Voted the most attractive city in France
It’s always sunny in Lyon
written by Hadley Seward
Before we moved from Paris to Lyon, I was wary. I’m a big city gal by nature and was worried I’d be missing out on the action. But when we told our Parisian friends about our move, they were all jazzed about Lyon. They told us tales about the delicious food, higher quality of life, and the fact that we’d be a few hours away from the Alps and the Riviera.
I had my doubts… but turns out it’s all true.
Perched on the Saône and Rhône rivers, Lyon is France’s second biggest city. It’s lively but not hectic. Urban without being overly crowded or touristy. There are plenty of museums and cultural opportunities to explore without feeling like you’ll never, ever see them all.
It’s an outstanding place to live and, as one local told me, the best place in France for kids.
Despite their apparent love for Lyon, most Parisians never make it down for a weekend getaway. I’m here to say that you should! It’s a quick 2-hour train ride from Gare de Lyon and the city’s smaller size means that you can explore it in-depth in just a few days.
My son was born here a few months after we arrived, so my experience of living here has been shaped by having a little one in tow. I can’t tell you the finer points of the Lyon opera or the museum of modern art (both of which exist and are supposedly amazing!), but I will gladly offer up some of my favorite kid-friendly jaunts.
THINGS TO DO:
- Get in touch with nature (and giraffes). I’ve never met anyone who didn’t fall in love with the Parc de la Tete d’Or. The 117-hectare park boasts a large zoo, botanical gardens, and several playgrounds. In the warmer months, bring a picnic to enjoy while your kids run around. If they get bored, there’s also pony riding, go-karting, and mini-boats. To get around the park, there are bikes, buggies and paddle boats available to rent, as well as a train for kids that runs from the main entrance to the zoo.
- Immerse yourself in cinema. Lyon is the birthplace of cinema, which any local can (and probably will) tell you. Pre-schoolers and kids will enjoy the Musée Miniature et Cinéma, where you can see over 100 hand-crafted miniature scenes and learn more about cinematic special effects.
Another family favorite is the Institute Lumière’s weekend film screenings for kids. They’re designed just for parents and their children, so you won’t feel guilty if yours (like mine) chatters throughout the film. Check the Institute Lumière website for the monthly line-up, according to your child’s age. (There’s a small park adjacent to the institut if your tyke wants to burn off energy before or after sitting through the short films).
- Head up the hill. Overlooking the city is Notre Dame de Fourviere, a stunning basilica that blends both Romanesque and Byzantine architecture. My toddler adores the funicular ride up the hill. At the top, there’s a lookout where you have the bird’s eye view of Lyon and, if the weather cooperates, the peaks of Mont Blanc.
Depending on your child’s age, she may find the Roman ruins of interest. A short walk down the Fourviere hill, it’s the largest surviving amphitheatre in Western Europe (originally constructed in 15BCE). If your child is more into physical feats, check out the nearby Adventure Park, which has rope and climbing courses for kids.
- Wander through the old city. Vieux Lyon is one of the largest Renaissance quarters in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Spend an afternoon meandering through the cobblestone streets or eating at one of the many cafes. It’s largely a pedestrian-only zone, which makes it easy to do with littles who want to run free. While you’re there, head to the famous glacerie Terre Adélice, which I can confidently say is the best ice cream in the world. If your child needs a play break (or you need to sit down), there’s a great playground right next to the Cathedral Saint-Jean.
- Check out the Confluences. One of the France’s top urban renewal projects, the Confluences sits at the southern end of the peninsula where the two rivers converge. It’s almost a mini-city in itself, complete with modern buildings, restaurants and a huge open-air mall (which, FYI, has a rock-climbing wall for children). Kids love the Musée des Confluences, which recounts human history through four large exhibitions. (Translation: dinosaurs, woolly mammoths, and giant meteorite that visitors can touch).
During the warmer months, I highly recommend the vaporetto boat that runs between Place Bellecour and Confluences.
- Go swimming. It gets hot here! This summer I discovered the recently renovated Centre Nautique Tony Bertrand, a public pool located on the quai du Rhone just across from Place Bellecour. It has two Olympic-sized pools (one of which reserved for serious swimmers; the other for people who just want to hang out) and a huge gated space for babies/kids. Word to the wise: in peak summer months, arrive when they open as a long line quickly forms. Men + boys have to wear Speedo-style swim trunks.
WHERE TO EAT:
Lyonnais are serious about their food and the city is known worldwide as the gastronomic capital of France. Paul Bocuse, one of the world’s most celebrated chefs, hails from Lyon and continues to operate his flagship restaurant on the outskirts of the city.
Local food is simple but intensely flavorful. The traditional restaurants are called bouchons, which historically were small restaurants frequented by the silk workers. Despite many restaurants using the label, there are only a few authentic bouchons. My favorites are Comptoir d’Abel, Daniel & Denise, and Le musée. (Warning: Plan your meal for a time when won’t have much to do afterwards except roll yourself home). If you prefer a more modern take on local cuisine, try Cafe Terroir.
Lyon may be known for its traditional food but is quickly becoming more diverse. Newcomers such as La Bijouterie, Apiales, and Les Apothicaires are quickly making a name for themselves. Word to the wise: Reserve early.
Our son usually naps at lunchtime, so we often take advantage of weekend brunches in order to enjoy a meal out. Our favorite spots are Konditori and Les Cafetiers, which both welcome families starting at 11am and serve fare kids will enjoy.
If your little ones wake up early, Kitchen Cafe is open both Saturday and Sundays for breakfast starting at 8:30am. (You’ll probably find us there, drinking coffee and munching on homemade brioche).
WHERE TO STAY:
I’m a big fan of renting Airbnb apartments when traveling en famille. I prefer to have more space (and a kitchen, however small) so we can spread out in multiple bedrooms. It’s typically easy to find a large, centrally-located flat for not too steep a price.
If you prefer a hotel, Okko Hotel and Globe & Cecil are good bets.
AND IN CONCLUSION…
Why should you plan your next family getaway to Lyon? Why wouldn’t you!? The food is delicious, the city is super kid-friendly, and–perhaps most importantly for Parisians–it’s almost always sunny here.
Hadley Seward is the mom of a 3-year old and lives in Lyon, France. She’s a certified sleep coach who works with babies and toddlers throughout Europe and the US. Learn more at bonnenuitbaby.com or follow her adventures at @hadleyinfrance.