Go to Lyon… that’s about all the preface this city requires! It’s also the phrase I heard repeated from the French friends I met during my first two weeks in l’Hexagone, or Metropolitan France. At the time, Paris, my first choice for a getaway, was immobilized by a relatively rare snowstorm. As such, I heeded the advice I’d received and boarded a train to the third-largest city of France (second if including the surrounding metropolitan area). If you like art, then you will appreciate Lyon. If you are a hipster, then you will abhor Lyon. If you eat food, then you will binge Lyon. Tout est vrai! Here is my weekend guide to Lyon, France!
Lyon (pronounced “lee-own”) sits in the east-central region of France between the Rhône and Saône rivers. It’s 292 miles south of Paris and 199 mi north of Marseille. A total of 506,615 Lyonnais live in the urban center.
Lyon is an ancient city first settled by the Romans, the influence of such being prominent in the city’s architecture. Emperors Caludius and Caracalla were born here. While silk production once drove economic expansion and prestige, major modern industries now include banking, chemical, pharmaceutical, tourism, and biotech.
The GDP of Lyon is 74 bullion euro, making it the second richest city in France. Famous former residents include Antoin de Saint-Exupéry, Auguste Marie and Louis Nicolas Lumière, and Paul Bocuse. Lyon is also considered the gastronomic capital of France.
Away Hostel & Coffee Shop
21 Rue Alsace Loraine, 1st arr. 69001 Lyon, France
- TOTAL: 19,12
Morning/Afternoon – Sightseeing
I arrived to Lyon at 1:00 pm and immediately dropped off my bag so I could walk to old town Lyon before dinner. I first stopped at Boston Café in Place des Terreaux for a vin chaud (hot wine). This bar faces the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon and is adjacent to Hôtel de Ville de Lyon, the city hall. You can sit on the terrace there under a heater and people watch.
I then selected one of the many bridges traversing La Saône and serendipitously found Chez Jules, a very good pâtisserie where I picked up a pink tarte aux pralines for the remaining road ahead to the Fourvière area. Afterward, I stopped at Terre Adélice for a creamy ginger gelato and Boulangerie du Palais for a flat brioche aux pralines. And then I walked through Cathédrale Saint-Jean Baptiste, took the funicular to see the open-air Musée gallo-romain de Lyon, and finally enjoyed views from Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière.
- Boston Café: 2,50
- Chez Jules: 2,40
- Terre Adélice: 2,60
- Boulangerie du Palais:
- 2,50 Funicular: 2,80
- TOTAL: 12,80
When I set out for dinner, it wasn’t to Mr. Edgar. I naively tried to eat at Substrat without a reservation, but luckily the hostess pointed me down the street to Mr. Edgar. With bated breath, I was in. The fixed-price menu I selected included a poached egg in asparagus sauce, roasted lamb with caramelized root vegetables, and a plate of fromage. I also had a Suze martini with Campari. I am not exaggerating when I say it was the best meal I’ve ever had. Moral of the story, when one restaurant closes, another opens.
- TOTAL: 31.00
- Other options for dinner: Substrat, Le Bistrot de Lyon
Late Night – Drinks
Odessa, in Pentes de la Croix-Rousse, is a great wine bar with high ceilings, exposed bricks and, though I didn’t try it, pizza. I sat at the zinc bar top and had a glass Burgundy and watched the hipsters of la Croix Rousse go by. It was perfect!
- TOTAL: 5,80
- Other Options: Sucre [Club], Paddy’s Corner [Pub]
Morning – Exercise
Parc de la Tête d’Or
As I ran through France’s largest urban park, I wondered, why would you name such a nice place Park of the Golden Head? According to legend, Christ’s head is buried here, and also treasure. Nevertheless, it is a wonderful way to start your day. Seize it.
- TOTAL: 0
Mid-Morning – Market
If Sunday is market day in France, and if you are in Lyon, then Sunday is Marché Saint-Antoine Day. Along a near full mile stretch, regional purveyors display the best fruit, cheese, charcuterie, bread, and poulet roti [rotisserie chicken] that France can offer to you. Gastronomic capital + free samples = Do. Not. Miss.
Café Comptoir Abel
Abel is so emblematic of the bouchon (Lyonnaise eatery) that many famous movies have been filmed here. Anthony Bourdain comes here. In other words, you come here. It’s not cheap for lunch, but in Lyon, I would advise you to buy. I immensely enjoyed my salade Lyonnaise, rib steak and roasted potatoes, pistachio sausage brioche and 1664 beer. Also, it’s two stories, so be sure to go upstairs. The dark wood décor differs from room to room and it is all stupéfiant!
- TOTAL: 24 + 4 = 28
- Other options for lunch: Café des Fédérations, A Ma Vinge
Afternoon – Art
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon
After taking in a large amount of meat and potatoes, I needed une promenade digestive (a digestive walk). I took my walk at one of the largest art museums in France. Here you will find the paintings of Boucher, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Picasso, Matisse, but also sculptures by Rodin and a significant collection of Egyptian antiquities. In my opinion, it was a manageable size too. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by so much art at bigger museums.
- TOTAL: 4
Café Mokxa has about nine two-top tables inside, and three times as many young people, making a crowded, but lively ratio. The coffee is delicious and in the summer I would imagine the outdoor seating is a fun place to be.
- TOTAL: 3,10
La Pinte Douce
The best for last, and you will need to work for it. La Pinte Douce sits at the top of Pentes de la Croix Rousse, meaning you will ascend many stairs, like real-life chutes and ladders. Once there, you can sit outside on the terrace with a glass of good wine among the hipsters.
- TOTAL: 2,50