As a full-time traveling family, one of the things we enjoy the most is being in a city that feels like home. We felt that way last month, when we stayed in Lyon, France. There are so many things to do in Lyon for families, and we just loved the overall vibe of the city.
The city of Lyon is located in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alps region of France, situated between the Saône and the Rhône rivers. It’s the third largest city in France, with a population of over 500,000 people. And with a distance of roughly 450 kilometers from Paris to Lyon, the city certainly holds its own as a worthwhile city to visit.
This post was updated on December 19, 2019.
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From Vieux Lyon to a bustling city
Lyon’s history stems from the Roman Empire, when the Romans established a city in the area for Roman refugees of war. The city was named Lugdunum. Vestiges of that old Roman city can still be seen around Lyon, most notably in the Ancient Théatre of Fourvière, a Roman theater that still serves as a venue for concerts.
During the Renaissance era, the city of Lyon flourished. Much of Lyon’s Renaissance era building have been preserved in the area known as Vieux Lyon. This area contains three quartiers: Saint Jean, Saint-Paul, and Saint Georges. There are a few family-friendly things to do in Lyon within the Vieux Lyon area, and the whole area is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As Lyon grew and changed over the centuries, so too did the architecture and neighborhoods. One of the newest neighborhoods in Lyon is La Confluence, in the area where the Saône and Rhône rivers meet. It was part of a reclamation project, and many of the buildings are green and environmentally friendly. The city’s certainly come a long way from the old buildings of Vieux Lyon!
Did you know the Romans influenced other places in Europe, like England? Take a look at our England itinerary to learn more.
Getting from Paris to Lyon (and from other parts of France)
Traveling to Lyon from around France is relatively easy. To get from Paris to Lyon, for example, you can catch a train that runs about an hour and a half to two hours. Other parts of France are just as easily accessible by train.
Buy this France guide book to have useful information for getting in and out of Lyon right at your fingertips:
There are two train stations in Lyon. The first, Lyon Perrache, is located in the peninsular part of Lyon, between the two rivers. This area is known as Presq’île. The second station, Lyon Part Dieux, is located in the eastern part of the city.
Both train stations also offer bus service. Buses are a cheap way of getting from Paris to Lyon, as well as other parts of France. However, we didn’t have much luck with buses while we were in France. One of our bus rides left us stranded for over seven hours on the side of a highway!
You can also opt to drive into Lyon. From Paris to Lyon, the drive will take about four or five hours. However, we found driving in Lyon to be incredibly stressful. The streets, especially in Vieux Lyon, are not set up in a grid, and many of them are one way streets. If you miss a turn, it may take you twenty minutes just to get back on track! Consider yourself warned.
Our picks for things to do in Lyon
We spent three weeks in Lyon, two of those weeks were spent housesitting, while the last week was spent visiting with our friends. As advocates of slow travel, we felt like this was the perfect amount of time to really get a feel for Lyon.
The city is a good mix of old and new, classic and modern. In terms of accommodation options, you can stay in a modern hotel, or in a locally-run Airbnb for families. And when it comes to activities, families will enjoy all the family-friendly things to do in Lyon, no matter what time of year!
While we didn’t get a chance to do all the things to do in Lyon that were on our list, we did do enough to get a feel for the city. There’s a laid-back vibe to Lyon. And it reminds me of Seattle, Washington circa the early-2000s, before the infiltration of Amazon on the city’s landscape and culture.
If you’re thinking of activities to fill your Lyon itinerary with your kids in the near future, here are our picks for things to do in Lyon.
1. Vieux Lyon
One of our favorite things to do in Lyon during our visit was to walk through Vieux Lyon. This part of the city has plenty of beautiful architecture from the Renaissance. And it also has an abundance of bouchons, restaurants that serve traditional Lyonnais cuisine. Some of the bouchons can be on the pricey side, but it’s worth sampling the cuisine at least once.
2. Musée Miniature et Cinéma
Our family has always been fascinated by the movie industry. We love watching movies, but we also love learning about the behind the scenes work that goes into making a movie. The Musée Miniature et Cinéma was the option for things to do in Lyon for our movie-loving family. The museum has actual movie props and costumes within its exhibits, and you can really get an idea for the amount of work and craftsmanship that goes into making a movie. Also within this museum are little dioramas, some of them showcasing replicas of buildings and places in Lyon.
The Musée Miniature et Cinéma is open on Mondays through Fridays, from 10 am to 6:30 pm. And it’s open on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 am to 7 pm. Tickets to the museum cost 9 euros for adults and 6.50 euros for children between the ages of 4 to 15. Children under 4 are free.
3. Jardin Archéologique
Just around the corner from the Musée Miniature et Cinéma, yet also in Vieux Lyon, is the Jardin Archéologique. This is the site of an ancient 5th century cathedral, and there are still remains there that you can walk in.
It’s free to walk in, and only takes a few minutes to walk around. But my kids loved playing at the Jardin Archéologique, and pretending to be explorers. Right next to the site is an actual playground, so your kids can get some more play time that way.
4. Le Petit Musée de Guignol
I’ve always been fascinated with puppets, so when we walked by Le Petit Musée de Guignol in Vieux Lyon, I knew we had to go in and sneak a peek. Le Petit Musée de Guignol is a puppet museum dedicated to Lyon’s famous puppet character, Guignol. He was created by Laurent Mourguet, a dentist who came from a family of silk weavers.
To keep his patients distracted during visits, he started doing puppet shows in front of his dentist chair, and one of his main characters was Guignol. Mourguet eventually became so popular with his puppets that he ultimately left dentistry for puppetry, and Guignol became a symbol for the city.
Le Petit Musée de Guignol is open on Mondays from 2 pm to 6 pm. It’s open on Tuesdays to Sundays from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm, and 2 pm to 6:30 pm. Admission to the museum is 5 euros for adults, and 3 euros for children between the ages of 2 and 16. Expect around 30 minutes to walk around the whole museum.
5. Musée des Automates
Another small museum that we enjoyed visiting was the Musée des Automates. For our worldschooling family, we like that it’s one of the things to do in Lyon that shows the city’s history, and also gives kids a glimpse into an interesting art form. The museum has a collection of around 250 automatic puppets.
Kids can get a quick demonstration on how the puppets are made, including seeing the machinery that makes puppets move. And the museum has scavenger hunts for the kids to do, so they can engage more with the exhibits.
The Musée des Automates is open from every day from 2 pm to 6 pm. Admission is 7 euros for adults, and 5 euros for children aged 3 to 17 years old. Like Le Petit Musée de Guignol, expect around 30 minutes to see the exhibit.
6. Musée de Confluence
If you only have time to do one thing in this city, then you should go to the Musée de Confluence. Located at the point where the Saône and Rhône rivers meet (the physical confluence of the two rivers), the museum building itself is a stunning work of art. Inside the museum, the exhibits focus mainly on the history of humanity, from evolutionary, artistic, and cultural standpoints. It’s a fascinating museum, and will take the whole day to really explore.
The Musée de Confluence is open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 11 am to 7 pm, and open on Thursdays from 11 am to 10 pm. On Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, the museum is open from 10 am to 7 pm. Admission to the museum is 9 euros for adults, and free for children under 18.
7. Les Bateaux Lyonnais
We love taking tours. And if you’re in a city like Lyon, one of the things to do in Lyon for families is to take a river cruise. Les Bateaux Lyonnais offers one hour river cruises along the Saône.
The cruises are bilingual, and provide a good introduction to Lyon’s history. We did the tour that goes down to the confluence. Les Bateaux Lyonnais also offer dinner cruises. Prices for the cruises range from 14-15 euros for just the cruise, and 50-69 euros for the dinner cruise.
8. Place Bellecour
The FIFA Women’s World Cup was taking place in Lyon during our visit. And in the central square, known as Place Bellecour, FIFA had set up games and stands for fan to experience the World Cup outside of the matches. Even on regular days, Place Bellecour is a fun place to visit, as it’s situated in Presqu’île, and surrounded by beautiful buildings and wonderful restaurants.
9. Parc de la Tête d’Or
Another public space that we enjoyed visiting was Parc de la Tête d’Or. This expansive park sits at the north end of the city. It reminds me somewhat of Central Park, with its many trails for walking, and the abundance of things to see and do.
On the grounds are botanical gardens, conservatories, several restaurants, and even a lake! Since we were taking care of an adorable poodle during our house-sitting gig, we loved going to Parc de la Tête d’Or and walking our little charge. The park is open all year long, and is free to enter.
Within the Parc de la Tête d’Or is the Zoo Lyon. The small zoo has a collection of around 300 animals, but entrance to the zoo is free. Our kids enjoyed seeing the animals and walking around all the exhibits. You can probably go through the whole zoo in about an hour.
10. Parc Blandan
Speaking of free things, one of the coolest parks we visited while in Lyon was Parc Blandan. Located on the eastern side of Lyon, it occupies former military barracks. Our kids loved the play structure at Parc Blandan, which is reminiscent of military structures, but with slides.
11. Lyon Fresco Tour
Lyon is known for its beautiful frescoes and murals. And taking a fresco tour of the city is a must for art lovers looking for things to do in Lyon. The frescoes are spread out across the city, so you’ll most likely need a car to see them all. However, you can also spend an afternoon doing one of the fresco walking tours suggested by Only Lyon.
12. Mini World
A museum full of miniature figurines may not seem super exciting. But visiting Mini World was actually pretty for my kids and me. The museum is broken into four miniature complex worlds: the city, the mountain, the countryside, and mini Lyon. Each world is filled with little figurines, and some of them move.
Like the Where is Waldo books, kids can look for Wally (also sometimes referred to as Charlie), who is hidden in each of the worlds. We loved looking through the worlds and trying to spot Wally!
Mini World is open from Wednesday to Saturday, from 11 am to 6 pm. Tickets cost 14 euros for adults, and 9 euros for children between the ages of 4 and 17. Kids 3 and under are free.
Want to learn about other parts of Europe? Take a look at posts for exploring Europe with your family.
Enjoying the family-friendly things to do in Lyon
Like we said, we didn’t get to do everything we wanted to do in the city. The Centre Nautique Tony Bertrand, Lyon’s large aquatic complex, would have been fun to visit, especially since we were experiencing a heat wave during our time in Lyon. Similarly, I would have loved to visit the Aquarium Lyon with my kids, who are big animal fans.
But all in all, we had a wonderful time enjoying the family-friendly things to do in Lyon. It was a city that felt like home to us. And for a brief second, we considered what it would be like to stop our travels and live in this city for awhile.
Have you had a chance to visit Lyon, France with your kids? What were your family’s favorite things to do in Lyon? Share them with me in the comments!
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