A French Winter Experience: La Fête des Lumières in Lyon

Siobhan Donovan
 In Article de Siobhan, Article de Siobhan en anglais, Culture, TimeOut

Article aussi en: fr

Every year in December, the French city of Lyon hosts an internationally renown lights festival in its streets, which is called the “La Fête des Lumières.”

For four nights, the entire town is illuminated with dozens of different art installations: most of which are accompanied by music, trippy light shows, and interactive activities.

La Fête en Photos

Un Peu d’Histoire: 

La Fête Des Lumières has been a tradition in Lyon for more than 150 years!

On December 8th, 1852, the city inaugurated a statue of the Virgin Mary on Fourvière hill. That same night the inhabitants all put candles in their windowsills to commemorate the event and thus it has continued ever since in the form of a festival that begins on the 8th of December. While the “lights” aspect is relatively new, Lyon’s worship of Mary dates back to 1643, for according to legend it is the year that she saved the city from an ongoing plague.

My favorite expositions are the larger than life mixed-media videos projected onto the sides of ancient cathedrals (of which there are many in Lyon.) I’m always amazed how the French blend the new and the old in a way that’s complementary rather than destructive.

Though, the fête is more than just entertainment – it’s a display of new and exciting technology, too. This year I had the pleasure of witnessing my first hologram! In the Parc de la Tête d’or, a thirty-foot tall dancer was projected across the lake using lights and mist from the water.

La Fête des Lumières

Another perk? This festival is on a weekend before winter break, so it won’t conflict with plans to go home for the holidays.

Overall, the Fête des Lumières is an incredible experience and extremely student-friendly. The event is 100% free, open to the public, and accessible from anywhere in the city thanks to the metros (which are free during event hours!)

The only downsides are…

  • That it can be really, really cold!
  • There are INSANE crowds!
  • It can be difficult to get an Airbnb during this weekend (really, it can be booked out a year in advance!)

But don’t worry, during my two years in Lyon I’ve had a chance to figure this festival out 😉

My tips for having a great Fete:

  • Bring a big “doudoune” (heavy coat), gloves, hats, and drink lots of vin chaud while waiting in line! (Also, don’t forget to haggle with the street vendors to get this hot and yummy spiced wine for one euro.)
  • Avoid the biggest crowds on Friday and Saturday night by going on Thursday and Sunday, if possible. If you feel like going out every night, wait till around 9:30 or 10:00 pm to go (there will be less people.) While waiting through the busiest hours, check out the many fun cafés and bars in the outer arrondissements. I love the “jeux de société” theme bars and cat cafés.
  • You’re a student, let’s be real, you’re booking last minute. Where can you find a cheap room for fête?! I’d recommend trying the room-sharing site, Yestudent, or the Away Hostel.

With love from Lyon

SIOBHAN_FETE

The Fête des Lumières has been the absolute highlight of my winters here. If you’re a foreign student like me, you won’t want to miss this uniquely French experience.

Besides, I can’t think of a better way to discover Lyon. If you haven’t visited yet, you’ll love wandering the streets in this mystifying ambiance of light and sound.

Clearly, I’m a fan…I can’t recommend this event enough!

Have you experienced the Fête des Lumières? Have any great tips for navigating the crowds? Questions about logistics? Leave them in the comments!

– Bisous, Siobhan.

Countdown till the next Fête des Lumières!
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