Unsure about your French table manners? Click Here to download > > How to avoid these 10 food etiquette mistakes !

logo on offbeatfrance
logo on offbeatfrance
logo on offbeatfrance
logo on offbeatfrance

Follow me on

  1. Home
  2. Destinations
  3. Lyon
  4. Lyon in December

Lyon in December or – What is Lyon in winter really like? 

Published 20 September 2023 by Leyla Alyanak

There are so many things to do in Lyon in December! Here are just a few...

You might think this isn't the best season to visit Lyon - you'd be both right and wrong.

Yes, there are seasons during which the weather is balmier, but none when the light is clearer. Lyon in December can be as grim as it is gorgeous, with an energy you won't find when the heat of summer flattens you.

A France winter can be gorgeous, like this riverside sceneA houseboat on the water in Lyon in December

But weather isn't what defines a place, is it? Lyon in December is exceptional – in fact, it might just be the perfect season for a visit: the cuisine is anything but light, so the cold outdoors make it perfect for sampling; the Christmas spirit is bright and filled with light; and the greyness that sometimes envelops the city seems to somehow heighten its beauty.

I've visited a number of times in December, since I only live just over an hour away by train, so Lyon is my go-to city and large enough to always offer up something new.

NOTE: Pages on this site may contain affiliate links, which bring in a small commission at no cost to you.

15 Best Things to do in Lyon in December 

Let's look at what you can actually DO in Lyon in the last month of the year... first, the "incontournables", as we say in French, the "unmissables".

1. Fête des Lumières: 7-10 December 2023

This is the one event at the top of every travel tips list if your trip to Lyon happens to fall around December 8th. And with reason.

The Festival of Lights in Lyon is a unique event which takes over the entire city with not one light show, but many, up and down the hills and across town, from Place Bellecour to the Place des Terreaux.

A bit like a Mardi Gras or Carnival, you have to like crowds and enjoy massive events that take place out of doors, often in the cold. I didn't love the crowds, but the light shows were spectacular and I'll be heading back for another round of what has now become an international event.

Lyon December 8 Fete des Lumieres - fantasy light illumination on a buildingOne of many illuminations of the Lyon Light Festival - each is different, and many artists participate in the original creations

2. Christmas market on Place Carnot

There are plenty of Christmas markets spread around Lyon, many of them focused on a neighborhood. But if you can only see a single one, the Place Carnot has the largest and best known. Head there for some Christmas cheer and plenty of music of every kind. Let your nose guide you towards the hot mulled wine and the grilled chestnuts!

3. Ride the giant ferris wheel

If you've seen photos of the giant Place Bellecour, you've probably seen these things: the Tourist Office, the omnipresent statue of Louis XIV on horseback next to the metro station, and, if you're visiting in winter, a giant ferris wheel towering over the square. That ferris wheel, imported from Italy, stands 55m / 150ft tall and has 28 six-person cabins. 

The first time I saw it, it felt rather overwhelming, especially in a city of classic low-rises.

Fun Lyon things to do in December: ride the giant ferris wheel

The wheel used to face North-South, but now faces East-West. A few years ago, the city was sued by a resident for physical and psychological damages caused by the wheel's lights. She won, and the ferris wheel was reoriented to avoid her window...

This video will give you an idea of the incredible view you can expect from on high!

4. Take a food tour 

Of course! Lyon is considered the gastronomical capital of France, so it stands to reason that tasting all of the foods could be high on your list. Lyon has plenty of specialties you can discover on your own or if your time is limited, a food tour is the perfect way to discover them.

Pralines being served on a food tour in LyonTasting typical pralines of Lyon at the end of our food tour

5. Visit Les Halles Paul Bocuse

Lyon is the capital of the Rhône department (one of France's 101 departments) and as you may know, Paul Bocuse – known variously as the Chef of the Century and the Pope of Gastronomy – is from here. 

At Christmas, the French eat a lot of seafood and other delicacies that might not otherwise be everyday fare. And Les Halles Paul Bocuse, named in honor of the chef, is where you'll find all of these! The freshest oysters, the widest range of cheeses, the most delectable pastries... Once you enter, you may never leave!

What to do in Lyon France: visit Les Halles and sample delicious pastriesDelightful Sève pastry shop at Les Halles Paul Bocuse

6. Snuggle up in a bouchon 

This is a winter classic. A bouchon is a traditional restaurant in Lyon, which serves typical – and often heavy – local foods. True foodies looking for things to do in Lyon any time of year will of course try out a bouchon, but this kind of food is best sampled in winter. It'll warm you up no end!

Lyon France things to do: sample Lyonnaise cuisine, like this AndouilletteThere are many local foods to sample in the bouchons of Lyon, France's gastronomic capital - one of my favorites is andouillette (tripe sausage) with a creamy mustard sauce

7. Enjoy the lights of Fourvière between Christmas and New Year 

While you'll enjoy the Festival of Lights in early December, there's another fantastic installation that isn't to be missed. Between Christmas in Lyon and New Year's, hop on the funicular and ride up Fourvière Hill to the Basilica for an unbelievable light show on the church's façade.

8. Visit the latest museum exhibits

Lyon is known for its many interesting museums, and getting out of the cold while imbibing some culture is a win-win. You can take your pick but I've chosen some of my favorites for you:

  • the Lyon Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des Beaux-Arts), the largest fine arts museum in France (other than the Louvre)
  • the Musée des Confluences, shaped like a giant metallic sail, is Lyon's science, anthropology and society museum
  • the Museum of Cinema and Miniatures, with 150 tiny amazing replicas and plenty of exhibits for film fans (Charlie Chaplin's cane, anyone?)
  • Lugdunum, one of my personal favorites, which traces Lyon's Roman history back to when it was the capital of Gaul

Lyon has two dozen excellent museums on everything from the French Resistance to the birth of printing and photography, so if you want to get inside, you know what to do!

Exterior of Lyon Confluences Museum, designed to look like a metallic mobile sail

Offbeat activities that aren't on every Lyon in winter list 

Winter weather can be a bit of a challenge, which is why many people visiting Lyon in winter try to find things to do indoors. And yes, I agree, on a cold, dark day, getting inside is a good idea. But the month of December also has some gloriously sunny days that will almost beg you to go outdoors. Below are activities for both sunny and gray days – you choose!

9. Stroll around Vieux Lyon 

This might not be an obvious choice, because if it rains or snows, cobblestones can be slippery. Also, the charming cafés that crowd the streets in summer are nowhere to be seen. But there are three things to do in Old Lyon if you happen to be here when it's cold.

The first is to visit the Food Traboule for a meal, an upmarket food court which a group of chefs have put together. It's a fun mixture of fusion foods, if you still want to eat "Lyonnais" but are open to new interpretations.

The second fun thing to do in the Vieux-Lyon is to explore the traboules, or secret passageways that link streets to one another. Many of them are closed, but a few of the larger ones remain open, perfect to warm up if it's chilly outside – and a great thing to do on one of those sunnier days.

And finally, this is when you get to drink a cup of mulled wine, a welcome respite from the multitude of ice cream parlors that crowd the Rue Saint-Jean in summer. Just pop into one of the many establishments along the street, and sample!

Wet winter cobblestones in Old LyonCobblestones in Old Lyon can get slippery in winter

10. Explore the city's murals 

One of my favorite outdoor activities is to visit Lyon's magnificent murals, of which the city has around 150. Some aren't very central, but some of the most stunning - like the Fresque des Lyonnais or the Mur des Canuts - are easy to get to. The winter light shining on these giant works of art give them a particular brilliance in winter.

One of the most fun things to do in Lyon France is visit its many outdoor murals, like this one about Beaujolais wine

11. Run the SaintéLyon 

Are you a long-distance runner? Do you dream of getting out into nature at night? La SaintéLyon is an annual race that starts in the city of Saint-Etienne and ends in Lyon. It is made up of two hikes, several team relays, and individual races. Do one segment, or do them all.

It's apparently not an easy race for beginners or a difficult one for seasoned runners. But if you've already been training and are ready to test yourself... find out more on their website (in French only, I'm afraid).

12. Party at a local light show in Caluire-Et-Cuire 

While the Light Festival gets all the kudos, there's another, smaller festival that isn't half as showy but that has a neighborhood feel. If you happen to be in Caluire-et-Cuire, a northern suburb of Lyon wedged between the Rhône and Saône rivers, drop by their festivities for some local flavor and watch the release of flying lanterns.

People usually gather on the Saturday of the Fête des Lumières but the exact gathering places are published closer to the date. Check the (automatically translated) site of the local city hall.

13. Do your Christmas shopping 

On the first Saturday of the month, December included, head for the courtyard of the Hôtel-Dieu to the Marché des Créateurs "Lyon Can Do It", for artisanal products from throughout the region, from porcelain to jewelry to candles and plenty more. Take home something original!

Many specialties cannot be taken home with you – they tend to be food-related. But there is one item that Lyon serves up better than anyone else: silk.

Croix-Rousse Hill was once the heart of Lyon's silk trade, and Lyon was the European capital of silk. Scattered throughout the area (as well as in other parts of Lyon) are wonderful silk manufacturers and boutiques, where you can pick up genuine silk scarves made locally, by hand.

If you're curious about the silk-making process and want to see it at work, this tour will guide you through it and show you how it's done.

Silk printing workshop in LyonLearning all about the Lyon silk-making industry

14. Take a day trip to the Beaujolais and the Pierres Dorées 

The southern tip of the Beaujolais is close to Lyon, just half an hour's drive. The end of November is when the Beaujolais Nouveau is released, so it's still fresh and new and fun to drink.

But that's not the only reason to visit in December. Pierres Dorées means "golden stones", a name that portrays the yellow ochre rock used to build houses in this region, giving the region a decidedly Tuscan feel.

One of those villages, Oingt, is a special place, home to an informal contest of Nativity displays each year. Residents and shops vie with one another to build and display the prettiest scenes.

And if you want a taste of wine in a real chateau, head for my favorite in the area, the Château de Montmelas (website in French), open in December.

15. Go to the botanical gardens at the Parc de la Tête d'Or

Yes, seriously! France's largest urban park is as wonderful in winter as it is in summer, and in the cold, in lieu of summer picnics, the citizens of Lyon will make a beeline for the heated tropical greenhouse filled with plant species from around the world.

You may not be south of the Equator, but you'll be surrounded by coconut palms, banana leaves and orchids galore...

How cold does Lyon in December weather get?

For those of you with a scientific bent, Lyon officially has a humid temperate subtropical climate with hot summers.

What’s it really like? In December, it rains, it sometimes snows, there’s some sun, and you’d better carry around your list of things to do indoors (see plenty of them above).

Yes, I did say the S word. Snow. Neige. It does happen in Lyon, and when it does, I find it rather beautiful, because it doesn’t last. But not every December, so don’t get your hopes up.

A lot of people suggest you bypass December in Lyon and opt for another month. I’ve visited several Decembers and I couldn’t disagree more. There’s energy in the air, freshness, Christmas is on its way, and if you’ve lived in really cold parts of the world, this will barely feel like winter. It can be the best time or the worst time to visit, depending on how adventurous you are.

The average temperature in December can hit 7.3°C/45°F in daytime and plunge to 1.6°C/35°F at night. But these days, frankly, who can predict… In truth, December is the second coldest month of the year in Lyon (the coldest being January). 

So make sure you dress warmly, and in layers. You'll want to be able to remove a layer if you spend an hour or two in a museum or a restaurant, or add a warm scarf is the temperatures plunge.

FAQ Winter in Lyon, France

Is Lyon worth visiting in December?

A Lyon winter is worth experiencing, especially if you can make it in time for the Festival of Lights, one of the best things to do in Lyon in December.

Does it snow in Lyon at Christmas? Does it snow in Lyon in December?

It CAN snow in December in Lyon, or after Christmas, and you could run into inclement weather, but it won't stop you from enjoying the daylight hours or the many things to do in the winter season.

What happens in December in Lyon?

The major event is the popular tradition of the Festival of Lights, but there's plenty more to do, including magical evenings lit up for the holidays and plenty of sightseeing during the hours of sunshine (yes, it does shine, but not as often as at other times).

Is December a good time to visit Lyon?

Yes December is a great time to visit Lyon! Not only can you enjoy bright lights, but there is plenty of street art, hot chocolate and fabulous photography to be had, despite the cold weather. or occasional rainy days. Lyon is an incredible city, in any season.

Is Lyon worth visiting in winter?

It absolutely is. Its rich history is laid out for all to see, whatever the weather conditions, and winter is an ideal time to sample the delicious food Lyon has become known for.

The city is filled with UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and there are fewer foreign visitors crowding the streets of Lyon.

If you're looking for things to do in France in the winter, Lyon is a perfect base, both for the city itself, but also for its proximity to some of the best ski resorts of the French Alps.

What is the best way to get around Lyon?

Lyon is a very walkable city, but it's divided into distinct neighborhoods. You can walk around each neighborhood but to go from one to the next, you might want to make use of the city's excellent public transportation. Here's how it works.

Before you go...

Lyon is magical in December, at a time when many cities take out their holiday finery. The combination of bright lights and cobblestone reflections is one of the charms of France in winter. The same goes for Paris in December – the Champs-Elysées may not be everyone's favorite street during high summer season but in December, it becomes an enchanted pathway of twinkling trees.

Ready for your Lyon trip?

Here are some suggestions to make your visit even more enjoyable!

 Vieux Lyon 4-hour Food Tasting Tour - for inveterate foodies and gastronomes
 Discover Lyon Walking Tour - to explore the essence of the city

 Golden Stones Beaujolais - heart of the Golden Stone villages for wine lovers
 Northern Côtes du Rhône - meeting the winemakers
Beaujolais and Pérouges - wine tasting and a medieval village visit

 Villa Florentine - stunning 5-star luxury overlooking the entire city
Mi-Hotel Tour Rose - perfect apartments in historic Vieux Lyon
Fourvière Hotel - elegant simplicity in a former cloister
Hotel du Théatre - budget option in the heart of the classical district

Renting a car in Lyon? Compare prices here.
Traveling here by train? Book your ticket here.
To see the city, don't forget to book your Lyon City Card.

Did you enjoy this article? I'd love if you shared it!

Lyon in December pin2
Lyon in December pin
Lyon in December pin1