After living in Lyon France like locals for a month, here are our food-focused tips for getting the most out of the wonderful French city.
After spending a month in Lyon, we marvel at the way we adapted so well to the Lyonnaise lifestyle. We came to Lyon for our second visit as different people.
We experienced the city before, but only for three quick days. Lyon is like an onion, and we wanted to take the time to begin peeling away its many layers.
For this visit, our second, we were full-time food and travel journalists working to build a business. Our approach to Lyon was different this time. By traveling slowly, we were able to figure out the best ways to explore this glorious city situated along the confluence of the Rhone and the Saone Rivers.
Ten Simple Tips for Living in Lyon like a Local
Lyon is a great city for people interested in immersing themselves into the French lifestyle for a week, month or even longer. After our month-long visit, these are our top tips for making the most out of a visit to Lyon:
1. Skip the Hotels and Stay in an Apartment
Lyon has a well-deserved reputation for being one of the great gastronomical food cities of the world. Although a lot of the city’s great food can be eaten in restaurants, even more of it is sold for reasonable prices at local markets and shops.
We’re talking about fruit plucked right from the tree and meat from animals raised with care from farms all over France. When we first visited Lyon, we couldn’t help but marvel at the extraordinary Bresse chickens (aka Poulet de Bresse) and golden Girolle mushrooms that had been freshly foraged from the nearby Alps.
Even a simple green salad can be a major eating experience here. And let’s not forget the fresh eggs with their bright orange yolks that somehow taste richer than the eggs we buy at home.
Staying in an apartment for our second visit gave us access to a kitchen, allowing us to take full advantage of living in Lyon and enjoying the city’s wonderful bounty of local food. We were able to buy and cook amazing foods like duck breast (Magret de Canard) for a fraction of the cost we pay at home.
We also savored beautiful, white asparagus with roots that slowly morph in color along the stem from white to purplish-green as well as grass-fed, aged beef from Aubrac. In addition, we found that many products like sweet haricot verts and bibb lettuce are fresher here, staying green and crunchy for over a week.
We’re trying to imagine the autumn and the wonderful selection of fruit and vegetables, especially the mushrooms, that the season will bring. Hopefully, we’ll be back with recipes in hand, ready to cook… and eat!
Rent an apartment with an oven and stove. Although these appliances are the norm in the USA, they are not a given for rentals in Lyon.
2. Get a Sim Card
If you have an unlocked phone, you can buy a SIM card from a French phone provider like Orange. (Check for deals. As an example, we got a prepaid 1-gigabyte chip of data for 15 days at a cost of €10).
As long as you use wi-fi for audio and video downloads and limit your time on data-hogging sites like Netflix and YouTube, you should have more than enough data for necessities like mapping and email.
You can also use your phone to make restaurant reservations.
3. Shop at Local Markets
Lyon has great markets every day of the week except Monday. These markets are the perfect place to stock up on fresh eggs, meats, cheeses, produce and much more.
The biggest and best market is Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, which houses some of the best artisan producers in the area. Named after the city’s legendary Michelin 3 *** chef, this market has a selection of fresh and prepared foods that will knock your socks off and make you drool.
Walk through the northern entrance and marvel at Rolle whose refrigerator cases are filled with glossy pyramids of foie gras and conical orange salmon terrines. At the center of the market, check out House Merle with oysters for sale from locales like Normandy’s Utah Beach and Isigny.
Or stroll into the south entrance and feast your eyes upon the gorgeous, museum-worthy pastries from House Sève. Do you want to try Bresse chickens? They’re available for sale from at least 3 different vendors. Cote de Boeuf? Sink your teeth into brontosaurus-sized cuts of Boeuf d’Abrac from Giroud/Perrier.
Let’s not forget Lyon’s wonderful outdoor markets. They’re our first go-to for fresh produce and specialties from small farms and vendors.
Along the river Saone, Marché Saint-Antoine sets up shop 6 days a week. Marché de Croix Rousse provides a smaller, more intimate shopping experience just off the top of a hill overlooking the city. At both markets, the freshest fruits and vegetables are sold along with a dizzying variety of saucisson and cheese.
Go on busier days and you’ll see cooked items like rotisserie chickens and hams. There are even local wine producers from nearby Beaujolais offering tastings.
These markets also provide amazing scenery. The colorful vendors will make you feel both at home and also somewhere special.
Bring a canvas bag with you to the market. Not only will this make your walk home easier, but it will also give you instant credibility with the market vendors.
4. Go Out to Lunch and Stay in for Dinner
Let’s face it. In general, French restaurants aren’t cheap, plus it’s almost impossible to score a reservation on short notice at Lyon’s better eateries. Attempting to make a dinner reservation at popular spots like Takao Takano and PRaiRiaL is near impossible without a few weeks notice.
Luckily, Lyon restaurants all offer lunch menus. These lunches are generously sized with two or three courses for around €30, often with choices of either French desserts or a cheese course.
Lyon’s dining stalwarts have to keep their reputations high, so there’s no discernible drop off in quality for lunch. At our recent lunch at PRaiRiaL, we dined on beautifully plated food like the fabulous, flavorful cod in a velvety carrot purée and roast chicken dancing over garlic and herb foam.
Plus, lunches bring in a gregarious Lyonnais business crowd that’s open to conversation with the strangers at the next table.
Since you’re not eating out for dinner, there are plenty of take-out options – the word ’emporter’ flies above many a falafel shop and sushi joint.
One of our favorites, rotisserie Comptoir du Poulet in the Northern Presqu’ile neighborhood, cooks special farm-raised birds from Ardeche in classic style, letting the juices from the cooked chickens drip on the potatoes roasting below. They’ll even cook you a Bresse chicken with 24 hours notice.
Be sure to make reservations for all meals including lunches and attempt to make your reservations in person. The French will appreciate the effort and will be more likely to reward you with a table.
5. Buy a Fresh Baguette Every Morning
Boulangeries are a feature of French life, dotting just about every street block and with good reason – the French arguably make the best bread in the world. There’s no better example of this than baguettes, the long, crusty flavorful torpedoes that make for a great sandwich as well as a vehicle for eating cheese and charcuterie at all times of the day.
As an added bonus, baguettes are cheap in France. You can generally purchase a baguette for around €1.10 and sometimes for less.
When we arrived in Lyon, we were thrilled that one of our favorite boulangeries and Paris stalwart, Maison Kayser, was just a couple blocks from our apartment. Their bread and baguettes are great but sometimes inconsistent when compared to some of the local bakers of Lyon that we’ve discovered. (Since arriving, we’ve raised our bar on what constitutes great bread.)
After weeks of exploration and tasting, we were lucky to find our favorite bread at Le Pain d’Hippolyte. This boulangerie’s breads are sold at a tight wood-paneled bread counter that also features, croissants, amazing homestyle eclairs and a wonderful Paris Brest.
Look for baguettes fermenture; rustic baguettes risen with natural yeast (often referred to as sourdough in American bakespeak.) Their bread is crunchy with earthy flavors and a wonderful, uniform crumb that’s not too airy.
Most boulangeries close on Sunday so make sure you stock up on two to three on Saturday in order to have enough for breakfast, lunch and dinner on Sunday and into Monday.
6. Become a Regular at a Local Coffee Shop
Lyon, like most major cities, has a thriving coffee scene. We sniffed out one of our favorites, Puzzle Cafe, by following the glib American style chalkboard coffee sign on the sidewalk
Once inside, we were able to order pour over coffee extracted through a Hario V60. We became regulars at the shop, staking out the long wooden table in the very back where we do much of our work. This shop was a great place for us to work, talk to other travelers and drink quality coffee.
→ Read our Lyon cafe guide with the best spots to drink specialty coffee in Lyon.
Many of the new ‘hipster’ coffee shops feature baristas and expat customers who speak English if you suffer a brief moment of homesickness.
7. Talk to Strangers While You’re Living in Lyon
Despite our limited French language skills, we had great success in talking with strangers in Lyon. Most people were intrigued to meet American tourists and appreciate that we are trying to communicate with the local lingo.
We found most people to be helpful with our questions, and many gave us great recommendations for restaurants, shops and things to do. In fact, one Lyonnais local took us under his wing; taking us to food-oriented events and opening doors to some of the Rhone-Alpes region’s finest producers.v
If you’re not obsessed with cooking at home, you may want to consider staying at a Lyon hostel. Hostels tend to be great places to meet fellow travelers.
You may have been taught not to ‘talk to strangers’ while growing up, but doing so is essential when you’re a foreigner in a city like Lyon.
8. Walk Everywhere (Or Ride a Bike)
Lyon is a walkable city with an endless amount of window shopping and street sights. There are two major hills to check out – Fourviere and Croix Rousse.
Unsurprisingly, this is food related advice, not just sightseeing advice. We love to eat, and sometimes, after having a large amount of fromage or saucisson, or too much butter (which is in just about all French food), we love to walk.
Strolling down the banks of the Rhone or the Saone is always a pleasure. It’s also great to walk through the pretty Parc de la Tête d’Or or to hike to the Confluence, Lyon’s home to daring 21st-century architecture at the very edge of the Presqu’ile.
The city also has a popular bike-share program and plenty of bike lanes if you prefer biking over walking.
Wear a Fitbit or other fitness device to track your daily steps. Not only will you be surprised by the number of steps you walk each day, but you will also be motivated to walk a little farther to make your daily walking goal. We find it relatively easy to walk at least 10,000 steps each day.
9. Savor a Drink at an Outdoor Cafe
Life in Lyon is good. People often take a two-hour break and then end their days early enough to grab a drink or two after work at the many outdoor cafes clustered around the city.
In addition to wine, most bars serve a varied selection of beer and cocktails. These cafes can range in size from a small corner to an entire plaza.
The best part: since France is a non-tipping culture, guests often sit for hours nursing one drink. There’s no pressure to order anything – you could even sit on a slow evening and order a bottle of water.
Make sure you grab a table before 6 pm. The outdoor seating tends to fill up early, and there isn’t a lot of table turnover.
10. Drink Wine out of a Box
When we began our daily life in Lyon, we found that it was expensive to buy a bottle of wine every day. In addition, bottles have a limited shelf life. We didn’t want to throw away an entire bottle just because we only wanted to drink a couple glasses in an evening, so we often ended up drinking more than we originally planned.
Enter the almighty box wine.
We know what you’re thinking. Wine in a box? Terrible!
While this may be true in the United States, we found an amazing 5-liter box of wine from Provence producer Domaine Jour de Miane for €27.
The best part? The wine has a one-month shelf life! With its wonderful mouthfeel and lush red fruit, it became our go-to wine for dinner and cooking.v
One box seemed like so much that we wondered if we could ever drink it all before our departure. That was no problem – we finished it with a week to spare. Whoops!
No problem since we were able to buy a 3-liter box for just €17! (A quick aside: Mindi is excellent at nursing her wine and Daryl? – not so much.)
Buy the box wine at a local wine shop like Vins Nature in Croix Rousse. The selection is better than the grocery stores, and the prices are similar.
Plan Your Lyon Trip
About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.
Some businesses may revise their hours and menus due to COVID-19. Others may close, either temporarily or permanently, without notice. Be sure to check websites for updated information and make advance reservations where possible.