What to do if you’ve only got two days in one of France’s most popular cities.
It’s a capital of French gastronomy. It’s uniquely and ideally located between two stunning wine regions: Beaujolais and the Rhône. That would certainly be enough for me to visit, but on top of that, Lyon has a unique industrial history that makes it worth exploring – at least on a stopover trip. I loved visiting in June, when it was super sunny and perfect weather – the best time to stroll along the Rhône and Saône rivers! Read on for everything I did while there so you can plan your own weekend getaway.
My train arrived in Lyon around 1 p.m., so after checking into my Airbnb, I spent most of the rest of the afternoon exploring the city by foot. Unfortunately, the Airbnb I picked was kind of far from the main drag, so I don’t recommend it. Instead, look to stay in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th arrondissements, which are far more central and very walkable. Check out these great lists from Bucketlist Bri and Wandering Wheatleys to do some research before you book.
Once back in the heart of it, I grabbed a quick sandwich from a local boulangerie and headed to the absolute center of Lyon in the 2nd arrondissement, where I took a little picnic on the banks of the river and slowly walked, listening and taking it all in. After lunch, I took a long stroll through Cathédrale de Saint Jean-Baptiste and admired the lovely limestone gothic architecture before taking a turn through the market in the square just outside. Then, it was over to Grive Epicier Bistrotier for an al fresco dinner on the banks of the Rhône. Grive has a curated menu of fresh, sustainable, and vegetarian-friendly options so I highly recommend it if you’re looking for something besides classic French food.
I’d heard that Lyon has a great art scene, so after some research I decided to dedicate the majority of my day to discovering it. I took the subway into the center of town and started my day with the Escalier Mermet, one of the many painted staircases in old town Lyon. From there it was over to the Amphitheater of the Three Gauls, originally built in 19 AD. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go in – during the summer, it’s converted into an outdoor bar and stage for local theater, but I definitely admired it from afar. There’s a great little park next to it too! As I prepped to head over to lunch, I stopped by La Fresque des Lyonnais, a massive exterior fresco that depicts 24 incredible people from Lyon and how they left their mark on the world. Super cool to see Paul Bocuse and the Beaujolais crus represented! I was traveling alone so I didn’t want to stop by any wine bars, but knew I’d be meeting up with a good friend in Beaujolais so I wanted to pick up a great bottle of wine. I ended up stopping at Lugduwine, which is a wonderfully curated shop a few steps east of the Rhône.
For lunch, I stumbled into a little Italian-French fusion sandwicherie, Les Miches Lyon. It’s a super cute, modern sandwich spot right in the center of the first arrondissement so it’s the perfect place to grab a bite in between museum visits. From there I headed over to Musée Gadagne, one of Lyon’s best museums. It’s divided into two parts: one about the long and fascinating history about Lyon as a city, and the other about one of the town’s most famous cultural exports: les guignols. Created by a silk-weaver in the 18th century, the guignols are a unique type of marionnette and related theater that celebrate the working-class in the silk industry. You can still see shows featuring the guignols in Lyon, including at the museum if you so choose!
I headed back to my Airbnb in the early afternoon for a nap before dinner at a classic Lyon bouchon for traditional French food. Just as I headed out, however, a massive thunder and hail storm exploded over Lyon and lasted two hours so unfortunately I didn’t make it to dinner. (I kept waiting for it all to stop and at one point made a run for it and just ended up looking like a wet dog wandering about the streets of Vieux Lyon!) Total bummer! Guess I’ll just have to go back to Lyon and explore the restaurant scene more concretely. That being said, here are a few spots that people recommended to me: Café Comptoir Abel (the oldest one in Lyon!), Le Garet, and Vieille Canaille. They’re certainly on my list to return to and if you visit them before me, tell me which one is your favorite!
Lyon is a city you simply can’t miss – especially if you’re headed to the Rhône, Beaujolais, or even out east to Savoie and Jura. I wish I’d spent more time there as there is no shortage of things to do, see, and eat! I’ll certainly have to return and stay at least a few more days. Until then, bon voyage!