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  >  Asia   >  Korea   >  Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul | 7 Inspiring Things to See at YeonDeungHoe [Updated 2022]
lotus lantern parade in seoul | yeon deung hoe

Buddhist or not, the Lotus Lantern Festival and Parade is one of Seoul’s most inspiring events, bringing together people from all denominations and faiths, in a wondrous celebration of light.

lotus lantern festival | yeondeunghoe

Buddhist or not, the Lotus Lantern Festival is one of Seoul’s BEST events.

Also known as YeonDeungHoe, it’s a weeks long event that marks the day of Buddha’s birth with thousands of glowing lanterns and the pulsing beat of traditional drums.

Here’s the lowdown on what to see and do during the incredible Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul.

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What is Yeondeunghoe | 연등회?

Yeondeunghoe is the Korean name for the annual Lotus Lantern Festival. What started as a simple religious ritual to celebrate Buddha’s birth, is now a exhuberant spring festival for everybody in Korea to enjoy.

lotus lantern festival in seoul

Lotus lanterns symbolize englightenment © AnbyG (CC BY-SA 4.0)

During the festival, streets, temples, and malls are adorned with thousands of lotus lanterns – their brightness symbolizing the enlightenment of humanity.

There are a number of events that take place during Yeondeunghoe, with the highlight being a massive Lotus Lantern Parade that takes over the streets of the Jongno District in Seoul for a night.

lotus lantern festival in seoul | yeondeunghoe

The Lotus Lantern Parade takes over the streets of Seoul for a night.

Yeondeonghoe is so woven into the fabric of Korean culture that it was designated as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Korea in 2012. And in 2020, UNESCO added the Lotus Lantern Festival to its Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list.

Trust me. This is an event you don’t want to miss.

When is the Lotus Lantern Festival?

Festival Dates: April 18th – May 11th, 2022

Every year, sometime during spring, South Korea lights up to celebrate the day of Buddha’s birth. The exact date falls on the 8th day of the 4th month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar, and must be calculated anew each year.

In 2022, Buddha’s Birthday or 부처님 오신 날 (the day when Buddha came), falls on Saturday, May 8th.

gagwonsa temple during spring in korea

Buddha’s birthday is always in spring © Jin Jae-won, Korea Tourism Organization

While the most exciting events take place on the weekend before Buddha’s birthday, streets and temples are stunningly decorated with a multitude of colourful lotus lanterns for nearly an entire month.

Along with the blossoming of silvery pink cherry blossoms, this kaleidoscope of lights stretching dreamily down and across the wide streets of Seoul, has always signified the advent of spring in Korea for me – their romantic glow banishing the grey of winter quickly from memory.

lotus lantern festival | bongeunsa

Lanterns illuminate temples across Korea during Yeon Deung Hoe

Wondering what else to do during spring in Korea? Check out these guides:

Where to Stay near Yeondeunghoe

If you plan to attend many Lotus Lantern events, it’s worth staying overnight at a nearby hotel. Especially since everything pretty much happens in a 24 hour window from Saturday, April 30th to Sunday, May 1st.

The Lotus Lantern Parade and Post-Parade party will run until at least 10:30PM and cultural events will start up again the next morning at 11:00AM.

Lotus Lantern Parade | yeondeunghoe

There WILL be traffic chaos © Jeon Han, Korea.net (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Even if you live in Seoul (like I do), it makes sense to book a hotel that’s close to the Lotus Lantern Festival sites, due to expected traffic congestion. This is the first year I’ve done this myself, and I’m super excited to participate in ALL events on both days, with my daughter – stress-free.

lanterns | bongeunsa temple

I’ll be enjoying the Lotus Lantern Festival with this little peanut.

Though the parade route starts near Dongdaemun Station most of the festival actually takes place in Insadong. These are the hotels that are either walking distance, or a super quick subway ride to the festival site. If you’re driving in from out of Seoul, I recommend arriving at your hotel as early as possible to secure parking.

BUDGET HOTELS / HOSTELS

MID-RANGE AND ABOVE

Lotus Lantern Festival Events

The highlight of Yeon Deung Hoe in Seoul is undoubtedly the Lotus Lantern Parade. I mean, you can’t really expect to compete with thousands of illuminated lanterns and floats flooding the streets of central Seoul, can you?

lotus lantern parade in seoul | yeon deung hoe

The Lotus Lantern Parade has to be seen to be believed © 대한민국 정부 문화체육관광부 문화재청 (CC BY-SA 2.5)

That’s not to say that the other events aren’t worth attending. They ARE, and they all provide a unique window into Buddhism in Korea that’s enjoyable for absolutely anyone.

These include: the Buddhist cheer rally, a post-parade party, an exhibition of traditional lanterns, cultural performances and events, and a final celebration to complete the festival.

Lotus Lantern Festival | Schedule & Locations

Most of the Lotus Lantern Festival events take place in Jongno, near Jogyesa Temple in Insadong, in a few different locations. I’ll cover each of the festivities in detail below.

lotus lantern festival | yeondeunghoe

The Hwaeomsa pagoda lantern will be lit on May 5th © Jeon Han, Korea.net / Korean Culture and Information Service (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Eoulim Madang | 어울림마당

When: Saturday, April 30th, 4:30 – 6:00 PM

Where: Dongguk University Stadium > Go to Dongguk University station on subway Line 3, Exit 6

The Eoulim Madang kicks off the Lotus Lantern Festival with a Buddhist Cheer Rally at Dongguk University Stadium. The atmosphere is upbeat and joyful, with thousands of parade participants gathering to dance, sing, and mark the beginning of the festival with various Buddhist ceremonies.

This is also the starting point of the Lotus Lantern Parade. If you choose to attend this event, you can watch while participants organize into formation to begin walking the parade route.

Eoulim Madang ends at 6:00PM, so you have plenty of time to find a spot closer to Jogyesa Temple, to watch the illuminated Lotus Lanterns pass by you, against the night sky.

Lotus Lantern Parade

When: Saturday, April 30th, 7:00 – 9:00PM

Where: along Jongno Street, starting from Heunginjimun and ending at Jogyesa Temple

If there’s one event you get to during Yeondeunghoe, let it be the Lotus Lantern Parade. Comprised of literally thousands of participants from monks to drummers to children, luminescent lanterns, and huge floats, this is an unbelievable spectacle that has to be seen to be believed.

korea in april | yeon deung hoe korea

Traditional drumming during the Lotus Lantern Parade

The parade route starts at Heunginjimun Gate and travels 3-km along Jongno Street, before finally ending at Jogyesa Temple. Get a spot somewhere along the last kilometre of the route to see the lanterns glowing brightly in the dark.

lotus lantern parade | yeongdeunghoe

The Lotus Lantern Parade goes on for 3-km.© Jeon Han, Korea.net / Korean Culture and Information Service (CC BY-SA 2.0)

TIP  |  The Royal Cuisine of the Joseon Dynasty was designated as National Intangible Cultural Property No. 38, and Jihwaja is THE place to try it. Located near Gyeongbokgung Palace, this restaurant is run by the Hwang Family – a national treasure and legacy that traces back to the last 2 kings of the Joseon Dynasty, with authentic recipes preserved and passed down through generations. Choose from a variety of degustation menus and make reservations at Jihwaja here.

Hoehyang Hanmadang | 회향한마당

When: Saturday, April 30th, 9:00 – 10:30 PM

Where: Jonggak Intersection > Go to Jonggak station on subway Line 1

If your image of Buddhism is one of quiet contemplation and meditation, prepare to have all your preconceptions challenged at Hoehyang Hanmadang. This post-parade celebration takes place near the end of the Lotus Lantern Parade route, at Jonggak Intersection, and it’s a serious party.

If the thought of that huge crowd makes you jumpy in our pandemic era, you can also head into Jogyesa Temple, for a slightly less crowded celebration with even more dancing, drumming, and festivities.

Cultural Activities

When: Sunday, May 1st, 12:00 – 7:00 PM

Where: Street in front of Jogyesa Temple > Jonggak Station on Line 2, Exit 1 or Anguk Station on Line 3, Exit 6

If you wake up the next morning with a Lotus Lantern hangover and need a little Buddhist hair of the dog, head to the street in front of Jogyesa Temple for a street festival of sorts. You can try your hand at making lotus lanterns, eat some Buddhist temple food, and draw traditional designs.

lotus lantern hwaeomsa temple

You can try making your own lotus lanterns at the festival.

There are 2 time slots limited to 108 people per session, and it’s free to participate. Reservations are strongly recommended in order to guarantee a spot. Otherwise, you’ll have to join a waiting list and hope for a spot to open up. Get details and reserve a spot here.

Cultural Performances

When: Sunday, May 1st, 12:00 – 6:00 PM

Where: Street in front of Jogyesa Temple > Jonggak Station on Line 2, Exit 1 or Anguk Station on Line 3, Exit 6

There are a couple of stages to watch traditional Korean outdoor performances at the Lotus Lantern Festival. These are interactive and a ton of fun for people of all ages.

madang nori

Drumming at madangnori is a ton of fun © Brendon Connelly (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Get to the Gongpyeong Stage by walking straight out of Exit 2 of Jonggak Station on Line 1, and get to the Anguk Stage by turning left at the crosswalk, straight out of Exit 6 of Anguk Station on Line 3.

TIP  |  I’ve spent many a Saturday afternoon watching traditional Korean arts performances at the National Gugak Centre, and it’s always well worth it. At this Saturday concert, you’ll be treated to folk music and dance performances from all 4 of Korea’s classical arts in one magnificent showcase. Reserve a ticket to see a concert at the National Gugak Centre here.

Yeondeungnori

When: Sunday, May 1st, 7:00 – 9:00PM

Where: Street in front of Jogyesa Temple > Jonggak Station on Line 2, Exit 1 or Anguk Station on Line 3, Exit 6

Yeondeungnori is the last event of the weekend. This is a smaller scale parade through the streets of Insadong, followed by performances, a party, and final celebration.

If you can’t make it to the Lotus Lantern Parade and Hoehyang Hanmadang on Saturday night, Yeondeungnori will give you a good taste of what you missed.

lotus lantern festival | yeondeunghoe

The Lotus Lantern Festival completes with a final parade © Seoul Metropolitan Government/Penta Press

Exhibition of Traditional Lanterns

When: Monday, April 18th – Wednesday, May 11th, 2022

Where: Jogyesa, Bongeunsa and Cheonggyecheon Stream

This part of the Lotus Lantern Festival has actually already started. From Monday, April 18th until Wednesday, May 11th, lanterns made out of traditional Korean hanji paper will be displayed at Jogyesa, Bongeunsa, and on Cheonggyecheon Stream.

renting a hanbok in seoul: jogyesa temple in korea

Lanterns will be on display at Jogyesa and other temples around Korea until May 11th.

Try heading to one of the temples around Seoul during day time hours, and strolling along Cheonggyecheon Stream at night to see the lanterns glowing against the night sky.

lanterns on cheonggyecheon stream seoul korea

Stroll next to the Cheonggyecheon Stream at night.

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Seoul Lotus Lantern Festival: Essential Info and FAQs

1
Where is Yeondeunghoe held? The Lotus Lantern Festival is held in South Korea, with most of the events centred around Jogyesa Temple in Seoul.
2
When is the Lotus Lantern Festival? The Lotus Lantern Festival happens every year during spring. The exact date changes every year, based on the date of Buddha's birthday calcuated by the Lunar Calendar.
3
What does Yeondeunghoe celebrate? The Lotus Lantern Festival celebrates Buddha's birth, with a weeks long celebration, including lanterns, a parade, and various cultural events.
4
What does it cost to attend the Lotus Lantern Festival? All events at the Lotus Lantern Festival (Yeondeunghoe) are free! Just show up early enough to grab a good spot on the parade route.

Are you planning to go to the Lotus Lantern Festival and Parade? See you there! 

Comments:

  • April 25, 2022

    Oh this looks fabulous! I hope I get to it one day. I love cultural festivals.
    Alison

    reply...
      • April 25, 2022

        Korea is definitely ON THE LIST! I’m addicted to Kdrama romances – been watching them for a couple of years now and learning lots about Korean life that way, plus the occasional word or two.

        reply...
          • April 26, 2022

            Oh I’d love to come, but we’re off to Croatia and Greece for 7 weeks, in a week! So excited to be travelling again. Fave shows – Crash Landing on You, One Spring Night, Something in the Rain, Run On, Romance is a Bonus Book, Rookie Historian, Start-Up. Lots of others, but these are what come to mind. Oh and Because This is My First Life which had me in tears at the end.

  • January 22, 2014

    So beautiful! and ornate! I fondly remember the cherry blossom festivals in Okinawa 🙂

    reply...
    • January 23, 2014

      The amount of work that goes into this lantern parade every year is craaaazy. It’s something like 30,000 lanterns and 10,000 people in the parade!!!

      reply...
  • June 21, 2013

    So vibrant!

    reply...

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