Our Family-Friendly Favorites from Lyon, France
Summer vacation is right around the corner here, and the pressing question everyone wants to know is ‘Where are you going ???’. This is a very important question in France, as families flee city life to find respite from the heat and routines of daily life at the beaches and in the mountains.
Last summer, we decided to do a mini ‘Tour de France,’ visiting cities that had been on our travel list for a long time, but had never eked their way to the top. Too many temptations to go visit distant countries during our long stretch of vacation! I’m so glad we finally made France a priority!
Our first stop was Lyon, and I’m excited to share our kid-friendly travel itinerary with you today! Lyon is a quick 2-hour direct train ride from the Gare de Lyon in Paris, and could be an excellent addition to your next trip to France.
Lyon is one sprawling World Heritage Site, with a renaissance old town, Roman ruins, and the 19th-century Presqu’île quarter. Founded around 2,000 years ago and built along the banks of the Rhône and Saône Rivers, the city built its fortune on the silk trade... more on that later! Plus, Lyon is considered the gastronomic heart of France, with big wigs like Paul Bocuse hailing from here... that deserves its own dedicated article though!
We started our visit with the Fourvière, an area perched on top of a hill overlooking the city, to get out bearings. You can walk up the hill, but why do that when there is a funicular ride from the base of the hill! Tickets up and back are around 3 euros, and 4 and under is free, and you can hop on at Vieux Lyon - Cathédrale Saint-Jean.
Upon exiting the funicular, you are greeted with the Fourvière Basilica, which looks almost like a castle from the exterior. Around the back lies an excellent viewpoint overlooking all of Lyon. Afterwards, walk about five minutes over to the Roman Theatre of Fourvière – the oldest Roman theatre remaining in France, dating back to the 15th century BC. Part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Lyon, it is free to visit and fun for kids to run around.
Lyon also has a very developed street art scene, with over 100 outside murals, and it was fun spotting them around town. ‘La Fresque des Lyonnais,’ close to the Saône River, is probably the most well known mural. It depicts over 30 famous citizens of Lyon, including Antoine de Saint Exupéry (the author of ‘Le Petit Prince’), the Lumière brothers (developers of modern-day cinema), and Paul Bocuse, perhaps the most celebrated chef in the world. Our other favorite mural was ‘La Fresque de la Bibliothèque de la Cite,’ an enormous mural of over 500 literary references of authors from the Lyon area. The kids liked playing ‘I Spy’ with various hidden things on the mural!
You can find ‘La Fresque des Lyonnais’ at the corner of 2 rue de la Martinière and 49 quai Saint Vincent, and ‘La Fresque de la Bibliothèque’ at the corner of quai de la Pecherie and rue de la Platière
Next up was a visit to the ‘Traboules’ - winding renaissance passageways, some 40 of which are open to the public, running beneath buildings in the direction of the Saône River, and a distinct architectural feature of Lyon. These covered passages were built for the silk trade, to protect workers and their goods from wind and rain, and provide short cuts all over town. The Traboules are situated in private residences, and marked by small plaques at the entrances. Keep noise to a minimum while exploring the secret passageways, where it’s easy to imagine you are back in 1600s Lyon!
Also not to be missed is the sprawling park Parc de la Tête d’Or. Beyond the usual activities, this park packs a punch with a carrousel, botanical gardens, a train, and to top it off, a FREE zoo with giraffes, elephants, antelopes and flamingos roaming around loosely enclosed areas (check hours before going). There is also a ‘Theatre de Guignol,’ or puppet show, offering 25 minute shows that both kids and parents will love. It turns out Guignol originated in Lyon! The creator had been born into a family of Lyonnais silk weavers, and when the French Revolution rendered silk an unnecessary luxury, he turned to dentistry and used the puppet shows to distract his clientele from unpleasant operations! The park is built up around a lake, where you can rent pedal and electric boats (35 euros for 30 minutes). We opted for renting a 4 seater bike for 45 minutes (25 euros), to ride through the shady paths and get a scope for the enormity of the park. The kids sat in the front, with two ‘steering wheels’ and had a ball.
Wrap up your day along the Rhône River, where there are plenty of ‘peniche,’ barge-type boats, transformed into restaurants. Lyon has HOT summers, and the sun beats down in a way that almost rivals Texas – the Lyonnais have figured out this riverside setup to embrace the heat! We chose ‘En Bateau Simone!’ for its beachy vibe, complete with chaise longues (we do use this word in English, right???). They had even spread a thick layer of sand out under the tables, so the kids had a royal time building sand castles with plastic cups the waitress brought them to play with.
Lastly, no visit to Lyon would be complete without a stop at the ice cream shop Terre Adélice Choosing one (or several!) of the 150 flavors is tricky… but really you can’t go wrong and everyone will appreciate this little pick-me-up before continuing the exploring!
I can recommend the AirBnb where we stayed – excellent location, with AC, and a big terrace with jacuzzi! The living room had a swing that the kids loved too. Only drawback – the 5 flights of winding stairs to arrive. Gotta earn those views!
I hope this convinces you to take a trip to Lyon! Or maybe you have already been and have something to recommend that didn't make it on my list?