Student Trips to Lyon, France
Forget Paris and let Lyon show you a good time for a great price
Though Paris’ glittering lights might be your first and only thought when planning a trip to France, Lyon, the country’s second-largest city, has got its more famous sister beat in many ways. Though certainly irreplaceable, Paris is nonetheless an extremely expensive city and usually crowded with long lines of tourists in peak seasons. For the necessarily budget-conscious student traveler, this makes the City of Light a challenge. Located in the Rhône department, Lyon – pronounced LEE-Awn – is the gastronomic capital of France, within easy driving distance of famous wine regions, possessed of archaeological and architectural ruins dating back to the Romans, awesome public transit, and prices that are considerably kinder to your wallet than Paris.
To begin with, expect to have your flight to Lyon connect in Paris. Next, find a place to roll away your suitcase and lay your head. You can certainly find deals on traditional hotels, but hostels are largely the best way to go for students in terms of price and being able to meet other young travelers. In the heart of the city is Hotel de Bretagne, running 62€ in high season and 49€ in low season for a single room. The prices improve, however, if you move to two and three people per room. For an extremely budget-friendly option, turn to the Vieux Lyon Youth Hostel, which starts at 15.70€ per night. For more hostel options in Lyon, check out hostels.com. Most of the hostels are centered in or near the city center, within walking distance of public transit.
After you settle in to your hostel, hop on Lyon’s métro and set out to immerse yourself in some of the tastiest food your palate will ever come into contact with. No need for your Michelin guide. The institutions that have made Lyon the culinary center of France are by and large its small, often family-run bistros which, in Lyon, are called “bouchons.” The cuisine is decidedly down-to-Earth and approachable, though dishes like salade Lyonnaise, coq-au-vin or the various gratins belie the intensity of their flavours. Try Au Petit Bouchon “Chez Georges” near the Hotel de Ville métro stop. Dinner entrées begin at a very affordable 10€ to 12€. Le Bouchon de l’Opéra on the Rue des Capucins has an excellent menu of traditional Lyonnaise cuisine. Chabert et Fils in the city center has a lovely bistro ambience and three pre-fixe menus, starting at just 17.90€. You will find that, whatever the bouchon, the wine list will often be short, but the prices quite affordable and the wine excellent. It’s because Lyon lies within an hour’s drive of Beaujolais and Macônnais – two wine regions which produce stellar, food friendly wines. Moreover, much of the wine bought by the bouchons comes from small, independent winemakers who produce terroir-driven juice of the Earth. And, since distance from vine to glass is so short, the wines have an inimitable juiciness and freshness to them, impossible to experience anywhere else.
As to what to do with yourself before and after meals – and meals are truly to be treated as events in France – you’ll have no dearth of choices. The Cathedrals of Saint Jean, Saint Paul and Saint Georges loom over vieux Lyon, with the oldest dating back to the 12th century. Fourvière Hill holds the vestiges of the ancient Gallo-Roman settlements, as well as the famed Fourvière basilica with its four imposing turrets. Most assuredly, don’t miss the Musée des Beaux-Arts – free for students – in the middle of the old city, open since 1803 and fully renovated in 1998, with over 7,000 square meters of exhibition space.
We’d be lying if we said Lyon had the night life of Paris. Nonetheless, a lot of wonderful night spots can be found on or just across from Lyon’s little island or “Presqu’île,” formed by the Rhône and Saône rivers. Harmonie des Vins is a great wine bar and restaurant in the center of Presqu’île, boasting more than 300 wines. Just across from the island near Fourvière Hill is The Smoking Dog, a simple but eminently fun English pub. For a dance club, try Club Le Saint Antoine near the Bellecour métro stop. If you don’t see the light of day again until you come out of the club the next morning, make sure to stop along the banks of the rivers which become little market places, with stalls selling fresh bread, produce and other groceries. Bon voyage!