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Paris normally claims the title, City of Light but for a few days each December, Lyon borrows the crown. Its Festival of Lights is an annual fixture which over the last decade or so has turned into an international event. Other cities, from London to Rome and the far reaches of Finnish Lapland put on their own versions of the light festival but Lyon’s is arguably the best in the world.

credit: M. Chaulet - Ville de Lyon

Displays are a mixture of huge, complex moving images spread across entire buildings, smaller concept pieces and interactive fun and games. Although the giant, awe-inspiring moving canvasses attract the biggest crowds, there’s plenty to see off the beaten track. Over the three days I was there we squeezed in three of four attractions a night. That might not sound much but the crowds are literally in their millions so getting around can be something of a mission. It’s worth the effort though. We gaped open-mouthed as a giant game of Pacman played out across an entire building and round the corner, the gothic-style Cathedral was shrouded in a kaleidoscopic blanket of pink, green, yellow and blues which flickered and vibrated in time to specially commissioned music. An amphitheatre played host to an illuminated history of the city and in the central square two imposing structures provided the canvas for a spectacular animated history of film.

credit: M. Chaulet - Ville de Lyon

The festival is a brilliant spectator experience but it’s also a chance for artists from around the world to show off their skills. Each year they pitch ideas for displays and the best ones win, ensuring incredible performances and light shows which attract millions of visitors. The lights come on every night at 8pm and finish around midnight which might seem plenty of time to navigate a relatively small city like Lyon but prepare for a battle through the hoards. The best approach is to get a map of the installations and work out a route. If you’re only there for a day, don’t plan on seeing everything, prioritise and bear in mind there will be queues for some of the attractions. If you can spare two, three or better still, four days you’ll have a more relaxing time and you’ll also have chance to enjoy the rest of the city in the day time

credit: M. Chaulet - Ville de Lyon

Lyon is a very pretty old city and there’s definitely enough to fill three or four days. A wealth of museums is crowned by the Musée des Confluences, a strikingly modern structure of metal and glass housing science and anthropology exhibitions. For film fans, the Institut Lumière is well worth a visit; it honours the Lumière brothers, Auguste and Louis, generally thought of as the fathers of cinema.

credit: M. Chaulet - Ville de Lyon

As in most French cities, eating and drinks play a central role in Lyon; it’s known as the food capital of France. There are numerous Michelin starred restaurants, but also some great bakeries for less expensive treats and if you want to bring something home, the upmarket food hall, Les Halles de Lyon - Paul Bocuse, has pretty much every delicacy going from fine cheeses, to the local favourite, an incredibly sweet, bright red praline tart.

credit: M. Chaulet - Ville de Lyon

You’ll have to book early to get a bed in a prime location and we stayed in the Okko boutique hotel in the centre of town which was perfect for getting around. The rooms are comfortable and well equipped and there’s an all night snack bar with complimentary soft drinks, biscuits and a mind boggling selection of teas. The perfect way to warm up after a night in the cold, December air.



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Lyon, City of Light
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