During the 🍂 Toussaint holidays just gone, MBFF spent a long weekend in the beautiful city of Lyon. As Daddy MBFF had some work meetings in the beautiful city, we decided to head there en famille, arriving at our hotel (located in the 7è arrondissement, just across the river from the Musée des Confluences) at 8h in the morning (eek!), in time for me to have ☕️ a coffee, 🗺 peruse the city maps and transport options and to plan our first day of exploration!
Lyon is a vibrant city, the third largest in France (and second biggest urban area) and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with numerous historical and architectural landmarks, from Roman ruins, to a compact Renaissance old town, a 19th century hilltop basilica, a regal 19th century district full of sprawling squares and majestic architecture (located on the man-made peninsula “presqu’île” – a daring engineering project drained the marshes and connected what was once an island to terra firma), and a renovated industrial district along the confluence of the Rhône and Saône Rivers. Lyon is also known also for its 🍲 rich gastronomy, 🧵its silk weaving history, and as being the 🎥 birthplace of cinema (thanks to the Lumière brothers, who invented cinematography in the city).
Before arriving at our Lyon hotel, I hadn’t had time to give any thought to our weekend ahead, but as I used to work as a tour leader, I find it enjoyable (and fairly easy), to figure out a new city’s layout and a plan a suitable day pretty swiftly. That said, I used to work with teenagers and adults, and I’d never 🗺 planned a city day out with an 8 and 5 year old in tow totally sola (and with ☔️ rain forecast in the afternoon!). I knew that I’d have to make it FUN and without too much (intentional) walking!
Lyon is a lovely city for strolling, with distinct quartiers (and arrondissements like in Paris: 1 to 9): Bellecour, Vieux-Lyon, Croix-Rousse, La Colline de Fourvière, 🌳 Le Parc de la Tête d’Or . . . but I knew I wouldn’t be able to do much aimless wandering with the boys, so I planned accordingly!
🏟 Lugdunum – Musée & Théatres Romains – as Lyon has Roman foundations, I thought it sensible to start our day at Lugdunum Musée & Théatres Romains. To get to this hilltop location, we walked, got a little lost until we found the Rhône . . . then took a bus, a métro and a funicular, so already the boys were tired when we arrived! But they were nevertheless intrigued by the roman vestiges – theatre, columns . . . I suggested that we might visit the museum, but they refused, and being tired and hungry, I decided to avoid a mutiny and we pushed forward to our next stop . . .
opening hours of theatre (free): from 15th April until 15th September: 7h until 21h and from 16th September until 14th April: 7h until 19h; opening hours of museum (paying): from Tuesday to Friday 11h until 18h and weekends 10h until 18h; address: 17 rue Cléberg, 69005, LYON / website: https://lugdunum.grandlyon.com/fr/
The museum looks out over the Roman ruins through these intriguing windows . . .
⛪Basilique de Notre Dame de Fourvière and 🌹Le Jardin du Rosaire & Parc des Hauteurs – you cannot visit Lyon without spotting from all angles the magnificent ⛪ Basilique de Notre Dame de Fourvière, the emblematic city basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary and consecrated in 1896, which sits on the Colline de Fourvière and overlooks the magnificent city (next to it you’ll also view a mini Eiffel Tower) . . . on this visit, however, MBFF didn’t manage to visit the interior of the basilica (or much of the outside, for that matter!), as we approached through the 🌹Jardin du Rosaire & Parc des Hauteurs and the path that normally leads up to this majestic church was blocked for renovation. The views over Lyon from the basilica and the Jardin du Rosaire are fabulous, and so I really recommend a stop here! [ good to know – you can also take a nocturnal tour of the site; see here ]
opening hours of basilique: from 7h until 19h / getting there: Funiculaire Fourvière / food options: see here address: 8 Place de Fourvière, 69005, LYON / website: https://www.fourviere.org/fr
Descent to Vieux Lyon via La Montée des Chazeaux . . . –
we I decided that we would walk down to the Vieux Lyon through the Le Jardin du Rosaire . . . the boys complained, we even had a sit-down protest (quite regular in our household), but we persevered (largely helped by following the trail of golden roses underfoot!) and reached . . .
Vieux Lyon – another essential stop if visiting Lyon, is the old quarter . . . in 1954, Vieux Lyon – which is rich in Renaissance history – became the first site in France to be protected under the Malraux law to protect France’s cultural sites, and it has been UNESCO labelled since 1998. Vieux Lyon is largely pedestrianised and it is made for wandering . . . you can visit: the traboules and the ochre-coloured façades of the buildings, you can learn about the silk-making history of Lyon, eat at a bouchon . . . and you will also find the 🎥 Musée Miniature et Cinéma and the Musée Gadagne (see below).
Vieux Lyon is divided into 3 distinct areas, with a church at each centre:
- ⛪ Saint-Jean and the Cathédrale Saint-Jean Baptiste – this area is set around Lyon’s cathedral, which boasts Romanesque and Gothic architecture;
- ⛪️ Saint-Georges – this was the area, located directly to the south of Saint-Jean, where the silk weavers settled in the 16th century, before they moved to the Croix-Rousse hill later in the 19th century. The unique traboules (passageways built through buildings and courtyards linking streets and facilitating the fast movement of silk workers down to the Saône river) were built here and you can visit some of these, as well as the heritage of galleries and spiral staircases;
- ⛪ Saint-Paul – in the 15th and 16th centuries, Italian banker-merchants moved into comfortable urban residences, called hôtels particuliers, in this quartier (the Hôtel Bullioud and the Hôtel de Gadagne are two fine examples, and the latter now houses the Musée d’Histoire de Lyon & the Musée des Arts de la Marionette). The quartier’s northern limit is marked by the Saint-Paul church, with its Romanesque lantern tower and spire;
more information: www.visiterlyon.com/quartier-vieux-lyon
Our final stop on our first day of exploration was the . . .
🐟 Aquarium de Lyon – what a lovely place to visit, and especially welcome as it had begun to rain as we arrived . . . We learned about France’s river life, we watched short films in the cinema, we saw an adorable axolotl, and stroked starfish . . . read about MBFF’s experience here;
🌉 Le Pont Raymond-Barre and Berges du Rhône – our walk back to our hotel across the Rhône took us across this modern bridge, which has a tram line and is also a lovely route for pedestrians and bikes. There are seats located at various points, to sit and admire the Musée des Confluences. Our hotel was located right next to the Berges du Rhône, also a lovely spot to stroll and watch river life (police boats, rowers, a petrol station to fill up one’s boat, ducks . . .).
This was a very FULL DAY – we walked, we got lost (only once, and upon leaving the hotel!), we took a bus, 3 métros, a tram and a funicular. I’m not sure how I kept my boys moving all day; I was certainly proud of them! (see transport section below for more information about getting around Lyon).
On 🗺 our second day of sightseeing, we were joined by Daddy MBFF and I knew that we would have to have a more chilled day if we wanted our children to still love and like us (and Lyon!) by the end of the day!
🦕 Musée des Confluences – we started our day at the Musée des Confluences, the extraordinary museum of mankind situated at the geographically important confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers . . . This dynamic museum, opened to the public in 2014, explores the complexity of the world, of humanity and animals, of « temps long » . . . Its architecture, fascinating both from the exterior and the interior, the work of CoopHimmelb(l)au, is daring and bold, depicting crystal and cloud, mineral and air . . . The exhibitions, both permanent and temporary, continue this vision of the bold and the novel . . . I was personally so excited to visit this museum; and it instantly became one of my new favourite museums in the world! [ thank you to the museum fot its kind and helpful suggestions, welcome pack and tickets (I am currently penning a separate article about Le Musée des Confluences, as there is so much to say!) ]
opening hours: Tuesday to Friday 11h until 19h, weekends 10h until 19h, Thursdays late opening until 22h, SHUT Mondays and certain bank holidays getting there: T1 (arrêt Musée des Confluences) / food options at museum: see here address: 86 quai Perrache, 69002, LYON / website: www.museedesconfluences.fr / FB page
💦 Confluence zone – where the Rhône and Saône rivers converge, on the tip of Lyon’s presqu’île, this former industrial area of the city (which once housed Lyon’s wholesale market, factories, prisons and the Port Rambaud) is now full of contemporary and innovative architecture. As the factories began to shut at the end of the 20th century, a huge urbanisation development took form, with leading international architects Christian de Portzamparc, Kengo Kuma, Massimiliano Fuksas, Jakob & Mac Farlane, Wilmotte & Associés . . . As well as the buildings, the area is at the cutting edge of ecology, with some eco zones with lakes and wetland wildlife!
You will also find a huge shopping and eating centre – Confluences: Pôle de Commerces et de Loisirs Confluence (designed by architect Jean-Paul Viguier, this shopping and leisure centre is set across 3 floors, with 73 shops, a supermarket, a UGC cinema complex, a Novotel hotel, leisure areas (play centre, climbing wall and more), and 24 cafés & restaurants (some with panoramic terraces overlooking the river Saône).
opening hours of Pôle de Commerces et de Loisirs Confluence: daily 10h until 1h; getting there: T1 (arrêt Hôtel de Région - Montrochet) or by the navette Valporetto along the river! (see here) / food options: see here address: 112 cours Charlemagne, 69002, LYON / website: https://www.confluence.fr / FB page
These electric trottinettes were recently fished out of Lyon’s two rivers by divers . . .
We really wanted to see the new 🖼 Imagine Picasso exhibition on at La Sucrière, so after lunch we headed there . . .
La Sucrière – La Sucrière is an emblematic building from the 1930s (once a sugar depot, hence its name), located in the industrial dock area of Lyon. It was renovated in 2011, with the aim of hosting events and cultural exhibitions within its 5100 m² of surface area / 🖼 Imagine Picasso – is the current immersive exhibition here – we really enjoyed our visit (my advice is to sit and take it all in), and I was able to explain the seminal Guernica to my boys, which took me back to my tour leading days;
opening hours: (until 19th January 2020) weekdays 10h until 18h, weekends and school holidays until 19h; getting there: T1 (arrêts Musée des Confluences or Hôtel de Région - Montrochet) or by the navette Valporetto along the river! (see here); address: La Sucrière, 49-50 Quai Rambaud, 69002, LYON; website La Sucrière: www.lasucriere-lyon.com and La Sucrière FB page / website Imagine Picasso: www.imagine-picasso.com and Imagine Picasso FB page
By the time we exited the exhibition, it was 🌧 raining and we took refuge in the . . .
☕️ Mob Hotel of the People – we didn’t hunt out this “lifestyle hotel” (also a restaurant and café, a place used for pop up shops and events); it was a shelter from the rain! Nevertheless it was a comfortable stop to have ☕️ a coffee, 📚 read our books about the Picasso exhibition and play Babyfoot!
address: 55 Quai Rambaud, 69002, LYON / website: www.mobhotel.com/lyon/ and FB page
[ good to know: on a day without rain, you could spend hours wandering in Lyon Confluence, getting your fix of culture, shopping, leisure and international fare! ]
Our boys LOVED our 🗺 final day in Lyon (this day was planned for them; I’d had my dose of city culture!) . . . As we were heading home to the 🏔 Pays du Mont-Blanc, we left 🌳 Le Parc de la Tête d’Or (6è arrondissment) and Mini World Lyon (Vaulx-en-Velin) until our last day, as both of these places were located outside the city centre.
🌳 Le Parc de la Tête d’Or – we had been once to this fabulous park on a sunny autumn’s day (with my eldest son zooming his way around independently on his new draisienne), and on this visit 7 years later, both boys were most excited about going to the 🦒 Zoo de Lyon, a FREE zoo located within the park. This park was created in the 19th century, « pour donner de la nature à ceux qui n’en ont pas ». I’ll write a separate article about Le Parc de la Tête d’Or, as there is just so much to do here (grass for running, playgrounds, a botanical garden, a zoo and African plaine, a deer park, a manège, a boating lake . . .) – highly, highly recommended for families!
address: 69006, LYON (6è arrondissment) / getting there & the various access points: see here website: /www.loisirs-parcdelatetedor.com and FB page programme zoo & jardins botaniques
After lunch, we departed for our last stop (I somehow managed to keep this a surprise all weekend!).
Mini World Lyon – this was the cherry on the cake for our boys, and we ALL absolutely loved this visit (it had been recommended by a friend). We hadn’t told the boys about it, and when they saw that there was a Harry Potter LEGO ® exhibition they were soooo excited (afterwards, they were set on a Harry Potter LEGO ® themed Christmas!). I had assumed that the visit would be primarily for the boys, but we – the parents – absolutely LOVED this unique space, and could have spent hours and hours there!
[ the story behind Mini World Lyon – I loved reading about the origins of this unique space on the website: one Sunday in 2012 Richard Richarté, today the director of Mini World Lyon, was having a little clear up of his garage . . . there he found a box of miniature model sets and he asked his daughter to help him build them together. As they constructed the models together, and he witnessed her enthousiasm,an idea began to take shape – he searched on the internet and found a video of Miniatur Wunderland, the largest animated miniature park in the world, located in Hamburg. The following weekend, he departed for Germany to visit the park, and he was blown away by what he saw. He realised that there was no such park in France, and decided to set up his business, convinced that it could be a successful project. He set up the company in 2013, and surrounded himself by a skilled and dedicated team in Vaulx-en-Velin to kickstart the project (to read the rest of the story, head here) ]
address: Pôle du Carré de Soie, 3 avenue de Bohlen, 69120, Vaulx-en-Velin; website: www.miniworldlyon.com and FB page
« Harry Potter – l’expo en brique » :
And the rest of the fabulous Mini World Lyon: the attention to detail and the atmosphere created by night and light shows is incredible!
and a Christmas makeover . . .
🗺 Getting around LYON 🗺
🚌 Bus, 🚎 Tram, Métro, Funicular – different 🗺 districts in Lyon are connected by a superb public transport system. Tickets are cheaper at bornes rather than on the transport, and you can also purchase day passes if you think you’ll be using the system all day! / see here for mor details;
🚌 Lyon City Tour – one way of getting a simple overview of the city is with Lyon City Tour buses and trams / see website; bus or tram
🛳 Boats and valporetto – being a river city like Paris, you could opt for a guided tour of the city viewed from the rivers with Les Bateaux Lyonnais; see here (for more information about the valporetto boat servicing the Confluence area, see below);
🛴 🚲 Public electric trottinettes and bikes – slightly controversial since their arrival in Lyon (excess speed, clutter, etc . . .) are the electric scooters (for example, the green lime trottinettes) and bikes available to rent through apps downloaded onto your smartphones. Personally, I believe that used in a civilised manner, that they are a fabulous resource (see rules here);
Where we stayed
We decided to stay in the Confluence area area of Lyon for this visit, in order to be close to the Musée des Confluences and to be able to explore this dynamic quartier nearby (the hotel is also located near T1, for easy access into the old town and other areas in Lyon) . . . and we opted for the 🏨 Novotel Lyon Gerland Musée des Confluences (see here), due to its great location and also the fact that you can always get a good deal for a family room with the Novotel chain . . . in addition, there was a restaurant on-site (which turned out to be a huge advantage on our first day, when I walked my kids so far that they could barely move upon our return to the hotel!) and also a great kids’ reading area, babyfoot and more . . . (if it hadn’t been pouring with rain, we might have been tempted to have a swim in the outdoor pool too!). The hotel is decorated in a fun street art and urban jungle style, with animals adorning the walls of the lobby and hotel rooms.
When we arrived at the hotel at 8h on our first morning, ready to leave our luggage in storage, the hotel was already BUZZING with work meetings!
Where we ate
Lyon is regarded as many gourmets as 🥘 the gastronomic capital of France (or even the world). With its 1500 or so eateries, the city has the highest concentration of restaurants per head in France! Surrounded by some of the finest fresh and raw food materials in the country (fresh vegetables and fruit from the Drôme and the Ardèche, fish from Savoie, game from the Dombes, chicken from Bresse, local cheeses, wine form the Rhône Valley and Beaujolais, Lyon is known for the high quality ingredients that make up its largely rustic, rich specialities . . .
Lyon is teeming with bouchons – this is a unique type of restaurant, found only in Lyon, and dating from the days when the silk workers visited their local inns in the 17th and 18th centuries and were wanting filling suppers (and made from all parts of the animal!). [ to read more about the gastronomy of Lyon and bouchons, see this article ]
But, even if Lyon’s culinary fayre is highly regarded, my kids are reluctant to tuck into quenelles, andouillettes, tripes, fromage de tête or groins d’âne etc . . . and so, on our visit, we opted to explore instead the international restaurant choices of Lyon, of which you have plenty of quality options:
- Vieux Lyon – we had Maroccan couscous for lunch at the friendly Touareg restaurant (address: 38 rue du Bœuf, 69005, Lyon);
- Confluence – we opted for 🍣 a sushi lunch in the shopping centre;
- 7è arrondissement – one evening we headed for tapas at the Casa Iberica, which was a stone’s throw from our hotel!
Other great activities for families in Lyon
Of course, there is so much more to visit in Lyon than we managed . . . we’ll save it for our next visit! We had a fabulous long weekend, and we fitted in just the right amount. Other great activities for families in Lyon:
🚢 boat trip – you could take a sightseeing tour on the rivers: Les Bateaux Lyonnais;
🖼 Lyon’s museums – there are so many fabulous museums to choose from in Lyon! For example:
- 🖼 MAC – Musée d’Art Contemporain de Lyon – located near the Parc de la Tête d’Or / see here;
- 🎥 Musée Miniature et Cinéma – located in Vieux Lyon / see here;
- 🖼 Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon – located on the peninsula, in the 1er arrondissement / see here;
- 🧵 Musée des Tissus – located near Place Bellecour / see here;
- 🧵 Maison des Canuts (Musée de la Soie Lyonnaise) – in Croix-Rousse (4è), to where the silk weavers moved in the 19th century / see here;
- 🎥 Institut & Musée Lumière – located in the 8è arrondissement, learn all about Lyon, the city of film and the Lumières brothers here / see here;
- Centre d’histoire de La Résistance et de La Déportation – located in the 7è arrondissement / see here;
- Musée Gadagne (Musée de l’Histoire de Lyon et Musée des Arts de la Marionette) – located in Vieux Lyon / see here;
[ for a full list of Lyon’s museums, and with a map to locate them, see here! ]
Lyon’s murals & street art – it can be fun to head out on a hunt of street art in Lyon, some paintings drawing you to more unusual places that you might not otherwise visit. Here are of some of the main ones to see:
- Musée Urbain Tony Garnier (in États-Unis) – here you can visit an outdoor museum with 25 murals which recount the work of architect and urban planner Tony Garnier, who designed this district in the 1920s (address: 4 rue des Serpollières, 69008, Lyon);
- Fresque des Lyonnais (Presqu’île) – here you can see 24 historical figures and six contemporary people important to Lyon (address: );
- Fresque des Canuts (Croix-Rousse) – recounts the history of the Croix-Rousse neighbourhood (address: 36 boulevard des Canuts, 69004, Lyon);
- Escalier Mermet and Escalier Prunelle – photographic stairways!
Promenade along Rhône & Berges du Rhône – the right bank of the river Rhône was recently converted into a 5-km walkway, with super views across Croix-Rousse and the Presqu’Ile . . . and the Berges du Rhône are nice leafy areas, with playgrounds;
Cité Internationale de la Gastronomie de Lyon – located in an old hospital – Le Grand Hôtel-Dieu – the Cité Internationale de la Gastronomie de Lyon is a cultural centre entirely dedicated to gastronomy! / permanent and temporary exhibitions / website and FB page / address: 4 Grand Cloître du Grand Hôtel-Dieu, Lyon;
Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse – located near Lyon’s main train station, Part Dieu, this food hall started its life as the first covered market in Lyon in 1859, in place des Cordeliers (on the Presqu’Ile) / now a modern food hall, with 48 commerçants (cheesemongers, fishmongers, butchers, wine merchants, pâtissiers and more / website and FB page / address: 102 cours Lafayette, 69003, Lyon;
🚲 WeRide – is an indoor pump-park, VTT & BMX park for the whole family (with a kids’ park), from beginners to the more advanced / address: 7 impasse Louis Saillant, 69120, Vaulx-en-Velin (near Mini World Lyon) / bar and restaurant on-site / recommended by a MBFF reader / website and FB page;
Pérouge – is a pretty medieval village located to the north-east of Lyon, so if you have a bit more time in and around Lyon, it makes a lovely visit . . . MBFF visited a few years back, on a particularly cold winter’s day!
I enjoyed this article highlighting some of the most photogenic spots in Lyon and how to take the best pic: Le Bonbon: Top des plus beaux spots à découvrir absolument à Lyon;
And here is a fabulous video of the city : Lyon in 4K . . .
Big annual events in Lyon
You might want to plan a trip to Lyon which coincides with one of the big annual events happening there . . . here are some of the curent and upcoming events . . .
🖼 Biennale de Lyon Art Contemporain – see here for more details / this year’s running currently until 15th January 2020; ©
🎇 Fête des Lumières – of international renown, this stunning light show has earned Lyon the sobriquet The Capital of Lights, and it gets bigger and better every year! Buildings are lit, squares decorated and this year there will be a light display on the Saône river . . . parts of Lyon do get very busy for this festival; I’m not sure I’d want to experience this with very young children / see This is Lyon article for some top tips about the festival and the Fête des Lumières website and FB page;
🎄 Marché de Noël in Place Carnot – we went to this Christmas market a few years back with our elder son, and drank mulled wine and ate pretzels. If you happen to be in Lyon in December, the city is beautifully decorated and it is lovely to visit this market too;
Le Festival des Roses (Lyon Rose 2020) – 2015 saw Lyon’s squares, historical buildings and fountains adorned with roses for this festival, and the festival is making a return in 2020 / see here for more information;
🎭 opera, ballet, theatre, concerts and more – Lyon attracts some great acts, at various locations, big and small . . . upcoming ballet: Casse-Noisette in January;
[ for a full list of what is happening in Lyon, see here ]