This travel guide to Lyon is adapted from the author’s original article in Mint Lounge – “A Meal in Lyon, The Global Capital of Gastronomy“.
Celebrated as the French capital of gastronomy, Lyon is a must-visit for epicures keen on good food and fine wine.
The city has over 90 restaurants listed in the Michelin Guide and boasts more restaurants per head than anywhere else in France. Superlative quality of regional produce combined with a storied history surrounding a long line of female cooks – Mères Lyonnaises – have underwritten Lyon’s culinary heritage, with the city having nurtured many notable chefs, from Paul Bocuse, the pioneer of modern French cuisine, to contemporary names such as Claude Bosi and Daniel Boulud.
Home to over thirty universities and thousands of students, the energy of Lyon is both lively and languid, with Vieux Lyon – the Old Town –still the beating heart of this urban metropolis. There is no better way to uncover the depth of Lyonnais culture and cuisine than by slipping into the shoes of a flâneur to meander through the charming winding streets with abandon, in pursuit of both adventures and fulfilment. To guide you along the way, gathered here is a curated list of the best of what to do, see and of course eat in Lyon!
A Travel Guide To The Culinary Landscape of Lyon
The sight of diners leisurely tucking into champagne and oysters at 10 a.m. might be startling to most but is nothing out of the ordinary on just another Monday morning in Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse Lyon. The indoor food hall is frequented by locals and tourists alike for their fill of regional produce from Bresse chicken to cheese from Auvergne and Jura. The great Lyonnais chefs can be found here first thing every morning too, foraging fresh ingredients for their Michelin-starred restaurants.
If you’re looking to take local Lyonnais ingredients and specialties back home with you, Les Halles is the place to shop for it all. Don’t miss a sweet bite of brioches aux pralines roses, buttery soft-centered bread speckled with pretty-in-pink candied almonds. Famous of Lyon, this sweet confection can be found on almost every street corner.
Lyon is well known for its welcoming bouchons – homely family-owned eateries which are a cross between a bistro and café. These establishments once served as inns or taverns for silk traders who would stop over for a meal and to groom their horses. In the mid 18th century, they were championed by the Mères Lyonnaises – Mothers of Lyon. This long line of female cooks wove culinary magic with their economical use of local ingredients (such as by working with off-cuts of meat), inspiring generations of cooks after them and sustaining the local community through successive wars.
You can find many rustic bouchons across Lyon even today with their signature red-and-white tablecloths, cheery atmosphere and traditional Lyonnais dishes from from cervelle de canut (herbed cheese dip) to quenelles (delicate dumplings starring creamed fish or meat) and dried cured meats. For a more genuine experience, look out for the seal ‘Les Buchan’s Lyonnais’, emblazoned in the window of only the bouchons officially certified as authentic. Explore these bouchons, here.
Lyon has over ninety restaurants listed in the Michelin Guide with fifteen restaurants holding one Michelin star and five holding two stars. Laying emphasis on fresh locally sourced produce and clarity of flavour, the eclectic style of “Nouvelle Cuisine” – fathered by Lyonnais chef Paul Bocuse – is characteristic of many of these restaurants. We get a taste of it at Têtedoie, a one Michelin-star restaurant for contemporary dining resting atop Fourvière hill. Here we sample slow-roasted summer tomatoes with a delicate puff pastry tart, tatin-style, a soft swoop of mascarpone adding the final flourish. An attractive prelude to dessert pairs apricots with more-savoury-than-sweet ice cream swirled together with sheep’s milk.
Discover all the Michelin-recommended restaurants in Lyon, here.
New Wave of Gastronomy
Meanwhile, a new wave of gastronomy has seen the rise of neo-bistros with more laid-back surrounds, alongside new concepts such as “Food Traboule.” Helmed by Brazilian-born Tabata Mey and her husband Ludovic, the re-imagined “food hall” is housed in The Tour Rose, a heritage building. Spread over three floors, seven areas and open-plan kitchen counters, the collaborative food hall is united by a communal dining space in which diners can enjoy the vast repertoire of dishes and cuisines from burgers and pizzas to bistro fare.
More Unmissable Experiences in Lyon
- Take a Riverside Cruise: Lyon is nestled between the confluence of the Rhône and Saône Rivers and a cruise along the both rivers is as scenic as it is revelatory, revealing a patchwork of old-world painted houses juxtaposed by bright orange contemporary offices and gradations of industrial activity. This gentle tug between the old and new is a theme that plays out across different facets of Lyon.
- Climb Fourvière Hill for a breathtaking vista of Lyon from outside Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière, a beautiful basilica built in a striking Romanesque-Byzantine style. Cross Parc des Hauteurs to find your way to the ancient ruins of the Roman Theatre.
- Explore Vieux-Lyon: wander around the old town to discover Lyon’s traboules, hidden passageways connecting parallel streets through buildings and inner courtyards. Sip on a hot chocolate or aperitif at the Grand Café des Négociants. Once the place of negotiation for silk and diamond merchants, this resplendent Baroque-style brasserie remains a bolthole for business travellers, artists, even politicians. Other places of interest include Le Bal des Ardents, a beautiful bookshop cosseted in the ancient Rue Neuve.
- Shop for silk scarves in the Croix Rousse, the former district of Lyon’s silk workers. Here you can visit workshops to learn how silk is made from weaving to finishing, not to mention you can purchase silk scarves at manufacturer’s prices!
- Enjoy an imaginative tipple (or two) at Le Dôme, choosing between creamy cocktails embellished with burrata foam alongside daring concoctions powered by black olive infused gin. Sheathed by a dome, 32m high, this modern bar is part of Intercontinental Lyon’s Hotel Dieu, a landmark in itself—and once a hospital.
Take A Day Trip To Beaujolais
Take a scenic drive north of Lyon to explore the wine-growing region of Beaujolais. The vineyards tumbling down the hillside are just as picturesque as the medieval villages cosseted within the hills with their fairy-tale Golden Stone cottages (so named for the ochre hue reflected across the limestone homes as they catch the sunset light). Pull over at a local caveau (cellar) for an informal wine tasting, before enjoying more wine with a view at Chateau de Bagnols, an 800-year-old Renaissance castle that is now a luxurious hotel helmed by Relais & Châteaux.
Where To Stay in Lyon
Situated across the Rhône, Hotel Boscolo Lyon is a luxury boutique hotel marrying French heritage with hyper-stylish Italian design. The elegant rooms are enlivened with gilded details inspired by “Le Petit Prince,” the literary classic written by Lyon-born author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. This is one of the few hotels where a complimentary breakfast (spanning coffees, fresh bakes and pastries) is served until early afternoon – they call it brunch! And as eventful as your itinerary may be, do carve out time to unwind by the hotel’s grotto-esque pool and spa too. https://boscolocollection.com/lyon/en/
GETTING TO LYON
Lyon has its own airport 25km from the city. As a key rail hub serviced by Rail Europe, the city also enjoys extensive connectivity spanning regional links within France, as well as international links with European destinations from Milan to Geneva. Fast TGV trains leave from Paris regularly through the day, making the journey in just about two hours.
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