Living In Lyon As An Expat – The Insider Guide

All about living in Lyon as an expat to help you decide whether this city can become your perfect home abroad.

Want to move to a French city but not interested in Paris? You aren’t alone. The city of lights isn’t for everyone (plus it’s super expensive), which is why more and more expats are choosing Lyon over the French capital.

Lyon is more affordable, has some of the best restaurants in France, straddles two rivers, has one of the best in-city bike programmes in Europe, and the historic district is truly stunning. 

So, it’s no surprise Lyon is home to many expatriates who want all the city amenities and a French lifestyle without the Parisian price tag. 

If your interest has been piqued, here’s what you need to know to make Lyon your new home. 

Lifestyle in Lyon

If you like city living, Lyon is arguably one of France’s best places for expats.

Lyon is known for being a culturally entertaining, young, upbeat city. It’s home to multiple reputable universities, which means the city is always full of young people keeping it busy all year round.

Living in Lyon
La Place des Jacobins – one of the most beautiful squares in Lyon.

Thanks to its incredible restaurants, it also attracts many foodies and tourists to sample its cuisine. 

Historically the city was important. It sits on the meeting of two rivers which give the city a real heart and a stunning old town that is a UNESCO heritage site.

With such a spectacular setting, overlooked by La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière, it’s no surprise biking, walking, and jogging are popular. Being active along the river banks and in the many parks helps people burn off all the incredible food as well. 

Lyon and the surrounding area are an economic powerhouse for France and Europe, so it is home to people from all over looking to work hard and relax in a city that doesn’t have the pompousness of Paris.

Lyon is definitely an urban centre, so if you plan to work, you’ll have no problem finding a job.

Lyon is also ideally located to head further south to the French Riviera and enjoy the Mediterranean weather or head to the Alps in winter. 

There are many that would say Lyon is the best city in France, and it’s hard to argue with them. Good food, good fun and variety are integral to life in Lyon.

It’s a fun, thriving city that has flourished in recent years and invested well in cultural attractions and infrastructure, making life easy and enjoyable. 

The pros and cons of living in Lyon as an expat

If you just want some straight answers about the best and worst parts of Life in Lyon, this should help narrow down your thoughts.

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Living in Lyon
Boats moored at the Confluences Marina

The pros

  • All the major city amenities and attractions but without Paris prices. 
  • Excellent public transport including buses and the metro and a central train station. 
  • A major centre for shopping, pharmaceuticals, industry, banking and more making jobs easy to find and well paid. 
  • Good location to travel to the south, Paris, the Alps, Switzerland, and Italy. 
  • Incredible amenities and cultural attractions make the city great for people who want to make the most of city life and try lots of new things to see and do. You’ll never be bored in Lyon. 

The cons

  • Like all major cities, Lyon has some “less safe” areas that have pretty high crime rates and lots of homelessness. 
  • When the wind drops, the pollution tends to hang over the city in a fog. It’s not terrible, but it isn’t good for your health. 
  • Driving in Lyon is especially hard with lots of one-way streets, lousy signage, lots of construction road closures and no parking. 
  • Historically the airport wasn’t that well connected to other major cities, but this is changing. Lots of people choose to fly from Grenoble.
  • Lyon is not quite far enough south to enjoy a Mediterranean climate, so don’t expect endless sun. 
  • Weirdly, many restaurants close at lunchtime. It’s unusual and frustrating. 
  • There are lots of university students, which means weekend evenings can be rowdy with some drunkards spilling out onto the street. More annoying than an actual threat though. 

Cost of living in Lyon

Part of the reason Lyon is so popular is that it’s as fun and exciting as Paris without the crazy costs. According to research, the difference between living costs between the two cities sits at around €1,000. For every €1,000 you have in Lyon, you’ll need €2,000 to live in Paris. 

Living in Lyon
Notre Dame de Fourviere in Lyon

Practically everything is just slightly cheaper in Lyon.

A beer will set you back €6 in Paris, €4 in Lyon. A coffee is €4 in Paris and only €3 in Lyon. Of course, standard groceries from major chain supermarkets don’t vary much in price, so things like milk, eggs, pasta etc., are reasonably standard across France, and it’s easy to eat on a budget.

Like most major cities, Lyon has loads of open-air markets for fruit and veg as well as bakeries, fishmongers and butchers, all of which offer exceptional quality for a reasonable price. 

As a large French city, Lyon can provide for those on a budget and those looking to spend a bit more. Everything from gyms, bars, restaurants, and shops to doctors, schools and internet access is freely available.

The average price for internet and a phone line sits at around €30 per month, and essential utility bills shouldn’t cost over €180 per month. 

Of course, the significant financial difference between Lyon and Paris is rent and property prices.

Lyon is much more reasonable. You can expect to pay €900 a month for an unfurnished, decently-sized apartment in one of Lyon’s best districts. If you sacrifice location and size, you can easily rent a good apartment for €500. 

You can find more information on renting and how to do it in our guide Renting A Property In France.

If you want to buy a house, a townhouse will set you back a minimum of €500,000, and prices go up from there.

Apartments are very common in Lyon, so you’ll find prices more reasonable. A two-bed flat in the downtown area can be found for €150,000. 

Considering buying a home in France? Read our Complete Guide To Buying A Property In France to avoid potential pitfalls and disappointment.

Things to know before you go

There are so many things in Lyon that make living in this city something special. Here are just some of them.

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Living in Lyon
Montée du Garillan: this steep montée is a remarkable street made up of 224 steps. Great for keeping fit!

1. Food is a big thing in Lyon

The city is the capital of gastronomy in France and is home to over 2,000 restaurants with some incredible chefs. If you’re a foodie, start at the Les Halle de Lyon or anything that says “Bouchon”. These restaurants form part of the soul of Lyon. 

2. Look up!

Lyon has literally thousands of buildings painted so intricately you may not notice them at first glance. That man leaning out the window and shaking a table cloth? Potentially painted on, it’s off-putting, to begin with, but it makes walking around the city fun. 

4. Start googling French celebrities

Lyon is the home of French cinema, so it celebrates by inviting French movie stars to screenings across the city every year. It’s worth knowing who’s who. 

5. You don’t need a car

Lyon public transport is excellent with a great metro, good buses and a fantastic bike-hire system. In the busy summer months, it’s probably cheaper, easier and faster to take public transport and not drive. 

6. Controversial architecture

Some of the buildings can cause arguments. Two in particular: The Euro news Headquarters and the Musée des Confluences are architecturally significant, and some people love them, some people hate them. Be careful bringing up this subject over drinks. 

7. The significance of the Tête d’Or Park

Living in Lyon
The Parc de la Tête d’or.

Life in Lyon doesn’t get much better than sipping chilled wine and eating takeaway food in the Tête d’Or Park. To understand what the city feels like, grab a blanket and sit on the grass, and you’ll learn everything you need to know about Lyon. 

Expats in Lyon

Thanks to its amazing job opportunities, cultural heritage, good food and good connections, Lyon has become a destination of choice for many expats moving to France. The city is a good alternative to living in Paris for those who love city life but prefer a more affordable environment.

Lyon is also one of the best places to live in France if you are after an urban retirement.

Expats here live side by side with the locals, students and international students. The result is a melting pot of culture, language, and people, making life here easy. 

Unlike other areas of France, where expats can form tight groups and never fully integrate with the French, Lyon is a real mix.

You can find an Expats living in Lyon Facebook group or search the many forums for English speaking people living or studying in Lyon.

Some people form groups of expats, but you’re just as likely to make French friends in your local café, museum, or bookstore. 

Interestingly, expats in Lyon tend to cross cultures and borders. Most groups of expats include Brits, Spanish, Americans, Australians, Finnish and more.

Everyone speaks English, so your local expat yoga class will probably be in English, but you’ll find all nationalities there. Many expats love meeting friends from all over the world in Lyon, so the population is growing hugely. Let’s just say you’ll never be lonely in Lyon. 

Final thoughts on living in Lyon

If you’re looking to live in a French city and don’t want to pay the price of Paris, Lyon should undoubtedly be on your list.

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Living in Lyon
The municipal swimming pools in Lyon.

Lyon’s old town is stunning, and the architecture, river, hill, and painted buildings make it one of France’s more beautiful cities. Culturally and historically, it has a lot going for it with plenty of tourist attractions, restaurants and things to do. 

Lyon is already home to plenty of expats, so if you decide to join their ranks, you certainly won’t be alone.

People from all over the world settle in Lyon and have created a wonderfully diverse community. Lyon is packed, busy and thriving. There are plenty of work opportunities making it ideal for people that still want to earn.  

If you haven’t already been to Lyon, it’s worth planning a trip. As we mentioned above, grab a bottle of wine and a blanket and head to the Tête d’Or Park on a sunny day to get a feel for the city; just don’t blame us if you never want to leave! 

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Emily Derrick

Now based in France, Emily is a freelance writer from the UK with a passion for travel. Her love for adventuring was sparked during her time living and travelling in Canada as well as multiple trips across Europe.

Emily always takes the scenic route to get to the heart of a country and when she isn't writing, she can be found outside with her two dogs Hugo and Suzette.

Website: Emily Derrick

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