Seoul Lantern Festival 2020 – A Local’s Guide on What to Expect

Seoul Lantern Festival
Seoul Lantern Festival

The Seoul Lantern Festival is an annual event that is hosted on the Cheonggyecheon stream every autumn. It’s a pretty spectacular site to behold, so if your trip to Seoul coincides with this, you should definitely stop by. 

What is the Seoul Lantern Festival?

Beautifully illuminated lanterns run down the Cheonggyecheon
Beautifully illuminated lanterns run down the Cheonggyecheon

The Seoul Lantern festival sees the Cheonggyecheon stream decorated with thousands of beautiful, larger-than-life paper lanterns. The lanterns depict various scenes, figures, buildings, and celebrities. 

Lanterns are contributed to the festival from all over the world. It is estimated that more than 3 million people attend the Seoul Lantern Festival every year, making it quite a big affair.  

The Seoul Lantern Festival and its Themes 

Seoul Lantern Festival: Themes often concentrate on aspects of Korean history and culture
Themes often concentrate on aspects of Korean history and culture

The festival was first introduced in 2009 and has been going strong ever since. While the lanterns depict a vast array of things – from Korean cultural sites to eccentric Japanese anime figures, a different main theme is identified every year. 

It was 2016 when I visited the Seoul Lantern Festival. The theme was ” Lightened Hangang River where history flows”. Since the Han River is the largest river that flows through the country, the theme aimed to depict what traditional life was like by the river.

More recently, in 2018, the theme was “Seoul Dream”, and paper lanterns of old street cars, Korean military officials, and local delicacies were crafted to depict the history of Korea. 

The 2019 Seoul Lantern Festival will be held from the 1st to the 17th November 2019.  

Festival Highlights 

Seoul Lantern Festival: Depictions of life in Korea centuries ago
Depictions of life in Korea centuries ago

The Seoul Lantern Festival is free to attend. However there are lots of “extras” available as you make your way down the Cheonggyecheon. You can purchase paper lanterns of various sizes here, and then paint and decorate them as you like before setting them off to float down the stream. 

A lot of the purchasable lanterns are themed around the Lunar New Year, and good luck symbols in this calendar. The lanterns cost just a few thousand won, and it’s a nice experience. 

The Atmosphere 

The atmosphere of the Seoul Lantern Festival reminded me of being at an American 4th July celebration or another similar event. Although the lanterns are up all day, it’s best to stop by  in the evenings when they are beautifully illuminated and the ambiance is almost magical. 

Light shows are projected onto the buildings and bridges that encircle the Cheonggyecheon, while traditional music plays out from loudspeakers. 

The banks of the stream and the surrounding streets are crammed full with street food vendors who serve up all the classics – from spicy, tomatoey tteokbokki, to sweet red bean pastries. 

Visiting the Cheonggyecheon is certainly one of the best things to do in Seoul. All year round, its walls and banks are decorated with contemporary art installations and inspiring graffiti. Keep your eyes peeled for this too as you walk its length for the festival.  

Getting to the Cheonggyecheon

Since the Cheonggyecheon runs 11 kilometres through downtown Seoul, it is easy to join the trail through the lantern festival at any point. There are pathways on both sides of the stream so that you can walk up one side, and then return back from the other. 

The best ways to reach the festival site by public transport are outlined below. Don’t forget to purchase a T-Money card to ensure that you receive discounted fares across Korea. 

Reaching the Cheonggyecheon by Metro 

There are several Seoul metro stations that are just a few minutes walk away from the Cheonggyecheon

You can opt to use Jonggak Station (Line 1), Exit 4 or 5, or  Euljiro 1-ga Station (Seoul Subway Line 2), Exit 2 or 3. These stations leave you close to Cheonggye Plaza. 

Alternatively, you can head to Euljiro 3-ga Station (Lines 2, 3), Exit 1, 2, 3, or 4, or Jongno 3-ga Station (Lines 1, 3), Exit 12, 13 or 14. These stations are close to Samilgyo and Seungyo

Other Things to Do Nearby 

Attending the Seoul Lantern Festival is probably going to take up no more than 1-2 hours of your evening. There are plenty of attractions, restaurants and bars in the area to occupy your time before and after the event. 

Have any questions about the Seoul Lantern Festival or your Korea itinerary in general? I lived in Seoul for two years and would be happy to assist with any questions you may have. Feel free to drop me a comment below. Safe travels. Annyeong! Melissa xo 

Note: This article was originally written in November 2016. It was last updated on the 3rd October 2019.

Melissa Douglas

Melissa Douglas is a British Travel Writer and Blogger based in Athens, Greece. She writes for numerous high profile travel publications across the globe - including Forbes Travel Guide, Matador Network, The Times of Israel and The Huffington Post.

6 thoughts on “Seoul Lantern Festival 2020 – A Local’s Guide on What to Expect”

  1. I’ve been into Korean related for the past couple of months so finding this post on twitter was super amazing. can’t wait to read the others. I loved it. I see the lantern festival many times on kdramas, and it’s always looked super outstanding and gorgeous. it certainly does. so glad you had a great time!

    • Thanks for your kind words! It really was stunning. I think that it is one of those things that are difficult to capture the true beauty of on camera. I will be travelling all over Korea in the coming months so hopefully there will be some posts you like!
      I really like your blog by the way. It is such a small world – my sister lives in Leicester just off Narborough Road so I was there a few months back to visit a Turkish restaurant with her!

  2. This is incredible! I’ve never seen a Lantern Festival before, but I think I need to add it to my ultimate bucket list. It looks like one of those experiences that you have to have in life!

  3. Thanks for your good article and photos.

    May I ask if I have to go to Busan from Seoul on 10/11 (Sunday), can I buy the KTX ticket on 4/11 when I arrive Seoul at the lower price at about ₩50,800 or I will be charged of a reserved seat at ₩59,800?

    Thank you and regards!

    Chi Ho

  4. I find this article interesting and helpful. Somehow this boosts my excitement as me and my husband will be going to Seoul in a few days. Definitely, we will have this Latern Festival in our itenirary. With just a few days stay there in Seoul would you recommend that we join a group tour? Any recommendations of where we can avail the best group tour? Thank you.

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