Lyon: La Fête des Lumières

Every year, Lyon hosts La Fête des Lumières, an elaborate festival of lights with colorful and dramatic installations all over the city. I’ve shared some photos from my first Fête des Lumières in 2013, but it’s impossible to do justice to the gorgeous moving lights and cinema set to music.

December 8th is the official day of celebration, so the festival always includes the 8th and extends over four days including a weekend. The population of Lyon supposedly triples during the festival, and I believe it. Streets are blocked off, security guards herd pedestrians like cattle, restaurants are booked solid, and you have to queue just to get down into the metro. Accommodation prices are astronomical, even to rent a student loft on Airbnb.

But this year the Fête des Lumières was cancelled two short weeks before it was set to open. With France in a state of emergency following the Paris attacks of November 13th, it didn’t seem wise to try to cram 800,000 people into Place des Terreaux over one weekend. According to reports, it wasn’t so much that they feared an attack (although assuring sufficient security would have been near impossible) but that crowds would panic at the slightest provocation. The crack of a car backfiring or a firecrack popping could prove as fatal as an explosion for thousands of people in a state of panic smushed together in a mob with nowhere to run.

(Read about the cancellation of the Fête des Lumières in English and French.)

It’s bad for business. Bad for hotels, for restaurants, for taxis. For anyone who relies on the spurt of cash the festival generates. Since I’m not one of those people, it’s easier for me to say that I’m glad it was cancelled. I wouldn’t have felt safe in Lyon with crowds that size, no matter what. (I’m racked with paranoia just taking the metro home these days.)

We can still sip vin chaud and stroll under the colorful lights that hang over the main avenues for the holiday season, and now we can do it without battling the masses. Whatever the Fête des Lumières team has been cooking up all year will have to wait until 2016. (Does that mean they get to take a long vacation next year since their work is already done?)

Instead of the 2015 festival, candles were lit all over the city in memory of the victims of the attack. (Ironically, this is how I imagined the Fête des Lumières before I saw it for the first time.)

You can see some lovely video clips of it here or see photos here.


In the meantime, in keeping with my #slowblogging movement, here’s a look back at 2014’s Fête des Lumières.

The Ferris wheel at Place Bellecour turns into a movie screen…


As does Hôtel de Ville at Place des Terreaux…


The famous fountain of Place des Jacobins was transformed into a nursery night light, complete with the tinkling sounds of a music box…


These dancers tangoed all over Place des Terreaux.


And the Cathedral Saint Jean tranformed under colored lights, set to dramatic music.

This enormous marionette was operated by several people dressed in black.

He interacted with the crowd, bending down to offer hugs and kisses.

These little helium-voiced dudes boogied on the side of the opera house.

And Parc de la Tête d’Or was lit up with floating lanterns (and floating fish lanterns.)






Art and dance were running themes at Place des Terreaux. (And just a minute away at Place Sathonay, where the trees were dressed as much like ballerinas as trees can be, practically swaying to all the big ballet hits by Tchaikovsky & friends.)



The melding of ballet and hip-hop was inspired by the dancers who practice outside the opera.


Think they can top it in 2016?

9 thoughts on “Lyon: La Fête des Lumières

  1. Looks like a gorgeous thing to see! I would love to come some year, but that size of a crowd doesn’t make me feel comfortable no matter what. I probably couldn’t enjoy myself being surrounded by that many people! Great pictures!

    1. Thank you! I am not a big fan of crowds myself, I always tried to go on a weeknight when there were fewer people. Walking around was a hazard, but when everyone was standing still looking at the pretty lights it was okay 🙂

  2. Great pictures!! I didn’t really get any good ones last year but I was so glad to have gone. I loved those giant puppets!! We saw them do a whole choreographed show which was really mesmerizing. The whole event is really. I agree with you that holding it this year, while a disappointment to many I’m sure, was probably the right call. It was already pretty stressful navigating the over-saturated streets without getting separated from our small group of 4, and an entire nation wasn’t completely on edge then!!

    1. Thank you! It’s so hard to get good iPhone photos of lights at night but the colors are so bright that it helps. Wow I didn’t know the giant puppets did a choreographed show!!! (I’m picturing them doing the can-can now even though that’s probably not what happened.) That sounds amazing!

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