Lyon is a city of many sights and things to do, but what if you have a day or two to spare? A few days in Lyon may leave you with you with a lot on your plate, but if you have some time, there are plenty of wonderful destinations and things to see within driving range of the city.
You can look forward to a visit to one of the historic grottes in Ardèche, or the beautiful city of Annecy, or even a trip down to the provençale city of Avignon. From the Alps to the South of France, there is plenty of choice if you are looking for an enjoyable day trips from Lyon.
Now, traffic can be an issue especially along the A7 Autoroute du Soleil (meaning “Highway towards the Sun”). As such, I have limited all the day trips to tried and tested destinations that are within a 2-3 hours’ drive.
All of the large cities will be easily accessible by train as well, however some of the smaller villages will require car access. And so with that, here are the best day trips from Lyon. Allons-y!
1. Old town of Annecy
About 2 hours drive away from Lyon is the Alpine town of Annecy. A delightful combination of medieval France and natural landscapes, it is a town that has attracted visitors for centuries.
The city is blessed not only with a charming old town but also with some of the most extraordinary scenery in all of France.
From the old Palais de l’Ile to the Château d’Annecy, this was the home of the Counts of Genova. Known as the Venice of the Alps, the town is famous for its many canals.
And with plenty of lakeside beaches, biking lanes and hiking trails nearby, it is a sports-lovers paradise. You can read more about visiting Annecy here.
2. Stalactites of Grotte de Choranche
About 2 hours drive away from Lyon is the spectacular natural cave called Grotte de Choranche. This incredible natural phenomenon is the only one of its kind in Europe, known for its thousands of fistuleuses stalactites providing quite the spectacle.
About 32,300 meters long, the Grotte de Choranche is located high in the falaises calcaires (meaning “limestones cliffs”) of the Vercours Massif, at an altitude of over 500m.
Partially discovered in 1897, the cave was not fully explored until 1943 which is why it remains so well preserved. Today, thousands of visitors flock to see the famous caves. You can read more about visiting the Grotte de Choranche here.
3. Hanging houses at Pont-en-Royans
Right next to the Grotte de Choranche is the small village of Pont-en-Royans, so if you are heading out here from Lyon, you should stop in this little village as well.
Voted one of the plus beaux village (meaning “most beautiful village”) in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alps region, Pont-en-Royans is famous for its colorful hanging houses overlooking the entrance to the Gorges de la Bourne.
Known as the “Maisons suspendues”, these colorful pastel hanging houses perched on the cliffside, overlooking the river Bourne. In 1944, the hanging houses were designated as Monuments Historiques by the French government.
While you cannot visit inside residents’ homes, you can admire the maison suspendues from all along the riverbank on the opposite side. You can read more about visiting Pont-en-Royans here.
4. Chambéry, capital of Savoy
About 67 miles (108km) away from Lyon is the former capital of the Duchy of Savoy, Chambéry. While most tourists tend to make their way to nearby Annecy, Chambéry which is only 30 miles (50km) away, is more of a hidden gem.
Once the capital of the Dukes of Savoy, it became part of France in exchange for the Victor Emmanuel II becoming King of Italy. But the Savoy culture in this part of France remains strong. From its own language, cheeses, wines, and other traditions, there is plenty to see and taste.
With a charming old town and a newer and hipper surrounding area, there is an architectural flair and style to Chambéry that is difficult to replicate. It sits on Lac du Bourget and with scenic mountains all around, it is definitely worth the day trip from Lyon. You can read more about visiting Chambéry here.
5. Spa town of Aix-les-Bains
About 20 minutes away from Chambéry and 1h15 drive away from Lyon is the spa town of Aix-les-Bains. This lakeside city of Aix-les-Bains has attracted the rich and well-to-to for centuries.
From the ancient Romans to U.K.’s Queen Victoria, the city’s reputation for its wondrous natural thermal springs beckons visitors from far and wide.
There are a couple of large thermal spa resorts around Aix-les-Bains, using natural spring waters. The water contains calcium sulphide and is rich in trace elements of magnesium, manganese, potassium, iron, iodine, zinc, aluminum and copper.
The closest spa to the city center is Thermes Chevalley Valvital, that is in the haute (“high”) part of town. A bit further outside of Aix, on a property covering 10 hectares, is the Thermes de Marlioz. You can read more about visiting Aix-les-Bains here.
6. Cave paintings at Grotte Chauvet 2
One of the greatest cultural treasures in the world is located in the heart of department of Ardèche, about 124 miles (200 km) away from Lyon.
Known as Grotte Chauvet (Cave Chauvet), it is a cave network which has some of the earliest known Paleolithic human cave paintings. Dating back about 28,000 – 32,000 years old these are among the oldest in the world.
There are several panels with some of the earliest known figurative drawings, making it one of the most important prehistoric art sites in the world. These spectacular images were created by prehistoric humans, or Homo sapiens, as they roamed the European continent.
The actual cave is too fragile to allow visitors, and so an exact replica was built called Grotte Chauvet 2. Built to educate visitors about the Paleolithic era, there is an entire complex of exhibitions to visit about the lives of these prehistoric humans. You can read more about visiting Grotte Chauvet 2 here.
7. Spectacular Views in Grenoble
Located in the French Alps, Grenoble is at an elevation of about 500 meters (1,600 ft) and is about 1h20 from Lyon by car.
It is split into two parts: the historic city center and the new town. To be honest, the newer part with its industrial buildings is nothing to write home about, but thankfully the old historic center makes up for it.
From a magnificent téléphérique carrying tourists up the historic Fort Bastille Grenoble, to the quays of the river Isère, it is certainly a beautiful city.
In addition, the old town of Grenoble has a large pedestrian zone featuring plenty of small shops, boutiques, and restaurants. You can read more about visiting Grenoble here.
8. Papal city of Avignon
The provençale city of Avignon is a mere 2h20 away from Lyon on the A7 highway. This fortress city in the South of France is most famous for being the temporary home of the Catholic popes, who were based there in the 13th century, instead of in Vatican Rome.
With many famous sights like the Palais des Papes (Palace of the popes) and the Pont d’Avignon (Avignon bridge), Avignon is one of the most popular cities to visit in France.
It is a lively city with plenty of theatres, restaurants, and cultural events. In addition, it is close to two other attractions, the antique town of Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and the Fontaine de Vaucluse, making it a lovely place for a day trip from Lyon. You can read more about visiting Avignon here.
9. Alpine town of Bourg-Saint-Maurice
If you are visiting France in winter and happen to be in Lyon, you will want to head to Bourg-Saint-Maurice.
It is about 2h20 from Lyon by car, nestled in the French Alps. Nestled in the Tarentaise Valley, the town is the gateway to 2 large ski domains Paradiski and Espace Killy that consist of several dozen ski resorts.
The town itself has a population of just over 7,000 full-time residents. There is a wide range of restaurants, hotels, bars and unique shopping options for visitors to choose from.
Besides skiers, the town welcomes tourists and outdoor adventure tourists all-year-round with activities including hiking, swimming, and golfing. You can read more about visiting Bourg-Saint-Maurice here.
10. Riding the tourist Train de l’Ardèche
Previously known as the Chemin de fer du Vivarais or Train du Viverais, this is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Ardèche.
A foresty area in the center of France, the main station to catch the Train de l’Ardeche is about 55 miles (90 km) or 1h15 from the city of Lyon.
These old steam trains, using systems dating back 130 years, run along a network of lines constructed around the Vivarais network.
These days, it regularly attracts tourists from all over Europe. Travelling along a portion of the Gorges Doux (Valley of the Doux), the area is otherwise inaccessible and is known for its beautiful unspoiled landscapes. You can read more about traveling on the Train de l’Ardeche here.
11. The strategic town of Valence
About 1h15 from Lyon, on the A7 Autoroute du Soleil highway, sits the small city of Valence. And its importance, dating back to antiquity, is based on this strategic location.
A charming city, Valence situated at a central position on the direct high-speed train and highway line between Paris, Lyon, and Marseille. It dates back to Roman times 121 BC, when Lyon was the Roman capital and Marseille an important port city.
To control trade flows between the two Roman cities, a road was built with crossroads along the way for protection, and the city of Valence grew around it.
Today, Valence is a lovely blend of historic and modern France. The old center was easy to navigate on foot and the new center had a lot to offer in terms of shopping. You can read more about visiting Valence here.
12. The Beautiful Village of Yvoire
About 2hours away from Lyon by car is the small French village of Yvoire. Lying on Lac Léman near the Swiss border, Yvoire has been voted one of the plus beaux village de France, meaning “most beautiful village”.
Yvoire’s narrow cobblestone streets are a big part of its appeal. They are filled with eateries, studios, galleries, and tiny boutique shops, which attract tourists from all over the world every year.
The town’s stone and larch wooden buildings are covered in flowers, which make it the perfect place for all photography and nature lovers. You can read more about visiting Yvoire here.
13. Shoes in Romans-sur-Isère
If you are looking to visit an irreverent small town in central France, Romans-sur-Isère might just fit the bill. It is about 1h20 from Lyon by car, and is famous for its shoe museum, and with large statues of shoes displayed all over town.
Known as the Musée de la Chaussure (“Museum of the shoe”), the museum holds 16,500 collectors’ exhibits from antiquity to the modern day, covering 4000 years of history.
It is also famous for a local speciality called the pogne that is a type of brioche bread made from flour, eggs and butter and flavored with orange blossom.
A charming little city, with a pedestrian centreville and cathedral, this is small town France. You can read more about visiting Romans-sur-Isere here.
14. Nougat in Montélimar
The small town of Montélimar is not one that a lot of foreign tourists flock to. Located in the Drôme department in the region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, it is about 1h45 from Lyon by car.
This charming little town surrounded by the natural landscapes of Gorges de l’Ardèche and other large regional parks. But more importantly, it is the home of the famous Nougat de Montelimar, a sweet and chewy candy with a creamy center that is internationally renowned.
Located just outside the city center of Montélimar, Fabrique Arnaud Soubeyran was founded in 1837 by husband and wife team, Jean Arnaud and Marguerite Soubeyran, to provide for their three daughters.
You can visit the factory, as well as the nearby Château de Montelimar that dates back to the 11th century. Find out more about visiting Montelimar here.
15. Roman temple in Vienne
About 40 minutes south of Lyon is the small town of Vienne in which sits the ancient Roman Temple of Augustus and Livia. It was built in the 1st century and dedicated to the honor Roman Emperor Augustus and his wife Livia. It is quite similar in style to the Maison Carré in Nimes.
After the fall of the Roman Empire as christianity swept across Europe, the temple became a parish church until the 1789 French Revolution. From 1792, the church became the temple of Reason, then a commercial court, then the museum and then a library. It finally in the 19th century, after 28 years of work, the building regained its look of Roman temple.
If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about traveling around the region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alps. A bientôt!