Festivals & Events

Jinju Lantern Festival

If you enjoy events both historical and entertaining, I recommend that you check out the Jinju Lantern Festival. Held each October, visitors can enjoy a stunning display of lights. Situated in Geyongsang Province, Jinju offers multiple festivals. In addition to this lantern festival, the Korea Drama Festival, discussed below, is also worth exploring. I had the good fortune to experience both. These may, of course, have been interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, I encourage you to read below and plan on attending subsequent festivals as they occur.

Jinju Fortress River View © Jpatokal / wikimedia

Getting There

Thanks to Korea’s intercity transportation systems, train or public bus, it is easy to travel just about anywhere in-country. From Jinju’s intercity bus terminal, the Nam River is a mere 3 to 5 minute walk away. I encourage you to avoid the task of hailing a taxi and make that brief trek by foot. If a taxi is preferable, consider using the ride-hailing app Kakao T.

Once you arrive at the river, you will start to see the festival’s many beautiful lanterns set up. These, of course, become increasingly visible as the sun sets. In advance of this trip, in addition to travel blogs, I encourage you to explore related Instagram photos. Doing so will help to inform you of specific areas, particularly those near the river, where at you can snap Instagram-worthy photos. Searchable relevant hashtag include #jinjulanternfestival and #진주남강유등축제.

The Atmosphere

I recommend you arrive before dusk but wait to fully explore after the sun has set. At this point, the culturally and historically poignant lanterns will visually pop. As can be observed in the photos below, the Jinsung Fortress Battle is prominently featured each year.

This event occurred during the 1500s Imjin War. At that time, Jinju experienced multiple sieges. The lantern festival, which honors those warriors who both risked and gave their lives, recalls that very event, as lanterns like those featured in the festival were placed on the river to impede Japanese troops who tried to cross.

Another Jinju-based festival

The Korean Drama Festival. I attended this festival within the very timespan I attended the lantern festival. As can be seen below, there were many posters featuring Korean drama stars, cardboard cutouts with which one can take pictures, and opportunities to don traditional Korean clothing. Assuming, as you visit Jinju, that these two festivals are held concurrently, I would urge you to visit the drama portion first, in the daylight, and migrate over to the lantern portion as the sun sets.

An amazing spot for photos is a lanterned walkway, seen below. As the night draws to a close, there is a fantastic fireworks display. When this happens, a dragon, situated on the ground below, roars its head back and moves its tail back and forth. As you watch, enjoy Korean snacks from one of the many food vendors. Among these: bondegi, odang, Korean corn dogs, and hotteok. The lattermost, a Korean pancake in which a syrupy substance is added, is my favorite. If you are traveling with children who like arts and crafts, or happen to like arts and crafts yourself, there are such stations available.

After the Event

As midnight draws near, I recommend you stay in a hotel. Consider booking it in advance, as the rates will be relatively cheap. This will help you to avoid the hassle of catching a late-night bus back to your point of origin. You may be competing with many people for a ticket given the crowds. I tend to book via Booking.com or Agoda.com.

In Closing

The Jinju Lantern Festival is a fantastic event. It offers visitors, like yourself, an opportunity to learn about Korean history and culture, enjoy Korean snacks, and witness an amazing display of fireworks. I intend to visit a second time, a sentiment I’m sure you’ll share after you’ve also experienced it first-hand.

🇺🇸 Andrew Hill

Andrew is a graduate student at Seoul National University.