One of my favorite places to visit in Lyon is Vieux (Old) Lyon, the city’s historic district sandwiched between Fourvière Hill—atop which sits the crown jewel of the city, the Basilica of Fourvière—and the timeless Saône River.
There is nowhere else in Lyon, perhaps except for the neighborhood of Croix-Rousse, that will transport you back in time quite like Lyon’s Old Town.
As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, its old-world charm and cultural and economic importance throughout history are undeniable.
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In this exquisite and intricate labyrinth of cobblestone streets lined with traditional bouchons Lyonnais, you will find myriad historical, cultural, and gastronomical gems.
From the Gallo-Roman ruins to the decorated churches and cathedrals to the hidden courtyards and tunnels, Vieux Lyon is teeming with mystery, history, and a dash of mayhem.
As you waltz around this antique district, you can’t help but slip into a daze as you dream about Lyon’s complex past and how it clashes yet compliments its contemporary vibrancy.
Having lived in Lyon for over a year, I will clue you in on all the best things to do and see in Old Lyon, including where to stay, eat, and play.
Here is the ultimate insider’s guide to Vieux Lyon!
The Ultimate Guide to Vieux Lyon
A Brief History of Old Lyon
Vieux Lyon is modern Lyon’s medieval and Renaissance neighborhood dating back to the Middle Ages.
In fact, founded in 43 BC, the city of Lyon (then known as Lugdunum) was one of the first Roman settlements and the biggest city in Gaul—the name Romans gave to the western European region (now present-day France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and parts of Switzerland, Italy, and Germany).
Today, you can see remnants of this antique history throughout Old Lyon: at the preserved site of the Gallo-Roman ruins perched atop Fourvière Hill (in French, the Amphíthéâtre des Trois Gaules); throughout the cobbled streets and in the residences reminiscent of the Renaissance; and in the secrets that lie in the staircases, courtyards and traboules (passageways) that hide behind unassuming doors and buildings.
“Humans have settled at this site destined for urbanization for more than two thousand years and built a city whose stages of development are still visible today: from the Roman vestiges of antique Lugdunum to the medieval streets on the slopes of Fourvière and the Renaissance dwellings of Vieux-Lyon…”UNESCO
How to Get to Lyon’s Old Town
As I mentioned above, the Old Town of Lyon is located between Fourvière Hill and the Saône River, just opposite the Presqu’Île in central Lyon.
Luckily, there is a metro station right in the heart of Old Lyon (Saint-Jean) so you’ll be able to easily get to/from Vieux Lyon from anywhere in the city.
From Bellecour, take the green Line D toward Vaise and stop off at Vieux Lyon.
Metro tickets cost 1,80€ per journey, so it’s much, much cheaper to purchase a Lyon City Card which grants unlimited public transport across Lyon including the metro, bus, and tram lines.
Where to Stay in Vieux Lyon
Some of Lyon’s best hotels are arguably located in the heart of Vieux Lyon. After all, it is one of the city’s most visited and popular districts to visit (for obvious reasons!).
Before you book, it’s good to know that there are three subsections of Old Lyon:
- Saint-Paul (north)
- Saint-Jean (heart of Vieux Lyon)
- Saint-George (south)
You will be within walking distance of tons of restaurants and attractions no matter where you stay in the historic district!
Below are some of my recommendations for places to stay in Old Lyon. For more, read my guide to Lyon’s best boutique hotels..
The Host Inn ($$$): Located in the very heart of Old Lyon, this cozy and furnished apartment has everything you need to have an intimate, memorable stay. You will be mere steps away from the best of Lyon’s charming Renaissance district, including museums, restaurants, and historic sites.
La Villa Florentine ($$$): This 5-star luxury hotel has perfected the French art de vivre. It features an award-winning gastronomic restaurant, a wellness spa with a heated swimming pool, whirlpool, and sauna, and 29 elegant suites offering panoramic views over the historic district and city.
Honorê Baleine Suite ($$): Centrally-located, bright and modern studio apartment ideal for solo travelers or couples on vacation, or biz travelers on a quick work trip. A great choice if you’re traveling with pets!
Unmissable Things to See & Do in Vieux Lyon
There is plenty to do and see in the district of Old Lyon—from touring the traboules to sharing a meal in a traditional Lyonnais restaurant to visiting the culture and art museums, and more!
Every time we go back to Lyon, we always wander around Vieux Lyon for a day. Here are our favorite places to visit and things to do!
Ride the Old Cable Car Up to Fourvière Hill
To get to the top of Fourvière Hill, you can either walk or take the historic Funiculaire de Fourvière (cable car). This ride is a fun way to travel back in time. At the top, you will be a short walk away from the Basilica of Fourvière and the Gallo-Roman Museum and Ruins. Journey time from Vieux Lyon up to Fourvière takes 2 minutes and a roundtrip ticket costs just 3€.
Visit La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière
No visit to Vieux Lyon is complete without stepping inside the Basilica of Our Lady of Fourvière.
The decorated interior is simply stunning; the walls are covered in thousands of colorful mosaics that recount impressive biblical scenes. When the light streams in through the windows, it creates a myriad of hues and colors at different hours of the day, bringing the works of art to life.
Don’t miss out on the panoramic view of the entire city outside the basilica as well! From April–October, the Lyon City Card grants you free access to the roof. Year-round, the pass gives you access to the Fourvière Museum of Religious Art.
Explore the Ruins of the Amphitéatre des Trois Gaules
Just a couple blocks away from the basilica, on the slopes of Fourvière Hill, you can explore the ancient ruins of the Gallo-Roman Grand Amphitheater and Odeon which were both listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Exploring the ruins outside is free but it costs €4–7 to visit the adjacent Gallo-Roman museum (or free for Lyon City Card pass holders) which houses one of the most impressive archaeological collections in France.
Stroll the Rue Saint-Georges
Among all the cobbled streets of Vieux Lyon, the Rue Saint-Georges is one of the most popular (some would say touristy). But it’s not touristy in the sense that it’s filled with inauthentic souvenir shops.
Along this street are traditional restaurants, Renaissance dwellings, courtyards, luxe boutiques, wine bars, quaint cafés, and more. It’s quintessentially Old Lyon with all its charm.
Taste French Cuisine on a 4-Hour Food Tour
If gourmet French food is your true love, there’s no better place to try the local specialties of Lyon than in the Vieux Lyon district. Here, numerous bouchons Lyonnais await with red-checkered tablecloths ready to serve regional flavors only found here.
On this 4-hour food tour guided by a local, you’ll get to try 17 different dishes at 5 different stops across Old Lyon. As this tour is led by a Lyonnais, you will get to discover the secret passageways of Vieux Lyon and get to discover the gastronomy of Lyon away from the tourist crowds.
Also Read: The 9 Best Tours to Do in Lyon ✨
Step Inside the Catédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste
The Gothic-Roman Cathedral of Saint Jean is perhaps the most iconic attraction to visit in the heart of Vieux Lyon.
Inside, you can see the 14th-century astronomical clock of Lyon. Just beyond the steps of the cathedral is La Place de Saint-Jean (courtyard), around which you’ll find many lovely restaurants, the central St Jean Fountain, and elegant Renaissance-style architecture.
Before you leave the area, head around the corner down Rue Mandelot to find the Jardin Archaéologique where you can wander the remnants of a 5th-century cathedral.
“A colourful mass of craft shops, restaurants, ice-cream vendors, old postcard sellers, buskers and bars, [Vieux Lyon] is punctuated by two churches and a Cathedral – St Paul, the furthest up stream, known to have been the commercial area during the Renaissance, St Jean Cathedral in the middle, home to wealthy aristocrats, and St George downstream, the craftsmen’s district. It’s St Jean Cathedral, in the beating heart of Vieux Lyon, that visitors flock to see. “This is lyon
Indulge in Organic Ice Cream at Terre Adélice
You will first see a long line of people queuing to try the incredible ice cream of Terre Adélice before you even get to the shop.
Terre Adélice creates the best ice cream with unique ingredients and flavors. Plus, they use only organic products throughout their entire menu!
Terre Adélice is originally from the department of Ardèche, which is where Paul is from as well! We always end up eating Terre Adélice ice cream in desserts for birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays.
You can find Terre Adélice on Place de la Baleine in Old Lyon.
Take a Private & Customizable Walking Tour
Lyon’s old town is actually much bigger than you might think, covering an area of approximately 1,000 acres (424 hectares). Luckily, it remains extremely walkable!
This 3-hour private (customizable) walking tour will allow you to glean the insights of a local while wandering the cobbled streets that hold many secrets beyond the visible eye.
Not feeling like walking? You can also visit and learn about Old Lyon from the medieval period up to the Renaissance on this fun and eco-friendly pedicab tour.
Visit the Quirky Museums in Old Lyon
Lyon is known for having some of the best, most quirky museums in the world. And many of them can be found right here in Vieux Lyon.
The Gadagne Museums, comprising both the Puppetry Museum (Musée des Arts de la Marionnette) and the Museum of Lyon History (Musée d’Histoire de Lyon), are not-to-miss places to visit in Old Lyon as they are so representative and educational about the history and culture of Lyon.
There is also the hyper-realistic Cinema and Miniatures Museum (Musée Cinéma et Miniature) founded by miniatures artist Dan Olhmann. Inside this fascinating museum are miniature worlds and originals of props used in famous films from Mrs. Doubtfire to Alien to Spiderman and beyond.
🎟 Get free entrance to all these museums in Vieux Lyon with the Lyon City Card pass!
Where & What to Eat in Vieux Lyon
If you didn’t know already, Lyon is considered the gastronomic capital of France.
And while you’ll find the traditional restaurants of Lyon (called bouchons), there is a concentration of them in the old town. In this historic district, you will find some of the best food in the whole city.
There is even an official association of Bouchons Lyonnais to ensure quality and tradition. Bouchons are identifiable by their cozy, family-style ambiance, pitchers of wine (usually a Beaujolais or a Côte du Rhône), and conviviality.
Some of the best places to eat in Old Lyon are at these establishments:
- Daniel et Dénise
- La Meunière
- Les Fines Geules
- Les Lyonnais
- Chez Chabert
- Notre Maison
There are many Lyonnais specialties to look out for on the menus. but my favorite dish is la quenelle — what my boyfriend calls a “flour sausage” (lol). It’s made up of flour, eggs, and when broiled, becomes inflated and grows three times its size. My favorite quenelles are served with cream, tomato and mushrooms, or a type of melted cheese.
Last Tips for Visiting Vieux Lyon
There is so much to discover in Old Lyon, but before you hit the streets I wanted to share a few more tips for getting around.
Try to go mid-week: Weekends are an extremely busy time for Vieux Lyon, as many tourists come to visit the city for 2-3 days before continuing onto Marseille or Paris. Avoid weekends if possible to experience the charm of Old Lyon without so many crowds.
Book hotels and restaurants way in advance: Due to its popularity, the restaurants and hotels available in Vieux Lyon fill up fast. Book your accommodation today and go ahead and make a reservation at least a week in advance for the more popular eateries.
You don’t need a car: Lyon is an extremely pedestrian and bike-friendly city. Don’t make the mistake of driving your rental car into or around the Old Town. Walk, bike, or take the metro!
Last, but not least, don’t go to Lyon without purchasing a 1, 2, 3 or 4-day Lyon City Card! The pass pays for itself with 40+ activites and unlimited transport.
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