Every October for about two weeks, Jinju hosts its’ annual lantern festival. There are many lantern festivals throughout Korea in different cities, but I believe Jinju is the most famous one. I decided to take a solo trip out there to experience it. Based on the videos and pictures I had seen when looking up the event months back, it was going to be a very beautiful time.
I didn’t buy bus tickets in advance. I just took the subway to Sasang Bus Terminal and bought tickets at the counter on site. Buses leave every 20 minutes, so I didn’t worry about missing a bus. I got to the terminal around 12:30PM and there was a HUGE line. I’m pretty sure two buses came and went before I finally got a seat on one. I went to Jinju the day before the festival ended and given it was a Saturday, that probably also contributed to all of the people. If you’re able to, try and check out the festival on a weekday. It might be less crowded. I can’t remember how much the ticket cost, but it was no more than ₩10,000
The journey is only about two hours and I think my bus ride was a bit shorter than that. It was a painless ride and by the time I got there it was about 2pm. (I left at 12).
I was starving and I didn’t really feel like searching up any place to eat. I just walked into a small Korean restaurant across the street from the bus terminal and ordered Kimchi Jjigae. It was just alright, but I wasn’t complaining. I didn’t go to Jinju that day for the food.
The lantern festival is held at Jinjuseong Fortress which is only about a 5-10 minute walk. There were a good amount of people during the day, but it wasn’t that crowded. There are tons of street food being sold and some performances happening throughout the day. I walked from one edge of the park to the other. I took in the sight of the lanterns scattered throughout the fortress. There’s a fee you have to pay to walk across the bridges they have set up. It was only about ₩5,000 for a whole day unlimited pass.
As I walked around, I was amazed at how huge the space was. At one point, I thought “There’s more??” I just had to sit down to take a rest because the walk was so tiring. About an hour before nightfall, I decided to walk toward the Watchtower to see the sun set. It was actually really beautiful. I also got to see the moon really clearly that day.
As the sky grew darker, the lanterns around the fortress and on the water began to light up. It’s an incredible sight and I would really love to see it again. They had a little “Christmas in October” section of lanterns and also Frozen character lanterns (Frozen is HUGE here) and just super cute characters all around. As I made my way down from the watchtower, it was so nice to see everything. I didn’t realize there was a museum on the fortress premises, but I saw it as I was looking around at night. If I go back again, I’ll be sure to check it out.
There were musicians playing throughout the night, many many many people taking pictures and looking around with their significant other, family or friends. I definitely recommend getting to the lantern festival at least an hour or two before night falls so you can leisurely roam around the area because let me tell you, it gets packed.
As I made my way back down toward the water, there were about 10 times as many people walking around than there were just a few hours before. It was mayhem and kind of unnerving. I don’t really enjoy crowds so I gave myself thirty minutes to walk around and see what I could and then walk back to the bus terminal to go home.
I got back to the bus terminal at about 7:30pm and thankfully got a bus that was leaving in just 5 minutes. So I spent about 5 hours in Jinju in total. If I go back, I would probably go a little bit later and maybe spend a longer time walking around, taking pictures, listening to the performances and eating food. But, the combination of the heat and tiredness of walking around for 3+ hours and the amount of people made me want to get back home earlier than I planned.
Looking back, the one thing I would not do again is go to the lantern festival (or any festival for that matter) alone. I’m all for solo travel and absolutely love that bit of freedom you get. However, I do believe that traveling with other people provides amazing moments you can’t get on your own. While at this festival, I realized how lonely I was. I loved the festival, but I kept thinking about how much more fun it be if my friends were there.
In the future, I won’t be going to any festivals on my own. In my opinion, it’s much better to go with friends. There’s nothing wrong with going by yourself! If you’re in Korea alone around the time of the festival and want to go, you should! It’s something you shouldn’t pass up at all, but if you happen to be with friends or family, the experience will be even better.