Lyon and Paris are fierce competitors on many fronts: art, architecture and food. We might never decide which of the two is France’s gastronomic capital or which is the real City of Lights, but one thing’s for sure – in December, Lyon shines brighter.

Have you heard of the Fête des Lumières?

Fin grandiose en l hommage de la ville de Lyon. Façade de l'hôtel de ville. Place des terreaux. #FDL2014 #fetedeslumieres

A post shared by Fête des Lumières - Lyon (@blog_des_lumieres) on

If you haven’t, you’d better listen carefully.

When did Fête des Lumières begin?

In 1643, Lyon was hit by the plague. It spread like a poison. Desperate residents prayed to the Virgin Mary. They begged her to stop the pandemic. Miraculously, the black death did begin to recede, and the Lyonnais have been grateful ever since.

Contrary to popular belief, this festival has nothing to do with Christmas. This doesn’t stop you from enjoying mulled wine and tasty treats that are sold on every street corner.

Fête des Lumières

Show of solidarity

In 1852, to say thank you, the people of Lyon raised a gold statue of the Virgin Mary next to the Fourvière Basilica. The celebration was cancelled due to a storm, but the Lyonnais refused to let the weather break the promise to their Saviour.

On December the 8th, thousands of people spontaneously placed candles in the windows of their homes. This simple show of solidarity began a trend, one that has been accelerating at light speed ever since…

Today, the Festival of Lights is the world’s number one event for creative light projections. Every year, Lyon welcomes over 4 million people for this event. The festival has a new theme each year, interpreted in over 80 different light displays! You should be one of them. This year’s festivities run from the 8th –10th of December. Each part of the city has a different vibe – download the PDF program of 2016 events.

2015: a year for remembrance

Because of the recent Paris attacks, the 2015 Fête des Lumières was downscaled. Rejecting the modern celebration, citizens remembered victims by placing candles across Lyon.

In a moving tribute, the first names of all 130 victims were projected across the monumental buildings along the River Seine.

Solidarity still remains the main cause of the festival.

Charity is number one

Each year, 8 million candles are sold. The money collected is donated to a different charity each year. In 2016, the money will go to Electriciens Sans Frontières.

This brave, hardworking charity understands access to electricity to be a human right. They seek out and help communities lacking this life-enriching resource.

You can purchase a ‘Lumignon du Coeur’ through the website!

Energy efficient?

You’d think this festival would be hugely expensive to run, right? Think again. Over 4 days, the electricity bill is just over €3000. That’s just 1% of Lyon’s electricity consumption in a year. Why’s that? It’s probably because everyone’s outside!

Who makes it happen?

It takes a whole year for the Festival of Lights to be prepared. When you see it, you’ll understand why. More than 1,500 people work behind the scenes; security and volunteers included. In March, professional artists are invited to apply for their work to appear in Lyon’s major sights. About 400 people apply, and only 12 are selected. This really is the best of the best.

This year, the Fête des Lumières website is holding a contest. If you enjoy photography and think you have what it takes, why not take part? Just add the hashtag #JeuMesLumières2016 for a change to win the City of Lyon prize. By the way, you won’t need to use a flash!

Don’t forget to add the hashtag #FDL2016 to your Instagram photos. The most beautiful pictures will be projected onto the ferris wheel in Place Bellecour!

Getting to Fête des Lumières

  • Fly to Lyon, then take the Rhône Express to the city centre.
  • OR fly to Geneva (often a cheaper option), and get a Blablacar or train to Lyon.
  • Lyon is in central Europe – you can get a train from many different cities.

Public transport information during Fête des Lumières

  • On Thursday December the 8th, ALL public transport is FREE after 16h.
  • From 16h on the 9th and 10th of December, unlimited travel is just €3 per night with the TCL en Fête ticket. You can purchase this ticket from the 1st – 10th at ticket dispensing machines and at TCL desks.

If you’re travelling to Lyon, don’t forget to book your accommodation in advance!

Watch this video to see what to expect in 2016!