Lyon is famous for being the gourmet capital of France with some of the best restaurants (called “bouchons” in Lyon) in the country. It also has some of the best wines and cheeses, as well as quite a vibrant gay scene. The cultural highlight of Lyon is the Light Festival in early December, which takes over the entire city.
We always love visiting Lyon when traveling in France and have put together our 5 must-see highlights for gay travelers based on our personal experiences here:
1. Food food food!
As stated above, Lyon is famous for being the gastronomic capital of France. It all started in 1935 when the famous French food critic Curnonsky (the so called “Prince of Gastronomy”) referred to Lyon as the “world capital of gastronomy.” With over 1,500 eateries, Lyon has one of the highest concentrations of restaurants per capita in France.
Lyon is situation right in the middle of France, which is the hub of a variety of ingredients throughout the year and is famous for its farmers’ markets and prestigious boutique food halls like Les Halles de Lyon. Some of the famous Lyonnais foods you need to try at a bouchon in Lyon include quenelles (creamed fish), saucissons (cured meat sausages) and the St-Marcellin and St-Félicien cheese. Lyon also has delicious desserts like macarons and the red candy-like pralines.
2. Meet a cute French guy in a Lyon gay bar
Lyon has a large student population, which keeps the gay scene busy and full of atmosphere. The majority of the Lyonnais gay scene can be found in the northern part of the Presqu’île, which is point where the two rivers, the Rhône and Saône meet, forming this island-like peninsula. Head to the area between “Place des Terreaux” and “Cordeliers” to find the majority of the gay bars and clubs of Lyon.
Some of our favourite gay bars in Lyon include “La Ruche”, “XS”, “It” and “Opera”. In terms of gay clubs there is ‘UC” everyday and “Factory” for Saturdays. Imperial Discothèque is the best electronic gay club in Lyon and also look out for the monthly “Garçon Sauvage” queer parties – they’re huge and a lot of fun.
To find out more check out our gay guide to Lyon which goes into detail about the gay scene, events, restaurants and places to stay.
3. The famous Light Festival
The “Fête des Lumières” is a four day festival that takes places during Christmas time around 8 December. It is one of the city’s highlights and definitely worth planning your trip around.
This festival is a celebration to the Virgin Mary who watched over the Lyonnais and spared them from a terrible plague in 1643 that was sweeping Europe. Therefore, during this festival since 1643, the Lyonnais honor her and give thanks to Marie (“Merci Marie”) for saving them. This was traditionally done by placing a candle outside every window, which is still done today. It creates a warm and unique atmosphere across the entire city.
In addition, every evening during the Light Festival, large dramatic light displays are shown on some of the city’s main monuments. This is also a nod to the Lumière Brothers, who are one of Lyon’s famous residents, who created the first motion picture in 1895.
4. Climb up to the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière
The beautiful white Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière is one of Lyon’s iconic monuments. It sits at the top of the Fourvière Hill, looking over the city below. It was built in the 1800s as another “thank you” to the Virgin Mary, who not only spared the Lyonnais from the plague epidemic in 1643, she also pushed away a Cholera epidemic in 1832, and prevented the Prussian invasion in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War. The gilded Virgin Mary sits upon the bell-tower of Fourvière and has become one of the city’s tourist hotspots.
We also love coming here because you get the most incredible views across Lyon from the top of the Fourvière. To reach it you can either hike up or take the funicular railway.
5. Get lost in the traboules of Vieux Lyon
Vieux Lyon is the historical medieval old town of Lyon, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. It goes back to the Romans who founded it in the 1st Century BC as the capital of the Three Gauls.
Today, Vieux Lyon is the tourist focal point of the city. It has many narrow cobblestone streets, which are lined with cafes, bouchons, souvenir shops, patisseries and of course apartments. One of the most fascinating things in the Vieux Lyon are the small narrow “traboules”, which are passageways allowing you to shortcut from one building to another or from one road to another. They are usually hidden behind a door opening, so not immediately visible to tourists. They were originally used by merchants as a shortcut to the river then became a vital part of the city’s resistance movement during WW2 as a means of escape from the Gestapo.
Today, some of the more hidden traboules are popular gay cruising hotspots…we leave it up to you if you do want to get lost in the traboules of Lyon!
Pro tip: make sure you buy the Lyon City Card which gives you unlimited travel on the Lyon metro and also includes the Rhonexpress return tickets to/from the airport. It will save you a lot of money on transport…our pleasure!! For more practical tips like this, check out our guide for how to get from Lyon Airport to the city centre.