🇫🇷 21 Best Free Things to Do in Lyon: Big Fun on a Budget!

Planning a trip to Lyon, but need to stick to a budget?  No worries!  There are plenty of amazing free things to do in Lyon!

I’ve visited Lyon several times.  Sometimes I’ll splurge on a tour, but sometimes I need to keep expenses in check.

You’ll be happy to learn that some of the best attractions in Lyon are also free! 

See Lyon’s gorgeous hilltop Notre-Dame Basilica?  Free.   Look for Lyon’s famous trompe l’oeil murals?  Free.   Explore the Roman ruins?  Free.  Visit the zoo?  Free!

Ready to learn about more great free Lyon things to do?  Lace up your shoes and let’s go!

Visiting the Parc de la Tete D'Or is one of the best free things to do in Lyon. Be sure to see the fancy green and gold entry gate!
Visiting the Parc de la Tete D’Or is one of the best things to do in Lyon for free!

Exploring the Heart of Lyon

Lyon is one of the most beautiful cities in France, rich in history and art. In Lyon, it’s easy to immerse yourself in a world of architectural wonders without spending a cent.

You won’t want to miss these stunning landmarks!

1. Place des Terreaux

When you meander through Place des Terreaux, you’re not just walking across a public square; you’re stepping through centuries of history.

Here, you’ll find the City Hall and the stunning Palais Saint-Pierre (which now houses Lyon’s Fine Arts Museum). It’s not only a feast for the eyes but also a hub for cultural events—often free!

This expansive space is lined with historically significant buildings. 

It’s also home to a magnificent fountain crafted by Bartholdi, making it one of the most Instagrammable places in Lyon!

2. Bartholdi Fountain

The Bartholdi Fountain in the Place des Terreaux in Lyon France.
The Bartholdi Fountain in the Place des Terreaux is one of the most beautiful sights in Lyon, and it won’t cost you a dime!

Take a moment to gaze at the powerful horses that seem to leap from the water – it’s an impressive sight that captures the imagination.

Designed by the creator of the Statue of Liberty, this fascinating sculpture is a masterpiece of art, with water cascading over horses and an impressive chariot.

I love this photo I captured of the fountain’s horses, with the impressive Hôtel de Ville in the background!

3. Hôtel de Ville

Just at the edge of the square, the Hôtel de Ville – Lyon’s City Hall – grabs your attention with its stunning 17th-century Baroque facade.

It’s not just a functioning city hall; it’s a historical treasure. The building’s lavish design is a testament to the grandeur of Lyon’s past, with its elegant, classical French architecture.

Public Access is limited to specific events, but you can admire the exterior anytime!

4. Place Bellecour

As one of the largest open squares in Europe, Place Bellecour is a vast expanse where you can admire the surrounding architecture and the statue of Louis XIV on horseback. With no cost to wander, it’s a must-visit spot to feel the pulse of the city.

You’ll find the Lyon Tourist Information office here, where you can buy your Lyon City Card. 

With free museum entry, free tours, and free public transit, it’s my favorite way to save money in Lyon!  Want more details?  Read my full review of the Lyon City Card!

Spend a little and save a lot by purchasing your Lyon City Card!  It’s the best way to save money on your trip to Lyon.

5. Lyon Opera House

Marvel at the blend of modern and historical architecture at the Opera House, where a 1990s renovation added a stunning glass dome onto a 19th-century structure. 

Lyon’s Opera House is located right next to the Hôtel de Ville metro station.  If you’re taking public transportation in Lyon, be sure to take a moment to admire this one-of-a-kind building!

Fourvière Hill Sights

As you explore Lyon, Fourvière Hill offers a treasure trove of historical and picturesque experiences, all for free.

From the majestic Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière to the ancient Roman Amphitheatre and the stunning panoramic views, each visit promises a priceless experience.

6. Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière

The Basilique Notre Dame in Lyon, France has incredible architecture and is one of the reasons Lyon is worth visiting.
Enjoy Lyon’s top attractions like the Notre Dame de Fourvière Basilica for free! It’s easy to have a great time in Lyon on a budget!

Even if you’re only spending one day in Lyon, you’ll definitely want to head up to the top of Fourvière Hill to see grand Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière.

The Notre Dame Basilica is an important French landmark and also a stunning architectural wonder.  It’s lovingly referred to as the ‘upside down elephant’ by locals for its unique architecture, featuring 4 towers reaching to the sky.

Be sure to head inside the basilica to see the incredible gilded mosaics.  I can never decide which is more impressive – the outside or the inside of this basilica!

Entrance to this spiritual sanctuary is free, allowing you to admire the basilica’s elegance and serenity at no cost.  Visiting the basilica is certainly one of the best things to do in Lyon.

7. Panoramic Views from Fourvière

Don’t miss the stunning views from Fourvière Hill, one of Lyon’s most breathtaking vantage points.

Witness the Lyon cityscape unfold before you in a stunning panorama that spans from the old town to the distant Alps. This is the perfect spot to capture amazing Lyon photos, and it’s completely free to enjoy.

8. Roman Amphitheatre

Just a short walk from the basilica lies the Roman Amphitheater, a remarkable reminder of Lyon’s ancient Roman history. It’s part of what makes Lyon a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Discover this well-preserved site where gladiators once battled. Today, it’s a fascinating glimpse into Roman civilization, and you can explore it without spending a penny.

The Roman theater is still used to this day, most notably for concerts during the Fourvière Nights (Les Nuits de Fourvière) in the summer.  (Sorry, the festival isn’t free!)

Vieux Lyon Exploration

Embark on a journey through the heart of Lyon’s history as you explore the treasures of Vieux Lyon.

Your adventure through this Renaissance district reveals hidden traboules and grand cathedrals, each with a story to tell.

Stroll through the cobbled streets of one of Europe’s largest Renaissance neighborhoods. Here, the captivating traboules—hidden passageways—are yours to discover, weaving through courtyards and between buildings.

9. Stroll Through Traboules

One of the beautiful traboules in Lyon France, The walls are reddish in color, and a tall tower with multiple windows is in the center.
Don’t miss the gorgeous Tour Rose as you explore Lyon’s traboules!

As you meander the cobblestone streets of Vieux Lyon, don’t miss the magic of the traboules.

These secret passageways, once used by silk workers, are architectural wonders that connect one street to another.

Discover over 40 publicly accessible traboules in this area, each with its unique charm. Some of the most noteworthy traboules include:

  • La Longue Traboule:  As you might guess from the name, this is the longest traboule in Lyon
  • Traboule of La Tour Rose: Notable for its beautiful courtyard and pink tower.

To experience the traboules, look for discreet doors or archways.  Public traboules are marked by a sign. Be sure to respect the privacy of residents and keep noise to a minimum as you explore.

10. Visit the Cathedral Saint-Jean-Baptiste

Your exploration of Vieux Lyon is incomplete without visiting its iconic cathedrals.   

You will most certainly cross by the Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste.  It’s located right in the center of Vieux Lyon, on the Place Saint-Jean.

This Gothic beauty is a stunner, and it’s free to visit.  Go inside to view the incredible stained-glass windows and the ornate astronomical clock.  There is also a room housing a Treasury exhibit, which you can view at no charge.

(Tip:  One of the best bouchons in Old Lyon faces this stunning cathedral!)

 Free Art and Culture in Lyon

Lyon’s cultural scene is vibrant, offering a wealth of free opportunities to immerse yourself in art and history.

Explore museums, marvel at street art, and even walk on artistic masterpieces.

11. Find Lyon’s murals

The full Mur des Canuts mural in Lyon, France. It depicts typical buildings, shops, and people in the Croix Rousse neighborhood of Lyon.
One of the best free activities in Lyon is to search for the amazing trompe l’oeil murals, such as Le Mur des Canuts.

Embark on a treasure hunt for street art across Lyon’s diverse neighborhoods.

Some of Lyon’s remarkable murals are so incredibly realistic that I did a double take!

Two of the most famous Lyon murals are the Mur des Canuts and the Fresque des Lyonnais.  But there are plenty of other amazing murals to find if you keep your eyes open as you explore the city! 

Grab your camera and spot these urban canvases that transform the city into an open-air gallery.

  • Fresque des Lyonnais2 Rue de la Martinière (right on the banks of the Saone river).  This depicts famous people from Lyon’s history.

  • Mur des Canuts: 36 Bd des Canuts (in the heart of Lyon’s Croix-Rousse neighborhood).  This mural shows a slice of life in the Croix-Rousse, with colorful apartment buildings, shops, and neighborhood residents.

12. Museums

In general, all of Lyon’s museums have entry fees.  But if you purchase the Lyon City Card, you get free access to over 20 great Lyon museums!

Even without the card, you can visit parts of several museums for free:

  • Musée des Beaux-Arts Courtyard:  While visiting the Musee des Beaux Arts itself is not free, you don’t have to pay anything to enjoy its beautiful courtyard.  Classical statues dot the garden, so it’s a great place to enjoy a moment of quiet.  It’s one of my favorite hidden gems of Lyon!

  • Musée des Confluences Rooftop:  You don’t need to buy a ticket to visit the rooftop of the Musée des Confluences.  Enjoy magnificent views or enjoy a bite at the cafeteria.

  • Musée Gadagnes Rooftop Garden:   Located in Vieux Lyon, the Musée Gadagnes contains the World Puppetry Museum and the Museum of Lyon History.  Most people don’t know that it is free to visit the rooftop garden.  Spend a moment enjoying the roses!

  • Lugdunum Museum:  This museum takes you on a journey through Lyon’s Roman history and you can enjoy a free visit on the 1st Sunday of the month.  You’ll find it right next to the Gallo-Roman theater on the slopes of Fourvière Hill.

13. Painted Staircases

Lastly, stumble upon the whimsically painted staircases hidden around the city.

Each becomes a unique physical artwork, blending functionality with aesthetics. These staircases turn ordinary city tours into an enchanting journey through local artists’ creativity.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • Escaliers Prunelle (2 Rue Prunelle):  The base of the staircase (where you can take the best photos) is on Rue Rivet.

  • Escaliers Montée des CarmélitesThis Lyon hidden gem is in the southwestern corner of the Jardin des Plantes.

  • Escalier Mermet (25 Rue René Leynaud)

Natural Escapes and Gardens

Embrace the harmony of nature in Lyon’s lush gardens and parks –without spending a dime!

Enjoy the vibrant flowers and lush greenery that provide a serene escape from urban life.

14. Picnic in the Parc de la Tête d’Or

Visiting the Parc de la Tete D'Or is one of the best free things to do in Lyon. Be sure to see the fancy green and gold entry gate!
One of the best free things to do in Lyon France is to visit the beautiful Parc de la Tête d’Or. Visit the zoo or enjoy a picnic!

Step into Parc de la Tête d’Or, Lyon’s largest and most splendid park.   I like picking up lunch items from a local market and enjoying a picnic here. And check out the fancy entry gate!

Spread over 117 hectares, it offers a chance to wander through diverse landscapes, from serene lakesides to expansive lawns. Must-see attractions include:

  • Botanical Garden: Home to over 15,000 plants, bask in the vast array of colors.

  • Rose Gardens: With more than 350 varieties of roses, your senses are in for a treat.

  • Zoo:  The Lyon Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in France. With giraffes, elephants, and more, visiting the zoo is one of the best free things to do in Lyon for families.

15. Stroll the River Banks

Experience tranquility as you meander along the banks of the Rhône and Saône rivers:

  • Rhône River: Discover the revitalized riverbanks featuring leisurely paths ideal for jogging, picnicking, or cycling.

  • Saône River: Immerse yourself in authentic local culture as you pass by historic buildings admiring the reflection of the city on the water.  (Historic Vieux Lyon lies on the west side of the Saône River.)

16. Explore Île Barbe

Take a short trip to Île Barbe, a small island on the Saône River, and discover this hidden gem of natural beauty. The island is home to lush gardens and parks that offer an idyllic setting for a picnic or a quiet afternoon reading in the sun.

In July, enjoy a free summer concert series on Sundays!

Lyon’s Quaint Neighborhoods

Walking through Lyon’s quaint neighborhoods offers an authentic glimpse into the local lifestyle and culture, and it’s absolutely free.

You’ll find a blend of picturesque streets, bustling markets, and charming cafes that capture Lyon’s vibrant atmosphere.

17. Croix-Rousse District

The Cour des Voraces traboule in Lyon. Building is gray with several levels of angled staircases with wrought iron railings.
A great way to spend a day in Lyon on a budget is to explore the Croix-Rousse neighborhood and search for this famous traboule!

Croix-Rousse is a hilltop district with panoramic views of Lyon. This neighborhood is famous for its unique traboules—hidden passageways once used by silk workers.

Strolling through Croix-Rousse, you are greeted by the daily market on Boulevard de la Croix-Rousse, offering fresh produce and local goods.

  • Atmosphere: The area thrives with an artistic vibe, showcasing colorful murals and street art that invite your curiosity.

  • Cafes and Boutiques: Lined with indie shops and cozy cafes, it’s perfect for a leisurely afternoon exploring bohemian charms.

  • Le Mur des Canuts:  This incredible trompe-l’oeil mural is one of the best reasons to visit Lyon’s Croix-Rousse neighborhood.  It’s one of the largest murals in Europe!

  • Cour des Voraces: One of Lyon’s most impressive traboules, famous for its imposing six-story staircase.

18. Confluence Area

The Confluence district is at the forefront of modernity, where the rivers Rhône and Saône merge.

Once an industrial area, it has undergone a dramatic transformation into a lively waterfront locality.

  • Orange Cube:  The Confluences area is the perfect place to admire modern architecture.  My tour guide said the orange cube is nicknamed ‘Mimolette’, as it looks like a chunk of this orange French cheese.

  • Urban Parks and Plazas: Wander around the rejuvenated docks and sit by the water to watch the world go by.

  • Pôle de Commerces et de Loisirs: While the mall is a centerpiece, its outdoor spaces buzz with activity and are a great spot for people-watching.  (You’ll love the waterfront views!)

Experiencing Local Life

Explore Lyon’s vibrant atmosphere and delve into its culinary legacy. You’ll uncover the essence of French culture by trying regional delicacies and browsing local markets.

19. Visit Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse

Array of tiny cakes and pastries in Les Halles Paul Bocuse Lyon.
It doesn’t cost a thing to do some window shopping at the gourmet market of Les Halles de Lyon!

Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse is certainly one of the must-see attractions in Lyon, especially if you’re a foodie.

The products at this gourmet market are a bit on the spendy side, but ‘window shopping’ is free!  Marvel at the almost-too-pretty-to-eat pastries and the tempting chocolate displays and inhale the delicious aromas from the market’s restaurants.

20. Shopping at Local Markets

Stroll through Lyon’s open-air markets where vendors proudly display an array of regional products.

The colors and smells of fresh produce, cheeses, and charcuteries will enchant you.

My favorite Lyon market is the Saint-Antione Market.  It’s right on the banks of the Saone and is open daily (except Mondays).  The produce is incredible! 

Buying local products at a market and enjoying a picnic lunch is a great way to save money during your trip to Lyon.

Free Lyon Events

Lyon hosts a variety of splendid events and festivals throughout the year. Among these, the Fête des Lumières stands out as a must-see extravaganza of lights that transforms the city into an atmospheric canvas.

21. Celebrate the Fête des Lumières

Every December, Lyon bursts with color and light during the Fête des Lumières. This four-day festival is more than just a gathering; it’s an expression of the city’s soul, drawing in a whopping 3-4 million visitors each year.

Here’s a snapshot of what you can expect:

  • Dates: Typically from December 5th to December 8th

  • Locations: City-wide, with hotspots at Place des Terreaux, and the Cathedral Saint-Jean-Baptiste.

  • Shows: Free light installations and projections from international artists.

  • Vibe: A magical time when the city is bathed in a warm glow, offering a unique festive atmosphere.

Immerse yourself in the lively streets as they pulse with illuminated artworks and innovative installations.   It’s a unique experience you’ll never forget!

Free Lyon Attractions Map

Wondering where to find all these free Lyon attractions? Here’s a map to help keep you on budget during your trip to Lyon!

Lyon Free Things to Do FAQ

Discover the hidden charms and exclusive experiences of Lyon without spending a dime. Uncover the city’s lesser-known spots and free festive delights!

What are the top non-touristy spots to visit in Lyon for free?

Venture to the serene Ile Barbe, an enchanting island on the Saône river. Relax at the Parc de la Tête d’Or’s botanical gardens, away from the bustling city center.

What are some free things to do in Vieux Lyon?

Stroll through the cobblestone streets of Vieux Lyon to admire Renaissance architecture.
Peek inside the majestic courtyards and traverse the historic traboules without spending anything.

Are there free events in Lyon in winter?

Celebrate the famous Fête des Lumières, a stunning light festival in December that transforms the city with mesmerizing installations and artwork, all for free.

How can I enjoy Lyon’s attractions without spending a penny?

There are many top Lyon attractions that you can enjoy for free. Wander along the banks of the Rhône and Saône rivers, see the stunning Notre-Dame Basilica, explore the Roman ruins, and search for Lyon’s vibrant murals.

What are some fantastic free hidden gems in Lyon?

For some free hidden gems in Lyon, explore the vibrant street art and painted stairways in the Croix-Rousse hillside neighborhood.  Then duck into the courtyard of Lyon’s Fine Arts Museum or visit the rooftop of the Musée des Confluences for some fabulous views.

Is Lyon expensive?

Visiting Lyon is certainly not as expensive as visiting Paris. Lyon has a wide variety of hotel options from budget to luxury. If you’re on a budget, there are plenty of free attractions in Lyon, so you can have a great trip without breaking the bank.

Final Thoughts:

All the free attractions in Lyon make it easy to have a great time even if you’re traveling on a budget.

Check out these related posts to help you enjoy your time in Lyon! Learn how to save money with the Lyon City Card, explore historic Vieux Lyon, or see the fabulous Mur des Canuts!

Are you ready to book your trip to Lyon?

Looking for the top picks for your trip to Lyon? Here are some of the best tours, hotels, and more to help you plan the perfect vacation!

Top Tours and Experiences in Lyon

  1. Old Town Walking Food Tour (Vieux Lyon sightseeing + tasty local favorites)
  2. E-Bike Tour of Lyon (A fun & easy way to see Lyon’s top sights!)
  3. Market Tour, Cooking Class+ Lunch (Perfect for those who love to cook!)
  4. Beaujolais Golden Stones Wine Tour (The best day trip for wine lovers)
  5. Lyon City Card (Amazing value! I buy this every time I visit Lyon)

Top Hotels in Lyon

  1. Villa Florentine (Fabulous 5-star hotel in Vieux Lyon)
  2. Grand Hotel des Terreaux (I stayed here! Great location)
  3. Hôtel Bayard Bellecour (Highly rated budget-friendly hotel)

Traveling to Lyon on a budget? Pin this for later so you don’t miss any of these amazing free Lyon sights!

Free things to do in Lyon pin.  Top:  Place des Terreaux, with the horses of the Bartholdi Fountain in front of the Hotel de ville.  Lower left:  The front towers of the Notre Dame de Fourviere Basilica.  Lower right:  Statue of a centaur in the Parc de la Tete D'Or.

Lisa Garrett

Lisa Garrett is the founder of Travel to Lyon.

She has explored Lyon with her husband (Chris) as well as on solo trips to France. She will be living in Lyon this summer to bring you even more tips to help you plan the perfect trip to Lyon!

Learn more about Lisa!

Me, Lisa, in a gondola in Venice.

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