Fête des Lumières
September 5, 2013 6:15 PM   Subscribe

If you have attended the Fête des Lumières (Festival of Lights) in Lyon, do you recommend it? Even for a non francophone, who is also not too fond of cold weather?

Ever since a friend told me a few years ago about la Fête des lumières that happens every year in Lyon, I've always been amazed by the idea and wanted to see it. Now, it seems that I may actually be able to take some vacation days right on time for the event, so I'm getting the urge to go, but I have some concerns that is making me a bit hesitant. They are:

- How hard is it to find accommodations in Lyon during the days of the event? And will that be super expensive?
From what I can gather it is a crowded event (I actually don't mind it, I prefer that over an mild-to-empty festival), but what I'm mostly worried is about finding an hotel or airbnb room, and also finding transportation to Lyon from Paris (should I book a train way ahead of time and will it be chaotic to get to Lyon around the days of the event?)

- The event is officially 4 days long.. Is there enough to see during the 4 days, or is it the kind of thing that one night is enough?
If it's only a one day thing it probably doesn't make sense for me as I live an ocean away, but if there's enough in the event (and Lyon itself) to keep me entertained at least during the weekend, it's an easier sell..

- Would you recommend it for someone who doesn't speak French? Including all parts of the trip, from getting from Paris to Lyon to staying in Lyon and watching and properly enjoying the festival.
FWIW I've been to Paris before, learned some greetings and basic French phrases for tourists, and I loved it and had absolutely 0 problems communicating (mostly greeting in French and moving to English after my weak attempts at starting a French conversation failed). But I imagine this might be less forgiving outside of Paris.

- Being an outdoor event in the winter, this is gonna be cold.. which I'm not a fan of. Was it unbearable cold?

- Also, is it really a thrilling event, or the kind of thing that looks better on video than in person? It looks very exciting from pictures and youtube, but I don't know if I'm just too captivated with the idea

I understand it's a bunch of questions, so feel free to answer just parts of it. I tried to gather some of this information online to various degrees of success, but nothing beats a Real Person's opinion. Thanks!
posted by just_another_one to Travel & Transportation around Lyon, France (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I was on a road trip in Europe in 1999/2000, where we basically made up our mind where to go as we were driving. We turned up to Lyon knowing nothing about the place and having no accommodation booked. Found a hotel just fine in the middle of town. Wandered around that evening and all the buildings were lit up. What was going on? We didn't know but it was special.

We stayed for 3 days if I remember correctly, and loved it. Lyon is a beautiful city and there is a lot to experience besides the lights. I don't remember it being particularly crowded (but that was 14 years ago, no doubt it's more of an attraction now). We were there in October, they've obviously changed the schedule these days so I can't speak about the weather later in the year.

Video absolutely does not do it justice, go see it for yourself! And if you've had enough before the four days are up, there's many other cities close enough that you could get out there to see them too.
posted by Jubey at 6:33 PM on September 5, 2013

I just googled it - it appears that we happened upon it in its very first year which would explain the lack of people (I remember thinking, is it like this all year round, is this why no one seems to be paying all that much attention to these amazing lights?) Clearly word has gotten out since. FWIW, Sydney has started something similar (but not as large scale) called Vivid in case you want to come this way.
posted by Jubey at 6:38 PM on September 5, 2013

Best answer: I saw FdL when I lived in Lyon back in 2007-2008. It is definitely worth seeing once in your life - it's a great artistic display by both local and international artists, turns the city into a mostly positive-vibe festive atmosphere, and is totally free. BUT. Public transportation gets ridiculously busy that night, so getting around the city can be challenging. Having lived in New York since I moved from Lyon, I can safely say that even a bad day in New York does not compare with the madness that ensues in the metro, which is why a lot of residents stay home after the first year or two of seeing FdL.

Trains into the city and accommodation shouldn't be THAT bad (say, compare to the day of a big football match), since a lot of the people who come to see FdL live in the surrounding areas, though I would definitely reserve in advance if possible. Paris <> Lyon is a busy train route, anyway.

Si on parle pas français, I wouldn't worry. They have guides that are largely pictorial and the majority of displays do not require any comprehension of French. A lot of promoters for products, restaurants, listservs, etc. do wander the streets that night, so worse case scenario is you won't understand someone trying to sell you a phone or trying to get you to join their organization. :-)

Dress warmly, plan your route in advance (or at least what you definitely want to see), be careful in the metro, et amuse-toi bien!
posted by msk1985 at 7:57 PM on September 5, 2013

Best answer: You don't really need to speak French, as most of it is outdoors, meant to be gazed at.

As msk1985 says, transportation within Lyon is completely mad that night, so I'd advise, for exemple, to go up to Fourvière in the afternoon, well before the night (you can visit the basilica and the Roman theaters to while away the time), and then going back down on foot.

Speaking of foot : get really comfortable footwear, because you will be sore by the time you're done :) Dress warmly, and dress for rain, just in case. Avoid umbrellas, because they're difficult to wield in the crowd. It's likely to be cold, but still above 0C, so not arctic.

Historically, la Fête des Lumières happens on 8 December, and every year the Catholic Church buys a few ad signs to remind us that it's a religious celebration, but pretty much nobody cares. I think the city-planned events happen on all four days, but it's only on 8 December that you will see lights at the windows of people's flats (and even those are getting rarer, alas).

You should book your train Paris-Lyon well in advance if possible, if only because it's way much cheaper than booking at the last minute. If you're early, and lucky, you can get away with €80-100 both ways, but it doubles if you book late.

Feel free to memail me to ask other questions about Lyon. I've lived in and around Lyon for more than 15 years :)
posted by snakeling at 4:07 AM on September 6, 2013

Response by poster: Merci à tous! My biggest concern (that it would not be as thrilling as it looks like) seems to be clearly debunked!
Now I'll start doing a budget reality check :)
posted by just_another_one at 8:43 PM on September 6, 2013

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