Lyon is a city with cosmopolitan architecture, countless activities, superb gastronomy, world-class lodging and modern event space. And this is what every meeting planner and business traveler wants in a destination. Lyon, France’s third largest city, combines the old quintessential France with a modern contemporary vibe to create one of the most unique business travel destinations in the world.

Lyon grew from the hill of Fourviere on which the Basilica of Fourviere sits with its bright white colors and the old Roman forum and theaters.  The area known as Roman Lugdunum dates back to the first century BC. The population then expanded old Lyon on the bottom of Fourviere hill and bordered by the Saone river during the middle ages as well as the Croix Rousse, which housed the traditional silk makers and traditional 19th century buildings.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the city expanded further eastward on the peninsula between the Rhone and Saone (called the “Presqu’Ile” in French) in the style of Beaux Arts architecture.

Finally, greater Lyon ends at Part Dieu, which is east of the peninsula. The area is very contemporary having been constructed in the 1960s and 1970s. Part Dieu a mix of modernist contemporary architecture and contains much of the meeting space.

The mix creates a superb skyline view from all directions. And to help you get familiar with the city, the ONLYLYON visitors bureau provides friendly, accredited and knowledge guides who can conduct tours for up to 30.

Anne Ravel was the guide during my visit, and she explained that the city in old Lyon was constantly constrained by space since the area is bordered by the hill and river. As a result, the medieval city decided to build passageways through the buildings to alleviate street traffic. These passageways (known by locals as Traboules) are unique to Lyon and they remain open to the public today — some even have art shops and restaurants located inside.

Anne also mentioned that a visitor can distinguish the old city as truly medieval due to the outside location of the stairwells (the placement inside the building had not been invented yet).

If you’re traveling to Lyon and visiting for business, you’ll appreciate how all of this history contrasts with modern hotels and contemporary spaces. Although the city has many leisure activities, the majority of visitors are business travelers (65%) vs leisure (35%).

Hotels in Lyon, France

There are 225 hotels with approximately 16,800 hotel rooms in the greater Lyon area.  In Lyon like the rest of France, independent or local governmental agencies will rate hotels on an annual basis based on a variety of factors. The breakdown of the hotel categories is as follows: five 5-star, 43 4-star, 62 3-star and 79 hotels in other categories.

I stayed at Hotel Carlton, McGallery Collection. It is situated in the heart of the Presque’Ile a stones throw away from the Place Bellecour.  The hotel has 80 guest rooms and combines old world Haussmanian architecture — it has a façade that dates back to 1894 as part of the Petit Palais — and modern amenities. The 4-star Hotel Carlton, McGallery Collection was renovated in 2013. It has a cozy meeting space, a full-service spa and lobby bar.

Cour des Loges is a full-service, 5-star hotel on the Rue du Boeuf in the heart of old Lyon.  The full service business travel hotel includes a breathtaking courtyard dating back to the Renaissance, two restaurants (one of which is a 1-Michelin Star), and full service Pure Altitude spa.  The guest rooms retain the original character from the renaissance and are loft style with stairways up to the bedrooms.

Meetings and Conventions in Lyon, France

Lyon is in the process of building and expanding its Congress meeting areas, according to Aimee Reategui, press officer for ONLYLYON. The city already has created two principal areas for meetings and special events.

Lyon Confluence is the first district. This is the main center located on the southern tip of the Presqu’Ile. The entire 350 acre area is an artificial peninsula that contains modern architecture, Michelin star restaurants and even environmentally friendly buildings.

Event planners should note that the city has a boat service (Le Vaporetto) that will shuttle business travelers and event attendees from this district to the old Lyon and Presqu’Ile on a regular basis. There is even a contemporary museum in the Confluence area that is dedicated to science and the arts.

Lyon Cite International is the other principal convention space. It has more than 25,000 square meters of coverage, and the contemporary amphitheater — inspired by the Roman Lugdunum architecture — is its central event space. There are more than 500 hotel rooms onsite and approximately 1,000 in the neighboring zone.

It requires a 12-minute tramride to access to Part Dieu station and a 25-minute transfer to the LYS airport. The entire complex can handle up to 3,000 participants in a plenary session format.

What’s unique for meeting planners and business travelers right now is that the city is currently promoting its low cost WIFI hotspots. When I arrived, I went to the ONLYLYON office located in the heart of the city in the Place Bellecour, and the staff issued me a WIFI hotspot with connection for up to 10 devices. Reategui noted that the cost was 8 euros a day, but it is reduced to 4 euros per day when you buy the City Pass.

Gastronomy in Lyon, France

Lyon is a food mecca. With 2,000 restaurants (of which 14 are Michelin starred), world-class culinary institutes and famous markets such as Les Halles Paul Bocuse. Actually, it seems that everywhere you turn, the city pays homage to Mr. Bocuse or another one of its culinary legends.

Given this, Lyon earns its status as a gastronomic capital in France.

And Raval (my guide) explained the reason behind the title involves Lyon’s unique geographic position as each surrounding region such as Beaujolais, Monts de Lyon and Ain (to name just a few) contribute some sort of agricultural product to the city.

Some recommendations for event planners and business travelers include:

Les Halles Paul Bocuse is a totally enjoyable experience. This indoor market has 58 unique restaurants and storefronts offering traditional ingredients and cuisines. Lyon takes such care in its title as gastronomic capital of France that a city council association must personally approve each member of the Les Halles. There are also restaurants located within Les Halles that offers cuisine made from the produce in the market.

AOC Les Halles, named after the French Wine Standard, offers 150 different kinds of wine. The Les Halles eatery has an indoor market as well as a large second floor with large glass windows that overlook the busy Cours Lafayette. If you want the full Lyonnais culinary experience, try the meat sampler as an appetizer. You’ll be able to taste a variety of  sausages and pate from around the market. I also recommend a fish portion or the Andouille sausage as a main course. There is also a dessert sampler that includes shortbread, fruit and coffee.

“Bouchons” are a type of restaurant that serve traditional Lyonnais cuisine. Bouchon Chabert et Fils is located by the Place Bellecour and only a 15-minute walk from Part Dieu. As you enter you will notice that this bouchon has a cozy and homy atmosphere. The staff makes you feel at home throughout the service. And you also share tables and get to know your strangers as well.

I would recommend Chicken Liver Saladier Lyonnais as your starter. It includes a selection of cold cuts in a traditional white vinegar sauce. For the main course, you can choose any one of the following:

  • Hot sausage and roasted potatoes: The thinly sliced sausage goes well with the light potatoes that seem to melt in your mouth with a white Bernaise Sauce
  • Chicken in cream sauce: The roasted chicken paired stunningly with a white heavy creme sauce which is a typical Lyonnais dish.
  • Gratin andouille and side of rice: The spicy, but not overpowering, andouille sausage was mixed in with delicious potatoes.
  • And don’t overlook dessert — my server suggested a desert sampler:  It included Crème brûlée, prunes and assorted homemade cakes. It was an excellent way to finish off the meal. Each of us in my group were able to have a taste of each last course item on the menu.

Of course, Lyon’s hotels also have amazing dining options — and some even have a Michelin star or two! One hotel café in the heart of the old Lyon is Epicierie les Loges Café, part of the Hotel Cour Les Loges on one of thorough streets of Old Lyon.

The café has its own wine from a vineyard in the south of France (Domaine de Marie) and offers two delicious whites (Grenache blanc) and two reds (shiraz). It also has an excellent traditional Lyonnais paté — a cold meat spread. And they have daily fish and meat specials.

Lyon Activities

If you are traveling to Lyon on business and looking for something to do — or if you’re an event planner wanting to offer attendees their choice of activities — ONLYLYON offers a City Card. It covers almost all activities in the city for a day, two day, or three day price as well as all public transit. I found it very useful in that I discovered several different activities just from the pass map alone!

If you’re looking to plan group activities, three suggestions include:

  • Hotel Guadagne: a 2009 renovated Renaissance mansion containing both the Lyon Historical (City) Museum and Puppet Museum (part of the City Pass).
  • Roman Theaters of Fourviere: These open-air monuments are perfect for an afternoon walk. There is also a museum close by with Roman sculptures and art (Part of the City Pass).
Lyon Logistics

Lyon is situated in the heart of Europe, and easily accessible from other business travel destinations.

Lyon Saint Exupery Airport (LYS) services over 120 destinations and is the primary point of arrival for international visitors. The Rhoneexpress is an above ground tram that runs every 15 minutes and arrives at Part Dieu station in 30 minutes, so it’s convenient route for business travelers and anyone else who arrives.

Lyon also has two train stations: Part Dieu and Perrache. Both offer easy connections to other French and European cities with high speed TGV service. In fact, it takes less than two hours to reach Lyon from either Marseille or Paris.

Public transit is excellent for travel within the city (and free with your Lyon City Card!).  Lyon tends to have pretty temperate weather year round with warm summer and mild winters.

For more information about what you can do in Lyon, contact the ONLYLYON, the Lyon Tourist Office and Convention Bureau.

Updated. Initially published October 22, 2015