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The 13 best things to do in Lyon

The festival of lights, France’s largest urban park and a historic flea market are among the amazing things to do in Lyon

Written by
Time Out contributors
Translated by
Megan Carnegie
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Lyon really has it all. Want to admire trompe l’oeil murals in a former silk weavers' district? Fancy trawling for antique gems at a flea market? Or feel like getting starry-eyed at the Fête des Lumières, the city’s world-famous festival of lights?

Between the old guard and the vanguard, Lyon has an energy that is hard to match, in France or further afield. So, are you ready to explore the city of delicious food and Les Gones? Great. Here are thirteen of the very best things to do in Lyon.

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Best things to do in Lyon

Discover the post-industrial beauty of La Confluence
Photograph: DR

1. Discover the post-industrial beauty of La Confluence

South of Lyon's city centre, where the Saône and Rhone rivers meet, is an awe-inspiring urban renewal project. Launched in 2000, La Confluence aimed to double the size of Lyon city centre without increasing greenhouse gas emissions. The sustainable enclave is built on a former industrial wasteland – although it’s anything but desolate now. Check out the headquarters of the Hôtel de Région, designed by Christian de Portzamparc; Jean Nouvel’s Tour Ycone; and Hikari, the world’s first positive-energy city block, by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. After gawping at all those futuristic structures, head to the epic Musée des Confluences and Le Sucre, a buzzing club and events space in a former sugar warehouse.

Go big on brocante at Les Puces du Canal
Photograph: Puces du Canal

2. Go big on brocante at Les Puces du Canal

On the Jonage canal in Villeurbanne is Les Puces du Canal flea market, a famous brocante that has been attracting thousands of visitors every week since 1995. You can rummage through everything from second-hand books and furniture to jewellery and vinyls here, but the best thing about this Lyon institution is the antique dealers. Watch as they jostle for attention, barter, and sip white wine with their fellow sellers. Take cash and go early: the market’s open on Thursdays and Saturdays between 7am and 1pm, and on Sundays between 7am and 3pm. There’s also a showcase of vintage cars every first Saturday of the month.

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See the city aglow at Fête des Lumières
Photograph: Pierre Jean Durieu / Shutterstock.com

3. See the city aglow at Fête des Lumières

The Fête des Lumières is Lyon’s favourite calendar moment. It dates back to 1852, when residents placed candles in coloured glasses in their windows to celebrate a new Virgin Mary statue on Fourvière Hill. Now a huge annual celebration, the festival sees the city become a sparkling dreamscape of colour and light. Streets, parks, squares and facades of buildings are transformed by installations created by local and international lighting designers, visual artists and video artists. See Lyon abuzz with activity and excitement for yourself – the festival is held every year around December 8.

Check out the street art at Peinture Fraîche Festival
Photograph: Peinture Fraîche Festival

4. Check out the street art at Peinture Fraîche Festival

Immerse yourself in the colourful world of aerosols at Peinture Fraîche Festival, a celebration of street art in all its forms. After its inaugural edition attracted nearly 40,000 visitors, the festival has become a mainstay in Lyon’s cultural landscape. Across October, around fifty graffers from all over the world make their mark on Lyon and Halle Debourg, a freight sorting warehouse-turned-gallery. Whether you’re checking out giant murals, watching the artists at work or attending concerts and performances, this street art extravaganza is sure to change your perspective on an art form that’s constantly in flux. 

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Wander through the Tête d'Or, France’s largest urban park
Photograph: DR

5. Wander through the Tête d'Or, France’s largest urban park

Epic strolls are yours for the taking at the Parc de la Tête d'Or, which opened over a century and a half ago on the banks of the Rhône. At 117 hectares, it’s the largest urban park in France. Start the day with a boat trip on the lake, before immersing yourself in the botanical garden’s 16,000 species of plants. The Tête d'Or is also home to Lyon Zoo, which has over 300 animals – and a miniature train and carousel for the little ones. 

Master the hills of the historic Croix-Rousse district
Photograph: J. Photos / Shutterstock.com

6. Master the hills of the historic Croix-Rousse district

Since the nineteenth century, Lyon’s Croix-Rousse district has been known as ‘the hill that works’, thanks to its history as the home of the city’s silk manufacturers. Now a bustling bohemian district, it still wears its past with pride and you’re likely to see signs of its silk-weaving DNA everywhere. Visit the area’s countless indie bars, restaurants, galleries and shops – and don’t forget to enjoy the view of the city from here. La Croix-Rousse is also where you’ll find Le Mur des Canuts, the largest mural in Europe  a trompe l’oeil painted in 1987 that goes deep into the area’s history. 

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7. Visit the Musée Urbain Tony Garnier

This social housing estate in the États-Unis district of Lyon is urban planner and architect Tony Garnier’s pièce de résistance – with it, he redefined workers' housing and improved living conditions beyond measure. In the 1980s, 50 years after its first residents moved in, the district was regenerated with the addition of 25 murals that pay homage to the architect and his utopian vision. Musée Urbain Tony Garnier is a small but perfectly formed museum, offering a weekly guided tour that includes a peek into a fascinating reproduction of a 1930s-era dwelling.

Reboot your wardrobe at Lyon’s vintage boutiques
Photograph: frantic00 / Shutterstock.com

8. Reboot your wardrobe at Lyon’s vintage boutiques

Lyon is at the centre of France’s garment history. Famed for weaving beautiful silks for brands like Hermes and Chanel, the city has a history of attracting fashionable residents – which means Lyon’s vintage stores are well-stocked and worth travelling for. From top-quality designer clothes to old movie posters and quirky homewares, you’ll be spoilt for choice. We love Elephant Vintage Store on the stylish Rue Hippolyte Flandrin, which boasts a particularly excellent range of retro sportswear. And for a seriously hefty haul, look out for the vintage clothing and furniture fairs at La Sucrière, a warehouse of treasures on the tip of Presqu'Ile. 

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Let loose at Woodstower Festival
Photograph: Woodstower

9. Let loose at Woodstower Festival

End your summer in style at Woodstower, an eco-friendly festival held in the idyllic Miribel Jonage park and nature reserve. Running since 1998 across five days at the end of August, the festival’s programming deftly straddles rap and electro. Past acts have included NTM, Todd Terje, Paul Kalkbrenner Nekfeu, and Jeanne Added. As well as a stellar line-up of live music acts, there’s theatre, a slow-dance stage, a retro-gaming area, and horse riding. It’s only forty minutes from Lyon city centre, so you could feasibly come every day to soak up Woodstower’s excellent vibes. 

Check out contemporary art at Galerie Slika
Photograph: Galerie Slika

10. Check out contemporary art at Galerie Slika

Another great spot on Presqu'Ile, Galerie Slika is housed in a former workshop and has been playing host to an exciting range of emerging and established artists since 2014. While the focus is on street art, Slika showcases contemporary works from every discipline. Parisian visual artist 2Shy, illustrator Jean Jullien, sculptor Steph Cop and painter Nelio have all shown their work over the years. Varied, energetic and airy, the gallery is well worth a visit – if only to enjoy coffee and cookies at its small counter cafe.

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Browse the kaleidoscopic collection at Blitz
Photograph: Blitz

11. Browse the kaleidoscopic collection at Blitz

We challenge you to visit David Bolito's bazaar-slash-gallery Blitz and leave empty-handed. It’s near impossible – the part-time DJ and curator has a knack for unearthing quirky and unique gems. Vintage, tat and kitsch collide in his brilliant collections: think Toiletpaper calendars, ceramics by artist Séverin Millet, Dolly Parton candles, brutalist mugs, and artisanal cosmetics. Spread across two floors, there really is something for everyone here. Don’t miss the gallery space on the top floor  the rotating pop-up exhibitions mean that the space will feel different every time you visit.

Take in the view from the Jardin des Curiosités
Photograph: Jardin des Curiosités

12. Take in the view from the Jardin des Curiosités

Some say the Jardin des Curiosités offers the most beautiful view of Lyon. And we’d struggle to argue with that. Nestled on a hill in Saint-Just, this 6,000-square-metre park is an uphill climb, but worth every minute of effort. Designed at the turn of the last millennium at the request of the city of Montreal (with which Lyon is twinned), this garden of curiosities offers a simply breathtaking view. On a clear day, you can even see Mont Blanc. For some great lookout spots (and if you fancy a bit of a treasure hunt), go in search of the six chairs, all of which were designed by Quebecois sculptor Michel Goulet. 

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Watch a film (or twelve) at the Lumière Film Festival
Photograph: Jeremy Yap

13. Watch a film (or twelve) at the Lumière Film Festival

You’d be easily mistaken into thinking that Paris was the birthplace of cinema as we know it. And although the City of Light has some serious film credentials, Lyon is really where it all began. The Lumière brothers – the inventors and pioneers of the Cinématographe, a three-in-one device that could record, develop and project motion pictures – were raised and educated in Lyon, and are honoured at the city’s annual Festival Lumière. Spanning eight days of October, with screenings, premieres and talks taking place across 35 cinemas, it’s a cinephile’s dream. You might even spot some famous actors or filmmakers. 

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