Lyon is known as the gastronomic epicenter of France. The Foodie haven is the third largest city in France and capital of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. Nestled at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers, rich farmlands dot the region. These farms provide superior ingredients to Lyon’s markets and chefs, which offers a culinary wonderland to residents and visitors alike.
Drawing upwards of 90 million visitors per year, France is the most visited country in the world for a variety of reasons. The nation’s rich culture, famous historical attractions, world-class restaurants and exquisite wine provide an array of highlights. France is one of our favorite countries, and Lyon stands as one of my favorite cities that I would happily return to.
Lyon is also generally one of the friendliest cities in France, as it lacks the superiority complex of Paris (an issue with many capital cities). History and architecture enthusiasts will appreciate ample highlights ranging from the towering Basilique Notre Dame of Fourviere to the Fourviere amphitheater, one of the best-preserved Roman archeological sites in France.
We recently spent a week in Lyon, working remotely and exploring the city. It gave us ample opportunity to enjoy many meals, cafes and attractions. Here are tips for visiting Lyon to be sure you leave with the fondest memories on your palate!
Read Reviews Carefully Before Eating in Touristy Vieux Lyon (Old Town)
Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon) is a charming district, drawing throngs of international tourists. Its windy laneways feature buzzing eateries, cafes and shops. The neighborhood offers a quintessential slice of France that resembles scenes from a beautifully shot independent film.
Given the popularity of the district, some restaurants can keep their doors open by not depending on repeat visitors. No matter the city, you should avoid these establishments when possible. Truly good restaurants, cafes and eateries rely on customers who return. Lyon is no exception to this rule, despite the overall quality of products that can be enjoyed there.
Vieux Lyon sits on the River Saône quayside, surrounded by Renaissance-era mansions with terracotta-tiled roofs and hidden courtyards. Medieval Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste is popular for its ornate astronomical clock. Its medieval hilly streets are lined with stylish restaurants, mouth-watering patisseries and chic bars serving Beaujolais wines.
Lyon Restaurant Recommendations
Set along a vast square near Statue de la Republique, Chez Micheline pairs delicious French dishes with friendly service and a convivial ambiance. There are several green flags to note about this establishment. For starters, like many delicious French bistros, they do not have an extensive menu. Instead, around six daily dishes are handwritten in French on a chalkboard. This means what they are preparing includes the freshest ingredients for optimum flavor.
During our al fresco dinner on the terrace of Chez Micheline we struck up a random conversation with a local Lyonaise foodie at the table to next to ours. He gave us several great recommendations – including the best cheese monger and several other great bistros for delicious cuisine. The best of several meals we ate in Lyon was at Chez Micheline, and every dish there looked fantastic.
Chez Micheline address:
14 Pl. Carnot
69002 Lyon, France
The funnest dinner we enjoyed in Lyon was at Le Cabaretier. The cozy traditional restaurant with vintage decor serves traditional Lyonaise cuisine. Their hearty dishes paired wonderfully with the lively atmosphere.
Initially, the staff wasn’t sure if they could seat us on a busy weekend night, but then they politely said they could. During our short wait at the bar, the owner passed us a small plate of complimentary sliced charcuterie. Sweet touches like that make guests feel welcome.
Someone was having a birthday party near us in the dining room at Le Cabaretier. The atmosphere was uniquely convivial – with lots of French singing and arms in the air at times. If you are looking for a quiet dinner, I would not recommend Le Cabaretier. But if you’re looking for a unique Lyon experience surrounded by friendly locals, I highly recommend having dinner there.
Le Cabaretier address:
6 Rue de la Fronde
69005 Lyon, France
Lyon Craft Beer Bar Recommendations
Like most cities in France, plenty of good wine flows through Lyon’s restaurants and bars. But Lyon is also a great city for craft beer lovers like me. Here are two craft beer bars I can personally recommend.
Les Fleurs du Malt le Bar
Les Fleurs di Malt le Bar has an extensive selection of French and international draft and bottled beers. International choices include a solid selection of Belgian Trappist (monk made) and abbey style ales. Light bites are also available – including charcuterie and olives served with a deliciously fresh French baguette. Staff are friendly and speak English, and can assist with recommendations to suit your palate.
Les Fleurs di Malt le Bar is located in a cellar, with a friendly local crowd. During our visit, it started pouring rain, monsoon style. Unfortunately, there was some flooding in the bar and they had to temporarily close early for the night. That was bad luck – but I still highly recommend going there (unless there is extremely heavy rain in the forecast!).
Les Fleurs di Malt le Bar address:
15 Quai Romain Rolland
69005 Lyon, France
L’Atelelier is a straightforward casual Lyon restaurant and bar featuring a nice selection of French craft beers. They also have a solid wine menu for those who prefer that, like Bell does. Service was extremely friendly, as the staff enjoys their job. The bartender smiled widely each time I returned to the bar to order another beer. Afterwards, he humbly asked for my opinion of the beers. He was pleased that I enjoyed them, and told me one of the brews was on the house.
We visited on a weekend night after the restaurant stopped serving food, and only enjoyed drinks. I recommend L’Atelelier for their French craft beer selection.
7 Pl. Carnot
69002 Lyon, France
Bouchons are are an integral part of Lyon’s cultural heritage. They are a type of restaurant serving traditional Lyonnaise cuisine, like sausages, coq-au-vin, “salade lyonnaise”, roast pork or duck pâté. Dishes tend to be hearty, and the menus are often only in French.
Many Lyonnaise bouchon dishes feature less glamorous parts of animals. They are not the Cheesecake Factory. So you may want to have access to a translation app if you do not speak French. Adventurous eaters should add a Lyon bouchon to the itinerary.
There are a variety of fantastic markets in Lyon to enjoy breakfast, lunch or a snack. You can also purchase something to enjoy later, or even to bring home. The Marché Saint-Antoine is one of Lyon’s best food markets. It is located on the banks of the Saône River, below the beautiful Basilica de Fourvière.
Lyon Specialties to Enjoy
These are some of the popular specialties found throughout Lyon’s restaurants, bouchons, patisseries and markets!
Lyonnaise salad is one of the most famous dishes originating in Lyon. You have likely seen it on restaurant menu somewhere, perhaps many times. Lyonnaise salads are pretty ubiquitous on menus throughout town, and they make a nice starter or light lunch.
The dish encompasses frisée lettuce and lardons (cubed fatty bacon) and croutons, topped with a poached egg and vinaigrette dressing. It is an especially delicious salad thanks to the freshness of the ingredients, including the croutons. The bitter greens topped with tangy vinaigrette dressing balance the richness of the lardons and egg yolks.
Praline Tart and Brioche
‘Pralines roses’ are almonds topped with pink caramelized sugar. It is a specialty of Lyon. Pink pralines are a staple of many praline-based French desserts, such as ‘brioche aux pralines’ and ‘tarte aux pralines.’
We enjoyed the ‘brioche aux pralines’ from Pâtisserie Chocolaterie Pralus Lyon Saint-Jean. It is an iconic establishment that was recommended by our guide on a free walking tour of Lyon (tip based). Every hearty brioche is lovingly hand-wrapped in elegant colorful paper, with a ribbon. We enjoyed ours along the Saône River, after enjoying a delicious lunch from the market.
Pâtisserie Chocolaterie Pralus Lyon Saint-Jean address:
27 Rue Saint-Jean
69005 Lyon, France
An old Lyonnaise expression proclaims “there are three rivers: the Saone, the Rhone and the Beaujolais.” The local wine is a staple of the city’s identity. Beaujolais is a French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée wine typically made with Gamay grapes. The grapes have a thin skin, producing a wine low in tannins.
A staple of France, great cheeses are in abundance in Lyon. A popular local variety is a cheese spread with herbs, salt, oil and vinegar. High quality and delicious cheese is certainly among the many culinary highlights of a visit to France.
Andouillette is a coarse-grained sausage made with pork intestine, mixed with pepper, wine, onions and seasonings. The sausage is found throughout France, but the Lyonaisse version has its own recipe. Andouillette is common in restaurants, markets and bouchons. Adventurous eaters are better suited to try Andouillette, given it has a gamey intestine based structure and taste.
Quenelle (fish croquette)
A quenelle is a mixture of creamed fish or meat, sometimes combined with breadcrumbs, with a light egg binding. It is formed into an egg-like shape, then typically cooked by poaching. Quenelles were often used as a garnish in haute cuisine.
Visit a Cat Cafe and Restaurant in Lyon
Cat cafes have become popular in cities around the world. We’ve been to several, and LeGentle Cat in Lyon is one of our favorites for several reasons. First, they don’t charge an entrance fee like we’ve seen in cities like Tokyo and Melbourne, Australia. Second, we ate dinner at LeGentle Cat and the dishes are flavorful and fresh.
The staff (including the cats) were all very friendly during our visit. I’ve had a cat swipe at me for trying to pet it at a cat cafe in Budapest. Obviously, that could happen anywhere but bonus points that it did not happen at LeGentle Cat.
LeGentle Cat address:
51 Rue Auguste Comte
69002 Lyon, France
Great Places to Stay in Lyon
There are several great hotels to stay in Lyon. It is France’s third largest city so there are ample choices to suit various tastes and budgets. Here are a few recommendations for a couples getaway.
Intercontinental Lyon – Hotel Dieu
Intercontinental Lyon is a contemporary sanctuary located in a historical landmark in the center of the gastronomic capital of France. The property is a shining example of a luxury property, designed by Jean-Philippe Nuel. The 144 rooms and suites of the hotel offer majestic views of the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere de Fourviere, Rhône River, their historic courtyards and the city of Lyon.
Intercontinental Lyon address:
20 Quai Jules Courmont
69002 Lyon, France
Located atop Fourvière Hill, Villa Maia offers impressive panoramic views overlooking Lyon. An indoor heated swimming pool, hot tub, steam room and fitness room are ideal for a wellness getaway, or staying active. All rooms, suites and apartments feature a courtesy mini-bar and flat-screen satellite TV.
Villa Maia is just a 10-minute walk from the old town (Vieux Lyon) and a 5-minute walk from The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere and The Ancient Theater of Fourvière. All rooms, suites and apartments come furnished with a flat-screen satellite TV. Courtesy mini-bars are included in all rooms.
Their buffet and continental breakfasts include organic jam, eggs from local farms, crepes, waffles, pancakes and French toast. Villa Maia has a partnership with the 1 Michelin star restaurant Têtedoie, just a 1 minute walk away. Staff can book a table there for you.
Villa Maia address:
8 Rue Pierre Marion
69005 Lyon, France
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Bordeaux is another favorite French city of ours. Read my article on 5 must eat meals in Bordeaux. Near Bordeaux, Saint Emilion is among the world’s most charming wine towns. Read these tips for visiting Saint Emilion.
Lyon is a fantastic city to visit for a variety of great reasons. Vieux Lyon is a fun and romantic destination. Delicious gastronomic offerings range from mouth-watering pastries to hearty savory dishes. Lyonnaise people are generally some of the friendliest, warmest and most laid back people in France. It is especially surprising for a large city. The city also has a wealth of attractions to keep your itinerary as busy as you want over several days. We had a blast in Lyon and I’d love to return someday!
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