The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is a major attraction in the Greater Cleveland area, especially for those looking for things to do in Cleveland with kids.
The Zoo in Cleveland dates all the way back to 1882, when it was called Wade Park and located near present-day Wade Oval in University Circle. It moved to its current location in 1907, and has been managed by the Cleveland Metroparks since 1975. Like all good zoos, it spends a lot of resources these days on education, research, and wildlife conservation.
In order to fund a lot of the projects the Zoo supports, it’s always looking for new and innovative ways to get more people excited about visiting. One of the events that’s become super popular at the Cleveland Zoo is the Asian Lantern Festival, hosted by the Zoo each summer.
Note: All the photos in this post are from the 2021 Asian Lantern Festival.
Asian Lantern Festival in Cleveland
The Asian Lantern Festival is a magical event that transforms the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo into an illuminated wonderland after dark for 6-8 weeks each summer. The festival first debuted back in 2018, and has been a summertime favorite ever since.
In 2021, the festival is running from mid-July through September 26.
The Asian Lantern Festival is an event that seems to just get bigger and better each year. In 2021, 70 large-scale displays made up of thousands of individual lanterns are spread throughout the zoo.
There are twinkling tunnels, animatronic lanterns that move, interactive elements, and so much more.
The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo works each year with Tianyu Arts & Culture, Inc. to design new festival displays – meaning no two Lantern Festivals will ever be the same.
The lantern displays feature lots of animals to reflect the zoo setting, but also incorporate elements of Asian history and culture. Info boards near each display give extra info about whatever is being depicted, whether it’s fun facts about wildlife, or insights into Asian food or traditions.
Check out this video of the 2021 Asian Lantern Festival:
What can you do at the Asian Lantern Festival?
On days when the Asian Lantern Festival is running, it starts at 6:30 p.m. after the Zoo closes to regular visitors for the day. The lanterns get illuminated just before dusk, and you can stay to enjoy them until 10:30 p.m.
The Asian Lantern Festival is designed to be a walk-through event, and there are lantern displays spread throughout the whole Zoo. Walking through them all requires you to basically walk through the whole Zoo, so you’ll want to allow at least 2-3 hours, if not longer.
My husband Elliot and I got to Zoo just before 8 p.m. the evening we went, and were there almost until the event ended! If you get there earlier, you’ll have a better chance of seeing some zoo animals up and about before bedtime, but the lanterns are really best appreciated after dark.
Along with walking through all the lantern displays, you can also find food and drink vendors (including at the Asian Food Market), visit an Asian craft market, and see live performances every hour on the Fifth Third Bank Stage (performances feature acrobatics, juggling, martial arts, and more, and take place at 6:45, 7:45, 8:45 and 9:45 p.m. each evening).
Taking photos of everything is highly encouraged!
How to go to the Asian Lantern Festival
The Asian Lantern Festival is a ticketed event separate from regular Zoo entry – meaning a ticket (or membership) to the Zoo will NOT get you into the Lantern Festival. You need to purchase a separate ticket, which can be done online in advance (highly recommended, as some evenings do sell out!) up until 4 p.m. each day, or in-person after 4 p.m.
The event runs from 6:30-10:30 p.m. Thursday-Sunday through September 26, 2021.
Tickets cost $20 per person for non-Zoo members and $18 for members if you purchase online in advance. Same-day tickets at the gate are $22 per person. They also sell family packs of tickets; a pack of 4 tickets costs $60 for non-members, $54 for Zoo members, and $66 if you’re buying same-day at the gate. (Note: There are no discounts for kids or seniors.)
And, even though this event is designed to walk through, the Zoo is also offering the chance to drive through the displays on select Wednesday evenings. The cost for the drive-through experience is $60 per car, and you need to book a timed ticket (the drive will take 30-40 minutes). More info here.
Is the Asian Lantern Festival worth it?
At around $20 per person, I can understand if you might wonder whether this experience is truly worth it or not.
My honest answer? Yes.
This event is so unique, and the lantern displays really are impressive. Even if you’ve been to the Cleveland Zoo before, you likely haven’t ever seen the Zoo like this.
Have you been to the Asian Lantern Festival at the Cleveland Zoo?
Amanda was born and raised in northeast Ohio, and has always been a fangirl of the state. Now, she wants to share her love of Cleveland with the world, highlighting all the best things to do, see, and eat in the CLE. She’s been running Cleveland Traveler since January 2019.