With its cinematic topography, magnificent cuisine and 2000 years of history, Lyon is impressive enough by itself to keep visitors interested for several days at a time.
France’s third-largest city can get busy in the summer, especially in the medieval tourist-friendly Old Town. However, Lyon’s there is a plethora of splendid day trips fanning out in every direction that might help you get away from those crowds.
From the languid vineyards of Beaujolais in the north to Grenoble’s widescreen alpine vistas to the south, the variety of activities is remarkable too, and they’re all reachable in two hours or less.
Go beyond Lyon with these top day trips.
1. Soak up epic views in Grenoble
Travel time: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Surrounded by misty alpine hills, Grenoble is the last port of call before the Alps truly rise. So take advantage of this stunning location by riding in an iconic bubble-shaped cable car over the Isère River and up to the imposing Fort de la Bastille viewpoint, where the snowcapped alpine vistas are sigh-inducing. Back on the ground, the angular Musée de Grenoble houses everything from Egyptian antiquities to masterpieces by the likes of Renoir and Monet. Its collection of 20th-century modern art is sublime too.
When evening falls, the charming Old Town around Place Grenette spills with rustic bistros and canopied brasseries, and it’s imperative to sample the pungent herbal liqueur Chartreuse. The historic Café de la Table Ronde is a great spot for this, and Le Rousseau restaurant is a wonderful purveyor of the region’s local produce. If you’re willing to splurge, Michelin-starred Fantin Latour takes Grenoblois cuisine to new heights.
How to get to Grenoble from Lyon: Grenoble is around 100km (62 miles) southeast of Lyon and taking the train is the most efficient way of reaching the city. TER trains leave from Lyon Part-Dieu station every hour and usually arrive at Gare de Grenoble station just under 90 minutes later.
Having a car is best if you want to visit Beaujolais’ rural vineyards © Matteo Colombo / Getty Images
2. Sip your way through the Beaujolais wine region
Travel time: 35 minutes
Villefranche-Sur-Saône is the quaint gateway town leading to one of France’s most famous wine regions, the historic province of Beaujolais. Its vineyards lace an undulating landscape that covers around 18,000 hectares (44,000 acres) and you can either drive, cycle or take a guided tour around the various domains.
From the gaudy wine museum at Hameau Dubœuf to ornate tastings beneath pointed-hat towers at Château de Corcelles, this is a place to slow down and appreciate the terroir. There are no big sights to tick off here, just exceptional wine that should be enjoyed with good company. Start at the Villefranche-Sur-Saône tourism office and make sure to avoid November, as that month sees the annual and always popular release of Beaujolais Nouveau.
How to get to Villefranche-sur-Saône from Lyon: Villefranche-Sur-Saône is only around 30km (19 miles) north of Lyon and direct TER trains take around 35 minutes. It also takes around 35 minutes by car via the A6, and this is the best option if you want to independently visit the various vineyards situated in relatively rural areas.
Annecy has a reputation for restaurants serving excellent food © Mny-Jhee / Shutterstock
3. Step back in time at Annecy
Travel time: 2 hours
Turquoise canals snake their way through this small city towards romantic Lake Annecy and attract crowds of tourists in the summer. But then Annecy is nicknamed the “Pearl of the French Alps” for good reason and its warren of narrow passageways and chocolate box 17th-century townhouses are wonderfully quaint. Take time to see the lake too. Largely flat and surrounded by delightful scenery, Lake Annecy can be explored with bikes from Roul’ ma Poule for around €23 per day.
Though obviously touristy, Annecy has become a serious food town with a rather absurd seven Michelin-star restaurants to its name. Award-winning patisserie Philippe Rigollot is an excellent spot for a sweet bite during an afternoon wander, while the homely Le Bilboquet celebrates the region’s local produce, and especially the creamy Savoie cheese Reblochon.
How to get to Annecy from Lyon: Direct TER trains from Lyon Part Dieu take around two hours to reach Annecy. Driving is quicker via the A43 and takes around 1 hour 35 minutes, though expect toll charges along the way.
Avignon is packed with stunning medieval architecture © lucentius / Getty Images
4. Explore art and architecture in Avignon
Travel time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Artistic Avignon spills out from the banks of the river Rhône, while its peach-roofed Mediterranean cityscape is dominated by the imposing stone Palais des Papes. A Unesco World Heritage Site, it’s one of the largest medieval Gothic buildings in Europe and its serpentine corridors saw six papal conclaves in the 14th century. The four quirky arches of the half-bridge Pont Saint-Bénézet are photo-friendly, while the Petit Palais Museum houses a fine collection of medieval art.
Hundreds of music, dance and theater performances take place during the Festival d’Avignon in July, so make merry with plenty of local Côtes du Rhône wine. Find fresh Provençal cuisine in the Les Halles indoor market, while 46 is a fine neighborhood restaurant for experiencing warm summer evenings. Don’t leave without sampling Les Papalines d’Avignon, a pink chocolate-coated ball with a soft core of Origan du Comtat liqueur.
How to get to Avignon from Lyon: The TGV INOUI trains leaving from Lyon Part Dieu usually take between 1 hour and 1 hour 20 minutes to reach Avignon. Driving can take between 3 and 4 hours and shouldn’t be a consideration.
Jet d’Eau on Lake Geneva is unmissable © omersukrugoksu / Getty Images
5. See Swiss sights in Geneva
Travel time: 2 hours
Switzerland’s westernmost tip is just under two hours away and a cross-border day trip adds a new twist to the handsome lakeside escapes east of Lyon. Shooting up from the still blue expanse of Lake Geneva (lac Léman to locals), the 140m-tall Jet d’Eau water fountain is French-speaking Geneva’s most dramatic attraction.
To learn more about the city head to local history museum Maison Tavel, built in the 12th-century. It’s situated in the pretty Old Town, whose winding lanes lead to Place du Bourg-de-Four, the city’s oldest square. Its steep shuttered townhouses look untouched for centuries and convivial cafes like La Clémence are perfect for watching the world go by. Rustic Restaurant de l’Hôtel de Ville has hosted international glitterati over the years and serves traditional Swiss fare like gooey fondue, while finely decorated chocolates from Philippe Pascoët shouldn’t be missed.
How to get to Geneva from Lyon: TER trains leave from Lyon Part Dieu and take 2 hours to reach Geneva Cornavin station. Driving via the A40 and A42 takes a similar amount of time.