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Lyon city guide: Where to eat, drink, shop and stay for the ultimate French winter getaway

How to make the most of a winter weekend

David Atkinson
Wednesday 12 December 2018 17:16 GMT
Lyon is a delight in winter
Lyon is a delight in winter (Getty/iStock)

Lyon, set across twin hills and straddling the Rhône and Saône rivers, is a perfect winter break. Expect an array of museums, an efficient public transport network and the legacy of chef Paul Bocuse, one of its most famous sons, alive with a new generation of young French chefs.

What to do

The big debate

The major new opening is the Musée des Confluences, located at the tip of the finger-like Presqu’île (peninsula) where the Rhône and Saône meet. The main galleries on level two pose big questions on the human condition with one gallery devoted to the afterlife. Open Tuesday to Friday 11am-7pm, late-night Thursdays to 10pm and weekends 10am-7pm; adult/child €9/6 entry, free with City Card.

Lyon’s Musée des Confluences is the city’s coolest new opening (Getty)
Lyon’s Musée des Confluences is the city’s coolest new opening (Getty) (Getty Images)

Art history

By contrast, the grand-dame Museum of Fine Arts, set within the cloistered walls of a Benedictine abbey, charts the history of art through the ages of painting, sculpture and exhibitions, including works by Rodin, Picasso and Francis Bacon. A major exhibition this winter is dedicated to the Roman emperor Claudius, who was born in Lyon in 10BC. Closed Tuesdays; €8, free with City Card.

New developments

Vieux Lyon remains the lifeblood district of the city with its traboules, passageways leading between the Renaissance buildings to connect the cobblestone streets and angular ascents. But close to the tourist office on central Place Bellecour is the redevelopment of the Grand Hôtel-Dieu, hosting the new Intercontinental Hotel and Cité de la Gastronomie by mid 2019. Meanwhile new restaurants and bars are springing up in this former hospital building.

Grand Hôtel-Dieu has been totally redeveloped
Grand Hôtel-Dieu has been totally redeveloped (Grand Hôtel-Dieu)

Where to stay

Lyon has a huge range of accommodation, so pick your district carefully to maximise mooching time.

The four-star Hotel Fourvière commands a fine view over the city near the Notre Dame Basilica. A former 19th-century convent, it’s a peaceful spot with a minimalist design set among leaf-falling gardens leading to the Roman amphitheatre. There’s a decent restaurant, a hammam and heated outdoor pool. Doubles from €159, room only.

The same owners run a mid-range property closer to the old town action – the quirky, school-themed Hotel College. Doubles from €119, room only.

MOB Hotel provides millennial-friendly digs
MOB Hotel provides millennial-friendly digs (MOB Hotel)

Located right behind the tourist office on central Place Bellecour, Hotel Le Royal combines belle époque grandeur with a restaurant run by the Institute Paul Bocuse – which makes great theatre watching from the street outside. Doubles from €210, room only.

A more budget option is the new MOB Hotel, a quirky hostel-style place with an organic brunch and regular ‘happenings’, such as meditation or DJ sets. Doubles from €99, room only.

Where to eat

Bocuse may have done his last service but his Michelin-starred empire still looms large over Lyon. His image is even writ large in a giant mural of famous Lyonnais at Place St Vincent, inspiring young chefs to continue the tradition of Lyonnais gastronomy. Lunchtimes are best for set-menu value.

One of the new generation is Florent Poulard whose Monsieur P restaurant feels like dining in an eccentric family home in the Croix-Rousse district. He combines creative use of fresh produce with a good-value menu du jour (three courses €26 at lunchtime). Open Monday to Friday lunch and dinner.

La Grange is an authentic bouchon
La Grange is an authentic bouchon (La Grange)

Lyon is famous for its bouchons, bistro-style eateries first established to feed the silk workers that built Lyon’s industrial heyday. The onus is on using all parts of the animal, which is why andouillette (pork belly sausage) and pig’s feet are staples. The Chabert family runs three such places around the city with Chabert & Fils, located near the tourist office, a popular spot for tourists and locals alike. La Grange, located in Place du Change, is a less busy but equally authentic bouchon and handy for the bars of Rue St Jean for post-prandial strolling. Both open Monday to Saturday lunch and dinner.

Or try one of the pop-up places in La Commune, a collective of young chefs in a new development east of the city centre. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 11.30am to 1am.

Where to drink

Lyon has its fair share of cafe culture with places like Mokxa for artisan coffee, but it’s also a showcase for the new breed of mixologists.

Groom is a swanky cocktail bar staffed by mixologists
Groom is a swanky cocktail bar staffed by mixologists (Groom)

The perennial hang out is Soda, with its images of timeless crooners. Cocktail shaker extraordinaire Florian Dubois, meanwhile, is back mixing at the nightclub Groom – try the cherry sherry cheri. But it’s the opening up of the Grand Hotel-Dieu that is currently creating a shaken-not-stirred buzz. Buddha Bar is already open but L’Officine is about to join with Lyon mixology stalwart Marc Bonneton at the bar.

Where to shop

Diving into the steep, labyrinthine backstreets of Vieux Lyon never fails to reveal interesting places for souvenirs, although the Croix-Rousse district is better for hip galleries and salons de thé. Coussin de Lyon sweets, Cotes de Rhône wines and Lyonnais sausage are favourite take-home treats.

Les Halles Bocuse is the main food market and a prime hunting ground for local flavours. Open daily 7am to 10.30pm, till 1pm Sundays, closed Mondays.

Lyonnais sausages are favourite gifts to take home (Getty/iStock)
Lyonnais sausages are favourite gifts to take home (Getty/iStock) (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

From there it’s a short stroll to Bernachon, reputedly Lyon’s premier chocolatier and the most indulgent place for a chocolat chaud on a winter day.

For contemporary designs based on traditional Lyon silk, head to Brochier Soieries in the old town. Open daily 11am-1pm and 3-7pm.

Finally, pick up a copy of Le Petit Prince, the classic children’s story from the Lyon-born author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, at Librarie La Bourse near the Town Hall.

Architectural highlight

Unesco awarded Fourvière Hill World Heritage status for its Roman remains, marking the site of the original city of Lugdunum from 43AD. It’s also home to the landmark Basilica de Notre Dame with its mix of baroque and Italian styles, mosaic ceiling and frescoes of the first Christian missionaries in Gaul.

The famed Basilica de Notre Dame (Getty)
The famed Basilica de Notre Dame (Getty) (Getty Images)

Nuts and bolts

What currency do I need?


What language do they speak?


Should I tip?

Tipping in restaurants is voluntary, and usually about 10 per cent.

What’s the time difference?

Lyon is one hour ahead of the UK and flight times average two hours.

Public transport

Explore on foot on the peninsula (between the Rhône and Saône rivers), making use of the tram, bus or metro for outlying attractions and steep inclines. The Velo’v bike hire scheme is discounted with a City Card (see below). The Rhônexpress connects the airport to Part-Dieu station in 30 minutes; adult returns €26.20.

Best view

Tour groups throng to the Basilica for the dusk view across the rooftops but take the funicular T2 to St-Just for a different perspective from the tranquil Abbé Larue gardens.

Insider tip

A Lyon City Card offers free entry to 23 museums and free use of public transport, plus other discounts. 1/2/3 days costs €25/35/45.

Tourist information;

David travelled from London Gatwick to Lyon with easyJet, single fares from £20. Rail connections London-Lyon via Paris with Oui.SNCF, fares from €84 standard class single per person

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