Philadelphia Chinese Lantern Festival Returns to Franklin Square
What’s new, what’s back, and what you’ll be doing at this magnificent installation.
UPDATE: Due to popular demand (and a season full of rain), the Chinese Lantern Festival has been extended until July 8!
The Philadelphia Chinese Lantern Festival returns to Franklin Square from May 1 through July 8, bringing 28 all-new illuminated installations made up of 1,500 individual works of art, created using traditional Chinese methods.
This family-friendly event showcases the amazing craftsmanship, cultural significance, and artistic beauty of the lanterns, and includes cultural celebration and performances to add to your visit.
The Chinese Lantern Festival features a couple familiar favorites — the pandas and the dragon are back — but otherwise debuts 28 new displays this year, built from the ground up right here in Franklin Square over a month of welding, silk wrapping, and painting. The lanterns contain over 15,000 LED lights wired to their steel frames!
There’s plenty to admire and walk through, but perhaps the most exciting new addition is the Great White Shark Tunnel, which you’ll definitely want to experience a few times (and take some creative and silly photos while you’re at it). The artists have also used new technology and engineering to bring the Endangered Species Gallery to life for the first time in the United States. This features animals like rockhopper penguins, a poison dart frog, and dolphins.
You can come to the Franklin Square and view the lanterns for free during the day, but at night, they will glow and change. The brand new Fairy Tree changes colors as you watch it, while the new interactive elephant lantern changes colors as you pedal the bicycle attached to it! We were there as night fell, so we got to see the lanterns both with and without the lights, and there’s just something extra special about walking through a shark tunnel when it’s twinkling and dynamic. Spinning is encouraged.
The Pagoda Gift Shop on site has lots of fun souvenirs, representing both Philly (Sixers gear, anyone?) and Chinese culture. The panda hats with attached scarf and mittens were a clear favorite. There are plenty of toys, clothes, and other trinkets as well. You can also buy various kinds of flashy glow wands, because you just know your kid wants one, so embrace the crazy as you stay out way past bedtime!
In addition to the gift shop, you can visit various tents to shop for Chinese folk artists’ crafts created right on site. These include art such as wire weaving, jianzhi (ancient paper cutting), sugar painting, and more.
Visitors can watch various cultural performances, including many types of acrobatics and the unbelievable art of face-changing. In face-changing, 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.
There will also be unique acts like plate spinning, contortion, and juggling.
There will be two performances per evening on the weekdays, at 8 pm and 9:30 pm; and three performances on Fridays-Sundays, at 7:30 pm, 9 pm, and 10:30 pm. Performances will take place on the stage on the Great Lawn, near the Race Street side of Franklin Square.
The Franklin Square fixture SquareBurger will be operating as usual, with some specials: a Sweet and Sour Burger and the Fortune Cookie Shake.
There is also a Snack Shack at the shark tunnel, serving coffee, drinks, and some Asian-inspired snacks like fried rice and dumplings. In addition, the Great Lawn Grill has a tent set up with a variety of Asian-inspired cuisine like chicken satay, bao buns, soba noodle salad, and bubble tea.
The Dragon Beer Garden is also back, located behind the Great Lawn Grill (and in the shadow of the 200-foot dragon, hence the name). The beer garden will serve beer, wine, and signature cocktails, as well as some Chinese-inspired bites like wings and veggie skewers.
A couple of notes on the beer garden: last call is 10 pm. This year, you can stroll through the entire festival in the square with your adult beverage in hand!
The Chinese Lantern Festival opens May 1 and runs through July 8. It is located at Franklin Square, at Sixth and Race streets in Philadelphia. The festival opens at 7 pm (6 pm on Friday and Saturday) and closes at 11 pm every night. Timed tickets are required for entry on Fridays and Saturdays during the festival, as it gets very crowded. Once you are inside the festival, there is no time limit for how long you can stay.
Tickets are available online, or you can buy them in person at Franklin Square when you arrive (you just might have to deal with some long lines). Tickets cost $18 for adults, $12 for kids (age 2 and under are free), and $15 for seniors and members of the military. Tickets do not include food, beverages, or admission to the Parx Liberty Carousel and Philly Mini Golf.
It is free to enter Franklin Square and view the lanterns during the day, but the park will close to the public at 6 pm (5 pm on Fridays and Saturdays) for festival preparations. The Franklin Square Playground will continue to be open and free during the evening hours (until 9 pm), accessible from Seventh Street. Attendees of the festival may have their hand stamped to enter the playground through its main entrance from the square, and re-enter the festival after some playtime.
Photographs by Laura Swartz.