The North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival in Cary is an awesome event that’s one of the most unique things to do during winter in North Carolina. This bucket list-worthy festival brings in spectators and day-trippers from across the state and throughout the southern United States.
To prepare for the festival, 25 Chinese artisans from Chicago-based Tianyu Arts & Culture hand-assemble each beautiful lantern. They stay in Cary during the festival to produce and perform the traditional Chinese acrobatic performances, too.
Since we’ve visited multiple times, we’re going to share some helpful tips and info so you can be prepared for your trip out to the Koka Booth Amphitheatre for the Chinese Lantern Festival this year and beyond.
The NC Chinese Lantern Festival also appeared in our guide to a weekend in Raleigh. This post is part of our series on winter events and is included in our guides to November and December, as well as January. We originally created it on December 5, 2019.
The North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival in Cary: All You Need to Know
Note: For quick info about the NC Chinese Lantern Festival, scroll to the bottom of this post.
History of the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival
Chinese lanterns go back thousands of years and are thought to represent good fortune and prosperity. Since 2015, the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival has been bringing both to the Triangle.
Over 100,000 people flock to Cary each year to experience the beautiful LED lantern displays. Most of the lanterns at the festival are hand-made in China’s lantern capital—the city of Zigong, in Sichuan Province.
We reached out to officials behind the festival and Booth Amphitheatre General Manager Taylor Traversari shared his thoughts, explaining, “the festival delights youngsters, it energizes older adults, and brings families together.”
Traversari added, “It also provides a glimpse into Chinese culture and adds to the beautiful tapestry of all that North Carolina has to offer.”
We definitely agree about this being a family-friendly time and included the Chinese Lantern Festival in our guide to kid-friendly events in North Carolina.
Tips for Enjoying the Festival
When is the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival?
The Chinese Lantern Festival runs from November 26, 2019, through January 12, 2020, every day except Mondays. December 23 and 30 are two exceptions to this rule, though, as the festival will open on each evening.
Doors open at 6:00 pm so plan about an hour to walk the colorful lantern-filled half-mile loop. That gives you plenty of time to stop and take selfies and sip your boozy hot chocolate while you stroll around.
Performances happen at the top of each hour from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm. The acrobats balance, jump, and perform as onlookers can stand huddled under heat lamps to watch in awe.
Lantern Festival tickets range from $15-20, depending on whether you order in advance or if you choose a flexible Any Night Ticket.
Any Night Tickets are $20 and allow you to choose the date you’d like to attend. This is great for those who are flexible and if weather impacts the day you plan to see the lanterns.
If you’re planning ahead and want to choose the date you and your loved ones will be attending the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival, specific tickets are available.
Tuesday-Thursday & Sunday tickets are $10 for ages 3-12 and $15 for 13 and older. Senior (55 and over), Military, and College Student discounts ($12) are available, too.
Friday, Saturday, and Holiday prices are $15 in advance online or $18 at the door for attendees 13 years old and up. Children ages 3-12 are $10 online or $12 at the gate.
This event takes place rain or shine. So if you’ve bought a ticket for a specific date and it’s raining, pack your umbrella or a raincoat.
Note: There is a 3 percent convenience fee added on to online sales for tickets. If you want to skip that fee and pay in cash, the Box Office is open from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm Tuesday to Friday and 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays.
If you want to watch the Chinese Lantern Festival’s cultural performances, there is limited seating and outside chairs and mats are not allowed. That’s why we recommend finding a cozy spot and cuddling up with your loved ones! There are plenty of heat lamps dispersed across the grounds in case it’s a chillier night.
Lines to get in the festival can get long, especially on busy weekends, holidays, and clear warm North Carolina “winter” nights. Over 100,000 people flock to Booth Ampitheatre during this event, so things can get a little crowded.
If you purchase your ticket in advance, you can breeze through the lines and quickly get to the lanterns!
While fees are added when buying your ticket online, we feel like sometimes it’s just worth it to eat the three percent in order to save some time waiting in line at the box office.
Parking and Concessions
Parking is free so get there early and grab your hot chocolate before you start walking. The concession stands are located at the top of the Crescent Deck.
Koka Booth Amphitheatre is accessible and offers accessible parking located across from the Box Office and Main Gate. The walkways are paved and strollers and wheelchairs should have no problem navigating the festival.
Things to do in Cary Beyond the Chinese Lantern Festival
Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve
If you’re in Cary before the sun goes down, we definitely recommend taking a stroll through the Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve. The 140-acres of wooded trails are dedicated to protecting a unique collection of Eastern Hemlock trees and wildlife.
Bond Brothers Beer Company
Before or after the festival, head over to Bond Brothers Beer Company to enjoy a pint or, even better, a flight. They have 14 beers on tap and feature barrel sours, excellent stouts, and IPAs.
We’re working on a more thorough guide to Cary but think these two fun things to do are a must before the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival!
Ready for the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival?
We love the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival and hope to keep it a yearly tradition for our family.
If you’re seeking quick info on the Chinese Lantern Festival, here’s a breakdown:
- When: November 26 to January 12, 2020, from 6:00 pm to 10:00 pm (closed on Mondays except December 23 and 30)
- Where: Cary’s Koka Booth Amphitheatre. Address: 8003 Regency Parkway, Cary, NC 27518
- Tickets: For Children Ages 3 to 12 ($10-$18). For 13 and Older ($15-$20). Order Any Night tickets here. Order Date-Specific tickets here.
- Contact: 800-514-3849 or visit https://www.boothamphitheatre.com/