The Festival of Lights, the event you can't miss in Lyon
LYON

The Festival of Lights, the event you can't miss in Lyon

Every December, visitors from France and around the world flock to Lyon to go to a world-renowned event: The Festival of Lights. This year, it’s on from Wednesday 8 December to Saturday 11 December 2021. It’s changed a lot over the years, and though it might be a bit commercialised, you’ll be glad to have seen the light shows!

Background

Let’s go back in time to 1852… a statue of the Virgin Mary was supposed to be erected on 8 September, but a torrential downpour forced the organisers to postpone the event until 8 December. But they were unlucky again, as on that night, the ceremony was jeopardised by capricious weather. However, the people of Lyon weren´t going to let it stop them. In an act of shared communion, they put candles on their windowsills, lighting up the whole city. And that is how the 8 December tradition was born!

Nowadays, Lyon’s devotion has turned this event into a shared fantasy of impressive magnitude, attracting 1.8 million visitors, 100,000 of which are international tourists, for the four-night festival. From Vieux Lyon to the Tête d’Or Park, the City of Lyon offers a unique and poetic experience.

lyon fete des lumieres volotea

This free and popular event would not exist without the artists who’ve helped the city become a global benchmark for light shows. In particular, Daniel Knipper, a set designer, who has been invited several times since 2011, plays a part in the illumination of not only the buildings of the Saône docks, but also the Saint-Jean Cathedral and the façade of Hôtel Dieu. He uses theatrical lighting techniques to highlight our city, dubbed a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998. I loved his truly innovative projection on the Jean Moulin college, paying homage to the quintessentially Lyonnais marionette, Guignol. Ocubo was the studio who worked with students of the college to produce this 2017 show, and the result was really something.

Here are some tips to help you enjoy the festival to the fullest, and admire the craft of the renowned artists behind such a technical achievement of not just light, but sound and design too.

1. Plan your stay in advance

Book your plane ticket to Lyon as early as possible, ideally three months ahead of time. From autumn onwards, it can get pretty hard to find a place to stay in the city centre, unless you’re planning on staying at a luxury hotel, so don’t wait too long to book a hotel or accommodation.

2. Opt for somewhere in the heart of the city

Leave the car at home because parking will be a nightmare, and the centre is closed off on the evenings of The Festival of Light anyway. You’ll also avoid the traffic jams of festival-goers, which begin to build up from the late afternoon. Like I said, it’s better to book in advance!

fete des lumieres lyon volotea

3. Getting around

After touching down and arriving in Lyon, either via taxi or the Rhônexpress tram (passengers flying with Volotea have a €5 discount on roundtrip tickets with the code VOLRX21 – only valid on standard tickets or for young people from 12 to 25 years old), you’re better off on foot. Public transport (i.e. the subway) is always an option, but it’s often jam-packed and not very pleasant. However, it’s worth noting that on 8 December, from 4 p.m. until the end of service, it’s free. Also, TCL offers special prices for festival-goers, allowing you to travel at a discounted price (at the end of the day only) for one to three days.

4. Keep an eye on your children

Because of how busy it can get, especially in Presqu’île (the centre of Lyon), travelling with toddlers in prams is not advised. Nobody’s safe in a stampede, and even if you’re holding their hand, it can still be dangerous.

If they’re very little, you can wear a baby carrier or visit the festival in the early evening (around 6 pm), when there are less people.

5. Prepare your itinerary

There are lots of festival installations to see throughout Lyon, and they’re spread across different districts. Depending on how long you’re staying for, I’d advise avoiding the main areas on Wednesday 8 and Saturday 11, as these are the busiest days. If you do avoid these days, your visit will be much more relaxed and manageable. Sometimes you’ll be waiting a while to gain access to the shows – patience is a virtue, don’t rush people, it won’t make it go any faster… and you may end up having some pleasant encounters. Who knows?

fete des lumieres lyon

6. visit Sites that are usually closed

Here’s another piece of advice: churches are open for The Festival of Lights and it’s a good chance to visit them, as they’re often closed at that time of day. Some are even beautifully illuminated with special animations. You’ll see this at, for example, Saint-Jean Baptiste Cathedral, the Saint-Bonaventure Basilica, and Saint-Georges Church.

7. Wrap up nice and warm

Winters in Lyon can be really cold! For this three or four hour journey across the capital of the Gauls, make sure you’ve packed warm clothes and an even warmer jacket, along with a woolly hat, gloves, and a scarf. You may not look the most elegant, but at least you’ll be comfortable. Avoid handbags too (you don’t want to give any freebies to pickpockets lurking in the crowd), instead opt for a bum bag, for example.

8. Eat on the go

Restaurants, like hotels, are packed during this time, and the prices are unsurprisingly high – and you don’t necessarily get what you pay for. Home-made sandwiches are preferable, and you can fill them with delicious Lyonnais charcuterie: rosette de Lyon, dried sausage, pig’s head pâté. I’d suggest stocking up at Sibilia, one of Lyon’s best delicatessens (which you can find in Croix-Rousse, Saxe, Monplaisir or in the Paul Bocuse covered market).

lyon fete des lumieres volotea

Every year, The Festival of Lights welcomes visitors from across the globe to admire works of light art, both great and small. Will you join us for this collective and thrilling showcase of our heritage?

Practical information:

  • dates : from 8 – 11 December 2021
  • full programme: available on the official website

Main Festival of Lights Locations:

Presqu’île :

  • Hôtel de Ville
  • Place des Terreaux
  • Théâtre des Célestins
  • Place Bellecour
  • Place des Jacobins
  • Rue de la République
  • The banks of the Saône, for a view of the Palais de Justice and the Fourvière Basilica

Vieux Lyon :

  • Saint-Jean Cathedral

Parc de la Tête d’Or

The banks of the Rhône

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