07/12/12: A lit-up weekend in Lyon: The Festival of Lights: 1

Thursday 6th December

Thursday the 6th December was the start of the biggest event of the year here in Lyon, The Festival of Lights. During the event, old town Lyon is lit for the whole weekend until Sunday. During the festival, there are lots of illuminations and light exhibitions everywhere in the city, and some are projected onto famous buildings. I have to admit that the festival was not on my list of things to do because of the amount of work I had to do for university, I didn't even take a moment to research the famous event. Yet I knew that just one moment to research it would take a lot longer because of the slow speed of the internet in my residence.

However, due to my ignorance, it was only thanks to an email from the head of International Relations at my university (Lyon 2) that the festival was happening soon. The coordinator gave us some advice about the festival and told us the things we should see and do over the weekend. She told us some essential information on how to survive the Light Festival and even told us that it is possible to by mulled wine every 10 metres in the town centre throughout the weekend.

The festival was explained in more detail in the email from my university, where I learnt more about its history and the fact it first started in 1852, but a friend told me that it is only recently that the festival has become more popular, especially with tourists. The festival takes place around the 8th of December to celebrate the arrival of the Virgin Mary statue which looks down at the city from the Fouvriere hill. It is believed that in the 17th century, the Virgin helped the city get rid of its vermin therefore the locals of Lyon lit candles in honour and to thank the Virgin.

Before the festival started, I heard several rumors from multiple people, who were mostly students, about what the city was like during the festival. I have to admit that at first, I was pretty put off. I did not like the idea using public transportation with more than four million people who were in Lyon for the Festival of Lights. Normally, I am quite bothered by big crowds, it is something that I try to avoid as much as possible. I had already experienced enough crowds in London during the Olympics when I was a volunteer for 2 weeks. But this weekend, crowds were not the only thing that I had to deal with because the temperatures were due to severely drop, and I always find the cold difficult. At first, I was quite reluctant to spend the evening aimlessly wandering around town in search of some lights.

On Thursday, my mind was already made up. The fact that I had a full day of lessons which left me absoutely shattered helped me to make my decision. As well, by the time it was dark, I hadn't made any plans so if I had gone out, I wouldn't know where I was. So, to recover from my busy day, I spent the night all alone in my room catching up on the sleep that I needed.

Friday 7th December

I had plans to go out on Friday so I was still a little resistant to go and see the lights. I was even more hesitant to go after I opened my shutter. Everywhere was covered with snow which was getting thicker every minute. Luckily, as the day went by, the snow slowed down and it started to rain. Slowly, the leftover snow disappeared.

Getting there

I had to go to town for a meeting at 17:00, so, because I was in the centre in the middle of the action, I decided that I didn't have an excuse to go back home. Also, my friends had made plans to go out together so I wouldn't be alone during the festival.

Unlucky for tourists who were dependent on public transport, TCL workers decided to strike on Friday, perfect timing, so the metro and some bus lines were disrupted. Some metro lines didn't operate during the day and some trams lines were closed. By the evening, the metro was back to normal but the buses were still disrupted.

To get to the city centre, normally I take any bus that goes that way; the 46 or the 49 to Perrache or the C20 ou C20E to Bellecour. However, because of the strike, the 46 and 49 were not running and the C20 and C20E only went to Perrache because the streets near Bellecour were blocked for the Festival of Lights... and they were only operating every half an hour. It wasn't practical at all. The bus that eventually arrived was very full and everyone who was on it was crammed like sardines in a tin. The metro was quite empty for a Friday and for rush hour. There were a lot of people at the station in Perrache but I wouldn't say that the station was that full because it was nothing in comparison to the crowds in London Victoria at rush hour.

A bit of shopping

After my meeting, I was ready to meet my friends. I had half an hour to spare before I was meeting them. To get to Bellecour, I had to go along Rue de la République where I saw lots of illuminations. Yet because some illuminations were not certain objects or projections, I wasn't sure whether they were a part of the Festival of Lights or whether they were just Christmas lights. However, after seeing the program for the festival a short time afterwards, I learnt that they were part of the festival so they were only on show for the weekend. Personally, I hoped that they would stay for Christmas because they were better than the Christmas lights in Oxford Street in London!


I wandered towards Bellecour along Rue de la République and I still had some time before my friends were due to arrive. Because my friends kept making fun at my fake fur gloves because they weren't very practical, I decided to go to H&M to buy some more normal and practical gloves so I was able to take a picture without the risk of losing a finger in the freezing temperatures. Outside of the shop, I took some pictures to test the camera and find the best setting to take photos of the lights. I didn't like the quality of the photos using a high ISO but I had to use this setting because I didn't have a tripad to keep the camera still during a long shot. I saw lots of people with their SLR cameras and tripads, and I was a little jealous to be honest.. but I didn't want the bother of bringing and carrying my tripad through the crowds and I knew that I wouldn't have the patience to wait for a place to put my tripad!


I know that using the flash on my camera would drain my battery and the battery in my camera wasn't new because I had used it the weekend before when I went to Pérouges. So I thought it would be best to buy some more so I went to Fnac which is very close to Bellecour. In the shop, I saw an Olympus camera which I liked the look of so I thought I would try it in the shop but when I touched it, an alarm went off! I casually went to the battery section trying to make it look like it wasn't me who had set off the alarm! But I think the guilt on my face made it obvious. I got the batteries and after I had paid, the alarm finally stopped.

When I was almost at Bellecour, the well known coffee shop Starbucks, and quite controversial in England due to tax reasons, was giving passers-by free cups of small coffee. I tried to get some but when I got to the man who was giving out the coffee, it had all run out. I was just too late! It was a good idea.

The lights

I walked around Bellecour Square whilst waiting for my friends. I saw an illumination that was called 'Magic Cube' which was placed around the base of the horse statue in the centre of the square. It didn't interest me much but I discovered a few days later, when I returned to the Magic Cube, that sparks appeared at the end of each exposition.


Eventually, I found my friends in the crowds close to McDonalds in the heart of Rue de la République. We all went to the Hôtel de Ville, via the Rue de la République. Starbucks was giving out free café again which I missed again but instead of a coffee, we decided to get some mulled wine at 3 Brioches. We asked for the wine in French because we were in France, not knowing that the woman was from Australia so she spoke to us in English. Although the wine wasn't like the mulled wine you get from Christmas markets, it was very tasty and sweet. The plastic cups were very fragile especially if you were wearing gloves because it was very easy to press on the cup and spill the wine.

In the Republic Square, the flat fountain was transformed once again, a few weeks prior you could ski there and now, there was a lit-up dragon residing in the fountain. Its colours changed too. I found an information board here about the Festival of Lights and I took a card that explained each different exposition in the city. It was very informative and now I can keep the card as a souvenir for the whole festival.


We continued along Rue de la République and we could hear some music. A few moments later we found the source, which was a big heart, a great piece of art. The music had the same rhythm as the beat of a human heart. The exposition was quite repetitive so we left before the end. It was like visiting an art museum, because the heart was only something you could observe, and when you looked at it again, it was the same. Sometimes, certain things can attract more attention because they are more striking, but other things are not so gripping... we couldn't find the beauty in this piece of art so we moved on.

07/12/12: A lit-up weekend in Lyon: The Festival of Lights: 1

Next to the Nouvel Opéra (Opera House), there were more lights again so we stopped to take some photos. It started to rain so I wasn't only freezing, I was now soaked too- a perfect combination! There were restrictions to access the Place de Terreaux because there were so many people. We had to access it another way, apparently the lights there are some of the best ones of the whole festival.

07/12/12: A lit-up weekend in Lyon: The Festival of Lights: 1

When the spectacle started, it was easy to understand why they were very popular. The old buildings around the square like the Beaux Arts museum and the town hall were included in the illuminations, as magnificent lights were projected onto them. There was so much colour and movement of people dancing on the buildings, the characteristics of the building were outlined with perfect precision. It was incredible and very complex.


We left Place de Terreaux and headed for Vieux Lyon where we were sure we would find more illuminations. We were not left dissappointed, because as we crossed the bridge, we were facing St Paul's station where a long illumination was projected onto the site of the building. There were two characters that ressembled aliens who were playing together on the building. The lights were too quick for me to take a photo and my camera was too slow to capture it. It was time for me to change the batteries.

My empty stomach began to rumble. The only thing I had eaten all day was some chocolate. In Vieux Lyon, I was tempted by the smell coming from the restaurants and cafes which were open for the festival. As we were walking along the cobbled and narrow streets, my hunger was overwhelming and despite the fact that I would be ashamed if I ate something, I didn't really have any reason to feel like that so I got something anyway. I bought a waffle with some sugar and it was delicious.

At St Jean cathedral, we found another light show which was projected on the face of the cathedral. Like the show in Place de Terreaux, there was also dramatic music played at the same time. I thought about the people that lived close to the cathedral and had to listen to the music for four nights, but it wasn't forever! The cathedral was changing colours, shining and blazing. Just as the show was about to start, two tall men stood in front of me so my view was a bit restricted. My friends described them as the tallest men they had seen in Lyon. Things got even worse when my camera said the battery power was not sufficient to take any more photos. So amongst this crowd of people, I had to take my new gloves off, open up the battery compartment in my camera and take the old ones out of it. Then I had to open the new packet of batteries and put them in correctly. After, I put some adhesive tape on the compartment so I was sure the batteries wouldn't fall out. Finally, it was all sorted and I only missed 5 minutes of the 10 minute show so I was able to take some photos of it.


It was icy cold and my many layers were no longer working. My feet were freezing and the ends of my fingers were numb (I guess the antics with my camera didn't help the situation. Eventually, we decided it was time to go home, especially since one of my friends was ill. My other friend bought a last cup of mulled wine. I didn't want another. I was hungry again.

The journey back

To get to the cable car at Vieux Lyon, we had to head for the Bonaparte stop and come back in the direction of Vieux Lyon because of control reasons and the number of people who were wanting to use the metro at Vieux Lyon. It was a long line for the metro but fortunately, it was a lot easier to take the cable car at St Juste. There were a lot of people waiting to take the cable car to Fouvriere because there were many illuminations at Basilique and I suppose that certain people wanted to see the whole city lit-up for the festival.

Although despite the fact that there was not a queue for the cable car, there was still a lot of people on the platform lingering for the cable car to come. Luckily, we got seats on the funicular and eventually, we were on our way back to the residence. I was waiting impatiently to get to my room and put on the heating. It was a long time until I warmed up in bed. I definitely needed to wear more clothes the next time we went out at night.

A successful night

Despite not wanting to go out on Friday night, I was happy that I came out because I was overwhelmed by the atmosphere of the festival and was happy I got to see as many lights as possible. But when I looked at the card about the different lights, it was clear that it would be impossible to see all of them because there were more than sixty illuminations around Lyon and there was one at the airport! Normally, I would say it is not necessary to organise a plan when you want to discover Lyon, but a plan for the Festival of Lights is essential to ensure that you can make the most of the festival.

A lot of people I know came back to the residence early because it was too cold. It was like an enudrance test- who can stay out in the cold for the longest? I let my friend arrange a plan for the Saturday. I was still a little hesitant about spending another night in the cold. I wasn't enthralled by the idea but I wanted to see more lights. It was a dilemma but we waited until Saturday to resolve it. I was really tired from walking a lot and after uploading some photos on my Facebook page, I went to sleep.

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