10 Best Lyon Hidden Gems:  Unique Things to Do in Lyon

Looking for some unique things to do in Lyon?  You’ve come to the right place to discover the best Lyon hidden gems!

I just got back from a 2-week trip to Lyon, so I had plenty of time to visit the famous sights and also to get off the beaten path.

One thing that surprised me was how many hidden gems are located right next to Lyon’s top attractions!  Most people probably rush right by them without even noticing.

I’m here to share with you some of my favorite secret spots in Lyon, so you can enjoy them too!

Lace up your shoes and let’s go!

Quick Picks: Top Lyon Tours

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

1. Île Barbe

Ile Barbe, an island in the middle of the Saone River in Lyon. A square tower of an old church stands on the wedge of the island.
Enjoy the beauty of nature when you visit Ile Barbe, one of Lyon’s off-the-beaten-path gems.

Île Barbe is a beautiful island in the middle of the Saône.  It’s a few miles upstream from Vieux Lyon, and it’s a serene getaway. 

You can see Île Barbe on one of Lyon’s sightseeing river cruises (it’s one of three itineraries offered).  Along the way, enjoy views of the colorful Renaissance architecture of Vieux Lyon and spot the Notre-Dame de Fourvière Basilica atop the hill.

If you have time, I recommend visiting the island (you can take the bus to get there).  I enjoyed walking along the quay taking in the picturesque island and the church tower of the Chapelle de l’Ile Barbe.

2. Traboule 27 Rue Saint-Jean

The courtyard of a traboule in Vieux Lyon, looking up at the sky.  The courtyard is rectangular, with arched galleries lining the building.  A round tower holds a spiral staircase.
Seek out Lyon’s hidden traboules. Be sure to look upwards for incredible views in these colorful hidden courtyards!

Traboules are one of the things Lyon is famous for, and most of the public traboules can be found in Vieux Lyon. 

While Maison Crible with its rose tower is one of the most photographed locations, it’s not technically a traboule, as it doesn’t connect two streets.

La Longue Traboule is famous because it’s the longest traboule in Lyon, but it’s not very pretty (in my opinion).

One of my favorite traboules is the one connecting 27 Rue Saint-Jean and 6 Rue des Trois Maries.  It boasts not only one but two colorful courtyards with Italian galleries and a stunning spiral staircase.

It’s a great place to take beautiful pictures in Lyon!

3. Jardin Rosa Mir

Column and planter decorated with stones and seashells in the Jardin Rosa Mir in Lyon, France.
The Jardin Rosa Mir is one of Lyon’s secret spots and is only open a few hours a week!

If you’re looking for hidden gems in Lyon, the Jardin Rosa Mir is it!

This remarkable garden, located in the Croix-Rousse, was lovingly created from stones and seashells by Jules Senis Mir.  It’s dedicated to his mother and the Virgin Mary.

Climb a spiral staircase to view the garden from above and then walk amongst the columns admiring the unique artistic vision that Jules Senis brought to life.

Jardin Rosa Mir is free to visit.  However, it’s only open to the public on Saturday afternoons in the summer, so plan accordingly.

Tip:  If you want to see the garden, get there early! I arrived shortly after opening time and there was already a half-hour wait (and the line was twice as long when I left).  They only allow 15 visitors at a time.

4. Fresque “Hommage à Tony Tollet”

Mural Hommage a Tony Tollet, showing the artist with an easel in his studio.  The walls of the room are painted bright red and are covered with portraits and paintings.
Don’t miss this amazing mural, hidden in plain sight just down the block from one of Lyon’s most famous murals!

One thing Lyon is known for is its incredibly realistic trompe-l’oeil murals.  Even if you only have one day in Lyon, these frescoes should be at the top of your must-see list.

Two of the most famous murals in Lyon are the incredible Mur des Canuts (my personal favorite) and the Fresque des Lyonnais.

But keep your eyes open as you stroll through the streets of Lyon, and you’re sure to find many fantastic murals!  (There are many along the Boulevard des Etats-Unis, but those are a bit far from most other Lyon sights.)

I’ve picked the mural “Hommage à Tony Tollet” as a top Lyon hidden gem for two reasons.  One is that I love the dramatic use of vivid colors depicting the artist in his studio.

Second, this mural is easy to reach.  It’s just down the block from the famous Fresque des Lyonnais, but most people probably haven’t noticed it!

If you’re standing at the northwest corner of the building with the Fresque des Lyonnais – turn around!  Just down the block, you’ll spy the Hommage à Tony Tollet mural. 

Go take a closer look!

5. Notre-Dame de Fourvière Rooftop

Green-tinted statue of a winged St George holding a spear and standing on a serpentine dragon.  Bright blue sky with some light clouds in the background.
One of the most unique things to do in Lyon is to take a rooftop tour of the basilica!

The Notre-Dame de Fourvière Basilica is at the top of my list of must-see attractions in Lyon.  The architecture is beautiful, and the immense gilded mosaics decorating the nave are spectacular.

What most people don’t know is that you can take a guided tour up to the rooftops of the basilica! 

You start by climbing a spiral staircase in one of the towers. The second-story vantage point provides excellent views of the nave mosaics without all of the people in the way.

The tour takes you past the caryatids lining the front of the basilica, to the bell tower (did you know the bells are all named?), and finally to the rooftop.

You’ll love the panoramic views of Lyon from the basilica’s rooftop, as well as the close-up views of the gilded Madonna and this statue of St. George and the dragon.

I have a fear of heights, but I was still glad that I took this tour!

Tip:  You can take this tour for free if you purchase a Lyon City Card.  It’s a great way to save money in Lyon!

6. Escaliers Prunelle

The Escaliers Prunelle are one of the painted staircases in Lyon. This has a geometric pattern with shades of red, blue, and yellow. It's one of the best Lyon Instagram spots!
Get off the beaten path in Lyon and search for incredible painted staircases in the Croix-Rousse!

Lyon is filled with fabulous street art!  The trompe l’oeil fresques are incredible works of art, but don’t miss out on the simpler beauty of Lyon’s painted staircases.

The Escaliers Prunelle are decorated with a simple geometric pattern in bright colors (unfortunately, with a little graffiti).   

All of the painted staircases I’ve found are located in the hilly Croix-Rousse neighborhood of Lyon.   If you’re a fan, you can also seek out the Escaliers Mermet and the Escaliers Montée des Carmélites.

These colorful staircases can be a little tricky to find, making them some of Lyon’s secret spots. Plus, if you’re walking down the staircase, you might not notice that you’re walking on artwork! 

In Lyon, I make the habit of occasionally turning around to make sure that I haven’t missed something that can only be seen from one direction (like the murals, or these stairs).

7. Musée des Beaux-Arts Courtyard

Gallery surrounding the gardens in Lyon's Fine Arts Museum.  Classical statues line the gallery.
One of Lyon’s best kept secrets is that you can visit the courtyard of the Fine Arts Museum for free!

I love visiting museums, so I loved seeing the fine art of Lyon’s Musée des Beaux-Arts.

While you do have to pay to visit the museum, you can enjoy a moment of serenity in the museum’s courtyard for free!

This courtyard is definitely one of the hidden gems of Lyon.  The museum was formerly a Benedictine convent, and the courtyard is the former cloisters, so you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time.

Enjoy the classical statues lining the arcades and sprinkled through the courtyard garden. 

It’s such a change of pace from the crowds in the busy Place des Terreaux just outside the museum gates! 

8. Jardin des Curiosités

Panoramic view of Lyon from the Jardin des Curiosites.  To the left is the spire of the St George Church.  The Saone river cuts through the center, with the red roofed buildings of Lyon stretching out to the horizon.
Avoid the crowds and enjoy the views of Lyon from the Jardin des Curiosites!

Lyon is built on two hills, Fourvière and the Croix-Rousse. Putting the effort into climbing one of these hills rewards you with fabulous views of Lyon!

Most visitors will enjoy the views from the Notre-Dame de Fourvière Basilica.  But if you’re looking for panoramic Lyon views without the crowds, why not visit the Jardin des Curiosités?

The Jardin des Curiosités is one of the secret places in Lyon, and definitely worth the visit!  A local recommended it to me – we were chatting as he was walking his beagle.  (I don’t generally strike up conversations with random strangers, but if they have a cute dog I will!)

This garden is located south of the Roman theater and Odeon, rather close to the Thermes Antiques de Lyon (if you’re seeking out some of the city’s lesser-known Roman ruins).

Look north and can see the spire of the St. George Church, the Saône, and even the unique architecture of the Lyon Opera House in the distance.  Look south for picturesque river views as the Saône curves towards the confluence.

9. Gare des Brotteaux

Elegant French architecture of the Gare des Brotteaux train station in Lyon France.
One of the most beautiful places in Lyon is the Gare des Brotteaux station. It’s a hidden gem where you can enjoy a fine meal!

The Gare des Brotteaux is a gorgeous train station in Lyon, very similar in style to the Gare d’Orsay.  (The Paris train station that now houses the famous Musée d’Orsay.)

The Gare des Brotteaux is no longer in service – the Lyon Part-Dieu station took over to accommodate the high-speed trains.

Even though trains no longer arrive at its platform, you can still enjoy its beautiful architecture.  Parts of this station (including its façade and roof) have been classified as historic monuments.

Today it houses various shops and restaurants, including Brasserie L’Est, one of the many restaurants of renowned local chef Paul Bocuse.  (It’s a fabulous setting to enjoy some delicious Lyon dishes!)

You can find the Brotteaux station in the 6th arrondissement of Lyon, about halfway between the Parc de la Tête d’Or and the Lyon Part-Dieu railway station. 

10. Émilie Ettori Illustration

Pen-and-ink color illustration of Vieux Lyon and Fourviere Hill with the Basilica.
This art shop is a hidden Lyon treasure and a great place to find a unique souvenir or gift from Lyon!

Looking for a unique Lyon souvenir?  While there are loads of shops selling the same candies and tchotchkes down the streets of Vieux Lyon, skip those and head to this incredible shop.

Émilie Ettori Illustration is located just down the block from Lyon’s stunning Grand Hôtel-Dieu.  Here you’ll find incredibly beautiful and detailed hand-drawn maps and illustrations of Lyon.

From cute stickers to notepads, from puzzles to limited edition works of art, you’re sure to find the perfect gift or souvenir.

Émilie Ettori is a trained architect who creates these illustrations by hand. She’s not only a talented artist but is also an extremely nice person.  (She complimented my limited French skills when we chatted in her store and was happy to let me take as many pictures as I wanted to share with you!)

You can browse her collection online – I just know you’ll love it!

Final Thoughts:

This is just a handful of off-the-beaten-path discoveries I made during my two-week trip to Lyon.

Lyon is such a wonderful combination of dazzling monuments and attractions along with hidden gems that invite you to spend more time exploring the city.

Here are some of my favorite Lyon posts to help you make the most of your trip, whether you’re looking to explore historic Vieux Lyon or to nibble your way through the city on a fabulous food tour in Lyon.

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)

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.

Like it? Share it!