Lyon or Nantes – Which City Will You Visit?

Lyon or Nantes

Lyon or Nantes – Which city should you visit?

Planning your next adventure in France and can’t decide between Lyon or Nantes? It’s not an easy choice! These two vibrant cities offer unique charms and attractions that are definitely worth exploring. Whether you’re a history buff, a food enthusiast, or simply looking for an amazing getaway, neither Lyon nor Nantes will disappoint.


Lyon might not have the worldwide fame of Paris or the glamorous beaches of the Riviera, but boy, does it have charm! Set between two rivers, Lyon is like a treasure chest for history buffs. It’s crammed full of Renaissance-era architecture, with the old town, Vieux Lyon, being a UNESCO World Heritage site. But that’s just scratching the surface.

Lyon’s also known as France’s ‘culinary capital’, and once you’ve tried a local ‘bouchon’ restaurant, you’ll see why. The city is also famed for its vibrant cultural scene, with a host of museums, theatres, and festivals that keep the city lively throughout the year. If you love good food, rich history, and a city that pulses with life, Lyon’s got you covered.


Nantes, often touted as the most liveable city in Europe, is a delightful fusion of history and innovation, seamlessly intertwining its rich heritage with a progressive mindset. This Atlantic Coast city, once the capital of Brittany, has a vibrant culture marked by the stunning Château des ducs de Bretagne, the impressive Machines de l’Île, and the lush Jardin des Plantes. Its dynamic art scene is alive not just in the many museums, but also on the streets with an array of public art. Nantes is also a city of festivals, with music, film, and art celebrations occurring throughout the year. Add to this a blossoming food scene with a fondness for local produce and seafood, and it’s clear why Nantes is a hidden gem just waiting to be discovered.

While we’re comparing Lyon and Nantes in this post, we’ve also looked at how Lyon stacks up against other cities like Lille, Bordeaux and Strasbourg. We’ve linked to those articles below if you want to take a look!

Lyon or Lille

Lyon or Strasbourg

Bordeaux or Lyon

Pros and Cons of Lyon and Nantes

Lyon Pros:

  • 🥐 Gastronomic Delight: Lyon’s culinary scene is renowned worldwide, offering a plethora of delightful dining options. From traditional Lyonnais bouchons to Michelin-starred restaurants, food lovers will find themselves in gastronomic heaven.
  • 🏛 Rich Historical Heritage: Lyon is a city steeped in history, with its well-preserved Renaissance Old Town, ancient Roman theatre, and impressive architectural landmarks. History buffs will be captivated by Lyon’s captivating past.
  • 🎨 Cultural Extravaganza: Lyon is a cultural hub, boasting numerous museums, art galleries, and theatres. Whether you’re interested in art, music, or theatre, Lyon has a vibrant cultural scene to satisfy all artistic tastes.
  • 🌳 Stunning Natural Surroundings: Lyon is nestled between the Rhône and Saône rivers, offering picturesque landscapes and scenic views. Nature lovers can escape to the nearby countryside, vineyards, and the stunning Beaujolais region.

Lyon Cons:

  • 👫 Crowded Tourist Attractions: As a popular tourist destination, Lyon can get crowded, especially during peak travel seasons. Expect some queues and crowds when visiting popular attractions and landmarks.
  • 💶 Higher Cost of Living: Lyon, being a major city, comes with a slightly higher cost of living compared to smaller towns. Accommodation, dining, and entertainment expenses may be slightly higher than in other regions.

Nantes Pros:

  • 🏖 Artistic Vibes: Nantes is known for its thriving contemporary art scene, with innovative exhibitions and installations scattered throughout the city. Art enthusiasts will find themselves immersed in a creative atmosphere.
  • 🏛 Charming Historic Center: Nantes’ historic centre is a treasure trove of architectural wonders, including the magnificent Château des Ducs de Bretagne and the Gothic-style Nantes Cathedral. Strolling through the city’s cobbled streets is like stepping back in time.
  • 🐘 Quirky Attractions: Nantes is famous for its imaginative attractions, such as the Machines de l’île, featuring giant mechanical animals, and the Jardin des Plantes, a beautiful botanical garden perfect for leisurely walks.
  • 🌳 Accessible Nature Escapes: Nantes offers easy access to stunning natural landscapes, including the nearby Atlantic coast and the beautiful Île de Nantes. Outdoor enthusiasts will appreciate the variety of outdoor activities available.

Nantes Cons:

  • ✈️ Limited International Connectivity: Compared to Lyon, Nantes may have fewer direct international flight options. Travellers might need to consider connecting flights or alternative transportation options for international travel.
  • 🏪 Smaller City Feel: While Nantes has its charms, it is a smaller city compared to Lyon. Those seeking a bustling metropolis with extensive amenities and a wider range of cultural offerings may find Nantes to be relatively quieter in comparison.

Which City Has Better Food? Lyon or Nantes?

Lyon, known as the gastronomic capital of France, is a haven for foodies. The city boasts a rich culinary heritage with its traditional Lyonnais cuisine and renowned Michelin-starred restaurants. From indulging in savoury delights like coq au vin and quenelles to sampling the famous Lyonnais sausages, Lyon is a paradise for food enthusiasts. Make sure to explore the bustling Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, a food market filled with fresh produce, local specialities, and gourmet delights, you won’t regret it!

Nantes, on the other hand, is made for seafood lovers. With a focus on fresh and local ingredients, Explore the lively Bouffay district, where you’ll find a variety of charming restaurants, cafes, and bistros offering a fusion of flavours and incredible seafood. Don’t miss out on the local speciality, “galette saucisse,” a delicious buckwheat pancake filled with savoury sausage, a popular street food snack in Nantes.

Whether you choose Lyon or Nantes, both cities will satisfy most foodies. Lyon’s rich culinary heritage and Michelin-starred establishments make it a dream destination for food lovers, while Nantes’ fresh seafood and local dishes offer a delightful blend of traditional and modern flavours.

A selection of cheeses at Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse

Which City is Better For Couples? Lyon or Nantes?

Lyon, with its picturesque architecture, sets the stage for a romantic getaway. The historic Old Town of Lyon (Vieux Lyon), with its narrow cobblestone streets and hidden traboules, is amazing for relaxing days exploring and eating. Couples can also indulge in a candlelit dinner at one of Lyon’s charming restaurants, savouring incredible cuisine and fine wines.

There are plenty of museums and galleries to explore too if that’s what you are your partner enjoy together. If you love wine, Lyon is in the Rhône wine region so there are plenty of tastings and vineyard tours close by.

Nantes, being a smaller city, doesn’t have quite as much to offer as Lyon but it’s still a great place for a couple’s city break. Being located in the Loire Valley wine region there are so many tours and tastings to do locally. It’s also a staggeringly beautiful area if you fancy venturing out of the city to see the vineyards.

Nantes is full of cultural and artistic attractions like Château des ducs de Bretagne, Cathédrale Saint-Pierre et Saint-Paul de Nantes and Les Machines de L’ile. The Bouffay district is also a lovely part of the city to wander around eating and the amazing local cuisine.

Both Lyon and Nantes have plenty to offer for couples. Lyon’s historic beauty and incredible restaurant scene might be better for couples that revolve around food and drink. Whereas Nantes might be a better option if you enjoy spending time visiting interesting museums and galleries.

Lyon Old Town

Which City is Better For Families? Lyon or Nantes?

Lyon, with its rich history and cultural heritage, provides plenty to do for families. Explore the captivating Old Town, where kids can wander through hidden passageways (Traboules) and discover the city’s fascinating past. Visit the Confluence Museum, a science and anthropology museum with interactive exhibits that will keep the kids entertained for hours. We’ve not even mentioned Lyon’s largest park, Parc de la Tête d’Or yet. With a zoo, miniature railway, and plenty of open spaces for picnics there’s so much to do on a nice day!

Nantes is great for families. Kids will be amazed by Les Machines de l’île, where you can marvel at the giant mechanical creatures and take a ride on the famous Grand Elephant. Explore the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany, a historical fortress with a moat, and a beautiful garden. Families can also enjoy a boat ride along the Erdre River or spend a fun-filled day at the Planète Sauvage, an animal safari park located just outside the city. There’s also a French warship the ‘Maillé-Brézé’ that kids will find fascinating.

Both Lyon and Nantes have plenty to offer for an interesting family break. There are plenty of historic and cultural attractions in both cities that are perfect for curious kids that love to learn. It’s difficult to say which is best, we’d recommend going through all the attractions for both cities and finding which ones your kids find most interesting.

Mechanical Elephant at Les Machines de l'île nantes

Which City is Better For Partying? Lyon or Nantes?

In Lyon, the vibrant nightlife thrives along the streets of the Presqu’île district. The city offers a mix of cool underground clubs, cosy wine bars, and live music venues that keep the city awake until the wee hours. And, if you’re a fan of electronic music, Lyon’s Nuits Sonores festival is a must-visit!

Now, let’s talk about Nantes. Known for its dynamic and varied nightlife, Nantes will keep party-goers entertained. The city’s buzzing Hangar à Bananes area is the go-to spot for trendy bars and clubs. Plus, Nantes hosts ‘la Folle Journée’, the largest classical music festival in France! Both cities offer a great night out, but the choice ultimately depends on your party style!

Which City is Safer? Lyon or Nantes?

Lyon and Nantes are both generally considered safe cities. Both cities benefit from well-established infrastructure and a strong police presence. Lyon’s popular tourist areas, such as the Old Town and Presqu’île, are generally safe and well-patrolled, offering a pleasant experience for visitors.

Similarly, Nantes maintains a reputation as a safe city, with a low crime rate and a welcoming atmosphere. The city’s well-maintained public spaces, such as the charming Bouffay district and the beautiful Jardin des Plantes, provide safe and enjoyable environments for locals and tourists alike.

While no city is entirely without risk, Lyon and Nantes strive to maintain a secure environment, allowing visitors to explore and enjoy their attractions with peace of mind.

How long to stay in Lyon

Deciding how long to stay in Lyon truly depends on your personal interests and the pace at which you prefer to travel. Known as the gastronomical capital of France, with its rich history and vibrant cultural scene, Lyon offers a wide variety of experiences for every type of traveller.

If you’re mainly keen to absorb the unique vibe of the city, enjoy its amazing food, and stroll through its historical streets, a weekend getaway of 2-3 days might be sufficient. This gives you time to explore Vieux Lyon (Old Town), visit a traditional “bouchon” for some authentic Lyonnaise cuisine, and perhaps enjoy a relaxing evening walk along the Rhône River.

However, if you have a passion for art, history, or culture, I’d recommend staying in Lyon for around 4-5 days. This allows enough time to discover the city’s key cultural landmarks, including the Musée des Confluences, the Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon, and the stunning Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, without feeling rushed.

For those who prefer a more leisurely pace or wish to delve deeper into what Lyon and its surroundings have to offer, consider a week-long stay. This provides ample opportunity to fully appreciate the city’s charm, take day trips to the nearby vineyards or beautiful towns in the region like Annecy or Perouges, and truly immerse yourself in the Lyonnaise lifestyle.

Basilica of Notre Dame of Fourvière

How long to stay in Nantes

Deciding how long to stay in Nantes can be a tough call, given the city’s rich history, captivating art scene, and vibrant culture. The duration of your stay primarily depends on your personal interests and how leisurely you wish to explore.

If your goal is to soak up the city’s lively vibe, stroll through the historic city centre, and sample some local gastronomy, a stay of 2 to 3 days should be enough. This gives you sufficient time to wander through the cobbled streets of the Bouffay district, take a relaxing walk along the Erdre River, and indulge in regional cuisine at a traditional French restaurant.

However, if you wish to delve deeper into Nantes’ cultural heritage and history, consider extending your visit to 4 to 5 days. This will allow ample time to discover historical sites like the Château des ducs de Bretagne, appreciate modern art installations of the Voyage à Nantes, and visit the Machines of the Isle of Nantes without feeling pressed for time.

For those seeking a more immersive experience, spending a week in Nantes can be an excellent choice. This period will not only provide time to thoroughly explore the city’s attractions but also leave room for relaxing moments in the beautiful Jardin des Plantes, embarking on day trips to nearby gems like the charming vineyards of the Loire Valley, and truly immersing yourself in the vibrant lifestyle of Nantes.”

Which City is More Budget Friendly? Lyon or Nantes?

When it comes to exploring France on a budget, both Lyon and Nantes offer fantastic options that won’t break the bank.

Whilst Lyon has a reputation for fine dining and high-end restaurants, it doesn’t have to be stupidly expensive. There are plenty of outdoor things to do like exploring the Old Town walking, along the banks of the Rhône or Saône rivers, and exploring the Parc de la Tête d’Or. As well as a few free museums like Musée d’Histoire de Lyon and Mémorial National de la Prison de Montluc. Plus there are lots of restaurants that offer great food at affordable prices like Le Bistrot Nicéphore and Empanadas Club.

Arguably, Nantes is a bit more of a budget-friendly destination, food and drink are cheaper and so is accommodation. Like Lyon, it also has plenty of budget-friendly things to do like the beautiful Jardin des Plantes. An incredible botanical garden, perfect for a relaxing afternoon on a nice day. The Bouffay district is great for wandering around eating and drinking local produce. La Cachette and OHMYFISH are perfect for good, reasonably priced food. Basilique Saint Nicolas and Passage Pommeraye are both worth visiting and are completely free.

Whether you choose Lyon or Nantes, both cities offer a range of budget-friendly options that allow you to make the most of your visit without compromising on experiences.

How much is food and drink in Lyon and Nantes?

Lyon Nantes
Beer €5 – €8 €5 – €7
Glass of wine €4 – €10 €3 – €10
Coffee €2 – €4 €1.50 – €3
Meal at midrange restaurant €20 – €40 €20 – €40

Please note that these prices are estimates and may vary depending on the specific establishment and other factors.

How much is it to stay in Lyon or Nantes?

Lyon Nantes
Luxury hotel €150 – €500+ €150 – €400+
Midrange hotel €70 – €150 €70 – €150
Budget hotel €40 – €70 €40 – €70
Hostel €20 – €40 €20 – €40

Please note that these prices are estimates and may vary depending on the specific hotel, location, and seasonal factors. Additionally, prices for accommodations can fluctuate based on demand and availability.

When is the best time to visit Lyon?

In Lyon, springtime (March to May) marks the city’s awakening post-winter. The temperatures are pleasant, and the city’s parks and gardens come alive with blooming flowers. If you appreciate outdoor activities and want to avoid the summer rush, this is an ideal time to visit.

Summers (June to August) in Lyon are warm and energetic, making it an excellent time for exploring the city’s historical old town and lively food markets. The city comes alive with numerous festivals, such as the Fête de la Musique, a nationwide music festival celebrating the summer solstice.

Autumn (September to November) in Lyon brings mild weather and a change of colours, painting the city in vibrant hues. The falling leaves in the city parks offer a delightful visual treat, creating an ideal environment for photography enthusiasts.

Winter (December to February) in Lyon can be quite chilly, but it’s also when the city exudes a festive charm. The Festival of Lights (Fête des Lumières), one of Lyon’s most renowned events, transforms the city into a mesmerizing display of light, offering a unique experience despite the cold weather.

When is the best time to visit Nantes?

Spring: In Nantes, the months of April to June bring mild and comfortable weather, with temperatures ranging from 12-20°C (54-68°F). The city starts to burst into colour with blossoming flowers, making it a lovely time to explore parks like the Jardin des Plantes. Various outdoor events and festivals start taking place, adding a vibrant touch to your visit.

Summer: From July to August, temperatures can reach up to 25°C (77°F), offering perfect weather for enjoying the city’s outdoor attractions like the Île de Versailles. Do note, however, that these are the peak tourist months, so expect a bit more crowd and possibly higher prices.

Autumn: The months of September and October see temperatures around 15-20°C (59-68°F). The city is less crowded during this period, and the fall foliage in parks and along the riverbanks provides a beautiful backdrop for leisurely walks and bike rides.

Winter: From November to March, temperatures in Nantes can drop to around 5-10°C (41-50°F). While it’s not the ideal time for outdoor activities, it’s a good opportunity to explore Nantes’ museums, like the Château des Ducs de Bretagne, and enjoy indoor events and concerts.

Average Monthly Temperatures

Month Lyon (High/Low °C) Lyon Rainy Days Nantes (High/Low °C) Nantes Rainy Days
January 6° / 0° 9 days 9° / 3° 12 days
February 8° / 1° 8 days 10° / 3° 10 days
March 13° / 4° 9 days 13° / 4° 9 days
April 16° / 6° 8 days 16° / 6° 8 days
May 20° / 10° 10 days 19° / 9° 9 days
June 24° / 14° 8 days 23° / 12° 7 days
July 27° / 16° 6 days 25° / 14° 6 days
August 27° / 15° 7 days 25° / 14° 6 days
September 22° / 12° 7 days 22° / 12° 7 days
October 17° / 9° 9 days 17° / 9° 10 days
November 11° / 4° 8 days 13° / 5° 11 days
December 7° / 1° 9 days 10° / 3° 12 days

Please note that the values represent the average high and low temperatures for each month, followed by the average number of rainy days.

Getting around Lyon:

Lyon has a great public transport system. With buses, trams and a metro system it’s very easy to get around the city. If you’re planning on making the most of the public transport here, make sure you get a City Card they’re great for saving money. Walking is always a good option, it is a big city but it doesn’t take hours to walk between attractions like Paris can do.

Taxis are readily available but not particularly cheap.

Getting around Nantes:

Nantes boasts an efficient and user-friendly public transportation system, which includes trams, buses, and a bike-sharing scheme called Bicloo. The tram network in Nantes is one of the most extensive in France, with three lines covering many key attractions in the city. Your tram ticket will also allow you to hop on and off buses within a set period, typically an hour, which makes getting around the city a breeze.

For those who prefer a more active mode of transport, the Bicloo bike-sharing scheme offers an excellent option. Nantes is known for being a bicycle-friendly city with numerous dedicated cycle lanes and routes, making it easy and safe to navigate.

Walking is another great way to explore Nantes, especially in the compact city centre where many of the key sites are located. Plus, you’ll get to enjoy the city’s beautiful architecture and vibrant street life up close.

Taxis and Ubers are readily available in Nantes. However, be aware that in the pedestrianized zones of the city centre, you may need to walk a short distance to catch a ride.

Top things to do in Lyon

Visit Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière: Perched on the top of Fourvière Hill, this magnificent basilica offers breathtaking panoramic views over Lyon. Whether you’re a history buff, architecture enthusiast, or just looking for a great view, this is a must-visit.

Stroll Through Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon): This UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the largest Renaissance neighbourhoods in Europe. Its narrow, cobbled streets, charming courtyards, and historic “traboules” (hidden passageways) are super cool!

Explore Parc de la Tête d’Or: This expansive urban park is perfect for a leisurely day out. It houses a zoo, botanical gardens, and a beautiful large lake. Whether you want to picnic, boat, or just relax, this park has something for everyone.

Discover Lyon’s Culinary Scene: Lyon is often referred to as the gastronomic capital of France. Try local specialities at a traditional “bouchon,” visit a local market like Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, or take a cooking class.

Visit the Musée des Confluences: This science and anthropology museum is renowned for its modern architecture. It’s located at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers, thus the name. The exhibitions are as impressive as the building itself.

Parc de la Tête d'Or

Top things to do in Nantes

Château des Ducs de Bretagne: A must-visit landmark in Nantes, this impressive castle is home to the Nantes History Museum. With its beautiful architecture and fascinating exhibits, it offers an insightful look into the city’s past.

Les Machines de l’île: This unique artistic project is one of the city’s major attractions. Here, you can see gigantic mechanical animals, including the famous Grand Elephant. It’s an unforgettable experience for both kids and adults.

Passage Pommeraye: An architectural masterpiece, this three-level shopping arcade dating from the 19th century is a great place to shop or simply admire its artistic beauty.

Jardin des Plantes: This stunning botanical garden is the perfect spot to enjoy a relaxing stroll. It’s home to a variety of exotic plants, beautiful greenhouses, and even a few art installations.

The Island of Nantes: This creative district located on a former shipyard site is a hub of culture and innovation. It’s home to various creative projects and installations, making it a must-visit for any art and culture lover.

How to spend three days in Lyon

Day 1: Introduction to Lyon and Its Historical Centre

Start your Lyon journey by wandering the streets of Vieux Lyon, the city’s old quarter. Appreciate the charm of Renaissance architecture, visit the majestic Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste, and perhaps engage in a little retail therapy at some chic boutiques. After lunch, make your way over to the Place Bellecour, one of the largest open squares in Europe, where you can admire the statue of Louis XIV and the stunning surrounding buildings. Finish off your day with a delightful meal at one of the local ‘bouchon’ restaurants in the area, savouring Lyon’s unique culinary heritage.

Day 2: Delve into Lyon’s Cultural Riches and Parks

Start your second day by immersing yourself in some of Lyon’s renowned museums. Visit the Musée des Beaux-Arts to appreciate masterpieces from artists like Rubens, Monet, and Picasso. After lunch, take a leisurely stroll or have a picnic in the Parc de la Tête d’Or, home to a zoo and a beautiful lake. In the evening, venture back to Vieux Lyon for dinner, opting for a cosy bistro to experience the enchanting nighttime atmosphere of this historic district.

Day 3: Embrace the Local Atmosphere and Farewell Meal

On your final day, delve into the local vibe at Lyon’s Croix-Rousse district in the morning. Known for its history of silk production, the area is now teeming with local markets and boutique shops. Consider having lunch at one of the quaint cafes in the area, sampling some more Lyonnaise delicacies. In the afternoon, pay a visit to the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière, offering breathtaking views over the city. To wrap up your Lyon trip, enjoy a farewell dinner at a restaurant serving traditional Lyonnaise cuisine.

How to spend three days in Nantes

Day 1: Exploring the Heart of Nantes

Begin your Nantes adventure in the city centre. Visit the Château des Ducs de Bretagne, home to the Nantes History Museum. Enjoy exploring the medieval fortress and its surrounding gardens. Afterwards, head to the Gothic-style Nantes Cathedral nearby. For lunch, find a local restaurant to sample some regional cuisine.

In the afternoon, enjoy a leisurely stroll along the scenic Loire River. Then, head to the Passage Pommeraye, an elegant shopping arcade from the 19th century. Round off your day with a delicious dinner at one of the city’s gourmet restaurants.

Passage Pommeraye nantes

Day 2: Delving into Art and Innovation

Start your second day at Les Machines de l’île, a unique attraction inspired by the works of Jules Verne. Here, you can ride the gigantic Grand Elephant or the Marine Worlds Carousel. Post lunch, explore the creative district on the Island of Nantes, which is home to various artistic projects and installations.

In the evening, take a walk around the Trentemoult district, a former fishing village known for its colourful houses. Enjoy dinner at a riverside restaurant with views of the Loire River.

Day 3: Enjoying Nature and Leisure

Dedicate your last day to Nantes’ beautiful green spaces. Begin with a visit to the Jardin des Plantes, a stunning botanical garden. After a picnic lunch in the park, take a short boat ride to the quaint village of Trentemoult.

In the afternoon, explore the unique vineyards of the Nantes Wine Region or consider a short trip to the Atlantic coast, just a stone’s throw away from the city. End your trip with a farewell dinner in Nantes, reminiscing over your favourite moments from the trip.




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