Your Guide to the Philadelphia Chinese Lantern Festival in Franklin Square

The dragon is back after three years! Everything to see, do, and eat as Franklin Square lights up.

The Philadelphia Chinese Lantern Festival returns to Franklin Square after three years. / Photograph by Jeff Fusco for Tianyu

After two years off due to the pandemic, Franklin Square will once again light up with giant, colorful sculptures of steel and silk. From the fan-favorite 200-foot-long dragon to ornate walk-through tunnels to a giant swimming whale, you can see over 30 all-new illuminated installations light up the square from June 21st through August 7th.

With larger-than-life displays, performances and other special features, there’s so much to see and do (and photograph) at this family-friendly festival. Here’s what you’ll want to know for your visit.

The Basics

Photograph by Jeff Fusco for Tianyu

From June 21st through August 7th, Franklin Square will be filled with gigantic, colorful Chinese lantern displays — panda colony here, a butterfly tree there, lovely Insta-worthy tunnels, and, of course, a massive dragon, just to name a few — which will light up in the evening. The park will be open (and free as always) during the day, but will close at 5 p.m. each night to prepare for the festival. The ticketed portion of the festival runs every evening from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.

The festival showcases the amazing craftsmanship, cultural significance and artistic beauty of the lanterns, which were built from the ground up right in Franklin Square during a month of welding, silk wrapping and painting. While the lanterns look light and ethereal, they each have a steel frame that is welded into shape, wired with a series of LED lights (in total, 20,000 lights), wrapped with large sheets of silk, and hand-painted.

This year features all-new lantern designs (over 30 installations), many of which have additional features like interactivity and movement. One allows guests to play a drum to change the lantern colors, another requires two people (or one with a wide stride) to stand to light up a heart. This year also seems to have more of an eye toward social media — while most displays remain roped-off to protect the art, Instagram-ready installations include light-up rainbow wings to pose in front of, and a kaleidoscope selfie spot similar to the one you’d find in the Museum of Illusions.

Pandas spin and play, fish swim, flowers bloom, a creepy crab … does whatever crabs do. While the lanterns are free to see during the day, these animations only occur when the sun sets and lanterns turn on.

In addition to the lantern displays, the festival also includes cultural performances, a beer garden and additional food options, a gift shop, and a new fountain show. Franklin Square’s usual attractions – mini-golf, the carousel, and the playground — will continue to run during the festival as well, but they will not be open to the public during those hours.

Performances

Face-changing at the Philadelphia Chinese Lantern Festival / Photograph by Laura Swartz

Visitors can head to the Great Lawn to watch various cultural performances, including folk dance, circus arts and the clear crowd-pleaser: face-changing, where a performer quickly changes a series of masks with just a subtle movement of their hand or fan. Describing this 300-year-old Sichuan tradition does not do it justice; you really need to see it for yourself.

The stage performances are free with admission and will take place in three 30-minute intervals, at 7:30 p.m., 9 p.m., and 10:15 p.m. (So time your tickets accordingly.)

The Franklin Square fountain is also decked out for the festival, with its own set of lanterns and a new show set to “Little Apple” by Chopstick Brothers. You can catch the new fountain show every 30 minutes, aside from the three times the stage performances are running.

The Franklin Square fountain decked out for the Philadelphia Chinese Lantern Festival / Photograph by Laura Swartz

Eat and Shop

The Franklin Square fixture SquareBurger will be operating as usual, with familiar favorites like burgers, fries and shakes. In addition, Sang Kee’s pop-up stand will serve a variety of Chinese specialties in meal-box combos, plus a la carte options including bao buns, dan dan noodles, and more. Sang Kee also has a $12 pineapple smoothie that comes in a pineapple, so live your best life.

The Dragon Beer Garden is also back, this year in a clear tent. The beer garden will serve draft beers, mocktails and four signature cocktails, including a green tea cocktail and a Peking Gin & Ginger. You’ll also find more Asian cuisine in the tent, courtesy of Oishii, including seaweed salad, mochi ice cream, chicken satay, and shrimp tempura (and yes, we realize none of these dishes are Chinese). Last call for the beer garden is 10 p.m., and you can stroll through the entire festival in the square with your adult beverage in hand.

Visit the Pagoda Gift Shop for souvenirs like toys, hand-made crafts, and various kinds of flashy glow wands and crowns.

Plan Your Trip

Photograph by Jeff Fusco for Tianyu

The Philadelphia Chinese Lantern Festival takes place at Franklin Square, located at 6th and Race streets. The show is outdoors, and it’s rain-or-shine. Tickets may be rescheduled with 24 hours’ advance notice. If the conditions are so severe as to force a cancellation, ticket-holders will be emailed.

Tickets are available online and on-site, though purchasing online in advance is strongly recommended because popular times sell out. On Sundays through Thursdays, tickets are $12 for kids ages three to 12 (under three are free), $18 for ages 13 to 17, and $20 for adults. Those prices go up by $3 on Fridays and Saturdays. There’s no re-entry, but you can stay as long as you want once you’re inside the festival.

If you want to play mini-golf, tickets are normally $8 to $10, but you get $2 off with your festival ticket — you can also save that discount for another Franklin Square visit, since your time at the festival is limited and you may not want to take up your time with putt-putt. Likewise, festival-goers get $1 off carousel rides, dropping the price to $1.50.

Want to try your luck at winning free tickets to the festival? Visit during the day for free and go on the Lantern Scavenger Hunt. Visit the ticket booth for information and to start your quest.