NYC definitely does the holidays right. From the gorgeous store windows on 5th Ave. and the tree in Rockefeller Center to the crazy lights in Dyker Heights, it’s not too hard to get into the holiday spirit here. But this year, NYC has taken the holidays to the max with a fantastic new festival at Staten Island’s Snug Harbor: The NYC Winter Lantern Festival!
Having lived on Staten Island my first eleven years in NYC, I do have a particular fondness for the borough and try to keep up on what’s going on over there. And since I have an even greater fondness for the holiday season, I was sooooo excited to see that Snug Harbor was hosting this winter festival across 7 acres of its property, complete with a holiday market and food trucks.
But this is not your traditional holiday festival! You’re not going to see Santa and snowmen or wreaths and holly here. You are, however, going to see so much more! Snug Harbor is home to the beautiful Chinese Scholar’s Garden, and the festival definitely pulls greatly from Asian culture and traditions, both through the light displays themselves, as well as the live entertainment offered throughout the evening.
However, this is also not a traditional Chinese “lantern” festival as the name implies, and you’re not really going to see much there that even resembles a lantern. Instead, the festival includes around 40 different installations, which vary from flowers to animals and tunnels and arches all made out of lights. The “lanterns”, made by Chinese artisans, are predominantly made of silk and include about 10,000 LED lights all combined!
Time is running out, though, if you want to make it to the festival. They kicked off on November 28th, and they will only be open through January 6th. And I HIGHLY recommend you go check it out! You can visit from 5:00 to 10:00 pm on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays, and tickets on Fridays and Saturdays are sold in two different time blocks: 5:00 to 8:00 pm and 8:00 to 11:00 pm.
My husband and I decided to go on Saturday evening, and we LOVED it! We had tickets for the earlier block, and when we rolled up around 5:05 both of the parking lots were already full. Fortunately, we were able to find a parking spot right outside Snug Harbor on a side street (there is also a shuttle bus running between the Staten Island Ferry terminal and Snug Harbor if you’re not coming by car.) You can buy your tickets on-site or get them online in advance. I would definitely recommend an advance purchase because that ticket line was craaaa-zy, and the tickets are also slightly less expensive if you buy them online.
Since we arrived just after 5:00, there was still a mob of people all trying to get in right as they opened. As soon as you go through the ticket line, you head through a tunnel made of lights, which is very, very cool but also very, VERY crowded with everyone stopping to take photos. However, if you arrive 30 or so minutes after your time block opens, the crowd will have thinned out some which will help you get some better photos of your own!
After you’re through the tunnel, you’ll have much more room to spread out and see whatever you want to see. There is a path meant to help guide you through the installations, and I would suggest you stick to it so you don’t miss anything. Do be careful, though, because it’s made out of a bunch of plastic pieces all put together like a puzzle, and it’s easy to catch an uneven piece or two while you’re looking at all the pretty displays.
After exiting the light tunnel, the first thing you see is a beautiful pathway made out of flowers. Again, most of the displays are made out of silk, which is stretched over what looked like wire or metal frames to create the various shapes and objects. It’s all very intricate and impressive! We were just completely blown away by the level of detail in some of the designs.
Another one of the first displays you see is a tunnel (also made out of flowers), and the design was so well thought out. The supports for the tunnel were actually hidden inside the flowers’ stems so that it looked like they were holding up the roof!
As you wander through more of the festival, there are a couple fabulous peacock displays that are made more out of lights rather than silk, and they are absolutely stunning. There is also a giant shark whose mouth you can walk through, and when you get through to the other side you’ll find a whole display that takes you under the sea!
After you come back up for air, you start to encounter all of the various animal displays, and there are LOTS of them. Lions, and tigers and bears, oh my! But also….giraffes, elephants, meerkats, flamingos, pandas, and a T-rex or two thrown in for good measure. Several are animated, and I loved all of their adorable, detailed faces. One of the most incredible displays, though, is the 150-foot-long dragon.
A couple times a night they also have live performances at the stage located all the way at the back of the festival grounds, but sadly, we missed the performance scheduled for our time block. It wasn’t even 30 degrees the night we attended, and after roaming around for about an hour we were pretty much popsicles and decided to head home to our warm blankets and feline overlords. However, if you would like to see the performances, you can check out the schedule on the festival’s website and plan your visit around that.
The market stalls and food trucks are outside the festival’s fence so you can visit them either before or after you check out all the lights, or you can exit and re-enter with a handstamp. There were some long lines for food, but they had a pretty good selection if you hope to make a whole evening out of your visit!
I do love the holidays an awful lot, and over the years, I have been sure to take part in the many holiday events and traditions NYC has to offer. This festival certainly seems more seasonal than holiday-oriented, but I left feeling even more in the holiday spirit than we arrived! Everything was so bright and beautiful and oh-so-gorgeous, and it was so unique that I couldn’t think of anything else I had ever seen that was like it.
So, if you want to take part in a one-of-a-kind event this winter (or if you’ve been looking for an excuse to finally visit Staten Island), the NYC Winter Lantern Festival is an experience you won’t forget. Buy some tickets today and get your phone or camera ready!
And if you’ve already checked it out, let me know if you loved it as much as we did!
Plan Your Own Visit
Where to Go
When to Go
- The festival runs through January 6, 2019
- Hours of operation are 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays and then open til 11:00 pm on Fridays and Saturdays
- On the weekend, tickets are sold for two separate time slots: 5-8 pm and 8-11 pm
Tips for Visiting
- If taking the ferry to Staten Island, there is a shuttle bus available every 15 minutes to Snug Harbor. You can also take the S40 bus from Ramp D at the ferry terminal for the 10-minute ride to Snug Harbor.
- If you want to see the live performances, schedule your arrival time to coordinate with the stage schedule, especially if it’s cold or raining.
- Both parking lots will likely be full unless you arrive well in advance. To avoid waiting in a long line only to be turned away from the lot, look for street parking just outside the gates of Snug Harbor.
- Plan to either arrive super early or wait about an hour after your time block’s opening time to avoid the initial crowds. (Or maybe try to go during the week to avoid the weekend crowds altogether.)
- Despite all the lights, some parts of the path are dark and uneven. Watch your step while taking all your pretty pics!
- And if you wish to exit and re-enter for snacks or shopping, be sure to get your hand stamped so you can get back in.