Lyon is strategically located in central France, so getting out for fabulous day trips is easy. I've tried to save you some time by sharing my own personal favorites, places I visit again and again.
Lyon is a wonderful city and, like Paris, it's hard to leave. There's enough to keep you busy for days!
You have the food, the magnificent outdoor murals, the mysterious secret traboules... there are so many wonderful things to do in Lyon.
But what happens once you've seen it all? Or if you just want a break from the city?
Within close reach of Lyon − in two hours or less with direct trains from Lyon Part-Dieu station − you'll find amazing vineyards, some of the prettiest towns in France, adorable medieval buildings and villages, Roman ruins, a Papal palace, and fields of lavender. And that's just a start.
There's a reason my region (yes, I happen to live here!), the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, is considered the heart of France...so please, let me be your guide.
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Lyon has been a city at the crossroads since Roman times.
Two major rivers meet here, the Saône and the Rhône, and under the Roman Empire, Lyon – then called Lugdunum – was on the road from Rome to Hispania, or Spain.
During the Middle Ages, huge trade fairs attracted merchants from across Europe and again, Lyon was perfectly positioned, eventually becoming the silk capital of Europe.
Today, Lyon remains at the heart of France, about halfway between Paris and the French Riviera and surrounded by some of France's most iconic and exquisite sights.
What follows is a list of the best day trips from Lyon, all of which I've experienced personally and can recommend most enthusiastically. This list will help save you research time so that you can spend that time enjoying the sights!
HOW TO TRAVEL OUT OF LYON
There are 3 different ways to take day trips from Lyon:
- Take the train. Many of these destinations can be easily reached by train, which remains economical and efficient. Here's where you can book your tickets.
- Rent a car (or use your own!) Driving outside Lyon is as much a pleasure as it is a hassle driving inside the city. Rent a car for the day if there are no trains where you're going.
- Take a tour. There are many day tours leaving Lyon, from large groups to private chauffeur-driven excursions - have a browse here to get an idea.
Best day trips from Lyon
Most of the following day trips can be done by train. Where that's not the case, I've offered alternatives. I've also added an icon after each day trip destination to help you decide:
- 🚝 you can easily go by train
- 🚘 it's better to drive
- ☂️ take a tour
1. Aix-les-Bains 🚘 🚝
Aix-les-Bains is a charming town with mountains on one side and a gorgeous lake on the other, making it is easy to combine a city visit with a hike or a boat ride.
This day trip is ideal if you want to visit a small, offbeat city surrounded by plenty of nature. It was a favorite of Queen Victoria, and much of the spa town remains as she would have seen it.
Things to do in Aix-les-Bains
- Spend an hour or two at the thermal baths and spas, known for their therapeutic properties.
- Enjoy the Art Deco and Belle Epoque architecture, including the Casino.
- Stroll along the redeveloped boardwalk along the lake and enjoy the cafés and restaurants in the port.
- Head down to the lake for a stroll along what is called the Riviera of the Alps. If you have the time, you can take a boat across the Lac du Bourget to the stunning lakeside Abbaye d'Hautecombe, a magical 12-th century building nearly hidden in the forest. This is where the Dukes of Savoy were traditionally buried. You can also drive here – it's a half-hour away.
2. Annecy 🚝 🚘
You've probably heard of the alpine town of Annecy, one of (if not THE) prettiest towns in France. It has a gorgeous lake, spectacular mountains, and a delightful medieval quarter. It's hard not to love!
It's a perfect day trip from Lyon and takes about two hours by train, with the first train leaving Lyon around 7am and the last train leaving Annecy around 7.30pm. This means you can have lunch in Annecy, but you'll have to plan on having dinner back in Lyon.
This day trip is ideal if you want to walk on cobblestones and under arcades, but also take a break by the lake.
Things to do in Annecy
- Walk around the Old Town. It is so impossibly picturesque you'll think you walked straight into a postcard. The triangular Palais de l'Isle, once a prison and now an exhibition space, is an iconic sight many people instantly recognize.
- Enjoy Lake Annecy. Either take a boat ride on its crystal-clear waters, or walk or ride its circumference. The lake is now circled by a hiking/bike path.
- Walk up to Annecy Castle. The 12th-century structure stands above the "Venice of the Alps", as Annecy is often called.
- On Tuesday or Friday morning, enjoy the market in the Old Town, and on the last Saturday of the month, it's time for the monthly antiques market.
- For something quirky, visit the Musée Paccard, dedicated to the history of bell-making and has a large collection of bells from around the world.
3. Avignon 🚝
Avignon is not an obvious day trip destination but at just over two hours from Lyon on the high-speed train, it's do-able. The Avignon train station is right in the town center and near the sights, so exploring is easy.
This day trip is ideal if you're fascinated by the Middle Ages and European history.
Things to do in Avignon
- Visit the Papal Palace, the seat of the papacy during the 14th century and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Discover the Pont d'Avignon (Avignon Bridge), subject of one of France's most famous children's songs.
- Take a walk through the delightful old town of Avignon and explore its many ancient landmarks. Or take a walking tour that includes a skip-the-line ticket to the Papal Palace.
- Stop at Les Halles for some delicious food.
- Visit the strategic 14th-century Fort Saint-André in Villeneuve-lez-Avignon, across the river.
4. Beaujolais wine region ☂️ 🚘
Villefranche-sur-Saône is the jumping off point for the Beaujolais region, right on the banks of the Saône river and surrounded by vineyards and rolling hills.
The town is also known for its cultural and artistic heritage, with several museums and galleries to visit.
You can't visit the entire Beaujolais in a day but you can get a taste of it!
- Go wine-tasting, of course, from château to château, and even stay in one overnight – the Chateau Montmelas is my favorite.
- Stroll around Villefranche-sur-Saône, the capital of the Beaujolais, and enjoy the Renaissance architecture.
- Visit the collégiale Notre-Dame-des-Marais, built over four centuries beginning in the 12th, of both Romanesque and Gothic architecture.
- Take a day trip to one of the nearby vineyards and combine your wine-tasting with a gourmet meal and spa treatments at the Château de Pizay
- Take a drive to the delightful village of Oingt, in the area called the Pierres Dorées, or golden stones, named after the color of the building stone.
5. Bourg-en-Bresse 🚝
Bourg-en-Bresse is the capital of the Ain department and a small provincial town that happens to pack quite a bit of punch.
It has plenty of historical monuments and a delightful (though small) old town, along with classical buildings and a reputed gastronomical reputation.
This is a town for those who like to go off the beaten path, witness artisans still at work, and eat exquisite regional food.
Things to do in Bourg-en-Bresse
- Visit the 16th-century Gothic Monastère Royal de Brou (Royal Monastery of Brou), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Brou museum has a significant collection reflecting the history of the town and the region.
- Take a walk through the old town of Bourg-en-Bresse, filled with half-timbered houses and plenty of historic architecture and landmarks.
- Explore the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de l'Annonciation and its Gothic-Renaissance mix and its wood-carved interior and stained glass windows.
- Visit Vonnas, a half-hour drive away (or 45 min by train), and have lunch at L'Ancienne Auberge 1900 to sample a volaille de Bresse, or Bresse chicken, which has a protected designation of origin. The entire village gravitates around this and several other restaurants (plus a hotel complex) of Michelin-starred Georges Blanc.
6. The Bugey 🚘
This one is easy – it's MY region!
Half of it is undulating plains and gentle hillsides covered with vineyards, while the other half is wild and rugged, not surprising given it borders the Alpine départements of the Savoie and Haute-Savoie, the Jura Mountains, and Switzerland.
This is a visit for those of you who want to combine nature and food.
Things to do in the Bugey
- The Bugey is a place to drive around and enjoy the countryside, or go hiking or climbing in the Gorges de l'Albarine.
- Visit the unusual town of Seyssel, a town split in two with two churches, two banks, two pharmacies, two schools, two post offices... France used to end here and the Rhône delineated the border between France and what was then Savoy.
- In winter, this area is ideal for cross-country skiing and snowsheoing.
- In summer, you can enjoy a multitude of small lakes to get away from the heat of the city. Find out more from the Haut-Bugey tourist office.
EXPLORING THE BUGEY
While there are train stations in the area, once you get there, you have no way to explore the countryside. You'll need a car for this one!
- Distance from Lyon: 56km / 34mi
- Driving time to starting point at Ambérieu-en-Bugey: 46 min
Rent your car in Lyon to drive to the Bugey
7. Chambéry 🚝
Chambéry was once the capital of Savoy, a duchy in southeastern France that joined France in 1860. It's heaven for outdoor activities and sports, winter and summer, right at the foot of the French Alps.
It also has a compact but appealing old town, perfect for a wander through the history of Savoy.
Things to do in Chambery
- Visit the Castle of the Dukes of Savoy, a historic castle that was once the duchy's seat. It houses a regional history museum and a chapel with a 70-bell carillon, the largest in Europe.
- Visit the 15th-century Cathédrale Saint François de Sales, which has the largest collection of trompe l'oeil in Europe. The ceiling and walls look like they've been carved but no, all those curlicues are actually painted on.
- Circle the Elephant Fountain, simply because it's not usual to see elephants in this part of the world. In this case they're paying homage to a certain General de Boigne's exploits in India, where he made a fortune and reinvested some of it in beautifying Chambéry upon his return.
- If you happen to be a fan of the 18th-century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, you'll find a statue of him in the Parc du Clos Savoiroux and Les Charmettes, the house where he spent several years with Mme de Warens, his mistress and benefactress.
- To learn even more about Chambery, take this self-guided tour with your smartphone.
8. Dijon 🚝
Dijon is always a favorite destination, with its ancient streets and history as the former capital of the Dukes of Burgundy.
This is a city for visitors who want a bit of an urban vibe, with plenty of history and culture, and a major dedication to food and wine. Remember, Dijon is right on the Burgundy Wine Route (for when you have more than a day).
Things to do in Dijon
- Visit the brand new Cité Internationale de la Gastronomie et du Vin, an amazing food and wine complex with shops, restaurants, exhibits, wine tastings, workshops and even cooking classes.
- Admire the Palais des Ducs et des États de Bourgogne (Palace of the Dukes and States of Burgundy), a beautiful Renaissance building that is home to the Fine Arts Museum and its two, incredibly ornate and carved tombs of the Dukes of Burgundy.
- Take a walk through the old town of Dijon by following the Owl's Trail, which will guide you to all the major attractions of Dijon, like the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Dijon, the city's medieval streets, and the many urban mansions scattered throughout the city.
- If you're a fan of quirky small museums, head for the Musée de la Vie Bourguignonne (Museum of Burgundian Life), which traces the history of Dijon through all sorts of interesting displays ranging from the everyday life of schoolchildren to an array of ancient shops, decorated the way they used to be. It's a ten-minute walk from the center but you can take the free bus or just walk – I loved this little museum!
- And if you're feeling athletic, climb the 300 steps of Tour Philippe le Bon for spectacular views over Dijon. On Friday and Saturday evenings, you can have an enjoyable "apéro" – or pre-dinner drink – at the top of the tower. Just take your time climbing!
- Since you don't have the time to go wine-tasting in Burgundy, let Burgundy come to you with this wine-tasting experience in the heart of Dijon.
9. The Dombes 🚘
This is a rural wetland region dotted with tiny lakes, or ponds, ideal for enjoying its many protected areas, hiking and birdwatching. It's often referred to as the "land of 1000 ponds".
Come here to sample some of the characteristic specialties, like the local chicken or local frogs' legs. Eat your fill and then take a wander through the gentle waterways.
Sunset over the Etang Bouligneux, one of the many ponds of the Dombes ©Sandrine Ferrier
Things to do in the Dombes
- The Parc des Oiseaux, or Bird Park, with 3000 birds belonging to 300 species, undertakes a number of conservation measures in favor of endangered species.
- Stroll around the medieval village of Châtillon-sur-Chalaronne with its historical center, indoor market hall, and numerous artisans.
GETTING FROM LYON TO THE DOMBES AND CHÂTILLON-SUR-CHALARONNE
While there are plenty of trains to Châtillon-en-Chalaronne (a 40min ride), you'll need a car to explore the Dombes.
- Distance from Lyon: 53km / 33mi
- Length of drive: 55min
Rent your car in Lyon to drive to the Dombes
10. Evian-les-Bains 🚘
This is a lovely town but a little far from Lyon.
However, if you're visiting Geneva or planning a little road trip into the Alps, you may be stopping in Evian along the way. You CAN go for the day if you don't mind the drive.
This day trip is ideal if you want to see Lake Geneva and find out all about Evian water, while perhaps enjoying a few spa treatments.
Things to do in Evian-les-Bains
- As the home of Evian water, you can visit their exhibit and fill up your water at their public fountain.
- Drop by the spa for a treatment or the casino for a game.
- Mostly, though, walk around and admire the architecture from the Belle Epoque.
GETTING FROM LYON TO EVIAN-LES-BAINS
You could take the train but the quickest one is 3 hours and you'll have to change at least once. This is a visit that requires a car. If you drive, stop to visit the lovely medieval village of Yvoire along the way.
- Distance: 223km / 138mi
- Length of drive: 2h35
Rent your car in Lyon to drive to Evian-les-Bains
11. Geneva 🚝
Yes, I know Geneva is in Switzerland, not France, but locally, it's often treated as if it were part of France. Many French people work in Geneva, and many Swiss live in France. It's a so-called "border zone" and these days, the border is pretty fluid.
Geneva is an easy day trip from Lyon, especially if you're in the mood to cross a border and are looking for a bit of "international" flavor.
Things to do in Geneva
- Admire the Jet d'Eau, one of the world's tallest fountains and possibly Geneva's most iconic sight.
- Take a classic selfie at the floral clock, the city's other iconic sight. The floral arrangements change regularly so even if you've been here before, it will probably look different.
- Walk around the Old Town and university grounds, where you'll find the Wall of the Reformers, built in honor of the leaders of the Protestant movements.
- Hop the tram to ancient Carouge, sometimes nicknamed Geneva's "Greenwich Village", full of welcoming restaurants and boutiques.
- Visit the United Nations headquarters. It's a one-hour visit but a fascinating one. However, the UN building is being renovated so the number of visits has been cut, which means it may take several months to snag a place – sop reserve early!
- Visit the brilliant Red Cross Museum (and have lunch at their surprisingly good cafeteria).
12. Grenoble 🚝
If you're visiting in winter, Grenoble will be your jumping off point for many of the nearby ski resorts. If you come in summer, you'll be coming for history and for the views.
This day trip is ideal if you want stunning views and are interested in World War II history.
Things to do in Grenoble
- La Bastille, a 19th-century military fort that stands above the city, has been converted into an entertainment and cultural space with restaurants and museums – definitely worth a visit.
- Getting there is the most fun: ride the cable car "bulles", or bubbles, and you'll be overlooking extraordinary panoramic views of Grenoble and the Alps.
- The city's museum – le Musée de Grenoble – has a solid beaux-arts collection and special exhibits worth the entrance fee. Last time I visited there was a magnificent series of Giacommetti sculptures...
- If you're interested in World War II history, the really excellent Musée de la Résistance et de la Déportation de l’Isère traces the region's history from 1939-1945, during which Grenoble fought the Nazis with great courage.
13. Orange 🚝 🚘
Orange is on the way to Provence and has a rich history and cultural heritage, given its importance during Roman times. It also has a compact old town, for lovers of the medieval and classical eras.
It's a bit far for a day trip but totally worth it if you combine a visit to the Roman ruins with a wine-tasting trip to the excellent Rhône Valley vineyards nearby.
This day trip is ideal if you want to combine Roman ruins and wine tasting.
Things to do in Orange
- Visit the Roman Amphitheater, one of the best preserved in France. It is still used for concerts and plays, especially in summer, during the Chorégies d’Orange, an international opera and classical music festival with a global reputation.
- The other wonderful Roman ruin (and like the amphitheater, protected by the UNESCO World Heritage List) is the 2000-year-old Arc de Triomphe, which dates back to the first century and one of the world's best-preserved Roman arches.
- Go taste some wine in the nearby Rhône Valley, home to such famous wines as Chateauneuf-du-Pape. It's a ten-minute drive if you've come by car but if not, consider taking a tour to the vineyards (almost better than driving since you'll be able to sample!)
- Shop at the massive weekly town market, every Thursday morning.
14. Pérouges 🚘 🚝
This village in the Ain department is the place to head if you're keen on visiting an exquisite medieval village, with cobblestone streets, in fact, one of the most beautiful villages in France. The town has a rich history and was an important center of trade and industry during the Middle Ages.
In high season it can get crowded (you'll see all the tour buses in the parking lot) but here's a tip: stay overnight, and have the village almost to yourself.
It's the kind of village where you want to simply walk... stop and gaze... and walk again. Old, quaint, and stuffed with atmosphere.
Things to do in Pérouges
- Stroll. Just walk around and enjoy the beauty of the village of Perouges and its medieval architecture.
- Stop by the artisan shops and enjoy the handworked crafts.
- Sample the galette de Pérouges, the local sweet tart or sugar pie (you'll know where to buy it because you'll smell the aroma drifting across the village – just follow your nose).
- Visit the tiny but fascinating Museum of Arts and Popular Traditions.
- Sit Sit on the terrace of the Hostellerie du Vieux Perouges and simply watch – something's always going on.
GETTING FROM LYON TO PEROUGES
You can take a half-hour train ride to Meximieux-Pérouges but you'll have a half-hour walk (uphill) to get to the village (it's not called a hilltop village for nothing). Otherwise it's an easy drive from Lyon.
- Distance from Lyon: 40km / 25mi
- Driving time: 30 min
Rent your car in Lyon to drive to Pérouges
15. Valence 🚝
Valence (the former Roman Valentia) was once an important Roman city, as you'll see from some of its vestiges, and it has some stunning pieces of architecture from the Middle Ages onward.
Valence is also known for its beautiful natural setting, as it is located in the heart of the Rhône Valley, surrounded by vineyards, rolling hills and the banks of the Rhône.
It's a bright, cheerful town, a gateway to the south of France, where you'll already begin to feel you're in Provence.
Things to do in Valence
- Visit the 11th-century Romanesque Cathédrale Saint-Apollinaire (above).
- Follow in the footsteps of Napoleon Bonaparte, who visited here 18 times between 1778-1814. You can follow his trace along Sur les Pas de Bonaparte, with 26 small plaques set in the sidewalk to guide you.
- Visit the Musée de Valence, whose 20,000 stretch back into prehistoric times. I'm partial to Roman mosaics and the museum has a few stellar pieces.
- Visit Le Pendentif, the pendant, a 16th-century memorial hidden away in the heart of the cathedral's cloister – a nice view at sunset.
- Built in 1530, La Maison des Têtes (the House of Heads) is probably the city's most famous monument, named after the allegorical sculptures that surround it (Napoleon enjoyed visiting it).
- An unusual venue is the Center for Armenian Heritage – Valence has the largest Armenian community in France (it makes up 10% of the population).
- Grab a burst of nature by heading to the port de l’Épervière, France's largest river port, or walking around one of the town's many parks.
16. Vienne 🚝
Not to be confused with Vienna, Austria (in French they're both spelled the same), this city south of Lyon is best known for its Gallo-Roman ruins and is easy to reach if you don't have much time.
Spread over several sites and museums, the town is an absolute delight for lovers of Antiquity – but also for its medieval treasures, churches and cloisters (and wine-tasting in the Côtes du Rhone).
Things to do in Vienne
- Topping the list is a visit to the Temple of Augustus and Livia, a well-preserved Roman temple from the 1st century CE.
- The Tour de l'Horloge is a medieval clock tower from which you can get panoramic views of the city.
- The Contemporary Art Museum has a large collection of modern and contemporary art.
- There are plenty of historical landmarks in the old town, like the Cathédrale Saint-Maurice and the Maison de l'Argence.
- Go wine-tasting in the surrounding Rhône Valley, home to some of the best vineyards in France.
- The weekly market is on Saturdays, if you happen to be in town on that day.
Before you go...
Once you're back from your day trip outside Lyon, I hope you've made time for some of the wonderful things you shouldn't miss in Lyon:
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