As Florence is to Rome, Lyon is to Paris — a slightly smaller, yet charming version of its larger counterpart. The vibrant city sits at the intersection of the Rhône and Saône rivers, and is a common stop on the Viking River Cruises tour through the South of France.
And, with a couple of these tours under my belt, it was proven to be a great way for me to explore a city that immediately left an impression.
Though you could easily spend a week wandering through the cobbled streets and dining at the Michelin starred restaurants, you can also get a memorable taster with one magical day.
One Bucket List Worthy Day in Lyon
8:00 AM — See the Fresque des Lyonnais
The Fresque des Lyonnais is a seven story building painted with a massive fresco where 30 well-known Lyonnais peer out of the shop windows and on the faux balconies. Located close to the banks of the Saône River, it is the best known mural in Lyon. For some added adventure, play a little game and see who can find these five things first:
The Little Prince” book by St Exupery.
The Goldfish in a Bowl
The Lobster on a Plate
The Man with a Puppet on His Hand
Fresque des Lyonnais | 2 Rue de la Martinière, Lyon, France | Map
9:00 AM — Eat a Breakfast of Pastries
The rumors are true, France has some of the best pastries in the world. There is just always the right amount of sweetness and crunch. After marveling at the Fresque des Lyonnais, stop by Boulangerie du Palais to pick up a few of their delectable sweets. Try the Allumettes aux Pralines or the praline brioche. Or even better, just eat both like I did.
Boulangerie du Palais | 8 rue du Palais de Justice, Lyon, France | Map
10:00 AM — Stroll Through Vieux Lyon Saint Jean (The Old Town)
Walk off the pastries by strolling through the remarkable Old Town (also known as “Vieux Lyon”). This picturesque Renaissance district is in the 5th arrondissement has three sections: Saint-Paul, Saint Jean and Saint-Georges. Saint Jean is the heart of le vieux with its cobbled streets that are lined with quaint cafes, pretty flower shops and cute knickknack stores, plus historic buildings like the Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon.
In the old quarters of Lyon, mainly in the Saint Jean district, there are hundreds of hidden passageways. The paths weave through the vieux, linking streets via courtyards and secret alleyways. At one time these passages were used by silk workers to transfer their goods, now some are open for the public to explore.
They say that Lyon is the food capital of the world, and one of the most traditional dishes that has been born here is the Lyonnaise salad. The dish classically combines frisée greens with warm bacon chunks and vinaigrette, then it is topped with a perfectly poached egg. Almost every restaurant in the old town will sell one, but my favorite was at Le Tire.
After your belly is full with salade Lyonnaise peruse the gourmand stalls of a French market. The Marché Saint-Antoine Célestins will be nearby and filled with colorful produce, fresh cheese, fishmongers and butchers. Even with your stomach full you will be tempted by the shiny fruit and dry-cured sausages. Maybe consider buying some for a late night snack?
Either take the challenging hike or ride the funicular to the top of Fourvière Hill, one of Lyons most well known destinations. Once there, soak in the million dollar view, marvel at the Basilica Notre Dame de Fourvière, see the massive La Tour Metallique (that resembles the Eiffel Tower in Paris) and sit on the stone seats of the ancient Roman Amphitheater. The 10,000 seat theater was built around 15 B.C., restored in the 20th century and is now used for annual cultural performances. Behind the theater, visit the remains of an ancient Roman temple.
Lyon is known as France’s capital of gastronomy with chefs and restaurants who are no strangers to Michelin stars. Whether you choose a traditional bouchon or contemporary bistro, you are bound to find an experience that will delight your taste buds. Stay far away from the touristy options in the Old Town and instead head to one of these highly acclaimed eateries:
Whether you prefer Gin, Grand Marnier or Rum, finish the evening with drink at one of the many cocktail bars. For a really French experience order one of the most popular cocktails in the country: The French 75, The French Blonde or The Black Rose.