Enjoying festivities at the Lotus Lantern Festival In Seoul

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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.

It’s one of the biggest spring festivals in Korea along with the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival and the Seoul Rose Festival.

Lots of white paper lanterns stacked high along the walls in Jogyesa Temple
White lanterns on the walls of the Jogyesa Temple
Country:South Korea (Republic of Korea)
Currency:South Korean Won / KRW
Do you need a visa to visit as tourists?Check here

Don’t forget to get travel insurance to cover you if something bad happens. One company I have personal experience with is Safety Wing. Not everyone needs the same coverage, so make sure you get a personalised quote that suits you and your trip plans.

When you need to transfer money or check exchange rates during your overseas trip, consider using Wise. They have competitive rates and make exchanging foreign funds easy. I’ve been using them since 2015.

Me holding a lantern at the festival in seoul
Me holding a lantern in front of one of the temporary lantern walls

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.

Tip: To navigate easily, download these useful apps (Naver & Kakao Maps) because Google Maps doesn’t work well in Korea. Plus, to stay connected while using the apps, make sure you have an eSIM with a data plan for the duration of your trip.

hundreds of coloured lanterns line the ceilings of the temple in seoul
Lanterns decorated along the entire ceiling

Opening times

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.

May 11-28
24 hours a day
Jogyesa & Bongeusa TemplesTraditional Lantern decorations
May 20 @
6 pm – 7.30 pm
Dongguk University StadiumEulim Madang (Parade preparation)
May 20 @
7 pm – 9.30 pm
Jongno StreetLantern Parade
May 20 @
9.30 pm – 11 pm
Jonggak IntersectionPost Parade Celebration
May 21 @
12 pm – 6 pm
Jogyesa Temple streetTraditional Buddhist cultural events & concert
May 21 @
7 pm – 9 pm
Jogyesa Temple streetYeondeungnori festival closeout

Want to check out more festivals during your time in Korea?

What to Expect at the Seoul Lotus Lantern Festival

a paper lantern at the Korean lotus lantern festival in seoul
The purple lantern I chose from the temple tent
my friend and i holding lanterns at the parade
My friend and I holding lanterns near the parade

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!

a large elephant float in the lantern parade
An elephant float in the Lotus Lantern Festival
large parade floats lined up next to the street at the lotus lantern festival in seoul
A group of floats of children holding lotus and candles by the side of the road

The Parade

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.

lots of coloured paper lanterns at the lotus lantern festival in seoul
Lanterns on the temple ceiling
a pagoda at a temple in Seoul
The temple pagoda poking out through a gap in the lanterns

Jogyesa Temple

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.

a light-up paper lantern
A light-up lantern I purchased for the Festival

The Lotus

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.

Jogyesa temple and the paper lanterns of the lotus lantern festival in seoul
Some traditional architecture on the pillars of the temple beneath the lanterns

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!).

postcards and a pink fan in my hand in front of thousands of paper lanterns
The freebies I received at the festival

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?

A concert stage with high rise buildings behind it at the lotus lantern festival in seoul
The concert stage with some musicians playing

The concert at the 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.

Lanterns on the ceiling of the Jogyesa temple at the Lotus Lantern festival in seoul
More lanterns across the ceiling of the Temple

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

Want to spend more than just a short holiday in Korea? Why not apply for a working holiday visa and stay for an entire year? Check out how to get set up as an expat on arrival.

Have you experienced the lotus lantern festival in Seoul before?

Need help planning your trip?

Check out how to plan a trip abroad & see my travel resources for more.

WayAway – Great for booking flights. They even have a cashback feature for those who fly frequently.
Skyscanner – A comprehensive comparison website showing where to purchase flights.
HostelWorld – The biggest selection of hostels & sociable accommodations.
Booking.com – The largest collection of accommodations worldwide.

Safety Wing – A travel insurance brand for long-term travellers and nomads.

Airalo – An eSIM card company that lets you stay connected during your trip.
Wise – Perfect for transferring foreign currencies.
iVisa – For applying for tourist and visitor visas.

Viator – Great for finding tours and activities worldwide.
Get Your Guide – Another company for finding activities.
Klook – Have some of the best activity deals in Asia.

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