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The annual Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul (known as Yeon Deung Hoe) is a huge event. It receives visitors from all over Korea who come to enjoy the festivities all over Jongno. Every year this event brightens the streets of this Seoul neighbourhood and the crowds get bigger year on year.
The Seoul Lotus Lantern Festival (not to be confused with the Lantern Festival in November) is a registered event on the list of “UNESCO Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”.
It’s a beautiful event that officially lasts 2 weeks (in 2023 the temples were decorated between 11th May and 28th May) however, the crowds truly flock to the area during the final weekend to celebrate Buddha’s birthday at the end of the month.
|Country:||South Korea (Republic of Korea)|
|Currency:||South Korean Won / KRW|
|Do you need a visa to visit as tourists?||Check here|
How to get there
Location: 55, Ujeongguk-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul ( 서울특별시 종로구 우정국로 55 )
If you choose to travel to the Lotus Lantern Festival by public transport, you’ll likely end up taking the Seoul subway. The two closest stations to Jogyesa Temple are:
- Anguk Station on Line 3 (Orange Line)
- Jonggak Station on Line 1 (Dark Blue Line)
If you choose to travel by public transport, make sure to have your T Money card.
Although the main central point of the festival is Jogyesa Temple, you will find that there is more than one place included in the festivities. Some of these include the streets of Jongno, Cheonggyecheon Stream, Gwanghwamun Square and Bongeunsa Temple to name a few.
Luckily for us, these places are all a short walking distance from one another so it is easy to get around.
The Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul operates over 3 days annually.
Each of the temples included in the festivities is open 24 hours a day and is decorated floor to ceiling in brightly coloured lanterns. Although the temples are decorated, there are no actual events that take place until the final weekend. That’s when you will see the structured itinerary of events.
24 hours a day
|Jogyesa & Bongeusa Temples||Traditional Lantern decorations|
|May 20 @ |
6 pm – 7.30 pm
|Dongguk University Stadium||Eulim Madang (Parade preparation)|
|May 20 @ |
7 pm – 9.30 pm
|Jongno Street||Lantern Parade|
|May 20 @ |
9.30 pm – 11 pm
|Jonggak Intersection||Post Parade Celebration|
|May 21 @ |
12 pm – 6 pm
|Jogyesa Temple street||Traditional Buddhist cultural events & concert|
|May 21 @ |
7 pm – 9 pm
|Jogyesa Temple street||Yeondeungnori festival closeout|
Want to check out more festivals during your time in Korea?
- Seoul Rose Festival: one of the city’s biggest spring events
- Korea’s biggest cherry blossom festival in Jinhae. What to expect?
- Boryeong Mud Festival: Getting dirty for beauty in Korea
- The Annual Hwacheon Tomato Festival in Korea. What To Expect?
What to Expect at the Seoul Lotus Lantern Festival
Collecting the lanterns
During the daytime and before the parade begins, visitors will have the opportunity to wander around inside the temple grounds and admire the lanterns.
There is a small tent off to the left side opposite the temple itself where you can select a white lantern like the one pictured above. Each of them has a different coloured stripe. Some lanterns were green, red, purple and blue.
When you have found or selected your favourite lantern at the Lotus Festival in Seoul you should hold onto it until the parade. You’ll see most people carrying them around the event so you’ll blend right in!
The Lotus Lantern Festival holds an annual parade where many large floats are shown to the festival attendees on a closed street in Seoul. The parade lasts between 2 and 2.5 hours and has everything from giant floats representing the Buddhist religion, locals that have made their own lanterns and participating groups that belong to the Buddhist faith.
You’ll see groups of monks and others that walk down the long street in their respective groups carrying various types of lanterns. Many of these lanterns will show the familiar face of the lotus mascot).
You’ll see people from Korea, Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia and many other countries where there are large communities of Buddhists. It’s a beautiful sight to see with all of the communities coming together.
The parade will come down the main street and end by Jogyesa Temple. If you’re on the same side of the street as the temple then you could have your parade view restricted by the floats as they get parked off to the side.
Each year, Jogyesa temple gets a brightly coloured makeover. It’s covered in thousands of different coloured lanterns that hang from the ceilings and the temple structure.
If you’ve never seen a temple dressed up for Buddha’s birthday, this is the perfect temple to visit for your first experience. Although this is the biggest event for the national holiday, there are plenty of other stunning temples that get decorated for the celebration.
Check out the Samgwangsa temple in Busan which also holds an annual event every year.
Inside the temple, you’ll find the standard religious areas found in most Buddhist temples. Many of these areas have limited access during prayer hours. Aside from this, you’ll find many tents inside for you to find your traditional lotus lantern and even see signposts for other famous temples around Seoul.
You might be wondering what the significance is of the Lotus Flower at the Lantern Festival in Seoul. Well, the white lotus has many spiritual meanings. It’s often referred to as the “womb of the world” in the Buddhist faith and is a representation of the highest spiritual attainment you can reach. This is why Buddha himself is regularly found seated on the petals of the lotus flower.
The entire festival is covered in lotus flowers and lantern decorations and you’ll see throughout the event that the lotus is a key feature in every stage of the festivities.
You’ll notice many of the lantern designs have lotus prints or are lotus shaped. These are beautiful and often created by the local communities that come together for the celebrations.
The History of the Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul
The Yeon Deung Hoe Lotus Lantern Festival in present-day Seoul actually started over 1,200 years ago. The original festival started as a lantern-lighting event that is believed to help clear the darkness from people’s minds.
Starting in Gyeongju at the Hwangnyongsa Temple back in 866, the first festival was held during the Silla Dynasty. The entire celebration takes place based on the Korean Lunar calendar on the eighth day of the fourth lunar month.
The festival is celebrated throughout the entire country, but the largest festival in the modern day takes place in Seoul (which is why we wanted to check it out!).
Free Souvenirs & Things to Buy
All along the street outside of Jogyesa Temple, you’ll find small shops and market stalls that offer festival-related souvenirs. Whether you want to buy a light-up lantern or a multi-coloured lotus, you have plenty to choose from.
Not only do you have various celebratory decorations and gifts to buy, but you can also receive free participation souvenirs by filling out a survey as a foreigner visiting the festival. By doing this, we were able to get pink lotus fans, postcards and a lotus-themed pen.
Want to enjoy more events during spring in Korea?
- Hiking Cheonjusan Mountain during Azalea Season
- Cherry blossoms in Daegu, where to find them in spring?
- Cherry blossoms in Busan: The best places to see them
- Cherry blossoms in Jeju City – where can you find them?
The concert at Lantern Lotus Festival in Seoul
The concert stage is set up at the Jongguk Intersection and is also at the corner where the parade turns a corner. It is set up so that people from all 4 streets at the crossroads can see what’s happening on stage. There are speeches from the local council and members of clergy along with leaders of community groups that share a message for the occasion.
Throughout the weekend there will be cultural events and music played by various artists on the stage. It’s a central focus point of the festival outside of the Jogyesa Temple and is always where most of the crowds gather.
Where to stay near the Festival
Luckily for visitors, the Lantern Lotus Festival is located quite central in the city of Seoul. This means there is an abundance of accommodations to choose from.
You can either opt to stay close to the festival itself to minimise the use of public transport, or you can stay elsewhere in the city – depending on your preference. I’ll be honest, I stayed at a friend’s place this weekend so I can’t recommend hostels or hotels.
However, my two go-to sites are:
- HostelWorld for solo budget travel so I can meet people
- Booking.com for different types of accommodation or travelling with others