With a slogan like "Only Lyon" you know it’s going to be a good time.
I have a challenge for you. When you think about taking a holiday to France try not to let Paris jump to the top of your mind. I know it’s hard, the “City of Light” has a sense of romanticism everyone wants to experience. And by all means, I agree with you. There are awesome museums, a ton of cafes, gorgeous avenues to walk down, and that famous, glittering metal tower. Plus, people always like to almost use the excuse, “Paris is always a good idea”.
But what if I told you there’s another city in France, that is consistently overlooked, that also has the nickname the “City of Light”, which can actually outshine the French capital? I’m talking about Lyon. Known as France’s second city, Lyon is noticeably smaller but makes up for its smallness in a big, big way.
When I arrived in Lyon I had zero expectations. When I left Lyon I was surprised and supremely happy with how the city has authentically been able to preserve its character and not become a tourist trap.
It’s a place where noticeably less people are going to speak English (compared to Paris) but they also won’t care if you struggle with the language and are more than open to having a conversation with someone who is just visiting.
Sure Paris is beautiful – but the beauty is a cliché. Lyon is purely beautiful. This is in part because the Lyonnais protect their history and invest in their modern future. It feels cozy as you walk or bike around, is noticeably cheaper than Paris, and is a foodies dream (it is after all known as the “gastronomic capital of the world”). The Lyonnais LOVE food, and with multiple Michelin starred restaurants and bouchon after bouchon (small traditional bistros) scattered throughout the city you know you’re going to have one happy belly.
If you’re asking yourself, why Lyon? Just think about the slogan for the city – “Only Lyon”. And if you’re still contemplating why you need to go here over Paris, here are 7 reasons why Lyon wins out over Paris...
THE FOOD + DRINK
There are over 2,000 restaurants, ranging from the informal to the 17 with Michelin stars. Just within the region there are 72 Michelin-starred chefs and hello, the “Pope of French Cuisine: Paul Bocuse” is also in Lyon.
My Michelin starred experience at Restaurant Jérémy Galvan
Lyon is also the gateway to the Beaujolais viticultural region, which produces some seriously top quality wines.
Lyonnaise restaurants are something you can’t miss! Some of the best French produce is used to prepare either very traditional Lyonnaise cuisine (served at the bouchons I referenced earlier) or new modern takes on old classics (cuisine nouvelle).
My traditional Lyonnaise meal at bouchon La Mère Jean
FUN FOOD FACT: There are only about 20 authentic and certified bouchons in France and all are in Lyon!
If you want to get your hands on every kind of fromage, foie gras, pastries, meat, etc. you have to head over to the famed indoor food market, Les Halles de Lyon (also known as Halles Paul Bocuse - after that guy who is the “Pope of French Cuisine”).
And shame of me if I forget to mention the local desserts and sweets! Coussins de Lyon (which you can buy at chocolatier Voisin) is a specialty of the city and is made of chocolate and marzipan. Although slightly pricey, this little rectangle is a piece of green/turquoise marzipan filled with a chocolate ganache.
FUN FOOD FACT #2: I absolutely LOVE marzipan and some of the best I’ve had was both in Lyon and in Stockholm (in Stockholm they make cute little pigs during the holidays).
The Lyonnais also seriously love their pralines! You can find the traditional praline pie in many of the bouchons for dessert, but one thing you cannot leave Lyon without trying is the “brioche aux pralines” – a tasty, buttery bun filled and flavored with pieces of made in-house pralines. These types of pralines are Valencia almonds and Piedmont hazelnuts coated in rose sugar.
As François Pralus said, "Often imitated, but never matched!”
You can find these gorgeously, delicious Pralulines (pictured above) in the handful of “Boutique Pralus” by François Pralus scattered throughout the city.
And for the finale a dessert that is lighter than air! Literally. The merveilleux (which means "the marvelous") is a small cake consisting of a sandwich of two light meringues held together with whipped cream that has been covered with more whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Found at Au Merveilleux de Fred these surprisingly inexpensive delicacies need to be eaten pretty quickly as they're slightly temperamental, but will make you feel like a real-life Marie Antoinette.
But probably the best part of all, the people, food is a way of life here and they all want to share this experience with you!
THE HILLS + VIEWS
(and the most insane sky)
There may not be an abundance of rooftops you can access in Lyon but a lesser known place you must go is the rooftop bar Les Muses de l’Opera at the Opera de Lyon. Not only will you get to feel a little fancy, without having to get totally dressed up, it’s the perfect place to get a sunset view of the city and see the insane sky that hangs over the city. Seriously, I have never seen a more impressive or breathtaking sky anywhere else in my life. And it was a daily occurrence!
Fourvière Hill has the most epic views of the city (and is also where the city was founded in 43 BC). To get to the top you can either get a rock hard bum workout by climbing the stars, or take the funicular. Once you’re at the top not only do you get a panoramic view of the city but you can also visit another Notre Dame basilica (this one being declared a UNESCO World Heritage site), and another “Eiffel Tower” of sorts, the Métallique de Fourvière. Basically it’s like if the Sacre Coeur and Notre-Dame in Paris had an even more impressive baby.
So why would you want to see these versions over the ones in Paris, you ask? Because, A) they are located near each other at the top of one of the city’s best viewpoints, and B) they are significantly less crowded and just as jaw dropping.
VIEUX-LYON IS MORE SPECIAL THAN ANY OTHER 'OLD TOWN'
Did you know that the entire area of Old Town in Lyon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site?
Vieux-Lyon is second to Venice in terms of having the largest intact Renaissance neighborhood in Europe. Back in the day this is where aristocracy lived in terracotta colored townhouses with Italian archways and covered passageways called traboules (these do not exist in Paris FYI).
The winding cobblestone streets, cute shops, and friendly locals hanging out enjoying a glass of wine or afternoon meal on an outdoor terrace will make you feel right at home. That in itself is reason enough to head on over.
Paris has the Seine, but Lyon has the Rhône and the Saône! Sorry Paris. The Rhône starts from Switzerland and the Saône from the north, and there are about 33 bridges throughout the city.
FUN FACT: You can see where these two rivers meet in the Confluence district.
Having two rivers means there are four sides where you can enjoy the water. Whether it’s sunbathing, walking (yourself and/or your dog), jogging, riding a bike, eating lunch, grabbing a drink on one of the many riverside boats, or catching the sunset or sunrise. It’s 4 times the amount of fun as the Seine.
FUN FACT: There is also a pool located on the Rhône side of the city, called the Piscine du Rhône, which provide some pretty epic swimming views. Think the Icebergs at Bondi Beach – and just as cool.
THE OUTDOOR SPACES
(aka Parc de la Tête d'Or)
London has Hyde Park, New York has Central Park, and Paris, well Paris doesn’t really have a large outdoor green space that it is known for, unless you maybe count the Jardin des Tulieries. But this is mostly covered in gravel so therefore can you even call it a green space?
But Lyon, Lyon has the huge, 117 hectare beauty that is Parc de la Tête d'Or.
Situated right along the Rhône in the 6th arrondissement, you can boat on its 16-hectare lake, ride your bike through the numerous pathways, or visit the free zoo and free botanical garden also located within the park.
THE VÉLO'V BIKE SHARE SYSTEM
Lyon was the first French city to launch a bike-sharing system, Vélo'v, and is a fun way to see everything. With 4,000 bikes at 348 stations across the city and the suburb of Villeurbanne, and less traffic and pollution than Paris, Vélo’v comes out on top. Hands down.
TIPS TO NOTE: Compared to other cities, Vélo'v is far easier and more appealing to use as the first 30 minutes are free, and a full 24 hour rental will only set you back a measly €1,50!
If you get the three-day Lyon City Card you can also use it to rent a Vélo'v bike for three-days for only €3.
Just don’t forget, similar to other cities you need to put your bike back in the docks every 30 minutes.
IT’S CHEAPER THAN PARIS
By about 30%. That is a FACT.
By this point, do you really need another reason to visit Lyon over Paris? Just to make sure you don't forget, make sure to pin one of the images below!
Content Creator, Traveler, Foodie, Amateur Photographer (and surprise!) Graphic Designer living in New York City. This website started in 2016 as a space to share my passion to live life to the fullest, make adventures a priority, eat all of the good food, drink all of the wine, and curate the beautiful photos that come along with it.