3 Days in Lyon: Everything You Should Know
If you're asking yourself whether or not three days in Lyon is enough to see all this historic French city has to offer, don't worry, it is, but only just. You will need to make the most of every single minute of your three days here though, so don't arrive in Lyon without having a well planned out itinerary to follow.
When you visit Lyon you can forget all about high rise dotted downtown areas. Lyon's historic district, the Vieux Lyon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which will instantly time-warp you back to Renaissance days with its outstandingly beautiful architecture. It's a part of the city which should be explored at the same languid pace as the Saône River flows through it.
After you've been in Lyon for a few hours, you'll find that same inexplicable languidity will have affected you too. You'll reject every single notion of rushing between the Notre Dame de Fourvière and the Musée des Beaux-Arts and the Place des Terreaux in favor of taking a seat in a pavement cafe and sipping a cafe au lait while people watching. It's why having an itinerary to follow for your three days in Lyon is vital. Don't have one, and the only thing you'll get to see is the bottom of your empty coffee cup.
Once the inevitable slow pace of Lyon has impregnated your soul, you'll be feeling far too lazy and laid back to be carrying your bags around with you. Save yourself the strain by dropping your belongings at a Bounce luggage storage service in Lyon. They'll be safe there in a security tagged luggage locker for as long as it takes for you to stop feeling lackadaisical and have the energy to go and collect them.
How To Spend 3 Days In Lyon
Take your time reading through this sample itinerary of how to spend 3 days in Lyon. By the time you've finished it, even if you don't follow it exactly, you'll have a good idea of all the things to do and a basic idea of what the best order to do them is. You'll also discover which are the best museums in Lyon and which ones to miss, where to get a great French breakfast, and more importantly, where to get a decent glass of Beaujolais.
Lyon Itinerary – Day 1
If you leap out of bed ready to explore Lyon on your first morning here, fair play, make the most of your surplus energy. Head straight for the Boulevard de la Croix Rousse in the Croix Rousse district of the city.
You'll find plenty of cafes and patisseries on this boulevard you can drop into for breakfast. It's much more fun and definitely more of a French way to start the day if you have a browse around the market stalls that clutter either side of this street. The stalls will be stacked high with local goodies like fresh bread, cured meats, cheeses, fruit, and olives.
Purchase whatever takes your fancy, grab a couple of coffees to go, cross over the Rhône River and make for the Parc de la Tête d'Or for a breakfast picnic by the lake. After you've fed the crumbs to the ducks, take a ride around the Parc de la Tête d'Or on the mini train. No one said sightseeing in Lyon had to be serious. It can be fun too.
Tip: If you're traveling on a tight budget and don't want to eat in restaurants all the time, you'll find you can buy spit-roast chickens seasoned with herbs and spices plus ready-made salads at the Croix Rousse food market. The market is held six days a week so you won't go hungry.
If you're feeling a little lethargic after a leisurely breakfast in the Parc de la Tête d'Or and really don't feel like walking around trying to find Lyon's attractions on foot, then the solution is to hire a bicycle or e-scooter. E-scooters and bicycles are some of the best ways of getting around Lyon and they're ecological too.
On a cycle or e-scooter, you can whizz from the Parc de la Tête d'Or back across the Rhône River on the cycle paths to the Place des Terreaux in just a few minutes. The Place des Terreaux is the city's largest pedestrian square and a must-see even if it's only a quick visit. The most outstanding buildings on the Place des Terreaux, which is somewhat overshadowed by the Croix Rousse neighborhood, which looms above it on a hill, are the ornate city hall and the Musée des Beaux-Arts, the Museum of Fine Arts, which is housed in a Benedictine Abbey.
Before you park your cycle or e-scooter for the day make sure to take a ride by both of Lyon's famous churches. The Basilica Notre Dame de Fourvière and the Cathedral Saint Jean Baptiste are within a stone's throw of each other so seeing them at the same time is a good idea and will free up time on your second or third day for doing something else.
Even if you're watching your budget, you should try to go out to eat at least once when you visit Lyon if only to have dinner in one of the traditional restaurants called bouchons. Bouchons are dotted all over the city so, depending on where you stay in Lyon, you're highly likely to find one nearby your accommodation. If you're a vegetarian, you'll want to skip the experience.
Bouchons serve classic Lyonnaise dishes like pot roasts, the infamous coq au vin, salade Lyonnaise, and all sorts of weird, but semi-wonderful dishes made from offal. It's French cuisine at its natural best and very tasty if you can stomach it.
Lyon Itinerary – Day 2
When you wake up on day two of your Lyon visit regretting the overindulgence in rich French cuisine the evening before, walk off your excesses on the way to explore the oldest part of the city, Vieux Lyon. By the time you arrive at this UNESCO World Heritage Site, you'll have forgotten about the night before and be ready to start indulging all over again.
Before starting your walking tour of the historic old town of Vieux Lyon drop into Le Luminarium on the Rue des Trois-Maries for some fortification. Here you won't need to resort to dipping a croissant into your coffee for breakfast as this stylish cafe has a super range of organic teas and coffees, breakfast items, and a selection of cakes that will have you planning a second visit before you've finished the first.
Once you've upped your sugar and caffeine intake, it'll be time to discover the rest of Vieux Lyon. Whether you decide to go it alone or take a guided tour, Vieux Lyon is like taking a step back in time for a couple of centuries so be prepared for the sensory jolt. Walk down the narrow cobbled street known as Rue du Boeuf and you may well find yourself ducking in case someone throws something nasty from a top window as they did in medieval times.
One of the must-sees on the Rue de Boeuf is the Tour Rose or the Pink Tower. It's an unusual and quite gaudy historical structure that forms part of a private hotel and residency complex. There's also a restaurant there where you can have a posh lunch, but only if you don't mind paying through the nose for it. A little more down to earth and within affordable range is the Le Vieux Lyon on Rue Saint-Jean. It's rustic, full of character, and serves traditional French cuisine like snails in parsley butter and slices of calf's head in sauce.
If you decide to forego lunch in favor of other activities, while you're in Vieux Lyon you may want to visit the Soierie Saint George which is a vintage silk workshop, or the Musée Cinéma et Miniature, the miniature museum. If you're into films and special effects you won't want to miss spending a couple of hours or more in this fascinating museum. It's an amazing insight into the world of movie-making before digitalization arrived on the scene.
When you're ready for a night out, put Ninkasi Gerland at the top of your go-to list, especially if you're craving some familiar food. Ninkasi Gerland on the Rue de Marcel Mérieux is where you can enjoy some beer, burgers, and live music in an indoor modern setting or out on the ample terrace. Don't get too carried away with the partying, though, as you'll want to make the most of the last day of your visit to Lyon and you can't do that when you're suffering from a hangover.
Lyon Itinerary – Day 3
When you're visiting Lyon, it would be a sin not to take a day trip out to the wine-growing regions that surround the city. They are where some of France's greatest wines like Beaujolais and Burgundy are produced. Whether you hire a car and go solo or join one of the guided tours that include visiting not just the vineyards but some of the Rhône Valley's incredible castles too, it'll be an insight into the culture and cuisine of rural France.
If a day trip to the vineyards doesn't fall within the limit for your expenditure there are plenty of other things you can do instead. French food has a worldwide reputation for excellence which can, on occasion, be hard to understand. Remove the mystery by taking a food tour of Lyon with a professional guide. It makes all the difference when someone in the know explains the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of the things you'll be encouraged to put in your mouth. There are also vegan food tours available, so if you don't eat meat you won't be left out.
One of the most beautiful and majestic parts of Lyon is its waterways. Taking one of the river cruises available in the city is the perfect way of enjoying both the Rhône and Saône Rivers in a relaxed and leisurely way. You don't need to make it an expensive outing either. There are regular low-cost, hour-long sailings departing from various quays along the riverside in Vieux Lyon.
After disembarking from the cruise you'll have a few hours left of your last afternoon in Lyon to go shopping for gifts and souvenirs. One of the best places to go shopping in Lyon is the Part Dieu shopping center on the Rue Dr. Bouchut, which is just over one mile from a Lyon Cathedral.
The Part Dieu is a flashy, three-floored indoor mall with lots of internationally known brand name stores and French designer boutiques. After the antiquity of the streets of Lyon, its modernity will be a refreshing change and you’ll feel as if you’ve returned to the real world.
One way to end your three days in Lyon in style is by going to Chez Antonin for a slap-up seafood dinner. Located in Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, this restaurant is famous in Lyon for their fish dishes that are created from the catch of the day. They also specialize in mussels and oysters, so if you're looking to put a little ooh la la into your last night, you know where to dine.
Lyon may be a sprawling city, but it's one you can pleasurably explore on foot. Discovering Lyon this way means you'll come across all of those surprising hidden gems like the Pink Tower or have time to contemplate the incredible architecture of the Basilica Notre Dame de Fourviere without being rushed. No, Lyon isn't the French Riviera and it doesn't have its own version of the Eiffel Tower. What it does have is a unique style, character, and atmosphere that's not comparable with anywhere else in the country.