The Asian Lantern Festival Celebrates Animals, Culture, and More

Published by Jeremy. Last Updated on May 22, 2024.

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The Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium is known for putting on many events throughout the year, and in 2023 they are bringing back one of their most popular events- the Asian Lantern Festival running on Thursday to Sunday nights through October 29th!

We were fortunate enough to visit the Seoul Lantern Festival when visiting South Korea in 2019 and absolutely loved the large, ornate, and colorful paper sculptures that lined Cheonggyecheon Stream in the heart of the city (see some of our favorites over at our travel blog at the previous link).

Naturally, when we heard that the Pittsburgh Zoo was going to host their own lantern festival, we knew we had to attend. We love this one so much that we return back to check out every year's show right after opening in early August.

In this one, we thought we'd share a bit more about what the Asian Lantern Festival at the zoo is like in 2023, share a few of our favorite pieces, and give some tips to help you plan your visit for this limited-time show.

What to Expect at the Asian Lantern Festival

Pagoda at the Asian Lantern Festival

The 2023 Asian Lantern Festival at the Pittsburgh Zoo is themed World of Wonders and celebrates a mix of Asian culture, international wildlife, and the zoo's 125th anniversary all in one experience.

Throughout our ~60-minute walk around the zoo, we were dazzled with approximately 50 unique paper lanterns including scenes like the Chinese Zodiac animals, a giant pagoda, terra cotta warriors, animals in the Serengeti, panda bears, an under the see scene, and so much more. While the lanterns were somewhat evenly split with Asian culture lanterns in the first section, land animals in the second, and aquatic animals in the third, they did a great job mixing up the lanterns ever-so-slightly too for variety.

Much like in the previous year, most exhibits came with small signs that explained what you were looking at which gave greater detail on the origin and meaning of each display.

Terra Cotta Warrior Lanterns

Much like the lantern festival we visited in Seoul, the art was striking for its vibrant colors, complexity, and unique ways to showcase the theme at large. Throw in the fact that some of the paper lanterns had motion components and we were quite amazed at how technical the show was. That being said, we do have to admit that 2023's show seemed a bit more scaled back in terms of technical lanterns, but we were still pleased with it all the same.

Beyond the lanterns, the festival includes live event stations, but this part felt significantly lacking relative to just how amazing the lanterns were.

How to Get the Most Out of the Asian Lantern Festival

Serengeti Lanterns

When it comes to attending the Lantern Festival at the Pittsburgh Zoo, there are a few things you should do to get the most out of it.

First, buy tickets well in advance. Although tickets can be sold at the gate pending availability, buying tickets in advance locks in your entry time (a 30-minute window) for the event that will surely sell out most nights.

Buying early also helps you lock in better prices, as this one appears to have dynamic pricing based on demand.

Asian Lantern Festival at the Pittsburgh Zoo

Second, while this is a nighttime event (running from 6:30 to 10:30 with the last entry at 9:30), the colorful lanterns look great while the sun is up just as much as they do lit up at night. We arrived about 20 minutes before sunset and thought it was a good time to enter the show.

Due to the location of the zoo, it was a lot darker than the rest of the city around it so the lights still looked great early on. But if you arrive before sunset, you may want to take a second loop around the lanterns to see them at their best when it is darkest out!

Third, you may want to eat beforehand. In 2023, we didn't see many themed food vendors which is something we have experienced in past years, too. It feels like a missed opportunity but honestly didn't bother us because the lanterns are that good.

Finally, the lantern festival route is a lot like the drive-through Christmas light display in that it is designed to show off the lanterns- not the animals. If you arrive before sunset you may be able to catch a glimpse of a few animals in their enclosures, especially in the earlier parts of the zoo (we saw the red pandas, lions, and leopard), but after sunset assume it'll be too dark to see anything. If you buy tickets for this event just prepare for yourself for no animal viewing and you'll be good to go.

Elephant Lantern

Overall, the Asian Lantern Festival at the Pittsburgh Zoo really exceeded all expectations we had going into it both of the years we have attended. From the huge lanterns to the technical elements and other designs, we were excited to see what was coming up next all the way to the very end. This one is a treat!

The Asian Lantern Festival is at the Pittsburgh Zoo and runs Thursday to Sunday nights through October 29th, 2023.

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