North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival: Everything You Need to Know

Entry walkway at the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival.

This past holiday season I was able to mark another item off of our Fort Bragg Bucket List when we attended the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival in Cary!

This Festival begins in late November, running through mid-January. And it is better than Christmas lights!

Yep, I said it.

I mean, just look at all the bright and beautiful colors. It’s mesmerizing.

The North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival is a recent annual occurrence at Booth Amphitheater in Cary (an hour’s drive from Fort Bragg). We decided to make a whole day of our visit to the festival, which doesn’t open until 6:00. First, we visited the Natural Science Museum in Raleigh, had dinner at Dean’s, and then braved the cold to see these gorgeous lanterns.

I’ll admit that the prices are steep for what is practically a Christmas light display. At $18 (adult) and $15 (child) a ticket, entry for our family of four was $66. However, it might be a once in a lifetime opportunity for us (considering we never know where we will spend the next Christmas) and I chose to take it.

Chinese Lantern Festival History

The origin of the Chinese Lantern Festival dates back more than 2,000 years when practicing Buddhists would light lanterns at their homes and temples on the 15th day of the new year. Over time, these simple lanterns became more ornate, eventually transforming into works of art. And the tradition of lighting them at home became more of a community event, until the tradition became a full blown festival complete with traditional food, cultural performances, and streets full of mesmerizing lanterns.

Entry walkway at the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival.

The 2018 entry walkway to the NC Lantern Festival was lined with hundreds of lanterns hanging overhead.

Only in recent years has this Eastern tradition spread to the Western world. In America, you can find Chinese Lantern Festivals in Los Angeles, Knoxville, New Orleans, Phoenix, and Tulsa. While these festivals have gone on for decades in larger cities like Los Angeles, medium-sized cities, like Cary, are using them to boost tourism.

About the Lanterns

The lanterns are individually designed and crafted by Chinese artists hired by Tianyu Arts & Culture. This company puts on lantern festivals all across the U.S. to share their culture and increase revenues at venues such as botanical gardens.

Tianyu Arts & Culture take pride in knowing that their lantern masterpieces are not mass-produced. Each year their artists create brand new lanterns, so what you see at this year’s festival, might not be there at your next visit! However, some fan favorites return year after year. Such as the dragon on Booth Theater’s Symphony Lake.

Things to do at Fort Bragg, NC: Visit the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival.

North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival Photos

The lanterns range from traditional Chinese symbols (such as the Dragon) to quirky Eastern-influenced set-ups (such as the Panda Village).

My girls especially loved the group of fairies, the mermaid, and the Pegasus!

While my husband liked the giant Chinese tower.

The giant heart is an Instagram favorite, so of course I made our picture in front of it too!

We had so much fun finding our animals in the Chinese Zodiac tunnel.

The lanterns aren’t the only attraction at the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival. There were cultural performances happening every hour! The kids didn’t want to stand and watch all of the performances, but we were able to catch a few of them. There are also food and drink vendors on-site.

Things to Know Before You Go

  • It’s cheaper to purchase tickets in advance. You can buy them directly from the Booth Amphitheater’s website.
  • Parking is free!
  • This is an outside event, so make sure you prepare for the weather.
  • Plan for at least an hour to see all of the lanterns, but you’ll probably want to stay longer.
  • Don’t forget your camera!
  • Pets are NOT allowed.

If you ever get the chance to visit the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival in Cary, GO! It was a nice break from traditional Christmas lights and an awesome experience. My only regret was forgetting my camera!

Fort Bragg Bucket List #62: Go to the Chinese Lantern Festival in Cary, North Carolina.

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