The Asian Lantern Festival Celebrates Animals, Culture, and More

Last Updated on August 23, 2022 by Jeremy

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The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is known for putting on many events throughout the year, and in fall 2022 they are bringing back one of their most popular events- the Asian Lantern Festival running on Thursday to Sunday nights through October 30th!

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 loved 2021's so much that we returned back to check out 2022's show right after it opened. Throw on the fact that it is back with a new theme, dinosaurs, and we were rather excited to visit again!

In this one, we thought we'd share a bit more about what the Asian Lantern Festival at the zoo is like in 2022, 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

Dragon at the Asian Lantern Festival

The Asian Lantern Festival at the Pittsburgh Zoo is designed around three key themes- Asian culture, dinosaurs and other extinct creatures, and of course the zoo itself.

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 monster dragon, a Tyrannosaurus you can walk through, dodos, panda bears, and so much more. While the lanterns were somewhat evenly split with Asian culture lanterns in the first section, dinosaurs in the second, and zoo animals in the third (with a mix of land and water-based animals to check out), 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- a bonus for the lesser-known dinosaurs we may have forgotten about from our school days.

T-Rex Lantern

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 2022'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. In 2021, the zoo had themed drinks and food stations as well, but in 2022 we visited during a thunderstorm and did not see any available (conventional zoo snacks were served, however). Whether this was not offered due to the weather or was simply changed for the year is unclear.

How to Get the Most Out of the Asian Lantern Festival

Flower 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. Sales are online only in 2022 and buying tickets in advance locks in your entry time (a 30-minute window) for the event that will surely sell out almost every night. 

Dodo Lantern

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 roughly at 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 2022, we didn't see many themed food vendors at all (like we did in 2021), but may have been due to weather concerns. That being said, we also were not very impressed with the food offerings in 2021, either. In both cases we felt like it was 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.

Sloth Lanterns at the Asian Lantern Festival

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. For its roughly $20 admission, we thought it was worth every penny!

The Asian Lantern Festival is at the Pittsburgh Zoo and runs Thursday to Sunday nights through October 30th, 2022.

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