How Do You Like Your Lyon? Ten Distinctive Ways to Experience Lyon

By: Jessica Lopez

    Start the day in touristy Vieux Lyon with a brioche praliné from the trendy Boulangerie du Palais, the bakery that specializes in this pink, almond candy covered in cooked sugar and baked into everything sweet in this town (cakes, cookies, breads, etc.)

    Sugar Coma in the Morning
    Sugar Coma in the Morning

    Wander the cobble-stoned streets and marvel at buildings as old as the 15th century, snaking through the traboules. These are hidden alleys that link these old buildings, once used by the town’s silk makers to dry their textiles safely. Find your way to the Croix Rousse where you can tour the canuts, the homes that doubled as silk factories when Lyon was the largest producer in the world. End your day at the restaurant of your choice on Rue Mercière or Rue Marroniers. Lyon is known as the culinary capital of France, and the restaurants on these streets won’t disappoint! I like La Menthe on Mercière for its authentic ambience and its appetizer sampler plate.

  2. LOCAL
    If you want to experience Lyon as the Lyonnais do, first dress in fifty shades of gray (I mean conservatively, not kinkily) and then skip anything of a classically French atmosphere: no churches, no castles, no cheese markets (those just smell old, due to the deliciously unpasteurized cheese). Instead, promenade the uber-modern, garish and science fiction-like Confluence

    It’s a bird, it’s… what, exactly?!
    It’s a bird, it’s… what, exactly?!

    which is on the opposite side of town via compass and architectural style (and not yet in guidebooks), and the reason why the locals love it. This is the part of the city where the two rivers, the Saône and the Rhône, intersect. Hyper-contemporary apartment buildings, à la mode hotels and a bright orange iron –hole? vacuum? modern art? ---combine with the city’s newest commercial center. It may look more like Blade Runner than Old Europe, but you can still work in some class and classical by enjoying a glass of wine or a coffee in a café by the water. But beware. The Confluence neighborhood is still being rejuvenated, so the attractive women you see across the street in mini-skirt and bustier are probably not there for the shopping!

    There are all kinds of almost free, fun things to do in Lyon! For less than one euro, you can rent a bicycle provided by the city and head to the Parc de la Tete d’Or, one of the largest parks in France at over 10,000 hectares.

    Respite from the Concrete Jungle
    Respite from the Concrete Jungle

    Here you can see monkeys, giraffes and flamingos at the free zoo; stroll through botanical gardens; rent a boat or a canoe; play bumper cars and eat cotton candy; or enjoy a picnic under the tall trees in the grass. … The city has spent a lot of money refurbishing the banks of the Rhône, and the grassy knolls and free chaise lounges are great places to hang out, sunbathe and play guitar while watching people go by. … For less than two euros you can sip an espresso (simple called un café) and sit for hours watching people at cozy A Chacun Sa Tasse at the pentes de la Croix Rousse or at tiny but comfortable Café Mokxa, which has wifi and chocolate chip cookies! Unlike the U.S., no one will kick you out when you are finished. … There are three fairs I’d highly recommend when you are in Lyon, and you can get in free by printing out the “invitations” online. At the Independent Wine-Growers Fair, take advantage of unlimited wine and champagne tasting and one free wine glass per guest. Participate in pastry lessons at the Salon du Chocolat and taste all the sucré you can stomach. Plan the Salon Gourmets & Vins correctly and you don’t have to eat for the rest of the day, just nosh on the multitude of snacks, cheeses, patés and sausage available. I tried pigeon here last year!

  4. ORIGINAL (in the French sense)
    Original is the polite word the French use to express negative disapproval, as in Hollande taxing the rich at 75% is an original idea. Even the most experienced travelers experience days of painful culture shock. When this happens, in the form of sadness, anger or depression, we may start to feel that France is more original than interesting. In the U.S. we might make a box of carcinogenic mac-and-cheese and curl up in front of a reality show. When those options aren’t available, seeing as you are far from boxed pasta or English television, it’s time to hit up the American standbys: McDo (there are fifteen McDonald’s in Lyon), Pizza Hut (three in the city) or Domino’s (eight of these), or even a double-latte extra-hot one-shot-of-vanilla Starbucks (conveniently located at both Hôtel de Ville and Bellecour). If you haven’t quite reached that level of shock, you might settle for one of the “NYC-style” restaurants like Best Bagels near Place des Terreaux, or a peanut butter and jelly cupcake at Little Petits Gateaux. If all else fails, mingle with your compatriots at an American Club or Anglo Lyon happy hour, or with the next best thing, the British, at one of the many Irish Pub trivia nights. I like Paddy’s Corner on Tuesday nights in the Croix Rousse.

    There are more Michelin starred restaurants in Lyon than anywhere else in the world. Lyon is a city of foodies, and celebrity chef Paul Bocuse is their guru. L’Abbaye de Collonges is his three-starred restaurant on the Île Barbe (about 15 minutes from Lyon), whose enormous price tag also comes with enormous carts of cheese and desserts a volonté (all you can eat). More budget-minded foodies might try one of his four smaller restaurants in the city itself (like Nord in the renovated train station.) I highly recommend the fried foie gras and polenta appetizer. Lyon also has delicious local specialties available in over fifteen open-air markets (you could feasibly go to a different one everyday). Also wonderful and underrated are the rotisserie chickens from the halal butchers (I prefer Boucherie Salam on Rue Paul Bert); the baguette de céreales from Kayser Boulangerie by the Opera; uniquely flavored ice creams at Terre Adelice (try the beet, curry or evergreen!) or salty crepes and ceramic pitchers of Breton cidre with a live vintage band Friday nights at Le Cincohe.

    With an average of only one and a half days of sunshine during the freezing and snowy winter season, combined with the fog, smog and pollution of the rest of the year, you might be tempted to jump off one of the many bridges on a cold winter’s day. Don’t do it! Summer is just around the corner, and besides, the water is very cold. Instead, wrap another scarf around you and enjoy a vin chaud (mulled wine) or a hot chocolate with foot-high whipped cream before using the weather as an excuse to eat some typical, fancified, outrageously-caloric Lyon comfort food at a bouchon. Try Chez Georges on Rue de Garet, for example, which serves intestine-sausages in wine sauce, quenelles (creamed fish, chicken or meat in an tasty white sauce), a Salade Lyonnaise (copious amounts of lardy bacon, buttery croutons and a fried egg with some lettuce) and pig cooked and blended in every possible, scrumptious way.

    There’s nothing healthy about this salad.
    There’s nothing healthy about this salad.

    You’ll be so uncomfortably full (and drunk on Côte du Rhône wine) after a meal like this, you won’t want to be anywhere else but under a blanket taking a nap.

    France invented cinema, and the Lumière brothers who did so were from Lyon. If you’re a film buff, you must visit the Institut Lumière, a museum, cultural center and cinema that hosts exhibits, retrospectives, guided tours, previews with director discussions and art films. Its annual festival is internationally known and if you’re lucky enough to be here in October, you can celebrity-hunt, possibly happening upon Ken Loach, Clint Eastwood or Jack Nicholson. It’s a great place to learn the history of film and see all kinds of movies, from old to new, throughout the year.

    The hills and the proximity to some great ski resorts (the Alps are less than a two-hour drive) make Lyon an entertaining place for active tourists. The walk up to the Croix Rousse is guaranteed to start you sweating, but rewards you with a great view of the city as well as a visit to one of its hippest neighborhoods. Be a daredevil and ride your bike back down! Another great walk up to a panoramic view is the curvy path to the Fourviére Cathedral, much more interesting than taking the funicular.

    A great view of Lyon from the top of Fourviére.
    A great view of Lyon from the top of Fourviére.

    This cathedral was built to thank the Virgin Mary for protecting her citizens and is a great place to take panoramic pictures. Take a swim in the outdoor pool just on the banks of the Rhône River or in one of the many indoor municipal pools, trying to make sense of the lack of logic in the lane organization. Less than ten kilometers outside the city and an easy bike ride, Parc Miribel has running paths and a man-made lake just big enough to cool off in the humid summer months. After an attempt at climbing France’s largest rock wall, confidently called Le Mur de Lyon (Lyon’s Wall), end the day dripping sweat from salsa dancing at the always-hot Mi Barrio on Rue de la Martinière.

    Sounds like a Ben Affleck film, but argot is actually the rebellious slang that French adolescents speak. If you want to feel like a carefree student again (or if you are one) buy some spray paint from All City on Avenue Felix Faure, tag a building or a bridge with your carefully crafted “graff” name and then run from the flics (police) yelling insults behind you, like “Putain de merde!” or “Je m’en fous!” To get to any of the many Irish Pubs in the Old Town, which is a must for twenty-somethings on Thursday nights, sneak in behind a paying passenger on the metro or just hop the barrier. (It’s only a 1,70€ ticket but a 45 euro fine if you’re caught, but it’s the fun of trying that counts!) Nothing says youth like too much drinking, and nothing says too much drinking like the tons of vomit on the streets starting around two in the morning. If you don’t feel like participating in that part of the evening, you can get the same experience by urinating in the street instead. Everyone’s doing it!

  10. SECRET
    Okay, there is a Sofitel Hotel in Lyon, but Lyon is not Lille and I am not talking secret like Dominique Strauss-Kahn-parties-secret. For more appropriate secrets, Le Petit Paumé is a uniquely Lyon guide that has tons of ideas for eating, outings, day trips and just about anything you can think to do in Lyon, including massage, tattoos, psychics and river boat tours. Pick up the latest issue in October, when they are distributed in Place Bellecour for one day only. There is a website, but it’s not as complete – or as cool – as having the actual book. When you just don’t know what to do, leafing through this quirky guide is sure to inspire ideas and impress your friends.

Adjective Translations (when not cognates):
Typique: Traditional, Typical
Gourmand: Foodie, Food-Lover
Pas Cher: Cheap, Almost Free
Pluvieux: Rainy Day
Sportif: Athletic, Active
Argotique: From “argot” meaning slang

About the author

Expat Blog ListingJessica Lopez is an American expat living in France. Blog description: I've always had the ache of wanderlust in my heart. Desired to pick up and start again. France is the newest dart on the map. Join me as I navigate my new home and try to find roots, adventures and a happy ending.
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Contest Comments » There are 10 comments

Catherine wrote 9 years ago:

Following this blog makes this Texan feel like she goes on mini vacations to France and other various destinations as I follow the author on her many adventures! Oh la la!!!

Taffy Stonehouse wrote 9 years ago:

thanks for sharing your adventures with us...tres you, proud of you

Erin wrote 9 years ago:

As a fellow ex-pat, in Lyon for 8 years, I can say you've touched on all the best things about the city, the must-sees and the only-get-to-see-if-you're-an-insider-or-know-one. Looking forward to more posts!! Thanks for inspiring me to discover the city again!

Marni wrote 9 years ago:

Thanks for these laughs Jessica I loved the "running away from the flic shouting insults" So French. And the fifty shades if grey , you never know what's under that cool Lyonnais facade Keep going on your blog

Nadia Musleh wrote 9 years ago:

You have the amazing ability to paint a picture through your words and pull the reader into the city of Lyon with you.

Jay wrote 9 years ago:


Marina wrote 9 years ago:

It was a lot of fun visiting Lyon through your eyes and your blog. You seem to have captured the lyonnais spirit! Keep enjoying the wonders of our beautiful city!

Natascha wrote 9 years ago:

Amazing writting... even if you know Lyon and all this little places it is entertaining to read it. You just jump into the story and follow Jessiac through the city :)

JJ Nichols wrote 9 years ago:

Love it! I want to go to Lyon NOW!!!

Andres wrote 9 years ago:

I love the way you interject French words into your posts and then give definitions to said words at the end. Although, with the way you write, I often do not need to read the translations as you have adeptly and seamlessly woven them into your writing that I already know their meanings. I really enjoy the humor in your writing. I look forward to each post because I know it will be not only informative but amusing as well. An intellectual and witty blog is difficult to find on the internet, yet you do it with each post. Keep up the excellent work.

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