So, you’re thinking of spending a weekend break in the city Lyon? Good choice, my friend. Let me tell you, this city has got it all – historic landmarks, cultural gems, and more food than you could shake a baguette at. But before you pack your bags and hop on a train, here are a few things you should know.
Lyon is not your typical tourist destination. It’s not a glitzy metropolis like Paris or a quaint village like Colmar.
No, Lyon is something special – a place where the locals are fiercely proud of their city and the visitors are warmly welcomed.
Lyon is considered the gastronomic capital of France, and for good reason. It is notably renowned for its unique bouchons, traditional French bistros found exclusively in Lyon and are known for serving hearty and indulgent meals. I suggest giving Chez Paul a try, it’s a charming bouchon known for its authentic cuisine.
One of the typical dishes is called tablier de sapeur: essentially, the stomach of a cow. But hey, when in Lyon, right?
Another typical dish is quenelles, which are made from a mixture of minced fish, combined with breadcrumbs, eggs, and seasonings. (It’s better than it sounds, I swear).
Odessa Comptoir is a great wine bar, where you can indulge in some local Beaujolais. It’s located just below the neighbourhood called La Croix Rouge, where I lived for a while. The neighborhood is characterized by its narrow streets, traboules (secret passageways which I’ll talk about below), and colorful buildings adorned with murals and street art. The view from this area is stunning as it overlooks the whole city, and the neighborhood has a strong community and laid-back vibe to it.
The one culinary spot you cannot miss is the vibrant Les Halles de Lyon – Paul Bocuse, a bustling indoor market named after the legendary French chef. It’s basically a massive food market where you can find all kinds of yummy stuff. You can wander around and check out all the different stalls, each with its own delicious offerings. They’ve got fresh fruits and veggies, meat, fish, cheese, bread – you name it, they’ve probably got it. And the smells! It’s enough to make your stomach growl louder than a lyon – sorry I meant lion.
But the best part? There are also restaurants and wine bars inside the market, so you can take a break from all the shopping and sit down for a nice meal or a glass of wine. Just make sure you don’t fill up too much, or you’ll have to roll yourself out of there!
Enough about food, let’s move on to culture! Head to Vieux Lyon, the city’s historic old town, where you will be transported to a world of cobblestone streets, colorful Renaissance buildings, and hidden traboules. Traboules are secret shortcuts through buildings, and they’re really cool to explore.
The history of traboules goes back to the 4th century, when the Romans built a lot of the buildings in Lyon. The traboules were originally used to transport water from the hills into the city, but later they were adapted by silk weavers who wanted to avoid having to carry their heavy loads up and down the steep staircases, and was then used by the Resistance during World War II.
If you’re looking for a breathtaking view of Lyon and a dash of divine inspiration, then the Fourvière Cathedral is the place to be. The first time I walked into this cathedral I found it so beautiful that it literally took my breath away (God, is this you?)
I went back many times since, I think even the Sainte Chapelle in Paris didn’t have this effect on me. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can take the funicular up to Fourvière – just be prepared to take a trip back in time, as this vintage contraption has been ferrying people up and down the hill since 1900.
Lyon also has culture literally plastered to its walls: there are a lot of murals. Some of the most famous murals include La Fresque des Lyonnais in the city’s 1st arrondissement, which features famous figures from Lyon’s history and culture; La Bibliothèque de la Cité in the 3rd arrondissement, a whimsical mural that imagines a library of fantastical creatures; and Le Mur des Canuts in the 4th arrondissement, which depicts the history of Lyon’s silk industry.
Other notable murals include Les Murs des Luttes in the Guillotière neighborhood, which celebrates the city’s working-class history and social justice movements; La Fresque du Cinéma in the 8th arrondissement, which pays homage to Lyon’s rich cinematic tradition.
If you need a little digestive walk after eating a tablier de sapeur (I know you’re pretending to be disgusted but deep down you couldn’t wait to eat a cow’s stomach), I suggest you head to the Parc de la Tête d’Or.
It’s the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for a little while, and not gonna lie, every time I walked through the gates I felt like a princess.
It has a beautiful botanical gardens, tranquil lake, and even a small zoo. There’s always something new and exciting to discover. I don’t support zoos, and I believe they shouldn’t exist but this one is free so I feel like I’m not supporting the industry even though I did walk through it once or twice.
What can I say? Red pandas and flamingos are so darn cute.
All in all, Lyon is a delightful city that offers a little bit of everything. From the hearty cuisine and rich cultural heritage to the vibrant street art and peaceful parks, you won’t be bored. Its quirky charm, lively energy, and unique character make it a must-visit destination for any traveler. So pack your bags, book your city break, and prepare to fall in love with this enchanting city that’s sure to leave you hungry for more.
Bon appétit and au revoir!
Read more about France in Dispatches’ archives here.
Charlotte Laborie grew up in England, Belgium and Switzerland. Charlotte then moved to Paris and graduated from Sciences Po Paris. She is still based in Paris, where she works in marketing.