Lyon’s annual Fête des Lumières is spectacular, but it has its downsides.
With such a huge influx of people, the city’s population triples for the weekend. Therefore, we can make a few conclusions: one, it will be difficult to find accommodations, two, prices will skyrocket because of the demand, and three, Lyon will be crowded.
So I have a few ideas to help you make the most of the Fête des Lumières and your time in Lyon.
Reserve in advance! Cheap options go fast, and there are only a few hostels in town, so if you’re on a budget, get your ducks in a row early.
Where to stay? I recommend Presqu’île (aka the first and second arrondissements) because it is central and you’ll be in the middle of all the action. There are a lot of hotels near Part Dieu, but you won’t be able to walk to many places (unless you have a lot of time). However, Lyon is not that big, and there are Fête des Lumières installations all over the city, so if you’re up in Croix-Rousse, or in the 6th, the 7th, or wherever, you’ll still be able to make the most of the festival. In my opinion, the 8th, 9th, and Villeurbanne are a little far removed from the action, but they are accessible by metro, bus, or bike (…but I still don’t recommend it, because public transit gets totally jammed in the middle of the festival.)
It’s probably not news to you that renting an apartment is an increasingly popular alternative to a hotel room, and if that’s your thing, you’re in luck, because tons of Lyon residents rent out their flats during the Fête des Lumières. Try Airbnb.com, or leboncoin.fr (it’s like Craigslist, so the same rules apply – watch out for scams.) Don’t be shocked by the prices, though. Renting an apartment during the Fête des Lumières is like taking Uber on a rainy New Years Eve: hello surge pricing.
If you arrive in Lyon by car, I recommend you park it and avoid driving until you go back home. (Psst – there’s free parking down along the Saône and by the Parc de la Tête d’Or.) I hate driving. But trust me on this one. Driving in Lyon is a pain as it is, and during the Fête des Lumières, it will be overrun with hordes of pedestrians, and many streets will be closed to cars.
I ❤ public transit in Lyon. The metro or bus will help you get around. If you can, buy tickets at a machine in a metro station instead of on the bus to save some money. Your ticket is good for an hour, and people will often leave tickets with valid time left on them at the metro exit. There’s also a ticket that’s good for two hours, or you can spring for a ticket that will last all day long for about 5 euros. If you’re in a group, buying a carnet of 10 tickets might help you save a little as well. Tickets are valid on the metro, bus, and tram. More information at tcl.fr.
CAVEAT: On Friday and especially Saturday night, public transit is a nightmare because so many people are trying to get to Presqu’île and Vieux Lyon to see the lights! The metro and bus will be great for visiting the city during the day, but during peak light time, steer clear.
If the metro is too crowded for you, try biking around Lyon! The Velov’ bike sharing system is handy and cheap. Only one hiccup – you have to find an empty Velov’ space to park your bike when you reach your destination, and during the Fête des Lumières, when so many people are headed to the same destinations, you may find there are no spaces left when you get there. Know where the second closest Velov’ station is as a backup. FYI, bikes and Croix-Rousse don’t mix unless you are mega in shape. It looks flat on the map, but that is one big hill.
My advice? Wear comfy shoes, get cozy in warm clothes, and walk.
Lyon is famous for its food, and you’ve gotta eat, so make it something good. Don’t get stuck in a lackluster touristy “bouchon” that heats up frozen dishes! (Seriously, don’t.) You will feel sad, so sad, and food should make you happy. Do your research, and reserve if you can.
If you speak French, even just a little, get your hands on a copy of Le Petit Paumé. I like their book guide better than their website, personally. (Your host or hotel probably has a copy.) Don’t speak French? Look for an RPPP sticker in restaurant windows. Chances are, any place that has one can’t be too bad.
You can also consult Yelp, which has reviews in French and English (I’m just starting to write Yelp reviews: you can see a small sampling of some of my favorite places in Lyon, as well as places to avoid.)
Last thing: I can’t talk about food without talking about the marché! French markets are my favorite. I like Marché Saint Antoine, Marché de la Croix-Rousse, and Les Halles Paul Bocuse.
The official website: http://www.fetedeslumieres.lyon.fr/en
Have you been to La Fête des Lumières?