Your Guide to the Philadelphia Chinese Lantern Festival in Franklin Square
The dragon is back! Everything to see, do, and eat as Franklin Square lights up.
Franklin Square will once again light up with giant, colorful sculptures of steel and silk. From the fan-favorite 164-foot-long (fire-breathing!) dragon to ornate walk-through tunnels to pandas galore, over 30 all-new illuminated installations will light up the square from June 21st through August 13th.
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.
From June 21st through August 13th, Franklin Square will be filled with gigantic, colorful Chinese lantern displays — a panda playground here, a snapping piranha plant there, lovely Insta-worthy tunnels and massive dragons, just to name a few. 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 to 11 p.m.
The festival showcases the amazing craftsmanship, cultural significance and artistic beauty of the lanterns, which were shipped from China and assembled in Franklin Square over a one-month period. 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, 25,000 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 movement and interactivity. One allows guests to play a whack-a-mole-like game on a giant panda’s stomach; another tells your fortune.
Yet another — and by far my nine-year-old daughter’s favorite — features two parrots that talk and move, using your voice. (Speak into one of the tree microphone stations and your voice will be pitched-up as one of the birds performs your line!)
There are also plenty of photo ops. While most displays remain roped-off to protect the art, Instagram-ready installations include a light-up rainbow panda-head arch to pose inside and a “fairy tale tree” made of fiber-optic lights to walk through. And a 33-foot-tall lingzhi tree spouts bubbles that release fog when popped.
In addition to the lantern displays, the festival also includes cultural performances, a beer garden and other food options, a gift shop and a fountain show.
Franklin Square’s usual attractions – mini-golf and carousel — will continue to run during the festival as well, but they will not be open to the public during those hours. The park’s playground will remain open (and free) during festival hours, but you have to enter from 7th Street.
During the day, you can stroll around and see the lanterns for free. The lanterns’ animations only occur when the sun sets and they turn on, so you won’t get the full effect, but it’s a great option for little ones who can’t stay up for summertime’s late sundown anyway. You can also go on the Lantern Scavenger Hunt during daytime hours to win free carousel tickets. Visit the ticket booth for information and to start your quest.
Performances and Activities
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. A flamboyance of flamingoes preens while two hippos greet you from its depths. There’s also a special fountain show set to “Little Apple” by Chopstick Brothers. You can catch it every 30 minutes, aside from the three times the stage performances are running.
Back for the first time since the pandemic, folk artists will be in the Beer Garden tent demonstrating crafts like lantern painting and aluminum braiding.
New for this year, there will be free hands-on activities on Friday and Saturday evenings. At 7:15 p.m. and 9 p.m. you can participate in a dumpling workshop with Sang Kee. At 8:15 p.m., participate in a folk dance lesson with the festival performers. And you can meet one of the face-changers (and take a photo with them) at 6:30 p.m. All activities are included in your ticket price.
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 combos and a la carte options, including dan dan noodles and dumplings. Sang Kee also has a $12 pineapple smoothie that comes in a pineapple, so live your best life.
The Dragon Beer Garden tent is back, with draft beers, mocktails and signature cocktails. You’ll also find pan-Asian cuisine in the tent, courtesy of Oishii, including seaweed salad, mochi ice cream, chicken satay, bubble tea and bao buns. The beer garden is open till 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, handmade crafts, and various kinds of flashy glow wands and crowns.
Plan Your Trip
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. Sundays through Thursdays, tickets are $14 for kids ages three to 12 (under three are free), $20 for ages 13 to 17, and $22 for adults. Adult and youth prices 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 or ride the carousel, plan ahead because there are combo tickets available online to save you a little money on the Franklin Square attractions.
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