huge flea market runs all along the water and is home to some really interesting antiques.
Eat at a traditional bouchon
A bouchon is a family-run bistro that serves traditional Lyonnaise food (see: lardons fest) and often has an old worldy, higgledy-piggledy feel inside. There are about 20 genuine bouchons left in Lyon, though many restaurants profess to be one so look out for hallmarks like the red-and-white checked tablecloths, charcuterie hanging near the counter, uncomfortable wooden chairs, and plenty of pig references. It’s well worth searching your favourite food blogs for recommendations as everyone has a favourite, myself included. I love Le Garet (which is so damn authentic there’s not even a website to link to). I’ll write a proper review soon, but to give you an idea of what to expect, before we’d even looked at a menu they put a little bowl of snacks – nuts I thought – on the table and told us there was more where that came from. They were not nuts, but big fat, unctuous pork scratchings slathered in salt. That was just the beginning…
Drink it all in
There are so many good bars in Lyon and there’s a lovely culture of sitting outside under the heaters and watching the world go by with a beer or glass of wine in hand. If you’re drinking wine in Lyon, always go for the house red – it’ll be Côte du Rhône and won’t cost much more than 4 euros – and if you don’t fancy beer, they make a mean Aperol Spritz (to order, just say ‘Spritz’). There’s no need to plan your route, just start at one end of Rue Mercière and work your way down and end somewhere that serves late-night snacks and sharing boards. The cheese and meat platters on offer are so much more than you’d expect at 11pm in the UK. There’s not a soggy mozzarella stick in sight, more like crisp churros with cheese fondue, ham laced with truffle, melty St Marcellin cheese and potent blue cheese, pickles, salami, and potato croquettes. If you’d prefer to go inside after a night of outdoor boozing, head to Le Winch (also no website), which serves fresh tomato salads with burrata centrepieces, stuffed savoury pastries, and bread and charcuterie until the small hours in a cosy yet relaxed setting on the same street.
The best view of the city
GoPro owners will love the cloud play you can capture above the whole of Lyon from the hill Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière sits on. It’s quite the walk; a steep and sweaty climb up cobbled streets and through a pretty, sloping garden once used exclusively by priests but it’s worth the effort. There’s a nice restaurant with a courtyard that looks out over the river, a few shops (including one for a much-needed bottle of water) and the basilica itself is a stunning example of French architecture and free to go inside.
Go to Avignon for the day
Technically not in Lyon but with a direct train that takes just 50 minutes and costs around 11 euros, it might as well be. Avignon is a really picturesque city set on the Rhone river and is brimming with history. There’s an impressive castle to explore as well as the famous Saint-Bénézet Bridge, which has been dubbed a World Heritage site. The cobbled streets are full of charming shops, both for tourists and fashion-conscious Frenchies, and a little off the beaten track there are some great eateries. I recommend La Fourchette and La Petit Gourmand, or head to Carrefour and load up on your French favourites for a picnic by le pont!
And if you’re looking for somewhere to stay in Lyon, Hotel Silky is perfectly positioned within walking distance of all of the above. You can find out more about rooms and rates here, but the only thing you really need to know is that they put on a couple of hours of free wine and cheese every night at 7pm for guests. What more could you want?