Lyon is known as the gastronomic capital of the world, so you know you won’t go hungry when you visit this magical spot in the South of France. It was my first time visiting this vibrant city in conjunction with the Rugby World Cup 2023. I immediately fell in love with the friendly locals, the sense of history around every corner and the beautiful river walks. Known for its historical and architectural landmarks Lyon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Arriving in France we stayed the night at the modern and quirky Citizen M hotel in Paris, right near Gare de Lyon, so we could easily catch the TGV train the next day. The TGV train is a really pleasant way to travel, taking under two hours to arrive at our destination. This train’s speed can reach 300km, so it’s fast. Stock up on lunch or snacks at Paul before you head off or visit the onboard dining car.
Where to Stay
We caught a taxi from the station in Lyon and stayed in the Lyon Marriott Hotel Cite Internationale. It was right near the sprawling grounds of Parc de la Tête – d’or. After the match weekend we moved to a lovely cosy apartment in the Old Town for the rest of our stay. The Marriott was clean and comfortable with a gym, bar and restaurant for our use. The only disadvantage was that it was a little far out of town, although there was a bus station right outside and taxis and Ubers were plentiful.
We visited the bustling markets of the Old Town on our first day. Be warned Saturdays are heaving with people. There are food markets and antique wares alongside fashion and flowers. Our first few days in France we ate mostly Italian food as these were the restaurants close by and Lyon has a strong Italian influence. Late lunch was a shared burratini with a mouthwatering array of juicy tomatoes and dark balsamic. Dinner was at an Italian restaurant near our hotel – Giuseppe, where the pizza and salads were good.
Sunday was game day with Australia playing Fiji. After a lovely buffet breakfast, we headed next door to explore the wonderful Parc de la Tete – d’or. With acres of botanic gardens, a zoo, statues and a lake with boats, it’s an easy place to while away the day and enjoy coffee by the water. A must do if you are sightseeing in Lyon.
It was a hot 33 degrees by mid-afternoon and unfortunately the game did not go Australia’s way. Luckily the hotel restaurant Zucca stayed open late for all the weary Wallabies fans, and I enjoyed one of my favourite meals of the trip, a delicious saffron risotto. My husband tucked into some tender lamb with vegetables. Staff here were friendly and helpful, even at the end of a busy evening.
We moved to the Old Town the next day. Our cosy apartment was spacious and well-appointed with a lovely view of the cathedral up on the hill above. With a boulangerie downstairs, we were woken each day by the smell of croissants baking and the sound of church bells pealing from the many churches and cathedrals nestled throughout the city. For an authentic experience I would advise a stay in the Old Town. Our apartment building was built in 1778 but was full of the mod cons we needed. Our host – Nicolas was super helpful and kind.
Use your feet and walk the cobbled streets taking in the sights and sounds. Cross the river and you are in the newer area which has some great shopping. We joined a walking tour where we learned of the Old Town’s history and explored the secret passageways or traboules which are hidden around the city. Lyon has been influenced heavily by the Romans, Germans and Italians and there are signs of their contribution to industry, architecture and food throughout the town.
Another must do is to visit the famed cathedral up on the hill. Here you can take in the magnificent views of the city from the back of this majestic church. My advice is to catch the funicular up and then walk down again. Whilst here you should see the magnificent Roman amphitheatre ruins and the underground Lugdunum museum. This was one of our highlights of the trip!
You can visit the Musee Gadagne which is a puppetry museum, great for children, combined with the museum of Lyon history. We loved visiting the Musee de Cinema and Miniatures which is a treasure trove of movie memories. Props, posters and costumes from movies like Star Wars, Terminator and Raiders of the Lost Ark are all on display at this sprawling museum set in an historic building.
We finally did try some authentic French food. For lunch you can’t go past a hearty Lyonnaise salad filled with greens, lardons, eggs, sherry vinegar and Dijon mustard. It’s a filling dish I will try to replicate at home.
Try a traditional Bouchon, which is a welcoming local restaurant serving traditional Lyonnaise dishes. Be careful how you order though, there are delicacies like sweetbreads and calf head on the menu here for the more adventurous foodies. I opted for the local chicken with morels, a delicious dish which I really loved. It was the juiciest chicken I’ve ever tasted, and chicken and mushrooms are such a winning combination.
We enjoyed many meals along Rue Merciere, one of the oldest streets in Lyon. Try Le Layon or Restaurant Le Merciere for authentic meals in a great setting. Lyon is also home to many Michelin starred restaurants which were sadly all booked out during our stay. Your best bet would be to book before leaving Australia.
Another foodie must do is to visit the amazing Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse. It’s a remarkable treasure trove of food found in an indoor market. It has been offering the finest food of the region since 1859. We enjoyed a selection of the best cheese I’ve ever tasted washed down with a citrusy Chablis. We couldn’t go home without buying some sweet pastries for dessert. The inviting produce displays throughout will make your eyes pop. Traditional foods to try are the praline cake, quenelles (a type of dumpling), Saint – Marcellin cheese and saucisson.
Advantages to visiting Lyon are that prices are cheaper than Paris. It’s a great point to start your Southern France explorations and Lyon is full of history and great shopping. Many people speak English. We visited at the best time in September – October with the city emptying of summertime tourists and we enjoyed a pleasant temperature every day.
You can watch the changing Autumn foliage at this time of year. Plus, Lyon is the gateway to the Beaujolais wine region so is a great jumping off point for further explorations. Visiting second cities is often a terrific option when you travel. There is so much to do, and I feel that during our week there we had only scratched the surface. I would thoroughly recommend lovely Lyon on your next trip to France.
Freelance writer, wife and mother of three sons, occasional supply teacher and aspiring romance author, Michelle Beesley can be most often found in a coffee shop chatting with friends or beside a rugby field cheering on her favourite teams.
Michelle is a prolific—albeit reluctant—traveller, keen walker, bookworm and yoga enthusiast who loves anything pink or sparkly (including champagne!).