Lyon or Brussels: Which is the Best Day Trip from Paris?

Eat, Explore and Enjoy. Brussels, Belgium. A Gourmet’s Delight – A World to Travel [800×600]

If you’re traveling to Paris, don’t miss the opportunity to explore more fabulous European cities!  Brussels and Lyon are two amazing cities, but how do you choose which is the best day trip from Paris?

I’ve visited France over a half-dozen times – it’s my favorite travel destination.  I’ve also taken plenty of trips from Paris, including visiting both Lyon and Brussels.

I’ve got all the information you need about the top attractions in each city (as well as its top dishes) so that you can pick which city is the perfect choice for your trip.

Both cities are great day trips from Paris by train (under 2 hours by high-speed train), making it a breeze to visit either one.

Ready to learn about some fabulous Paris day trips?

Lace up your shoes and let’s go!

Top attractions in Lyon

Lyon has a wide variety of fantastic attractions. Luckily, many of these are close to each other, so it is easy to cross many top sights off your list — even if you only have one day in Lyon.

Start your visit by taking the funicular up Fourvière Hill to see the incredible Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière.  Be sure to go inside the basilica, as you won’t want to miss the large-scale gilded mosaics decorating the walls.  I took a rooftop tour of the basilica, which provides many excellent photo opportunities of the basilica and the gilded Madonna statue!

Just outside the basilica is an observation deck where you can enjoy stunning panoramic views of Lyon.   You can spot the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Cathedral, Vieux Lyon, and the rivers in the background. Bring your camera to get some incredible pictures!

History buffs will want to visit the Roman ruins.  The well-preserved Gallo-Roman amphitheater is still used today for Lyon’s summertime music festival, Les Nuits de Fourvière.  Adjacent to the ruins is the Lugdunum Museum, which contains artifacts from Roman times.

Next, spend some time exploring Vieux Lyon.  This charming historic neighborhood is filled with colorful Renaissance architecture – a must-see in Lyon!  Look for the traboules — these secret passageways played an important role in Lyon’s silk industry.

Stop by the gorgeous Saint-Jean-Baptiste Cathedral to admire its Gothic architecture.  Hidden inside the cathedral is an incredible astronomical clock, and you can also take a quick tour through the treasury.

Rest your feet and take a sightseeing cruise on the Saône River.  These are a great way to quickly see more of the city (they only take about an hour).  Pass by architecture ranging from the historical buildings in Vieux Lyon to the ultra-modern Musée des Confluences, one of the top museums in Lyon.

Top attractions in Brussels

There are plenty of terrific things to do in Brussels, the capital of Belgium.

Start your day in Brussels with a visit to the Grand Place.  This is the most impressive city square I’ve ever seen!  It’s surrounded by incredible buildings dating from the 14th century.

Admire the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall), the Brussels City Museum, and the Grote Markt Huis.  The statues and gilding on these buildings are phenomenal.  This is also where some of the city’s favorite festivals occur, including the Ommegang and the beautiful Flower Carpet.

The Mannekin Pis is one of the most popular things to see in Brussels (I’m not sure exactly why).  This fountain features a statue of a young boy, and locals dress up the statue for festivals throughout the year.  There is even a museum that displays the costumes of the Mannekin Pis (the GardeRobe Manneken Pis).

You can also search for the Jeanneke Pis, the female version.  And just for fun, there is a version featuring a dog, Het Zinneke.

If you only see one church in Brussels, it should be the St Michael and St Gudula Cathedral.  This is the national church of Belgium, and you may even spot the Belgian royal family at special events held here. (We saw the royal family in Brussels last summer on the Belgian National Day.)

The Atomium is one of the most iconic attractions in Brussels.  It’s an immense stainless-steel structure of an atom that must be seen to be believed.  It is far from the city center (about 40 minutes by public transit), so I don’t recommend it if you are only in Brussels on a day trip.

Arts in Lyon

If you’re interested in arts and culture, you’ll love exploring Lyon.

One of the top things to do in Lyon is to see the incredible trompe-l’oeil murals scattered throughout the city.  These larger-than-life murals cover entire buildings and are incredibly realistic.  Two famous murals in Lyon are Le Mur des Canuts (a slice of life in the Croix Rousse) and the Fresque des Lyonnais (which features many of the most famous residents of Lyon).

Lyon’s most beloved puppet is Guignol.  The young (and young at heart) can enjoy puppet shows at venues across the city.  Or explore one of Lyon’s puppetry museums, such as the Musée des Arts de la Marionnette.  (It’s one of the hidden gems found in Vieux Lyon.)

Prefer fine arts?  You’ll want to visit the Musée des Beaux-Arts.  Lyon’s fine arts museum has an extensive collection (the second-largest in France, after the Louvre).  Tip: The museum’s garden courtyard includes beautiful statues and is free to visit.

Arts in Brussels

Brussels is a unique mix of top-notch art museums and quirky street art.

On the fine arts side, enjoy an afternoon exploring the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium.  The collections feature over 20,000 works of art, from painting to sculpture.  Fans of artist René Magritte will love visiting the Magritte Museum, which displays his artworks and artifacts from his life.

As you explore Brussels, enjoy discovering its murals and street art.  These are generally in more of a comic arts style.  This fits in with some of Belgium’s most beloved comic creations, the Smurfs (or Les Schtroumphs, as they are called in French).

Comic book fans will enjoy spending time at the fun-filled Comics Art Museum or indulge in retro nostalgia at the Comics Figurines Museum.

Food in Lyon

Lyon is known as the gastronomic capital of France, so you know you’ll be enjoying some delicious food!

For an elevated dining experience, make reservations at one of Lyon’s many Michelin-starred restaurants.  Or enjoy a meal at a cozy bouchon, a traditional Lyonnais restaurant serving hearty fare.

If you’re a foodie, visiting the gourmet market Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse is a must!   Browse stalls brimming with chocolates, pastries, cheeses, and more tasty goodies.

Some of the local dishes you’ll want to try in Lyon include:

  • Quenelles de Brochet:  This popular Lyonnais dish is fish dumplings, served with a creamy seafood-infused sauce (I admit it, the sauce is my favorite part!)
  • Cervelle de Canut: This is a popular appetizer in Lyon. This savory spread made from fresh cheese, herbs, and garlic is perfect when slathered on a slice of crusty French bread.
  • Tarte aux Pralines: If you have a sweet tooth (like I do), the tarte aux pralines is a must-try dessert in Lyon. This tart is made with Lyon’s signature praline rose (pink candied almonds).
  • Coussin de Lyon: This tasty treat is a chocolate and marzipan candy shaped like a cushion.  You can’t miss it — it’s colored a vivid shade of green! It’s a perfect souvenir to bring back home from your trip to Lyon.
  • WineFrance is famous for its wines.  You’ll certainly want to enjoy some regional wines such as Côtes du Rhône or Beaujolais along with your meal.  Perhaps you’ll discover a new favorite!

Food in Brussels

Brussels is certainly no slouch in the food department! 

If you prefer simpler (but still delicious) foods, Brussels fare is sure to please.  Brussels has plenty of tempting street food options for grab-and-go culinary convenience to fuel your day trip.

Some of the most iconic Belgian foods include:

  • Frites: These crispy and delicious fries are a national treasure in Belgium. These are some of the most popular street foods in Belgium, served in a paper cone and slathered with your choice of sauces.
  • Waffles: These sweet treats are perfect for breakfast, dessert, or a snack. Choose from a dizzying selection of toppings like chocolate, caramel, and fruit.  But be sure to try one ‘plain’ to enjoy its unique texture – crispy on the outside and deliciously creamy on the inside!
  • Chocolate:  Brussels is known for its delicious chocolate. With numerous chocolatiers and shops throughout the city, you’ll have no trouble finding the perfect box of chocolates to bring home.  (For an indulgent treat, visit a shop and enjoy a luscious combination of hot chocolate and a selection of fine chocolates!)
  • Belgian Beer:  No trip to Brussels would be complete without trying some of their famous Belgian beers. With nearly 1500 varieties to choose from, you’ll never run out of options.

Final Thoughts

Both Brussels and Lyon have a wealth of fabulous attractions, an incredible arts scene, and plenty of delicious dishes to tempt your taste buds.

You’re sure to have a fabulous time in either city, but overall, I’d say that Lyon is the better day trip from Paris. 

Many of Lyon’s attractions are located close to each other, making it easy to do a lot of sightseeing during your day trip to Lyon.

For the best of both worlds, why not spend an extra day or two in Europe and visit both?

Bon voyage!

Lisa Garrett is an engineer by profession, a traveler by obsession, and the founder of the Waves and Cobblestones and Travel to Lyon travel blogs.  Whether you are planning a two-week trip to France or have just one day in Cabo San Lucas on a cruise, her destination guides and travel tips will help you have an amazing trip.  Lace up your shoes and let’s go!