I had the great opportunity to attend the fête des Lumières in Lyon this past weekend for three nights. From last year’s post, I had also attended, but it was only for one night: it was not enough time to see everything (or even close, really), so I was determined to stay longer this time– it turned out to be a good decision, because I managed to get more of the full experience that I hadn’t gotten back in 2016. In the end, I couldn’t ask for a better time than those nights filled with magic, wonderful people, and unforgettable memories.
Known as the “Festival of Lights,” the fête des Lumières in Lyon is one of the largest celebrations in the entire country, drawing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people each year in December. Lasting for three or four nights over the weekend, the festival draws both domestic and international tourists alike, absolutely inundating the city over the short period of time. Dozens of light installations are placed all over the city, all of which are free to check out.
While the fête des Lumières is free to attend, transportation and accommodation are not. From experience, it’s necessary to reserve at least one month in advance (two months, if you want more options), because places– hotels, hostels, Airbnbs– will otherwise be completely booked out. That, or the remaining places will be outrageously expensive. I actually booked my Airbnb semi-last minute this year (aka late October), and many places in the heart of the city were already taken: I was lucky, though, to have found a place still in the city center for 117€ each night per person– once I saw the listing, I jumped right on it and secured the place before anyone else did!
After booking the Airbnb, I invited my friends to split the cost with me before advertising it to other lecteurs/assistants on Facebook. Since the Airbnb could fit a *whopping* ten people, I decided to let others in, since no one should miss this opportunity to see the lights! In total, there were ten of us, all girls, with some of us lectrices, assistantes, and students. We came from all over France (e.g. Rouen, Grenoble, Nantes, Marseille…), and although it was a bit hectic with all of us in the Airbnb, it turned out to be a really fun weekend.
I attended the fête des Lumières from Thursday to Sunday– since I’m currently on a two-month break from teaching, I had no problem heading over to Lyon on Thursday afternoon to meet up with one of the girls staying in the Airbnb (a lectrice from Avignon) to hang out before checking in later in the day. The Airbnb was located near Parc de la Tête d’Or, which made it a bit far out from where the festival took place, but it was still centrally-located and near metro stations for easy access to the heart of Lyon. It was a really spacious flat, and the host was incredibly kind to show us around and left us plenty of tea, coffee, and biscuits for breakfast. We were given two sets of keys, one of which I kept the whole weekend (since I’d booked the Airbnb and was charge of it) and the other rotated among the other girls– it was rather stressful trying to keep track of who had it when, but it worked out in the end.
In total, there were three beds and two couches, so it required us to double up when sleeping. There were only three of us in the Airbnb on Thursday night, however, since the rest would be arriving the following day. That said, we staked our claim with each of the three beds– whoever came later could claim the remaining spots on a first-come, first-serve basis. At least for the first night, it was spacious and quiet.
The third girl for Thursday night wouldn’t be getting in until half past 20:00, so the lectrice and I hung out in the Airbnb after settling in. We went to the nearby supermarket to get some food for apéro which we had that night before heading out at 20:15 to get the third girl from Part-Dieu. Upon arrival, we gave her the second set of keys to the Airbnb, so that she could drop her belongings off while we continued to the festival to see the lights.
After walking over from Part Dieu, we reached our first installation for the night at Place des Jacobins. Encased in a large, transparent ball, the fountain was glowing golden with a clock-themed exhibition that chimed every few minutes. After a few moments watching it, we tried heading to Hôtel de Ville, which was already backed up with a frenzy of people trying to get into the square. We decided to see it later, instead heading to Place Bellecour: it was a simply matter of taking the long main street, which was blocked off for pedestrians to freely roam, in order to get there. The massive square was filled with a plethora of looming, colorful flowers against the backdrop of the Ferris wheel. While I don’t think there was a light show going on in Bellecour, it certainly made for plenty of lovely photos to take.
We met up with the third girl at Place des Jacobins and together, we braved the crush of people near Hôtel de Ville once more, getting squished in the process. It didn’t help that it was raining, and the fact that we’d forgotten to bring our umbrellas. Eventually, we made it into the square where we saw the light show: whereas last year’s theme was Jules Verne, this year paid homage to cinematic history, from the silent black-and-white films to old Westerns, James Bond, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and finally ended with Frozen. Despite the then-pouring rain, we were captivated by the show and, well…”the cold never bothered me, anyway.” 😉
Afterwards, the lectrice and I decided to head back to the Airbnb while the third girl continued to see the lights. We were tired and didn’t want to be rained on anymore, so we rushed over to the closest metro stop, which was packed with people, but eventually we took it back to the apartment, arriving just around midnight. A hot shower and comfortable beds awaited us and soon enough, we were out for the rest of the night. Our first night for the fête des Lumières was fairly short, since we only hit the three main sites in the 2ème arrondissement (Place Bellecour, Place des Jacobins, and Hôtel de Ville). But there would be two more nights, anyway, so there were more opportunities to come!
Second part of the fête des Lumières will be up soon– until then!