While I may be a little biased, Lyon is one of my absolute favorite European cities. And even if you only have a day to visit Lyon, I can guarantee you will grow to love it as much as I do!
Not only did I live in Lyon for 1+ year as a study abroad student, but my partner’s family is from the area. Whenever we go back to visit family for the summer or over the Christmas holidays, we always stay overnight in the family apartment and spend the first few days back in Europe visiting Lyon.
While spending a full day in Lyon isn’t nearly enough to partake in all there is to see and do in Lyon, I am confident that this one-day itinerary will allow you to walk away with an authentic experience and understanding of local life in Lyon.
So without further adieu, here are my tips and recommendations for how to visit Lyon in just a day!
How to Spend One Day in Lyon, France
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Before we get into the detail below, let me explain what you’ll be seeing and why it’s the best itinerary if you have 24 hours or less in Lyon.
🎟 Save money when visiting Lyon in a day with the 1 Day Lyon City Card Pass — includes free entrance to 23 musuems, 40+ activities, and ALL public transport. (So even if you visit 2–3 attractions, it pays for itself).
Firstly, there are many arrondissements in Lyon (districts) that divide up the city. In this itinerary, you will visit 2–3 based on your available time and energy. The best way to experience this itinerary is by walking and sightseeing along the way, but you can also hop in the metro if you are tired.
- La Presqu’Île
- Vieux Lyon
- Hôtel de Ville
La Presqu’Île or the peninsula of Lyon—called “almost island” in French because it lies between the two rivers of Lyon (the Rhône and the Saône)—is the 2nd district of Lyon and what most people consider the center of the city. At its heart lies La Place Bellecour which is one of the largest open squares in all of Europe. It’s here where you can get a feel for Lyon’s eclectic, contemporary vibe and stunning architecture.
Also on this one-day itinerary is Lyon’s old town (Vieux Lyon). Vieux Lyon is Lyon’s oldest district. It’s undeniably one of the best places to visit in Lyon in a day thanks to its history, art, and culture that spans from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance to today.
Finally, you’ll cross back over the Saône River to reach Hôtel de Ville where you can see and feel the beating heart of Lyon.
If all that sounds right up your alley, read more below for my tips on what to see and do in each district in one day!
✨ PS — Yes, this 1-day itinerary is jam-packed, but feel free to omit or replace any of the below activities/highlights based on your personal preferences and time of arrival/departure. Practical tips on getting around Lyon, saving money, and more, are toward the end of this post.
Bellecour / La Presqu’Île
La Place Bellecour, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is Europe’s largest pedestrian square, measuring 62,000 m² or 15 acres.
Most people who visit Lyon start here—and for good reason! Around this square are elegant boulevards, luxury shops, brasseries and bars, museums, and more.
In winter, there is a big and colorful Ferris wheel that illuminates the night. In summer, you’ll find tourists and locals crowding the outdoor restaurant terraces drinking a fresh panaché (a 50:50 mix of lemonade and lager).
Start your day with a visit to the famous “Bronze Statue” of Louis XIV, the Sun King, riding his horse. It is located right in the middle of the square—you can’t miss it! Another one to see is the small statue of Antoine de Saint Exupéry and his creation, Le Petit Prince, sitting together on a marble column.
If you would like to grab a map of Lyon, head inside the OnlyLyon Tourism Center on the square. You can also pick up a 1-day Lyon City Card there to save money on activities and transport.
If you’re already looking for a bite to eat, head down to the Rue des Maronniers next to the adjacent Place Antonin Poncet.
After wandering the square and shops, head back toward the Saône River west of Place Bellecour. But instead of crossing the big bridge (Pont Bonaparte), walk along the riverside to the small red bridge, the Passerelle de Saint-George — it’s my favorite way to cross over into Old Lyon.
From here, you’ll be in the southern section of Vieux Lyon in Saint-Georges.
As you arrive on the other side of the river, you’ll see the Church of Saint-Georges. Walk behind it to the Rue Saint-Georges, then take a right and follow this most wonderful cobbled street all the way into the Saint-Jean neighborhood—the heart of Vieux Lyon.
Vieux Lyon is Lyon’s old town, dating back all the way to antiquity. The city was founded in 43 BC and was then known as Lugdunum and the capital of the Three Gaules. Lyon’s history is on full display in Vieux Lyon!
That said, you could easily spend one whole day discovering the secrets and things to do in Vieux Lyon.
If you don’t get distracted and wander off (which very easily happens in Vieux Lyon), you’ll eventually reach the regal Saint-Jean Cathedral and its quaint plaza. Make sure to step inside to see the 14th-century astronomical clock.
From here, take the historic funicular (cable car) up to Fourvière Hill, where you can marvel at the magnificent interior of the Basilica of Fourvière and then wander the adjacent (and ancient) Gallo-Roman Amphitheatre ruins and museum. This little detour will probably take you around 2 hours, if not more.
Take the funicular back down into Vieux Lyon. Keep walking north on the quaint Rue Saint-Jean into the northern neighborhood of Vieux Lyon known as Saint-Paul.
On the way, you may consider popping down in a traditional bouchon Lyonnais restaurant for lunch, grabbing ice cream at Terre Adélice, stepping inside one of Vieux Lyon’s quirky museums (like the Puppetry Museum or the Movie and Miniatures Museum), or exploring the hidden passageways, known as traboules, once used by merchants to remain sheltered and unseen from weather and wartime invaders.
✨ The funicular, historic sites, and museums of Old Lyon are free for Lyon City Card pass holders.
Now you have three options:
- Walk through Saint-Paul and cross the Pont de la Feuillé bridge into Hôtel de Ville
- Take the metro from Saint-Jean to Hôtel de Ville
- Spend the rest of your one day in Lyon soaking up Vieux Lyon
Seeing as it is just a 15-minute walk from Saint-Jean in Vieux Lyon to Place des Terreaux in Hôtel de Ville—Lyon’s 1st district and where this itinerary leads to next—I recommend walking.
Hôtel de Ville
The first place to visit when crossing the Pont de la Feuillé bridge is the regal Place des Terreaux. On this plaza, you’ll see the backside of Lyon’s stunning Hôtel de Ville (City Hall of Lyon) and a gorgeous fountain, Fontaine Bartholdi.
Did you know? The Bartholdi Fountain is made by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the same sculptor who made the Statue of Liberty in New York. 🗽
Your next stop is the Place de la Comédie, the other plaza sandwiching the City Hall. On this side, you can see the incredible Opera of Lyon.
If you still have time, however, you can take the metro from Hôtel de Ville straight to Croix Rousse (2 stops).
From Hôtel de Ville, you can either walk back to Place Bellecour via the elegant Rue de la République or take the metro (1 stop). Whether from Hôtel de Ville or Bellecour, you can easily navigate public transport to reach your hotel, the train station, or the airport for your journey onward.
I hope you’ll be able to make the most of this one day in Lyon itinerary! Keep reading below for extra tips and advice on getting around, where to eat and stay, and more for short visits.
Practical Tips for Visiting Lyon in a Day
Getting to/from Lyon Airport
If you’re in Lyon just for the day, it’s likely that you’re making an onward journey. Whether you are heading south to the beach, north to Paris, east to the mountains, or west to Bordeaux, a stopover in the gastronomic capital of France (Lyon) is a must—and it’s easy!
To get from the Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airport, you have a few options but the two easiest ways to get to the city center are:
- Rhôneexpress tram shuttle (fast, 15€, departs from the TGV station)
- Carsharing (wait times may vary, but it’s cheap 4-9€ via the BlaBlaCar app)
Best Way to Get Around Lyon in 1 Day
With the above 1-day itinerary, you can easily walk between all the major attractions and highlights. Or, if you want to shave off some time and preserve energy, take the metro.
You won’t really need to take the city tram or bus unless you have a specific place in between major points you wish to get to.
That’s because the metro lines serve all the districts of Lyon with major stops at Hôtel de Ville, Place Bellecour, and Saint-Jean in Old Lyon. It also serves Part-Dieu and Perrache, which are both popular transport hubs.
For example, if you take the Rhônexpress tram from the airport to Lyon, you will get dropped off at Part-Dieu. From there, you can visit the mall and shops or take the metro to Place Bellecour.
On that note, if you plan to take the metro most of the time (including the funicular) and visit a few paid attractions, a Lyon City Card will be a worthwhile investment.
🎟 Purchase your 1 Day Lyon City Card Pass here — includes free entrance to 23 musuems, 40+ activities, and all public transport (except for special journeys like the to/from the airport).
Is the 1-Day Lyon City Card Worth It?
Is the price of the Lyon City Card worth it if you’re spending only a day in Lyon? Let’s see! Here is an example of what you might spend in Lyon in a day (activities + transport only).
- Single metro ticket 1,80€ x 3 (Bellecour > Saint-Jean > Hôtel de Ville)
- Free if you walk
- Funicular ticket 3,00€
- Museum examples: Puppetry (8€), Guignol (5€), Cinema & Miniatures (12,50€)
- Gallo-Roman Museum 4€
- A guided tour 15€ (e.g. walking tour, cruise on the rivers, etc).
So if you were to take all three metros and the funicular railway, plus visit two museums and go on one guided tour of Lyon such as a walking tour or a cruise (normally included in the pass), it would cost around 20–35€.
The City Card pass already covers all of that at that price point, plus includes extra museums, activities, and transport.
However, if you don’t plan on visiting museums or going on at least one tour, and instead wish to simply walk and go sightseeing, then you will be better off paying for tickets and entrance costs as you go — or as they say in French au fur et a mésure.
What to Eat & Stay in a Day
As I’ve mentioned somewhere in here before, Lyon is France’s gastronomic capital. Home to Paul Bocuse and other famous chefs, it is one of the best places in France to try authentic French food.
If you are looking to experience Lyon through its cuisine, then you need to eat at a typical bouchon. You can find many of these throughout Lyon but there is a concentration of them in the city’s historic district of Vieux Lyon. (Try la quenelle!)
Even better, if you really want to sample traditional food from the region, meanwhile learning about history and more, you can spend half of your day in Lyon on this local-guided food tour around Old Lyon.
As for where to find accommodation for the night, any one of the above mentioned places to visit will work wonderfully! You will be within easy reach of public transport whether you are staying in Vieux Lyon, Bellecour, or Hôtel de Ville.
There are lots of nice hotels in Lyon but you can typically find cheaper (yet still super comfortable and cozy) accommodation by booking a studio apartment for the night, like this one in the heart of Vieux Lyon.
I hope you have the most wonderful time exploring Lyon in a day! It’s going to be hard to leave, but I guarantee you’ll want to come back and spend more time in this magical city. Leave me your comments and questions below! ⬇️
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