36 hours in Lyon with kids, best budget kid friendly activities and attractions
Time and money were both in short supply, so we wanted to experience the best of Lyon in a kid friendly way. Here is what worked for us and what didn’t!
Parc de la Tete d’Or and Lyon Zoo
Our first stop on our weekend in Lyon with kids was the 117ha Parc de la Tete d’Or and what an amazing Park it is! Wow! Right in the middle of the City, it is Lyon’s version of Central Park. It has so many kid friendly activities available although unfortunately because we were there right at the end of autumn, several weren’t operating. Luckily we had brought our favourite travel friends – the kids’ scooters – and cruised around the park enjoying the beautiful autumn colours and stopping and playing with leaves endlessly!
Then we discovered the free Zoo inside the park. And this is no token zoo. This is a significant zoo, with many different types of animals, beautifully kept and maintained. We spent a couple of hours walking through it and then walked to other side of the park and found a cafe in an adjoining shopping area (most cafes were shut in the park, see more in my review). After a great pizza lunch, we wandered back through the park again. It is very large but extremely pram and bike friendly. So if you have whingey walkers, do take a pram or a scooter. You can hire bikes that the whole family can sit on too and I would suggest that to cover the ground! We left the park hesitantly – we could have stayed there all day and if you have time, I suggest you do – take a picnic and you can spend the whole day busy with kid friendly activities!
A walking adventure through Vieux Lyon
After checking into our lovely apartment right in the centre of Vieux Lyon, we spent a few hours afternoon walking around Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon). It is a lovely part of the town, many beautiful medieval buildings and loads of cafes, shops and lovely little squares. Beautiful and colourful buildings line the streets and the river. This was one place that wasn’t scooter friendly, the cobbled walkways are a bit bumpy – ditto for prams I imagine! I loved walking the old city but my boys get tired of looking at old buildings quite quickly! We needed an adventure. Cue a couple of hours trying to find the Traboules, Lyon’s famous ‘secret passageways’. That didn’t go so well! The map provided by the tourist office was Ok, but it seemed many were closed and we only were able to walk through 1 or 2, neither of which led us to the beautiful hidden courtyards and medieval passages I had read so much about. We wondered if they were closed Saturdays and decided to try again the following morning. On our walk we came across the Miniature and Cinema Museum. We decided against going in because it was almost closing time but you can see several examples on the street outside and they looked amazing! The pic here is about 10cm high in total! I think it would be kid friendly but I can’t say for sure. If you’ve been, tell us here!
A relaxing boat ride and a night on the town
We wanted to see the city from the River and so although you can take an actual tour boat with commentary etc, we stumbled upon the cheaper version that takes you from Old Lyon up to the new Confluence shopping district. It’s a quick half an hour there and half an hour back and is actually designed to encourage people to go to the new residential and shopping area. For this reason it is very cheap, only €2 each (kids were free) and we enjoyed looking at the views of the city as we went along. Scooters were allowed on too, as would be prams. You can get off and wander at the Confluence District which is a massive urban regeneration program that has created some really funky architecture and a fresh new district of Lyon. No time for us for shopping so we simply did the return trip.
Night rolled in quickly and we wandered to the newer part of Lyon and were all the shops are the famous Place Bellacour, the city’s biggest square and in fact the third biggest square in Europe. It serves as the city’s meeting place for tourists and locals and as you look upon the majestic statue of Louis XIV with the Basilica of Fourviere in the distance, you are right in the middle of the modern entertainment and shopping district in Lyon. Lots of room for running and playing for the kids and numerous street performers to amuse them. Despite my fear of heights, I was convinced by the kids to go on the big ferris wheel on the square. I had my moments but overall I was really glad I went – the views of the city are wonderful from up there!
We finished our evening in the city with some wonderful food and a walk through the city at night, very safe, lots of people around and cafes and brasseries galore. The kids slept well after all their walking and scootering!
Lyon’s wonderful wall murals
Sunday morning, and we wandered the riverside Sunday markets, buying some famous puppets for the kids (see more below). A second attempt at finding some more Traboules was slightly more successful although I still feel as though we must have missed the best ones. But we did find one which had a very old courtyard and medieval verandah. There are also some on the other side of the River in the silk makers district – maybe these ones are better?
Our next search was to look at one of Lyon’s famous wall murals or frescoes. There are more than 150 giant murals on walls all over Lyon depicting historical events or famous people or simply creating a trompe l’oeil effect. The most famous is the Frescoe de la Lyonais which in English really means the Fresco of the Lyon people. This fresco has a wonderful history. It covers a whole building and features famous people from Lyon’s history from antiquity with the Emperor Claudius through modern times with figures including Paul Bocuse, Abbé Pierre and Bertrand Tavernier. The accuracy and realness is amazing. We loved it and we spent some time talking about it and who the people are and what they are doing. A great free attraction. We didn’t have time but you could spend a whole day hunting down the murals all around Lyon.
Basilica Fourviere and an afternoon at the theatre
We then took the funicular railway up to see the Basilica de Fourviere. It is about €5 for adults and less for kids for the return journey and it takes you up in about 5 minutes to the top of the hill where the Basilica sits, but also where you can see the city laid out in front of you. The Basilica is beautiful and well worth a look. But we mostly enjoyed looking at the views and picking out the places where we had been the day before, the ferris wheel, old Lyon and the River.
Our final destination was the Maison Théâtre Guignol. Guignol puppets were created in Lyon in 1808 and is an important part of Lyon’s cultural identity. We took the kids to a children’s midday show which was a Christmas Theme. A lovely atmosphere and very interactive for kids although it was all in French and so my kids were a bit bored towards the end as they weren’t able to properly interact. This was particularly true for my 9 year old whereas my 5 year old was more engaged, so I think this is probably an attraction for the younger kids. They also do comedy and other theatre shows for adults, but all in French. More info here.
We had a great time in Lyon! It is a beautiful city, compact and easy to walk and has many activities which are great for kids and free and many others which are well priced for kids! Check out all Lyon reviews for more details on price etc.