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Visiting the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival in Cary (10+ Important Tips!)

Published by Christina Riley. Last Updated on June 20, 2024.

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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.

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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 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.

Here’s how we’ve organized this guide for you:

  • The History of the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival
  • Important Tips (Dates, Tickets, Parking Info)
  • Things to Do Near the NC Chinese Lantern Festival

You can skip ahead to any of these sections or continue reading about the history of the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival.

Read More: November and December in North Carolina

The History of NC 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 Research Triangle in Central North Carolina.

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.

Cary NC Chinese Lantern Festival Image

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.”

Read More: Kid-Friendly Events in North Carolina

Important Tips Before You Visit the NC Chinese Lantern Festival!

Here are some important tips to help you enjoy the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival as we have for years!

Where is the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival?

Address: Koka Booth Amphitheatre (8003 Regency Parkway, Cary, NC)
Phone Number: 800-514-3849

The NC Chinese Lantern Festival is in the Wake County town of Cary, near Raleigh and Durham in Central NC.

When is the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival?

2023/2024 NC Chinese Lantern Festival Dates: November 17, 2023 to January 14, 2024.

Doors open at 6:00 p.m. and shut at 10:00 p.m. sharp. Plan ahead to budget at least 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 6:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m., and 8:30 p.m.

The acrobats balance, jump and perform as onlookers can stand huddled under heat lamps to watch in awe.

Read More: January in North Carolina

North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival Tickets

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  • Date Specific Tickets: Starting at $9
    • 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, date-specific tickets are also available, sometimes at a significantly reduced price.
    • 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.
  • Any Night Tickets: $30
    • Any Night Tickets allow you to choose the date you want to attend. This is great for flexible people and helps mitigate any potential weather impact on the day you plan to see the lanterns.
  • Children under 3 years old: FREE
  • Purchase North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival Tickets

Note: Online ticket purchases will help you skip the lines that inevitably form on busy nights. If you’d like to purchase a ticket in advance and in person, the Box Office is open every day except for Christmas day from 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm. You can also call ETIX at 800-514-3849 to grab tickets ahead of time.


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Parking is free, so arrive at Booth Amphitheatre as early as possible and you can pull right on up to the box office, especially if you need to buy tickets before entering.

Read More: 50+ Easy Day Trips from Fayetteville (Great Getaways!)

Cashless Venue

Chinese Lantern Festival Near Raleigh NC Image

Koka Booth Amphitheater is now a cashless venue. That means all points of sale are done through credit and debit only.

The Booths concessions and ticket sales points accept MasterCard, Visa, Discover, & American Express, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and Google Pay.

Clear Bag Policy

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To create a safe experience for all guests and staff, the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival has upped its safety practices with a clear bag policy. You can still bring in a 4.5″ x 6.5″ small clutch or wallet, but otherwise, a clear bag is all that is allowed inside.

Sizes allowed are 1-gallon ziplock bags and 12″ x 12″ x 9″ bags.

Wait Times

The Lantern Fest in Cary NC Image

Lines to get in the festival can get long, especially on busy weekends, holidays, and warm North Carolina “winter” nights. Over 100,000 people flock to Booth Amphitheatre 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!

Seating Info (for Performances)

Cary Chinese Lantern Images

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.

Food and Drink

The concession stands are located at the top of the Crescent Deck. Special holiday treats will be sold at the festival.

On select nights, food trucks will be waiting to serve you something hot and delicious! And again, don’t forget that your money’s no good here! All Koka Booth Amphitheater food and drink sales are also cashless.

Read More: 15+ Important Tips to Enjoy the NC State Fair

Sensory Friendly Night

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On December 6, The Chinese Lantern Festival will turn down the music a few decibels and dim some of the more severe flashing lights for those prone to sensory overload.

The one-night sensory switch will also feature a reduced capacity and chill out areas to calm down between the performances.

Accessibility Info

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

Whether you’re traveling from far away or driving from somewhere nearby, here are a couple of our favorite things to do in Cary.

Read More: The Mayton in Cary (+ 7 Things We Love About Staying Here!)

Bond Park

Bond Park Cary NC

The 310-acre Fred H Bond Metro Park has trails for walking, plenty of open space for picnics, and a beautiful lake. You can check out the boats at Bond Park and spend a day fishing and boating here, too.

There are also baseball fields, a playground, and ropes challenge course at Bond Park!

Read More: Things to Do in Raleigh

Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve

Things to Do in Cary NC Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve Image

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.

Read More: Hiking near Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill

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.

Read More: North Carolina Breweries

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’ve visited this festival before, we’d love to know what you thought of this unique event.

If you’ve never attended the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival, please share more about your first time with us here in the comments or by email.

More Things to Do in Cary (and Raleigh)

We’ve featured the NC Chinese Lantern Festival in Cary in many of our NC Travel Guides. Here are a few that cover the town and its surroundings.

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