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The capital of French gastronomy, plus the confluence of two rivers, Lyon is a beautiful grand city that’s easy to explore and full of friendly people. Shopping is excellent. Good for a long weekend. I like it year round – it’s shiny in the summer, but it’s a great winter destination that doesn’t slow down.

For the Shopping:

  • **Passage Thiaffait: Built in the early 19th century, the Passage Thiaffait is one of several passageways known as traboules in Lyon. Unique to Vieux Lyon and the Croix-Rousse, the old silk-weaving quarter, these secret conduits were originally used by Lyonnais silk-weavers (canuts) to ferry their goods quickly from workshops located at the top of the Croix-Rousse hill to the textile merchants down below. Recently restored to its former glory, the Passage Thiaffait houses a variety of workshops and student-design studios under its roof. Worth it for a view of the neighborhood, which is full of students and has a different tone from other areas of the city.
  • For higher end and more unique gifts, we liked Rue de Brest north of Place Bellecour.
  • On the outskirts of Lyon (technically Villeurbanne),***Les Puces du Canal is a wonderful shopping destination – the second largest flea market in France. It specializes in antiques and is packed with amazing finds. Pricing is reasonable, it’s a very orderly (even elegant at times) place, and I never felt hustled. Sunday is the big day for visiting (more limited access on Thursdays and Saturdays). There’s a decent burger place, **Oscar, onsite, and food carts and charming little cafes/bars scattered throughout the site. **Le Broc Cafe is a less formal, older spot – good energy, okay food.

Sites & Activities:

  • ***La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere: extremely impressive. There are many great churches in Lyon but this is particularly notable for the quality of the mosaics. (Also just adjacent there’s a pretty patio overlooking the city at Bulle – Restaurant de Fourvière – a good option for a drink.)
  • The old town’s traboules (passageways) – good to know about (makes walking the city more of a scavenger hunt) but generally hard to access. More on Atlas Obscura.
  • A **boat tour. Boats run several times a way along the rivers, and it’s a nice way to get a historical overview of the area. We did a 1-hr round trip, long enough unless you’re adding on a meal on the boat. There’s a small kiosk to buy tickets and check sailing times just next to Buvette Saint Antoine on the Passerelle du Palais-de-Justice.
  • **The Confluence District: the former docks at the end of the city, restored over the last two decades into an arts and entertainment district. It’s great on a sunny day for a walk or a bike ride. Biking in general in Lyon is a great way to get around.
  • ***Museum of Miniatures and Cinema: fabulous. More than miniatures, a huge collection of movie sets and memorabilia. We loved it.
  • **Parc de la Tête d’Or is packed with families on sunny days, a lovely and shady place to walk or bike. Has an open air zoo and is quite large and elegant.

Sites to see [haven’t done]:

  • Lumière villa museum (cinema museum, maybe next time)
  • Musée des Confluences (save for summer, looks very conceptual)
  • Lugdunum Museum and Roman Theatre, 17 Rue Cleber, museegalloromain.grandlyon.com. The theater and the next-door odeon are free to visit and open year-round from 7 a.m. (closing at 9 p.m. in the summer, 7 p.m. in the winter). Don’t miss the museum, which is filled with historical remnants of Roman Lyon. Admission costs about $8.60 for adults and about $5.50 for children.
  • Musee des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, 20 Place des Terreaux, mba-lyon.fr, This 17th-century building in the heart of Lyon boasts a collection that includes everything from ancient art to modern sculpture. Closed on Tuesday. Adult tickets cost about $10.

To Eat:

For one of the most foodie cities on earth, we’ve had a bumpy dining ride. I’ve learned to avoid Michelin ratings in Lyon (which I don’t elsewhere; it’s typically reliable) and stick with Le Fooding recommendations, or Les Toques Blanches Lyonnaise.

  • **Brasserie le Nord: another lovely Paul Bocuse spot, with more traditional food of the region. Ask for a table downstairs if possible. 
  • **Brasserie Le Sud: a very affordable Paul Bocuse location, on a sunny square. Service is good, food was really good, quite better than it needs to be in a very touristy location. Excellent lunch choice. Food is Italian/Moroccan.
  • *Daniel & Denise: “one of the city’s finest bouchons” (1 of 3 locations). Food was fine but the crowd was really annoying (loud tourists) and the service was pretty sloppy. I wouldn’t go back. 
  • ***Le Bistrot de Lyon: A good year round option, with regional food and a seriously over the top classic cafe-culture interior.
  • **Les Fines Gueules: a very traditional bouchon, with lots of “creative meats.” Friendly service, nice setting, loved the red walls.
  • **Le Francois Villon: another nice Bouchon in the old town, with friendly service.
  • **Glacier Terre adélice LYON: all the rage at the moment (ice cream). Didn’t do much for me but Galen liked it.
  • ***Les Halles Paul Bocuse food emporium: more collection of small restaurants than market (though it has both), this is a packed and delicious space. Grab a seat for oysters and champagne. Best as a lunchtime stop. We seem to habitually end up at **CHEZ ANTONIN, which is fine and has more seating than most.
  • *Leon de Lyon: a historic choice (dating back to 1905) in a lovely setting, with multiple rooms. Our meal was shockingly bad, with fairly tired and mediocre food and service so bad it was almost a comedy… except it wasn’t. Just terrible.
  • ? Plethore & Balthazar: We had a wonderful meal here, but have since heard it’s declined seriously. Proceed with caution.

Hotels:

  • **Collège Hôtel: totally fine. While I wouldn’t rush to stay here again, no major complaints. Nice location on the northern edge of the old town with good views, limited parking (call ahead), quiet rooms if you’re on the upper levels, decent breakfast. Rooms are very small, and would be challenging for more than a short stay.
  • ***Cour des Loges – Hôtel: a very popular place right in the old town. Great service, elegant setting. Rooms are creatively odd (not in a bad way). Ask for a room off the street. Call ahead for parking (required to drive into the old town).
  • Villa Florentine. 25 Montee Saint-Barthelemy, villaflorentine.com/en. Situated on the Fourviere hill above the old town, this five-star former convent boasts a swimming pool, sauna and a well-regarded restaurant, Les Terrasses de Lyon. Not cheap and a bit more remote, but would be a good summer choice for the pool.
  • ***Les Suites de l’Ile Barbe: this is a special find, north of the city, but within easy bike ride or cab distance. We liked it so much we’d consider it as a home base for trips to Lyon.  Île Barbe itself is a small island in the middle of the Saône, with a park and a small gated area with houses in varying states of repair. An abbey was founded on the island in the 5th century – the first monastic establishment in the Lyon region and one of the oldest in all of Gaul. It was pillaged several times, burned, and changed hands, finally moving into secular ownership during the French revolution. Les Suites are part of the abbey structures, gorgeously renovated on the inside. On either side of the island are several (a dozen?) restaurants. We ate at the waterside **Les Terrasses de l’île barbe,  casual, with good burgers and salads. Our friends also had a good meal at the more upscale Pistou.

Rochetaillée-sur-Saône

A suburb of Lyon, Rochetaillee is a hidden gem with an excellent museum and very good food. The ***Musée de l’automobile Henri Malartre is really, really good – historic cars made in Lyon, a wonderful and charming bicycle collection, some truly astounding rare cars in driving condition. It’s also empty and you’ll likely have it all to yourself.

Just down the hill, ***Histoire sans faim is an unassuming, extremely well done, restaurant. Setting is very low-key, but it’s a true find. We also walked down to the river and there’s a stretch of restaurants that look fun (along with a 2 km walking path).

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