Lyon: A global benchmark in smart, sustainable, and accessible tourism
September 25, 2023
At first glance, Lyon, sitting where the Rhône and Saône rivers meet, seems a modern city in many ways. But wander its streets for a while and clues to its history soon appear. The city began life as the Roman military colony Lugdunum in 43 BC and was, for a while, the capital city of the Gauls. It came under French ownership in 1312, developing into a flourishing river port, and by the 17th century, it was the silk-manufacturing centre of Europe.
Today, Lyon is a dynamic, sophisticated, accessible city. The textile industry is still important to the city's economy, alongside metallurgy, banking, petrochemicals, printing—and tourism. It's an increasingly popular destination for short breaks, holidays and business events.
In recent years, Lyon has exemplified the remarkable outcomes of cooperative engagement among stakeholders, fostering a model of tourism that is both prosperous and sustainable. Against the background of Covid-19, that's no small feat.
Here's our guide to enjoying a sustainable trip to Lyon, whether it's for business or pleasure.
IMAGE: Guillaume Robert-Famy
Lyon: Accessible and Sustainable
Lyon is easy to reach by road, and Lyon Saint Exupéry International Airport is less than 20 minutes away via the frequent RhôneExpress tram shuttle. The airport, accredited carbon neutral since 2017, offers direct flights to more than 131 destinations (including 99 international). It has its own train station (Lyon Saint Exupéry TGV) and good bus links too. Another option is Lyon Bron Airport, a business airport 20 minutes outside the city centre.
For a greener journey, use coach services like FlixBus or BlaBlaCar Bus, or even better, travel by rail. Lyon has two city TGV stations, Lyon Part Dieu and Perrache, offering services to Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Belgium and the UK. Paris and Geneva are less than two hours away by train, and Milan can be reached in just 5 hrs and 20 minutes.
IMAGE: Jacques Léone
Once you're here, getting around is easy. Lyon has the second most extensive public transport system in France and a robust bike-sharing scheme. There are four metro lines, seven tram routes, 140 bus routes (including eight trolleybus lines) and two funicular railways on Fourvière Hill. Transport company TCL has accelerated its already ambitious sustainable transport plan. New trolleybus lines and tram lines are planned, and thermal traction lines are being electrified. More than a hundred electric or BioNGV vehicles have been introduced since 2020, and there will be 400 in operation by 2026.
The Lyon region is very cycle-friendly, with 1,090 km of cycle lanes. 5,000 Vélo'v self-service bikes, including electric bikes, are available from 428 docking stations, and you can also hire Cyclopolitain electric tricycles and scooters. Or why not take the taxi boat or use the river shuttle service on the Saône?
The city is accessible in every sense of the word. Since 2021, free monthly public transport passes on the TCL network have been offered to welfare recipients, asylum seekers and others who are disadvantaged. The accessibility of the public transport system for people with disabilities was also key to Lyon's Access City Award in 2018.
IMAGE: Jacques Léone
Lyon offers money-saving options for visitors, too. Special TCL passes are available for conference participants. For visitors wanting to explore the city's sights via public transport, there's the Lyon City Card. Available in 1,2, 3 or 4-day options, it provides:
The Lyon City Card Rhônexpress also offers a round trip to the airport on the shuttle service that can be used independently of the days of use on the card.
Putting The SDGs at the Heart of Tourism and the MICE Sector
The Metropole and ONLYLYON Tourism and Conventions have joined together "to achieve more environmentally and socially virtuous tourism in Lyon". They're working not only to protect the environment, but also to improve tourism accessibility, the wellbeing of residents and visitors, and the authenticity of visitor experiences. Their ambitious goal is to achieve all this while ensuring the push for sustainability is meaningful for everyone and beneficial for businesses. Their success so far is evident in the accolades the city has received, and the authenticity of the experiences you'll have as a visitor.
European Commission's 2018 Access City Award
The Access City Award is open to European cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants, and accessibility is assessed in four key areas: the built environment and public spaces, transportation and related infrastructure, information and communication including new technologies, and public facilities and services.
Lyon was rewarded for "its inclusive and universal accessibility." Judges praised Lyon's 100% accessible public buses and its efforts to ensure that everyone can access culture, thanks to accessible equipment in libraries (e.g., reading machines, audiobook readers and magnifying screens). They were also impressed with the city's digital tools for people with disabilities, and disability employment figures.
IMAGE: Gaël Fontaine
European Capital of Smart Tourism 2019
The 2018 Access City Award was one of the attributes that led the European Commission to bestow the European Capital of Smart Tourism 2019 title on Lyon. It also applauded Lyon's 'Lyon, Fair and Sustainable City' quality label, which aims to promote the local economy and recognise sustainable environmental and social practices. Other initiatives singled out for praise included:
GDS Index Success
In 2021, Lyon ranked seventh in the world and first in France in the Global Destination Sustainability Index (GDS), with a score of 80%. It also won the GDS Most Improved Award, having gained 34 percentage points in a year. Last year, the city improved its score further, achieving 83%, although fiercer competition meant it only ranked 11th. Regardless of rankings, Lyon's relentless progress towards sustainability continues unabated.
IMAGE: Tristan Deschamps
Strategy For More Sustainable Tourism 2021
ONLYLYON Tourism's Operational Strategy was initiated in line with Lyon Metropole's Plan for the Development of Responsible Tourism 2021-2026.
The strategy was created after extensive consultations with residents, visitors, and nearly 200 tourism professionals. It focuses on 7 commitments linked to 10 of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (2, Zero Hunger; 3, Good Health and Wellbeing; 8, Decent Work and Economic Growth; 10, Reduced Inequalities; 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities; 12, Responsible Consumption and Production; 13, Climate Action; 14, Life Below Water; 15, Life on Land; 17, Partnerships for the Goals).
Existing schemes have been given a new lease of life, while other new labels and schemes were initiated by the 2021 Strategy.
Local, friendly, authentic tourism
The Lyon City Helpers greet and assist visitors at strategic locations while ensuring that heritage sites are treated with respect. Meanwhile, the Greeters de Lyon network of local volunteers provides guided tours with a personal flavour.
Residents are also encouraged to visit and enjoy the city themselves on 'Visitez Lyon' (Visit Lyon) day, when they can discover Lyon's attractions for free. They can purchase the
365-day Lyon City Card too, which gives them a year to enjoy a guided tour and three discounted activities.
IMAGE: Dominik Fusina
To this end, it has:
IMAGE: Brice Robert Photographe
Where to Stay
35 of Lyon's accommodation providers, from hostels to grand hotels, have recognised eco-certifications, including international labels such as Earthcheck or the EU Ecolabel. Several hotel chains with their own rigorous environmental standards are also well-represented in the city. Here's a selection of choices from across the range:
The Slo Living Hostel in central Lyon is a good choice if you're on a budget (or just keen to socialise with other travellers). This light, airy, modern hostel is Green Key certified and offers double bedrooms and small dorms. Dinners focus on local produce.
Valpré Hotel, an elegant building with 110 rooms and wonderful views over a 6-hectare park, is reasonably priced. This Green Key-certified hotel is ideal if you want a location that's peaceful, but still within a few kilometres of the city centre.
The Fourvière Hôtel oozes grandeur and history, ideal for a more luxurious stay. Located near the Roman theatres, it was built in 1854 as a convent, and the reception is in a former chapel. It's now a four-star hotel with 75 rooms and suites, offering extensive wellness facilities. It holds the ‘Etiquette Environnementale’ label.
The Mercure Lyon Part-Dieu is a new hotel close to the Part-Dieu TGV station and just 10 minutes from the city centre. This four-star hotel has 124 soundproofed and air-conditioned rooms. As an Accor Group hotel, it follows their stringent PLANET 21 sustainability programme.
There are also 37 hotels in and around Lyon that are certified accessible by Mobee Travel, a holiday booking platform for disabled travellers. While most are modern hotels from chains such as Ibis, Novotel and Mercure (including the Part-Dieu above), other choices include:
Hôtel Le Pavillon, a 1930’s style 5-star hotel a few miles north-west of Lyon. It has a large private park and offers 22 rooms, including suites with their own jacuzzi, hammam and lounge.
The Domaine Lyon Saint‐Joseph, a grand former seminary in the Francheville forest complex. Set in 5 hectares of parkland, it's now a 3-star hotel with modern amenities.
Lyon as a Destination for Sustainable MICE
ONLYLYON provides useful checklists and to-do-list tools to help you plan a sustainable event in Lyon. These tools help you follow good ethical and environmental practices as you organise communication materials, catering, transport, waste disposal, purchasing, display materials, equipment, break-out activities and social initiatives. The Conventions team can help you find sustainable venues, service partners, and worthwhile social and charitable initiatives.
For example, catering companies Serge Magner and La Fine Fourchette are both ISO 20121-certified. There are several charities and services that can quickly distribute any leftover food from your event, such as Chaînon Manquant. The CAGIBIG platform allows you to pool equipment, or collaboratively purchase it, with other event organisers.
IMAGE: Philippe Théry
Lyon Convention Centre
Located in the heart of the Cité Internationale, north of the city centre. It offers 3 amphitheatres with seating for 300, 900 and 3,000 people; an 8,400 m2 single-level exhibition area, accommodating 7,000 people for cocktails or up to 6,000 people for a conference; and 35 fully-equipped rooms for 50 to 450 people.
Nestled halfway between the Lyon-Saint-Exupéry Airport-TGV railway station hub and the vibrant city centre, Eurexpo-Lyon boasts a strategic location for both local and international attendees. As France's largest convention and exhibition centre outside of Paris, Eurexpo-Lyon offers immense flexibility for a wide array of events, guaranteeing an unrivalled experience for all participants. The facilities provided include:
IMAGE: Nicolas Rodet
GL Group Venues
The GL Group has been pursuing a sustainable development policy for some years, guided by its Code of Ethics and practices and its Think Green action plan. Its venues and event management division have been committed to an ISO 14001-certified environmental management system, and the Lyon Convention Centre and Eurexpo Lyon sites are now also certified ISO 20121. This sets standards for responsible management to promote sustainable development in event-related activities.
Sited in the Docks de Lyon-Confluence neighbourhood. This renovated industrial building offers 3800 m² of event spaces and 1700 m² dedicated to cultural exhibitions. It has capacity for up to 1600 people for a gala dinner.
IMAGE: Nicolas Rodet
There are dozens of environmentally-responsible hotels throughout Lyon offering meeting and event spaces, but here, we focus on venues that are a little different.
Château de Montchat
A charming, renovated 16th-century chateau amidst a quiet park in the east of Lyon. It offers 12 naturally-lit rooms on three levels, including six garden-level function rooms capable of accommodating 10 to 150 people, with total banqueting for 270. The Château's sustainable practices include energy-saving and water-saving measures, heating provided by a high-efficiency heat pump, recycling of organic waste, and use of natural pesticides.
Located in a beautiful setting on the Saône river bank in the heart of Lyon. It offers six naturally-lit flexible event spaces with capacity for 10 to 700 people across 900m². The dynamic team is dedicated to helping event organisers find ways to reduce their environmental footprint.
Opéra National de Lyon
Situated in the heart of Lyon, the Opera House has a long history of environmental and ethical responsibility. It has strived to bring culture to a wide audience, including those who are socially, geographically and economically disadvantaged. It has introduced measures to optimise energy efficiency and promoted eco-friendly scenery construction in its workshops. The in-house caterers prepare dishes using seasonal, local and organic produce.
The historic Opera House offers six highly unique spaces for events, accommodating between 70 and 1,100 people, with some also suitable for smaller, seated groups.
The Fourvière Hôtel has a co-working space and various meeting spaces accommodating 25 to 100 people, all with quirky, colourful or historic features.
Lyon's Sustainable, Accessible Leisure Tourism
Whether you're looking for holiday experiences or conference break-out activities there's plenty to do and see—sustainably!—in Lyon. The City of Lyon Accessibility Guide has a list of businesses, services and cultural attractions with disabled facilities, and the Rhône-Alpes Accessibility Guide includes those in the wider region.
Get Involved and Get Active
Wecandoo runs workshops that let you try traditional Lyonnaise crafts or learn about local trades. From making a leather belt or lipstick to learning about brewing or beekeeping, they're a fascinating insight into the lives and skills of Lyon's people.
Lyon is very easy to traverse on foot or by bike. Explore the lovely river banks, with their art, green spaces and cafés. Maybe you'd prefer to plan a route around Lyon's monuments and art installations? Look out for the statue of Antoine de Saint Exupéry near the street that bears his name, and the beautiful 'Flower Tree' created by Korean artist Jeong Hwa Choi on Place Antonin Poncet.
Love wine? Then take a vineyard tour—much greener than a personal visit by conventional car. Lyon is ideally placed to explore the Beaujolais and Côtes du Rhône wine areas.
There are plenty of walking and biking tours around the city, whether you want to admire Lyon's remarkable areas of wall art, its gastronomy or its historical and cultural sights. If you prefer something more leisurely, try the Lyon Bus Tours. The Bus Tour allows you to experience the charm of Lyon at your own leisure by hopping on and off at any of the twelve stops, including the pinnacle of Colline de Fourvière, where you can bask in the panoramic vista of the city below. For an even greener tour, what about a city tour in an electric bicycle taxi with a panoramic roof?
IMAGE: Brice Robert Photographe
Lyon has many designated 'Jardins Remarquables' and 'Eco-Jardins', with some gardens obtaining both labels. The most notable is the 105-hectare Parc de la Tête d'Or, a 'Remarkable Garden' with sections designated 'Eco-Jardins'. It's home to 15,000 botanical species, a 17-hectare lake to explore via pedalo, a zoological park that replicates the African savannah, plus a miniature train, performance spaces, cafés, and a host of other attractions.
Gerland Park also has both prestigious labels. Enjoy its sound and light installations, its sports facilities (including indoor and outdoor skate parks), its canal and its themed gardens, all in surroundings that encourage wildlife diversity.
Want something more active? Then explore the rivers via a stand-up paddleboard or canoe. Head to France Aventures, in the heart of Lyon, or the City Aventure Leisure Park in Sainte-Foy-lès-Lyon, for tree-top routes and zip-lines. Visit the Grand Parc Miribel Jonage to enjoy a range of watersports or discover the Porte des Alpes region. Here, you'll find an 18-hole golf course in Chassieu, outdoor paintball in Mions, and the 178-hectare Parc de Parilly. It offers woodland walks, a public 400 m running track and facilities for a large range of sports.
If you want to go further afield by bicycle, you're in the ideal place: Lyon sits at the crossroads of two major cycling routes. The Viarhôna runs from Geneva to the Mediterranean, while la Voie Bleue - Saône-Moselle links Luxembourg and Lyon.
IMAGE: Brice Robert Photographe
Eco-Friendly Events and Eateries
Lyon's Fête des Lumières (Festival of Lights), held over four days around 8th December, is arguably Lyon's most famous festival. Locals display traditional lumignons (small candles) on their balconies and windowsills, and the city's buildings are illuminated with spectacular visual and interactive shows. Thanks to LEDs and public lighting management, electricity consumption is no more than that of the annual usage of a 120 m² apartment.
For spring visitors, Quai du Polar at the end of March celebrates crime fiction in print and film, while May's Les Nuits Sonores is a must for fans of electronic music. In summer, don't miss the Lyon Street Food Festival in June—four days of food, music, and culture, with an all-day party atmosphere!
If you're unfortunate enough not to visit during the vibrant food festival, then seize the opportunity to boost the local economy by trying authentic Lyonnaise cuisine, or head for a sustainably-run restaurant. Luckily, these two enticing options aren't mutually exclusive.
IMAGE: Franck Sonnet
Look out for restaurants with the 'Bouchon Lyonnais' label, which guarantees the quality of the produce and dishes, and the authenticity of the experience. Try local specialities such as duck pâté or quenelle, a creamy, fish-flavoured soufflé.
You'll find plenty of restaurants offering vegetarian options, and a reasonable number of vegetarian or vegan eateries, including the highly-rated Like An Elephant. Equilibrist is a restaurant committed to sustainability, serving vegetarian dishes made only from local, organic, and seasonal produce, with a cultural programme and repair workshops running alongside.
IMAGE: Jacques Léone
Discover Lyon's History and Culture
Lyon is rich in history, from Roman ruins to stunning Renaissance buildings. A 427-hectare area across four historic districts was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998 and includes 162 buildings. Here are a few highlights from each district.
The Roman colony of Lugdunum grew up around Fourvière. Visit the Gallo-Roman Museum next to the archaeological site, and the Lugdunum Roman Theatres of Lyon: the 15 BC Great Theatre and 2nd-century Odeon. The much more recent but iconic 19th-century Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière sits on the hill overlooking the city, offering amazing views.
Vieux-Lyon (Old Lyon)
Admire the Renaissance buildings constructed when Lyon was a thriving hub of trade and silk-manufacturing. Thread your way through the 'traboules': secret, narrow, covered passageways, some dating back to the 4th century. The map of the traboules, available from the Tourist Office, is helpful here!
This area is also home to St John's Cathedral, built between 1180 and 1480, with one of the largest bells in existence. Don't miss the museums—the Musée d'Histoire de Lyon (historical museum of Lyon) and Musée des Arts de la Marionnette (puppet museum) in Lyon's largest Renaissance building, and the Cinema and Miniature Museum. You'll also find a wealth of restaurants and craft shops.
IMAGE: Anna Ischenko
Home to the 19th-century silk workers, this is another hilly area of Lyon. Traboules, courtyards and picturesque staircases will lead you through a district with a village feel and an arty vibe. Visit the shops of the many designers and artists working here or take a tour of the traditional silk-weaving workshops. Discover another ancient site, l’Amphithéâtre des Trois-Gaules, built in 19 AD.
This is Lyon's beating heart, bustling with people visiting its theatres, restaurants, and main modern shopping area. In this district between the Rhône and Saône rivers, explore the Musée des Beaux-arts (Museum of Fine Arts) and admire the famous Lyonnaise mural: a trompe l'oeil painted wall depicting Lyon's celebrities. Book an evening at the Opéra de Lyon and visit the gothic Saint-Nizier Church and St-Martin d'Ainay Basilica, Lyon's only Romanesque church. Indeed, Presqu'île embodies the very essence of Lyon, reflecting its rich culture and lively spirit in every corner.
IMAGE: Krom Galerie
Lyon: Lighting Up a Hidden Gem
Lyon has a lot of competition. Nestled in a country whose cities and rural regions are globally synonymous with tourism, elegance, fine dining, and good wine. Romance seekers gravitate towards Paris. Wine-lovers wander the vineyards of Bordeaux. Seekers of coastal glamour frequent Cannes, Nice or St Tropez, and history lovers head for the fortified hilltop towns of the Occitan region. But Lyon shouldn't be overlooked, and it's a city now asserting itself with renewed determination to make sure that it won't be ignored anymore!
Indeed, Lyon is not merely another name in the pantheon of French cities, it embodies a unique fusion of natural beauty and cultural vibrancy. It has wonderful green spaces, two beautiful rivers, 20 Michelin-starred restaurants, and a wealth of culture of history. Come here for a conference and you're bound to find yourself returning for a longer stay, and the chance to truly delve into Lyon's manifold treasures.
Whatever time of year you visit, and whatever kind of stay you're looking for, Lyon has an incredible amount to offer and, more importantly, the expertise to help craft your visit to be as sustainable as you wish. So, whether you're a devoted Francophile or a first-time visitor, Lyon rightfully deserves its place in your itinerary, promising a distinctive taste of France that combines the familiar charms with its own unique allure.
Discover what makes Lyon the gold standard of sustainable meetings and holidays by visiting:
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