No matter what time of year it is, Lyon is an incredible city to visit in France. And even though I’m not a big fan of winter, I can’t deny that Lyon in the wintertime is quite magical.
In December, there are lots of wintertime activities and events that take place in Lyon, such as ice skating, carnival rides, neighborhood Christmas markets, and more.
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One of my favorite festivals in Lyon actually falls on December 8th, otherwise known as The Festival of Lights (more on that below)! 🕯
I’ve had the fortune of living in Lyon for over a year as an exchange student, so I’ve experienced Lyon in all seasons.
But even though I’m not a student anymore, I still visit and pass through Lyon during either the winter or summer (or sometimes both) to visit my partner’s family who is from the region.
And whenever we spend winter in Lyon, we always end up at one of the Christmas markets or cozied up inside a traditional restaurant.
Despite the cold and frost, there are plenty of festive activities both indoor and outdoor that will make your trip to Lyon even more special and memorable!
Read more below for the best things to do and see in Lyon in the winter! ❄️
Best Things to Do in Lyon in Winter
Experience Lyon’s Festival of Lights (December 8th–11th)
- ❄️ When: December 8 – December 11, 2022
- 📍 Where: All over the city
The Festival of Lights known as La Fête des Lumières began as Lyon’s annual festival honoring the Virgin Mary in a tradition that dates back to 1852, when the local Lyonnais would place candles on their window sills and balconies on the night of December 8th.
It is said that the locals placing candles on their balconies and window sills at night was an act of social solidarity during a time of unrest and radical change in 1852—the year the city decided to erect a statue of the Virgin Mary atop Fourvière Hill.
Effectively, the Festival of Lights in Lyon grew beyond only religious symbolism and candles on window sills; now it’s a much-loved national and international event featuring dazzling light shows and installations across the city made by artists all over the world.
The backdrops for these immersive light installations?
None other than the UNESCO World Heritage sites and most elegant buildings of Lyon. Together, these artistic masterpieces illuminate the city.
This year, the Fête des Lumières 2022 will showcase over 30 masterpieces and light installations across the city.
You can find all the scheduled shows for the 2022 program online to make sure you don’t miss out!
Expect some of the most fantastical and magical displays on the iconic buildings of Lyon, including:
- La Cathédrale Saint-Jean (located in the Vieux Lyon district)
- La Basilique de Fourvière
- Place des Terreaux (Hôtel de Ville)
- Place des Jacobins
- Rue de la République
- and more!
Stroll the Christmas Market at Place Carnot
- ❄️ When: November 26 – December 24, 2022
- 📍 Where: Place Carnot, Lyon’s 2nd district (directions)
The big Christmas Market of Lyon, or Le Marché de Noël de Lyon, takes place each year in Carnot Square.
In years past, the market has featured over 100 cozy cottages. As you stroll around this classic European Christmas market, smells of spiced mulled wine, cheesy tartiflette, and colorful confections will envelop you.
My favorite part of these markets is always the food and drinks and Christmas decorations, but there are also loads of trinkets, toys, and responsibly-made crafts from French artisans that make the perfect last-minute gift.
“Every year the objective of the Christmas Market remains the same: to showcase the know-how and talents of producers, craftsmen and companies from the region and the country. 80% of the chalets are French traders and craftsmen.”Marché de noël Lyon
Catch a Play or Concert at the Lyon Opera
- 🎟 Cost: From 10€ to 110€
- ❄️ When: Winter schedule 2022-2023
One of the best things to do in Lyon in winter is to indulge in a play, dance, show, or concert at the regal Lyon Opera (Opéra de Lyon).
In fact, one of my fondest memories of spending winter in Lyon was when my partner took me to see The Nutcracker. We dressed up fancy-schmancy—me in heels and a lace dress (ooh la la) and Paul in a tux—and snagged balcony seats. The interior of the opera is as one would expect—classic, artsy, and dripping in red silk.
I always say the best part about winter is being able to cuddle up indoors (lol). The museums, the opera house, and other iconic attractions of Lyon are perfect for visiting in the winter for that reason.
That said, here are a couple of museums in Lyon that make great indoor activities:
- Musée des Beaux-Arts (Museum of Fine Arts)
- Musée des Confluences (Science and Anthropology Museum)
- Musées Gadagnes (Museum of History and the Puppetry Museum)
✨ Get free access to 23 museums and 40+ activities with the Lyon City Card pass.
Ride the Ferris Wheel on Place Bellecour
- 🎟 Cost: 9€ Adults, 6€ Children (2–10 years)
- ❄️ When: November 25, 2022 – March 12, 2023
La Place Bellecour, or Bellecour Square, also comes alive during the winter in Lyon! On this square in winter, a giant Ferris wheel, known as Lyon’s “Big Wheel” or “Diamond Wheel”, acts as a beacon in the night.
The 55m (180 ft) tall Ferriss wheel always takes its place on Bellecour each winter, offering tourists and residents a chance to ride in one of its 28 enclosed pods.
The wheel features its own special light show during the Fête des Lumières and closes especially at 1 am on those nights.
Whether you’re visiting the city for the first time or are a local, a ride on the Ferris wheel is like a rite of passage during the wintertime in Lyon.
Wine Tasting at the Annual Beaujolais Days
- ❄️ When: Mid-November
- 📍 Where: Beaujolais, Rhône-Alpes
Every year, the wine-making region of Beaujolais hosts a variety of festivals celebrating the new Beaujolais (Beaujolais Nouveau).
The tradition goes, “the arrival of the new Beaujolais” (L’arrivée des Beaujolais Nouveaux) is on the third Thursday of the month of November. Stay up to date on the Beaujolais event calendar.
During this time, the industry comes together to celebrate the first Beaujolais wine of the season. Across a festive 5-day celebration, you can eat, drink, and be merry alongside the region’s winemakers.
🍷 Alternatively, you can take a guided wine-tasting tour of Beaujolais and explore its medieval villages on a day trip from Lyon.
Visit the Traditional Croix-Rousse Carnival
- ❄️ When: October 1 – November 13
- 📍 Where: Place Croix-Rousse, Lyon’s 4th district (Directions)
When you visit Lyon from autumn to early winter, you can’t miss out on the last remaining traditional carnivals of Lyon.
Hosted by the neighborhood of Croix-Rousse for over 150 years, this historic carnival, called La Vogue des Marrons, is quintessential Lyon.
Spread out on the Croix-Rousse Square and the Boulevard, the Vogue des Marrons boasts carnival rides, fair food, live farm animals, and more. It’s become a local’s favorite tradition.
While this annual event technically falls during the autumn season in Lyon (1 October to 13 November), it will still feel very much like early winter. The first year we went it began to snow!
Make sure to bundle up and stay warm with a bag of roasted chestnuts, toasty chocolate crêpe, and a cup of mulled wine or vin chaud! 🌰🍷
Dine Inside a Traditional Bouchon Lyonnais
Finally, eating at a traditional restaurant in Lyon, known as a bouchon Lyonnais, is a must-do in the wintertime.
From the mouth-watering regional dishes to the pitchers of red wine to the cozy ambiance, these typical restaurants of Lyon are the perfect place to get warm and share a special moment between friends or family.
And Lyon is chock-full of them! Some of the best bouchons are located in the historic part of the city, in Old Lyon.
If you only have one day in Lyon, I highly recommend you spend the bulk of your time exploring this district!
When Exactly Is Winter in Lyon?
Seeing as it’s in the Northern Hemisphere, the winter season in Lyon, France technically begins sometime in mid-December and ends mid-March the following year.
But winter weather arrives much earlier than that. Temperatures in Lyon begin to decrease in November while cloudy and rainy days increase, particularly in December.
January is the coldest winter month in Lyon with averages hovering around 2.5°C (36°F).
What to Pack for a Winter Vacation in Lyon
All that said, and considering Lyon has several wintertime festivals taking place outdoors, you’ll want to pack the following:
- Waterproof boots or shoes (I wear my Danner Vertigo Boots)
- A long trench coat or parka
- Toboggan and gloves
- Wind-proof or down jacket (like this one from REI)
- Long pants
- Insulated leggings
- Rainjacket & umbrella
I know I can never be too warm when visiting Lyon (or any European city) in the winter (especially when it has been drizzling in Lyon, the wind factor adds to the dampness and chilliness).
I really dislike the kind of cold that soaks straight through to your bones, so if I have the chance to layer up, I do!
And if you still get cold with all of that, stop by one of the Christmas markets to warm up with a cup of steaming hot wine. 😉
Is Visiting Lyon in Winter Worth It?
Between the majestic Festival of Lights, inspiring Christmas markets, and cozy bouchon restaurants dimly lit with candles and laughter, Lyon is a truly special place to visit in the winter and is a very much worthwhile trip.
And while I prefer Lyon in the summer, I would be remiss to deny its magic and beauty that can only be experienced during the cold winter months.
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What are you most looking forward to on a winter vacation in Lyon? Let me know in the comments!