Lyon, France – the Capital of Gastronomy. One of our favorite Anthony Bourdain episodes is the one focusing on Lyon. We always felt that this episode captured such authentic magic – the food, the history, the wine. It is known as the culinary capital of France, home to Paul Bocuse – one of the fathers of French cooking sculpting french cuisine into what it is today. While it is the second biggest city in France, it is often not a notable travel destination when considering France. When it came time for birthday trip possibilities, Lyon came right to mind. Our time in France has been limited to Paris so far and while it was going to be tricky to top the White Truffle Festival in Alba, Italy last year, I think Lyon, the Capital of Gastronomy with over 1,500 places for food, could put up quite a fight.
Getting to Lyon is fairly straightforward. We took a red eye Tuesday night after work to Paris, landing mid day Wednesday. From Paris there are two ways to get the Lyon – airplane or train. For the airplane, you have to switch terminals at Paris CDG airport, take a less than an hour flight to Lyon, then take a 30min train to the city. For the train, you have to switch terminals at Paris CDG airport, take a 30min training to the city, then take a less than three hour train to Lyon. It felt like both options got us to Lyon in a similar amount of time and the flights were very inexpensive so we opted to take the flight into Lyon airport and then take a shuttle into the city. The train may have been scenic and I wondered if I was going to regret the flight decision.
While we sat on the plane for 30 min before taking off, it only delayed us 15 minutes getting into Lyon airport. The Rhone Express train is located outside the airport and takes you to the major train station, Gare de Lyon Part-Dieu. We bought our tickets online, which saved money and time. The ride was a relaxing 30 minutes and dropped us off at Gare de Lyon Part-Dieu. Since we were still a considerable distance (another 30 min walk) away from our Airbnb, we opted to take a stab at the metro. After a few stumbles, we got the hang of the trains easily. For us, it ended up being a reliable way to get around.
There are three distinct parts of to Lyon – the “old city” (Vieux Lyon) on the left of the Saone River, the part of Lyon on the right side of the Rhone River, then the island in between the Saone and the Rhone Rivers. I decided on staying in the middle island as it was a central location to all the different areas of Lyon. We got off at Cordeliers station and a short walk away was our Airbnb. It felt so good to be back in Europe – one turn down a street and it revealed a glimpse of the iconic basilique on the hill.
Our Airbnb was perfect. Atop an 18th century stone spiral staircase revealed a lovely apartment. One thing I am consistently amazed with is how efficient Europeans are with their homes. All the comforts of home wrapped up into a tiny space. I think we could downsize to make a space like this work in exchange for living the European life.
Similar to our start in Paris, I thought doing the river boar tour would be a great way to kick start the trip by getting an overview of the city along with some history. Les Bateaux Lyonnais had one final departure of the day at 6PM that focused on the Saone River.
The tour was given in both French and English so we were able to understand the entire program. The hour long boat ride was very educational both in helping us get our bearings on the city’s lay out, history of Lyon, and the major attractions to fit into the trip.
Starving, it was time to have our first meal in Lyon! I thought it only best to have a meal at the traditional Lyonnaise cuisine establishment – a bouchon.
Read about our bouchon experience here!
Stuffed, we felt victorious leaving the bouchon that we saved the night and had a wonderful authentic bouchon experience. As we went through the rest of the trip, every bouchon really looked amazing so a little research is all you need to pick out a good one. And this isn’t “the tourist thing to do” – locals frequent bouchons and of course, have their favorites, and tell visitors that dining at a bouchon while in Lyon is a must.
As we walked home, we saw the police escorted caravan of cars process (quickly) out of Lyon – waved hi to Macron!
A long travel day, it was finally time to switch that circadian rhythm and go to bed- it comes much easier when we arrive to our destination and hit the ground running. So far, Lyon was looking like an amazing birthday choice.
In researching good day trip options from Lyon, one stood out from all the rest. A half hour train ride away and named one of Frances most beautiful villages, Perouges is a historic medieval town timelessly preserved. I booked us a 7AM train out of Part Dieu to get us started – an early start for our first full day.
Read about our day trip to Perouges here!
We made our way back to the the Meximieux-Pérouges train station in well under twenty minutes (all down hill!). When we arrived at 10AM, we were entirely upset to see the next train was not until 11:16AM. There are scheduled trained fore very hour except 10AM. Definitely unhappy to waste over an hour just waiting here instead of exploring. Kevin was is desperate need for some caffeine so we went to the Meximieux town center and found a coffee shop to sit in for while. We then walked aimlessly around the town until enough time had passed to just sit at the train station.
Arriving back to Lyon around noon, it was time for a lunch plan. We were not far from the acclaimed Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse so we decided to evaluate the options here before committing to a lunch location. We had quite a large meal ahead of us so it was important to keep lunch early and light.
Les Halles has over 50 stands of food – from cheese and meats to seafood and chocolate with everything in between, there is something for everyone. It is clear why this is a popular lunch location.
Many of the stands actually have plenty of seating as a small restaurant – some even have upstairs seating! We did a lap of the entire establishment and had some difficult decisions to make. After some deliberation, we decided on hitting one of the cheese stands.
Mons Fromager Affineur had a nice set up with several tables for guests. We opted for a five cheese plate and we each ordered a glass of wine. Ahh there is nothing quite like french cheese. From the gooey ones to the smelly ones to the soft ones to the extra moldy ones – there are endless cheese options. We let the staff chose our cheeses – there had to be close to 100 cheese in the display case.
With a glass of French Chardonnay, we were presented with a beautiful cheese plate. Five in total with varying animals including cow, sheep and goat cheeses. We both enjoyed all the cheeses and the accompaniments of truffle honey and fruit marmalade. I think my favorite was probably the cow cheese because it was gooey and Kevin made the perfect combination of a small piece of bread, goat cheese, and the marmalade – delicious!
This ended up being a perfect mid day snack. While I had several restaurants tagged for lunch, this ended up working well. In search for dessert, the fancy patisseries left me overwhelmed. Instead, we went to one of the macaron shops that I felt was worthy. We got four macarons total (two each) – Kevin got vanilla and pistachio and I got milk and dark chocolates. I have to say I am not a huge fan of macarons as the flavors are often subtle and it is so small but these were the best I have had. The layer in the middle was thick and had an intense flavor which I found more enjoyable.
From Les Halles, we traveled north to the Parc de la Tête d’Or since we were close by. Having originally planned to picnic there, the weather proved to be a bit unpredictable. The park reminded us for Central Park – it was a huge area found in the middle of the city, providing open and green space. This park additionally has a number of offerings including a Japanese Garden, Zoo, and Botanical Garden.
We walked for awhile through the grounds, Kevin spotting new birds to catalog in his mind, plenty of dog sightings. We came across a clearing where we noticed antelope – just chilling in the middle of the park.
It’s hard to believe there is an entire zoo in the public park. Then we walked through the botanical gardens before making our way to the Japanese Gardens. Our favorite section of the Japanese Gardens was the carnivorous plant green house. You can easily spend an entire day in this park!
Looking like rain, we quickly made our way to the metro for a pit stop home to get ready for dinner (dress code required as elegant casual). Having a bit of time before our reservation, we decided to cross the bridge for the first time to the left and walk through Vieux Lyon. Thanks for the rainbow, Lyon!
It was easy to tell that this was the old part of the city – many roads were not passable for cars and the restaurants generously extended into the narrow street. We loved walking through the part of town.
We stopped inside one of the many churches – Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste. With an exterior front that was reminiscent of the Notre Dame in Paris, the inside was very modest using the sun’s reflection on the stain glass to great color inside the church.
The coolest thing inside was actually an astronomical clock that has many of the original parts dating back to the 1300s. While it was not working the time we were there (the last restoration was 1954 and it reset the clock’s perpetual calendar of 66 years = 2019!), it was so interesting to see it up close as it was very elaborate (guess it needs another restoration tune up for the next 66 years!). Still a question of how something like that ended up in a Catholic church but what a piece of history!
Our final destination of this passeggiata was the La Cave des Voyageurs wine bar. We sat inside trying several wines, tempted by the small plates, and admiring the nooks of the room.
This would be a good gig – operating a wine bar – getting to know people – no one is unhappy with a glass of wine in their hands. That would be a cool life goal if it wasn’t an impossible task to get a liquor license.
Before we knew it, it was time to make our way out of Lyon to dinner. One of the amazing parts of the Lyon Bourdain episode is when he dined at Paul Bocuse Restaurant, l’Auberge du Pont de Collonges. With high difficulty of executing the dishes that made Bouse famous based on quality and creativity and three Michelin Stars, this was certainly a worthy way to celebrate my birthday.
Read about our experience at Paul Bocuse Restaurant here!
Needless to say, this is another birthday meal I will never forget. We got an Uber back to Lyon, amazed by the evening we just had. Needing to walk off our enormous stomachs, we did a lap around the block before settling in. Thank you Bocuse for a special birthday dinner I will never forget!
We were both relieved to have a morning to sleep in after such a late night. Our first activity was not until 10AM so we had time to grab breakfast in town. I had Slake Coffee House marked on my map just a few minute walk away for Kevin to grab a drink and there were a few boulangeries nearby.
Arriving at Slake was as if we were transported back home – it was an American styled coffee shop where there was WiFi and seating. Typically in Europe the coffee culture to drink and go, and there is often a charge for sitting in the few seats available. Lyon definitely had a more relaxed setting from those traditional options. They even had food like granola, pastries, and salmon! Yep this would work just fine. Kevin for a cappuccino which he immensely enjoyed and we split a yogurt with granola and fruit. What a delightful way to start the morning.
We made our way back to the Airbnb for our pick up from Lyon Wine Tours!
Read about our exploration of the Northern Rhone Valley wine region here!
Once finished, we all packed up in the van and made it make to Lyon around 6:30PM – a very full day of wine! The day was packed with different experiences and I feel we walked away with a greater understanding of this wine region, along with the patterns of French wine.
With a two hours before dinner, we took our own little walking tour as the sun set over the river, painting the sky the most gorgeous hues of pink leaving us stuck gazing for minutes at a time.
La Mutinerie was on the other side of town by the Part Dieu train station so it was a nice long walk exploring a new part of the city. Our reservations were for 8:30PM and it appeared that reservations were a must at this restaurant. I found it online as one of the newer acclaimed restaurants and the website was very vague about the menu or what to expect dining here but the reviews were all wonderful.
Read about this unique dining experience here!
Another full night, we had enough energy to passeggiata home. I swear I am only a night owl in Europe! I could never do this multiple late nights in a row back home. A nice long walk through the lite city at night has its own allure. The lights along the river just accentuated the beauty and appeal of a city surrounded by a river as the focal point.
Today was Vieux Lyon day! I had big plans to squeeze as much of Lyon into day before we left tomorrow. It was hard to believe we did not visit a boulangerie yet so that would be our breakfast. We stopped at Puzzle Cafe where Kevin grabbed another delicious cappuccino. This cafe was similar to Slake Coffee with the relax more modern style of cafes.
On our way to cross the river to the boulangerie, we got side track fast. There was a huge outdoor market going on and I wanted to see it all. Saint Antoine Market was lined for over two full blocks of the most picturesque fruits, vegetables, cheese, meats, breads, charcuterie, flowers, and much more. It was hard to believe the size of some of the vegetables we saw! Rotisserie chickens were constantly being spun creating the best aroma. Contrast that aroma with the funky cheese display. There were rabbits being skinned and prepped for sale right in front of us. It was too overwhelming to purchase anything here but we enjoyed looking at every stand. I can make an entire photo gallery just on these photos alone. This quickly became our favorite market we have visited in Europe and how I wished we could shop here and make our own dinner.
Boulangerie bound, we crossed the bridge and back tracked to Boulangerie du Palais. It was highly rated so I was surprised at the very small operation- I expected to have a decision among counters of pastry competition so it was a welcomed surprise.
I got the Roule au chocolate which was a snail pastry with chocolate chunks nestled in between the cracks. Kevin got the Brioche au chocolate which was as it sounds a brioche bun with chocolate chips.
Oh boy, mine really was chocolate overload and while it was so amazing for the first half, this enormous pastry started to get the best of me. It was so good it was impossible to stop but the chocolate overload was real. Needless to say, I was quite full for a long time and had my face covered in chocolate. Oh yeah, and Kevin loved his brichos as well. Overall, 10/10 Boulangerie du Palais!
Not far was the funicular station to the top of the enormous hill that has been looming over us the entire trip – I was so excited to finally get to the top! The station was a bit confusing for us at first cause I was certain there was one that went directly to the church but none of the stops seemed to indicate that. We went up the quick journey and got off on the first stop with the rest of the crowd hoping it was the right move. After a 15 min walk towards the basilica, we finally made it to the gates. Turns out, the funicular that goes directly in front of the church was down for maintenance and I completely missed the sign.
Our goal was to book the roof top tour and since I could not figure out how to accomplish this online, we found the information desk on the oppose side of the church. There are only two to three tours a day that permit a maximum of 18 people so it really is limited. After going back and forth with a lovely elderly gentlemen with a language gap on times, we managed to get in on the 4:15PM tour- mission accomplished.
From there, we took the opportunity to see the sweeping views of the city below us – a view we looked up at every night we now get to see the reverse.
Time for a sneak peek inside the La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière.
It was amazingly detailed without being gaudy. Maybe it was the lake of in-your-face marble and gold but it worked to come off as elegant. We sat for awhile and listened to the service before taking a walk down to the crypt and in the chapel.
Not enough time to do more before lunch, we made the journey back down on foot which for the hassle to get up is surprisingly easy to get down. You can see the people huffing to make the climb but in my opinion, pay the funicular to get up (same cost as the metro).
Once at the bottom back in familiar territory, I recalled that the traboule passages were in this party of the city. I didn’t want to pay a guide to show us where they were since there are many self guided tours. It didn’t help that at the time I really wasn’t sure what I was looking for but we gave it our best try. After a few minutes of looking, we gave up and continued on.
Back on the island, we traveled further south for a little more exploring before lunch. The day prior, we passed a large vacant dirt lot and today it was in a full fledged festival- Le Petit Paume. I still am quite unsure what the entire thing was about but there was yoga going on, kits flying, tents of various random things, and people giving out these beautifully made books/brochures for the event. We did a lap and while it did not help us understand what was going on, it was cool to see.
I made lunch reservations for l’instant fromage. At the time I booked, it did not seem like we were going to have an opportunity to have cheese tastings. Of course by this point in the trip, we have eatten our weight in cheese but I knew this was going to be a good choice anyway – I had a reservation after all!
First ones in the restaurant, we were seated and informed the entire menu was on the wall. Our server was awesome and suggested we did a plate of five cheeses, four meats, and two small salads and that should be plenty for lunch. Relinquishing control once again, we took his recommendations and waited patiently for our selections. Oh just look at this spread!
The cheeses were all wonderful. What was nice is we could catalog what we had since they used this little flags to tell us each cheese. The pairings with these were really fun – fried onions, sunflower seeds, raisins, figs, and honey – all perfectly complimented the corresponding cheese.
The meats were ok – Kevin like them more than I did. I was really into the salami.
The salad came in these mason jars and we were told to shake them before eating it – this was a much need vegetable in our tummies. Delightful salads.
Throughout the meal, Kevin tried multiple glasses of red wine and I stuck to our server’s recommended Vire-Clesse Cadole du Chapitre 2018 Chardonnay – glasses here were less than 5 euro so we were enjoying ourselves.
So much that we got more cheese! The place was jam packed and as we continued to see more cheese, we got another plate of three to round out the meal. One of them had chocolate as the pairing this time! Love that ability to creatively match these cheeses with anything.
I was so happy to have found this place and even happier we had a reservation! The staff here were so friendly and helped guide us through their massive cheese menu. When we left there was a wait out of the door for a table – definitely a great find! Highly recommend!
Afternoon fun walk north towards the Airbnb, we passed by Aux Merveilleux de Fred which we had passed before – they just had the most beautiful display of unique desserts.
I figured splitting a small chocolate would not break the bank (in our stomachs) so we grabbed one to share. I did not know what the expect biting in but it was meringue, chocolate whipped cream coated with shavings of dark chocolate. Really was delicious and light.
We were so close to the Airbnb, we made the poor decision of taking a “quick” nap. It was just past 2:30PM at this point. The roof top tour departed at 4:15PM. It took us over a half hour to get there this morning. So when nap time ended at 3:40PM, panic of missing the tour began to settle in.
Running out the door, trying not the trip on all the cobble stone, we kept a brisk walking pace. We made it to the funicular train station and the line to get a ticket was three deep on each ticket station. The ticket station Kevin made it to refused his credit card twice so he had to get back in line for another kiosk. Once he got the tickets, we just missed the funicular up. Anther five precious minutes went by until another tram came down and it felt like an eternity before we left the station. It was 4:05PM and we were going to miss this roof tour with no other tie on this trip to make up the loss. We still had a 15 min uphill walk to La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière. Kevin ran ahead to try and hold the tour as I hustled behind. Completely out of energy, I looked to the meeting point at the stairs and saw Kevin with a thumbs up. We made it by some act of God.
Read about Rooftop Tour of La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière here!
The tour extended way longer than we anticipated but there was still enough daylight to explore the Théâtre Gallo Romain just down the street. It is visible from a distance as it is an expansive area.
We were surprised to see people among the stone and there to be no limitations on where you could wander. The area was still maintained enough to really see how it was structured in its prime. There is an affiliated museum (already closed by the time we got there) that I am sure adds to the history of the theatre.
As we turned to walk back down the stairs, we noticed a perfect rainbow. Lyon, you are beautiful! A wonderful sunset on our last night.
With some time before dinner, I thought it would be fun to explore the traboules. The traboules are passageways or crossings that are unique to Lyon serving multiple purposes. Dating back to the 4th century, these were used as access points for the silk trade, short cuts to get to the river quickly, and hidden networks preventing full occupation from Germany during the WWII. There were many walking tours that advertised exploring these areas but I also read that a self guided experience is easily achieved. I took a screenshot of a map highlighting a walking path to see 15 traboules and though i didn’t quite know what we were looking for, I figured at least one of them would work.
After walking the entire area, we were unable to identify any of the traboules. I do not think it helped that it was dark and I really did not do as much research to figure out what we are looking for, but oh well! (IRONY: When reading our Airbnb’s description when we got home we found the following statement – “Atypical because you have to go through a traboule to access a staircase dating from the Middle Ages that will take you to the apartment!” Hilarious, Lyon!)
It was quickly approaching our reservation time for our final dinner in Lyon. We have had such amazing food this entire trip and I was hopeful we would finish out the trip with another winner at Le Boeuf d’Argent.
Read the dining review for Le Boeuf d’Argent here!
Still amazed by this incredible city, we took the long way home walking and stopping frequently to absorb every last bit. Lyon certainly had a similar magic at night that mimicked Paris and it was difficult to put that away on our last night. Everyone was out and about, the restaurants were full of people, seats outside spilled into the streets, the vibrancy was addictive.
But alas, we made it to our final destination, packed up our things, and went to sleep.
Wanting to squeeze out a few more memories out of Lyon, we got out early to grab coffee and breakfast. We were so happy with Slake House Coffee, we started our stroll in that direction. Compared to last night, the streets were a ghost town. We have not noticed it being this quiet in the morning all trip – in fact we commented on how active the city was in the mornings each day we were here.
We arrived at Slake House Coffee and it was closed. While we were bummed, it did not come at a huge surprise given how empty the streets were. We checked several more places – Puzzle Cafe, Antoinette Pain & Brioche, many boulangeries – all closed on Sundays. Make that a note if you are in Lyon on a Sunday – look ahead when planning!
I had a thought (more of a hope) that the incredible market we passed yesterday morning was a weekend long affair. With nothing to lose (and nothing open) we headed tours the Saone River. Luckily, by hunch paid off and the fun began.
We did a lap through the entire market taking everything in again – I just adored this market! I started to keep inventory of items that would be good breakfast options. We wanted to buy our items from different vendors to spread the love. With this being such a local event, I was nervous that our lack of French would be an issue. But once we started, it got easier with each transaction. First we purchased a cheese – I asked for a soft one and I took the first one they recommended. Then came our baguette followed by a croissant and grapes.
Feeling victorious, we walked back to our Airbnb one last time. Laying all the food out, it looked like such a feast – best breakfast ever! And all under 8 euro – crazy.
The cheese was perfection – super soft and wet, perfect for spreading on the baguette. The croissant was one of the freshest ones I can recall having. It was going to be hard to leave this corner of the world behind.
After a once over of the place, we grabbed our bags and descended down the stone spiral staircase to start the long journey home. In summary, it took two subway rides, one airport tram, one flight (Lyon–>Paris), another airport tram, another flight (Paris –>JFK), the final airport tram, and two train rides totally 23 hours of travel. Worth it? 100%.
While it started with an Anthony Bourdain episode, Lyon evolved into a premier destination for us. We expected a more countryside, provincial town but it was way more metropolitan. It is a lived in city, not just a museum of a city that once was. Speaking of museums, we did not go into any here! There are plenty of museums and other historical sights but we honestly did not have the time. Our interests were geared (obviously) towards the food, the wine, the pulse of the city but you can make this a trip that works for your interested – there is that much going on. We didn’t purchase it, but there is a city card that permits access to many of the city museums, exhibits, and activities. The type of trip you are doing will dictate if the city card is a good value for you.
I am so happy that places like Lyon exist in the world. A little corner of the globe that preserves and respects its origins but adapts and changes with each day. Thank you Lyon for all your wonderful gifts!
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