For food and wine lovers, France is a give-in travel destination, though why settle on just Paris when you could add a three-day weekend in the gastronomical capital of the world to your trip? Between planes, trains (high speed, that is) and automobiles, accessing Lyon from Paris has never been simpler. Between savory meals, lush wine country, and bustling streets for shopping, there’s truly something in Lyon for everybody. So pack your weekend bag, throw on your most effortlessly chic scarf, and on y va!
Getting to Lyon is as easy as getting on a high-speed train and relaxing for two hours. Seriously. High-speed TGV trains leave almost hourly from Paris’s Gare de Lyon station, shuttling you to its namesake destination in just over under 120 minutes. If saving money over time is more your style, check out the the economical line of Ouigo trains, departing from Marne-la-Vallée station, an hour northwest of central Paris, to Lyon’s TGV station at St. Exupery airport. Ouigo trains can be found for as low as 10 euros per ticket, though beware of hidden costs. Factoring in the price of the RER train to get to Marne-la-Vallée (about 8 euros), and the cost of the Rhônenavette (14 euros one way) to access Lyon’s center from the airport, could end up costing you more than a regular ticket.
Insider tip: Purchase your train tickets at an SNCF boutique in Paris rather than online. The company stores tend to have deals that aren’t found on the Internet. By contrast, Ouigo tickets are only available online. Be sure to print them before arriving at the station or you’ll incur a 5 euro fee.
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Take an early morning train out of Paris to make the most out of your three-day trip. On arriving in the city center, check into your hotel, drop your bags, grab a quick croissant, and prepare to take on the day. Navigating Lyon is quite simple, thanks to its comprehensive metro-tram system. Though underground travel via metro tends to be faster, take the tram when possible; better to see as much of the city as you can, even with the slower tram, than to waste time underground.
Whether you’re hungry for lunch or simply crave a relaxing afternoon coffee break, the café at the Musée des Beaux Arts is a quiet getaway from the bustle of the city. Spend an hour or two perusing the museum and pondering tableaux, followed by a nice cappuccino pause to reward your intellectual hour. Hey, you earned it. Snag a table on the terrasse to sit among the trees and leafy greenery of the museum garden.
From the museum, head to Vieux Lyon to see the city’s largest Renaissance district. The neighborhood is served by metro line D, though a 15-minute walk via the Pont de la Feuillée will you get you there in almost no time. Vieux Lyon is love at first sight, brimming with cobblestone streets and artisanal craft shops, with little side streets twisting and turning their ways along the Saône. Pop into some of the cubby-sized shops selling handmade soaps and sachets of lavender, perfect for bringing back to the States. Be sure not to miss Antic Wine, a tiny, hole-in-the-wall shop full of hidden gems for all of your oenophile friends. Unlike most wine shops in France that promote an exclusively domestic selection, Antic boasts wines from all over, including Italy, South Africa, and the U.S. The basement cellar is a wine lover’s dream; musky and humid with creaky wooden stairs leading to a plethora of dusty, laid-down bottles from many regions and vintages. Wines start at around 10 euros and, if you’re lucky, the staff may give you a taste of whatever wine they’re sampling at the moment.
Take your newly purchased bottle and any Vieux Lyon snack purchases (The Pirate’s Candies is perfect for those with a sweet tooth) and head to the funiculaire, just next to the Vieux Lyon metro station, to get to Fourvière just in time for sunset. Walking up one of the various “montées” is an option, though climbing 500 feet vertically with multiple wine bottles isn’t really our style. The basilica at Place de Fourvière is a sight to see, made of white marble and Byzantine-style decor. Just behind the basilica sits the panoramic viewpoint, offering the best view of the city. Pop your bottle of wine and savor the red-roof-dotted view. Be sure to visit the amphitheater before your descent, one of the oldest remnants of the Roman city of Lugdunum.
Dining at a traditional Lyonnais restaurant, known as a bouchon, is a must. Bouchons serve up classically Lyonnaise cuisine such as andouillette, roast pork, and coq au vin. Coming down from Fourvière, we recommend Les Pampres Rouges, ideally situated in Vieux Lyon. Come hungry, as the dishes tend to be heavy and fat-filled. Drink a bottle of local Burgundian Pinot Noir to really make the meal complete. Finish it off with some Saint-Felicién cheese or bugnes de Lyon and (st)roll your way back to your hotel.
Going to Lyon and not taking advantage of easily accessible day trips would be a sin. For a wine-filled day trip, consider a tour through Beaujolais or Burgundy for a taste (literally) of wine country. Many tour services offer escapes to Beaujolais in half-day or full-day options, though renting a car is always ideal. For a day trip to Burgundy, hit the road or grab a train to Beaune, the wine capital of the region. Beaune is brimming with local producers and négociants, as well as little souvenir shops for when a wine pause is needed.
For a less wine-focused excursion, head to Annecy, an alpine village just 90 minutes east of Lyon. The Vieille Ville (Old Town) is lined with charming cobblestone streets and tiny canals, with homes made of wood and painted bright colors. Be sure to savor a traditional Savoyard lunch of gooey Reblochon cheese and charcuterie paired with a glass of local Vin de Savoie or a pint of Mont Blanc, all while taking in the view of little red flowers covering the wooden bridges sitting against the backdrop of turquoise waters of Lake Annecy. Hey, it isn’t nicknamed the Pearl of the French Alps for nothing.
Sweat out some of those calorically dense meals with a morning run through the streets of Lyon. Avoid the hour between 8 and 9 unless you enjoy navigating around children (and adults) on scooters. End your sweat with a stop in the boulangerie near your hotel and grab a quick breakfast if petit-déj is not included in your hotel cost. Make your way to Lyon’s posh 6th Arrondissement to take in the Hausmannian-style architecture while heading for a late-morning retreat to the Parc de la Tête d’Or, Lyon’s most famous park. Lose yourself on the sandy paths that lead to woods and secret passageways. Stop by the lake and rent a canoe for half an hour to get those arm muscles working, or simply pack a book and take a reading break on a bench at the water’s edge.
After relaxing in the park, grab the metro line A at Masséna or Foch and head a few short stops west toward Bellecour. Exit at Europe’s largest pedestrian square, Place Bellecour; be sure not to miss the statue of Louis the XIV on his horse right at the center. Head north on Rue du Président Edouard Herriot to Slake Coffee House, five minutes away. The cappuccinos are to die for, especially when paired with one of the thick, chocolatey brownies. Bonus points if you can snag a window seat on the couch, the best spot in the house for people-watching on the quiet side street.
After your caffeine fix, head east on Rue Jean Tournes and take a left on Rue de la République for an hour or two of (window) shopping. The pedestrian-friendly street is an ideal shopping ground, with stores ranging from H&M to the higher-end Printemps. Shop your way up to Hotel de Ville for a stunning view of one of the city’s largest and most elegant buildings. For lovers of cheese and all things fried (quite frankly, who isn’t a fan?) grab a snack at Frite Alors served in traditional paper cones and drenched in a variety of sauces. Head back toward the Rhône and stroll south for some last-night beers on one of the many docked boat bars along the river. For an extensive beer (and burger) selection, try Star Ferry with over 60 beers from more than 10 countries. For a quieter, less food-focused experience, walk a few steps down to Péniche Le Sirius and strike up a conversation with some locals. Who knows who you might meet on your night on the quai?
WHERE TO STAY
Place Carnot, just south of Bellecour, is full of affordable, low-key hotels, ideally situated near Lyon Perrache, one of the city’s major transportation hubs. Multiple trains, metros, and trams served by this station make getting around the city accessible and quick. Look to Campanile Lyon Centre or Hotel des Savoies, starting at $60 per night. Alternatively, grab an Airbnb in the Croix-Rousse neighborhood for a local, artsy feel.