Festival of Lights in Lyon: Discover the Bright City

by Forever Wanderers
December 9, 2021 | 11 min read

Festival of Lights in Lyon: Discover the Bright City

Don’t listen to what they say, go see !

Chinese Proverb

City Overview

Welcome to Lyon, the third biggest city in France. This city is known for its historical and architectural landmarks, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In the modern times, Lyon has also developed a reputation as the capital of gastronomy in France, a well-deserved one.

But the city isn’t only about food, it’s also a young and dynamic place, hosting one of the largest community of international students in France.

From its famous authentic Bouchons (typical restaurants from Lyon)  to its countless events throughout the year or its huge shopping centres, Lyon has everything to please the city lovers.

Want to get around with us ? Let’s go.

Festival of Lights, what is it ?

One of the most emblematic events happening in Lyon is, without a doubt, the Festival of Lights. Originally, the Festival of Lights in Lyon expresses gratitude towards Mary, mother of Jesus, around December 8 of each year. This unique Lyonnaise tradition dictates that every house places candles along the outsides of all the windows to produce a spectacular effect throughout the streets.

Centuries later, this tradition evolved in an eye-catching show of lights, sounds and colors. Nowadays, during 4 nights, Lyon is dazzling visitors with a bright setting. Bridges, streets, buildings, parks… Even its main river “Le Rhône”, glows of beauty because of some ingenious system of lighting, creating a remarkable show that will amaze young and old.

For the occasion, the city offers you 4 different itineraries, defined by themes and geographical sectors : A red route, a blue route, an orange route and a green one. To find out more about those itineraries, feel free to click on the link.

The Basics

  • ↠ Currency – Euros
  • ↠ Best time to go – During the festival of Lights / Spring time : From April to June included
  • ↠ Prices – Mid-range to Expensive (especially during the festival)
  • ↠ Airport – Lyon Saint Exupéry Airport
  • ↠ Best way to travel –  By walk or with the subway. The city is really accessible and safe for pedestrians and Lyon is so enjoyable to be discovered by foot. The subway is also a good option. However, during the festival, it becomes incredibly crowded. It will take you longer to go from one point to another with the subway than by foot.

Top 10 things to do

1 – Place Bellecour

The largest pedestrian square in Europe, this is where the tourist information centre and many large hotels are based. Place Bellecour is located at the intersection of many of Lyon’s main avenues, which makes this place surrounded by great restaurants and shops.

DO NOT MISS IT FOR THE FESTIVAL – The show happening in this place is truly magical.

2 – Cathedral of Saint Jean Baptiste

This welcoming cathedral is situated on a bustling square in the Old Lyon. The entrance is free.  It’s an architectural treasure where you can also admire impressive artefacts owned by the church.

DO NOT MISS IT FOR THE FESTIVAL – That was our absolute favourite, the show called “Genesis” for the 2019 edition, lasted 7 minutes and it was incredible. We even watch it twice despite the cold.

3 – Lyon Old Town

The city is split into different districts and the one named the “Old Lyon” is the most picturesque, by far. Take your time to wander around its colorful streets, old churches and typical shops. It’s an atmosphere hard to describe, I guess you just have to go there yourself and feel it.

DO NOT MISS IT FOR THE FESTIVAL – From the train station to the Cathedral of Saint-Jean, follow the blue route. For us, that’s where the masterpieces of the whole festival were.

4 –  Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière

This intricate Basilica is as impressive from the outside, as from the inside. The gilded arches, atriums and amazing acoustics make it a moving excursion. It’s particularly pretty at night. On your way up, you can pass through the beautiful gardens of Rosaire, splendid during spring time.

5 –  Croix Rousseau

On your way to the Basilique Notre Dame from the old town, you will pass by the district of Croix Rousseau. This elevated district offers amazing views across the red rooftops of Lyon, to the hills beyond the city. A perfect occasion for a break on the steep way up to the Basilique as well, and of course the view is worth it. 

6 – La place des Terreaux

This perfectly rectangular square is really famous in Lyon as well. This place is surrounded by impressive majestic buildings – typically Lyonnais style.

DO NOT MISS IT FOR THE FESTIVAL All the majestic buildings are turning golden and shiny by night for the show. Your eyes will be full of sparkles and it’s hard to decide what to watch, everything is just splendid.

7 – Museum of Fines Arts

Near La Place des Terreaux, you can find another cultural gem of Lyon : Its museum of Fines Arts. Its seven rooms of exhibits make it an immersive attraction. Although the audio guide of highlights takes 90 minutes, we recommend to the art lovers to rather leave the whole day to see the most of it.

8 – Go shopping in Lyon Part Dieu

This place is for all the ladies (or gentlemen) that want to get an exciting shopping excursion. You will have 5 floors and around 250 shops and restaurants at your disposal, enjoy and get your credit cards ready.

9 – Christmas market

At this time of the year, paying a visit to a Christmas market seems more than appropriate. There is plenty of them in Lyon in December, but the one we would recommend you the most is : Marché de la Croix Rousse, accessible in few minutes by walk from the Place Bellecour or by subway, as the market is next to the Lyon – Perrache train station.

10 – Parc de la Tête d’Or

Located in the 6th arrondissement, this large park is a great place to escape the city for an afternoon, perfect for a walk or chilling. You can find several attractions over there, like a small zoo, a touristic train that can make you visit more about this immense park, a boat organising little cruises on “Le Rhône” and the beautiful botanical gardens.

DO NOT MISS IT FOR THE FESTIVAL – Not only the park got all colorful and bright, but it’s also hosting an amazing pyrotechnic show.

Where to stay ?

Fancy -If your budget allows it, we recommend you to stay in the exquisite Hotel Silky, in the very heart of Lyon. The location of this boutique hotel is perfect and propose high-quality services.

Mid-rangeEmbrace Lyon’s charm in Citadines Apart Hotel, well located and nicely decorated. This is a perfect option for those staying longer than a weekend in the city.

Don’t break the bank If want you want to enjoy the most of your stay and not ruining your finance, while still staying a nice place, have a look at Away Hostel & Coffee Shop.

About us We stayed in an AirBnb, Chambre dans charmant duplex, near le Parc de la Tête d’Or and we’ve been amazed by our stay over there. Not only the location was great, but the apartment was spacious and clean. And the bonus, we got to spend this time with our amazing hosts and their friendly cat, they were really kind and helpful. More than recommended.

For those who know us or read about us since a while, you probably know that we are highly in favour of AirBnb. However, we are aware of the recent polemic towards it.

We first fall for AirBnb for its concept, which was to share an accommodation with the hosts, the locals.

Through the years, AirBnb became a business and now hosts are turning what was once a renting place for other locals, in AirBnb, in order to make profit. We can’t blame them for that, but it leads now to a massive problem for local people or students to find a place to live.

That’s why, every time we can, we rent an AirBnb where we are sharing the space with the hosts. First, it’s more affordable. Second, you meet the locals and they can share with you priceless tips. Third, you don’t participate in this new business that makes locals’s lives harder.

Where to eat ?

Local cuisine

Bouchon : A typical “Lyonnais” word, used to refer those restaurants full of charm, serving this authentic Lyonnaise cuisine. Lyon is all about rustic, rich French food, and is famous for a number of unique meals. Think about a smoky pork sausage with pistachios, served on mashed potatoes with a creamy sauce, or a brochette of foie gras, or maybe a colorful macaron… And obviously, the well-known quenelles.

  • L’Auberge des Canuts– 8 Place Saint Jean Baptiste
  • Le François Villon– 20 Rue du Boeuf  ♥︎
  • Au petit Bouchon chez Georges – 8 rue du Garet

Vegetarian friendly

  • Hank Burger – 5 Rue Pizay
  • Toutes les couleurs – 26 rue Imbert – Colomès
  • Culina Hortus38 Rue de l’Arbre Sec  ♥︎
Vegeterian mushroom raviolis – Culina Hortus

For Pedro’s birthday, as he is a vegetarian food lover, we went for a really “avant-garde” experience. A vegetarian gastronomic restaurant. Guys, let us tell you : That was AMAZING ! Go have a look at Culina Hortus, we just loved it. It’s affordable, considering the quality of the food. Don’t forget to book in advance though.

Where to go for a  good coffee break ?

  • Slake Coffee House – 9 Rue de l’Ancienne Préfecture
  • Puzzle Café – 4 Rue de la Poulaillerie  ♥︎
  • La Boîte à Café – 3 rue de l’Abbé Rozier

Our Top Tips

Bring warm clothes & gloves, walking by night in Lyon can be a freezing experience,

– If possible, come enjoy the opening or the closing, to avoid the rush of Friday & Saturday nights,

– As the Festival is divided in few routes, to enjoy the most of each, we advise you to focus on one at a time each night, we had just one night over there and we had to rush it so much to see everything we wanted. So if you can, don’t do like us and take it easy,

– Enjoy some vin chaud, a typical beverage in this time of the year. There is plenty of sellers along the streets. Perfect for the cold weather,

– If you don’t feel like stopping in a restaurant for lunch, there are many options of typical street food. Less expensive than a restaurant, but still delicious. For the vegetarians, many street food shops propose a variety of yummy veggie soups, perfect to keep you warm,

– Get a beautiful picture of the wheel in Place Bellecour for sunset (or from the wheel),

– If you plan on going to Lyon for the festival, book your accommodation the most in advance possible.

– Our special Eco Tip : Carry your own reusable coffee cup

Go with your own reusable coffee cup. While you travel in the cities, you walk a lot. That’s always nice to carry around with you a cup of delicious coffee or tea, right ? But rather than taking one away in a plastic cup, that you will throw once you are done, use your own.

That’s more and more common practice.

First, you will be able to keep your coffee or tea warmer longer. Second, Lyon is full of coffee shops that even offer a discount if you are taking away your beverages in your own cup.

What do you need more ? Go for it, there is plenty of different sizes and designs, suitable for everyone’s taste and needs.

That’s it for today expedition, we hope you had a great time with us discovering a bit more about this incredible city.

If you want to know more about it, feel free to contact us, it would be a pleasure to help you out in your travel planning.

To see more beautiful pictures of 2019’s edition, you can have a look at their official Instagram account : Fêtes des Lumières. ✨

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Any thoughts, tips or questions?

We are Camille & Pedro, a Franco-Brazilian couple. Currently starring in our own travel reality show, we would love to bring you along in our adventurous universe. We’ve been both experiencing solo traveling and are now keeping this nomad lifestyle as a couple. On our blog, we are sharing our adventures around the world, offering tips & creating travel guides for other wanderers.

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