The ingredients for a great European weekend break are simple. You’ll need a walkable city centre, a handful of excellent restaurants, some cool bars, affordable places to stay, interesting attractions and good transport.
1. It’s gourmet heaven
With more than 2000 restaurants and a prestigious culinary history stretching back to the nineteenth century, Lyon easily ranks as one of the top foodie destinations in Europe.
Visiting traditional bouchons for dishes such as andouillette and tarte aux pralines is a must, while the city’s indoor market, the Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, will keep you occupied for hours; stop at one of the market bars for locally cured charcuterie and a light red from nearby Beaujolais.
2. It’s the perfect size to explore in a weekend
Lyon is a delight to wander. You’ll spend most of your time between the ancient alleys of Vieux Lyon and the grander streets of the Presqu’île, perhaps with forays into the appealingly gritty district of Croix-Rousse. You’ll rarely find yourself walking for more than half an hour, with café terraces aplenty for stops en-route.
Venture a little further, and there’s even more to discover: inventive contemporary restaurants in the modern quarter of the city; the vineyards of the northern Rhône; the charming village of Pérouges.
3. It’s home to some of France’s best museums
Chief among Lyon’s attractions is the stand-out Musée des Confluences, devoted to science and anthropology.
The city also holds an excellent Musée des Beaux-Arts, with works from the likes of Rubens and Rembrandt, while you’ll find exhibitions by big names such as Yoko Ono and Andy Warhol in the Renzo Piano-designed Musée d’Art Contemporain (MAC). Make time, too, for the Institut Lumière, which celebrates the birth of cinematography.
4. It’s got some awesome places to stay
Whether you’re after a stylish Airbnb pad, a boutique hotel or a budget hostel, Lyon delivers.
Head to Mama Shelter for edgy design at budget prices, splash out on a night at converted convent and spa the Fourvière Hôtel for luxury, or save your pennies at one of the beautiful campsites just outside the centre.
Looking for something more unusual? Self-cater on a quirky barge moored on the Saône or cosy up in a lavish four-poster at the nearby Cháteau de Bagnols.
5. It’s developing a cool coffee and bar scene
With some of France’s great vineyards on the doorstep, there’s little surprise that it’s easy to find a great glass of wine in Lyon. Natural wine bar Chateauneuf du Peuple is one of the coolest spots to drink, with a range of unusual bottles from boutique producers.
You’ll find award-winning cocktails at L’Antiquaire, an American-style speakeasy with a French twist, while the speciality coffee scene is starting to flourish at hip little cafés such as Mokxa and Le Tigre.
6. It’s super-easy to get to
This means you’ll spend less of your weekend travelling, giving you more time to make the most of the city.
7. It’s surprisingly affordable
If you plan carefully, it can be surprisingly affordable to visit Lyon. Hotel prices are generally much kinder than in the capital and France’s larger cities, and you’ll find plenty of things to do for free.
The whole city is UNESCO-listed, with the Basilique Notre-Dame, Roman amphitheatres and ancient traboules (secret passages once used by silk manufacturers) just a few of the fascinating sights that are free to explore.
When it comes to eating and drinking, you might need to bypass the city’s 18 Michelin-starred restaurants, but you’ll find the riverbanks are made for sunny-day picnicking.
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Top image: Cityscape of Lyon © Svetlana Bondareva/Shutterstock