France’s second-largest metropolitan area may be well-known for its historic lights festival every December—but when the sun rises, Lyon will take you by surprise. Stumble upon ancient Roman amphitheaters dating to 15 BC (which transform into an outdoor concert venue every summer for the Nuits de Fourvière festival); its historic Renaissance district, named Vieux Lyon and the newly developed Confluence area featuring 21st century architectural structures like the recently opened museum of science.
No matter what you’re looking for, there is certain to be some recurring themes throughout your stay: spectacular food (as Lyon is considered the gastronomic capital of France), and a leisurely ambience—void of the crowds or pretensions one might find in Paris. Below are our recommendations especially suited for a first trip to Lyon.
Daniel et Denise
A word you’ll hear in Lyon over and over is bouchon—their version of the Parisian bistro, but less fussy and more familial. Daniel et Denise in the Vieux Lyon area (one of their two locations) offers a modern take on the traditional bouchon while preserving the communal ambience through family-style side dishes and bright red-and-white checkered tablecloths. Here you can sample regional specialties like the cervelle de canut (or “silk worker’s brains,” referring to Lyon’s historic industry) cheese dip, grattons, and of course, the famed Lyon comfort food dish quenelle de brochet, a fluffy pike mousseline served in a large dumpling shape. Also, don’t miss Chef Joseph Viola’s pâté en croûte, a recipe which won him Champion du Monde in 2009.
Brazier Wine Bar
La Mère Brazier is perhaps the most famous restaurant in the city (and some would say in all of France), as founding chef Eugénie Brazier was the first woman to earn three Michelin stars in 1933. The restaurant, revitalized by chef Mathieu Viannay in 2008, sits adjacent to one of Viannay’s new ideas. The Brazier Wine Bar is hybrid bar, restaurant and wine store that woos contemporary epicureans with approachable prices and beautiful interior design. With only a single table for seating up to 12 (comfortably), the place makes for an intimate night where the wine and food pairings are a match made in heaven. From the 2012 Domaine Coursodon Saint-Joseph Le Paradis Saint Pierre to the bio-dynamically farmed 2004 Domaine des Clos Grégoire Bichot Les Avaux, Beaune 1er Cru, our wine tasting was supplemented by small plates such as grilled razor clams and butternut squash soup in miniature milk bottles.
Especially passionate about Afrobeat and world music but with a good stock of French vinyl as well is the independent Sofa Records store. The knowledgeable staff offers personalized recommendations, and you will quickly realize that they’ve listened to almost every record in the section you were browsing. If world music isn’t your bag, check out Groovedge for house and techno; and Dangerhouse for rock .
Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse
A visit to Lyon isn’t complete without walking through Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, renamed after the living culinary legend who is the pride of his hometown.The market is filled with food vendors, butchers, produce, seafood and even cooking schools (one of which is run by a Michelin-starred chef), and caters to chefs and passersby alike. A pit stop at the family-owned Charcuterie Sibilia for pistachio and truffle-stuffed sausages is a must; while waiting in the hectic queue, we spotted the grandmotherly owner Colette in action though well in her 80s.
In the hubbub of the historic Vieux Lyon district lies Collège Hôtel. A few steps from the subway station amongst lively bars and restaurants, the hotel is also close to sites like Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon and Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière. The common areas in the hotel have literally “old school” decor, with chalkboards, beaten brown leather chairs, desks and more that transport visitors back to European boarding school—hence the hotel’s name. In stark contrast, the stripped down, all-white rooms feel modern and minimal, with steel lockers doubling as storage.
Les Puces du Canal Flea Market
Plan on dedicating an entire Sunday morning to Les Puces du Canal, one of the largest flea markets in France. Reasonable prices are the standard among the vintage cameras, furniture, furs, knick-knacks and kitschy signs as the Lyonnais store owners sip wine, smoke and welcome haggling throughout the morning. One of our favorite finds was a comfy looking butt-sculpted chair. There are also food stalls to take a break and enjoy oysters and other local delicacies. As it’s difficult to get here by public transportation, we recommend bringing a car with a spacious trunk.
Room and wine bar images courtesy of respective venues, all other images by Nara Shin