NYC Winter Lantern Festival Lights up Snug Harbor

Come nose-to-nose with brilliantly lit sea turtles and more magical creatures during a visit to the NYC Winter Lantern Festival.
Come nose-to-nose with brilliantly lit sea turtles and more magical creatures during a visit to the NYC Winter Lantern Festival.

The NYC Winter Lantern Festival at Snug Harbor Cultural Center has become a family tradition in our house, and it lights up the nights again this holiday season. Our first trip to the holiday light show was three years ago when our daughter was a newborn. A visit to the Winter Lantern Festival provided a great way to escape the stress of first-time parenting and get lost in the world of imagination and light.

Back for another run, it doesn’t disappoint, bringing displays that more elaborate and brilliant spread across Staten Island's Snug Harbor Cultural Center’s grounds, the vast 8-acre botanical gardens lights up during the night, enchanting children and kids at heart with its displays. Find more stunning lantern and light shows in NYC, plus all our top holiday picks in our Guide to Holiday and Christmas Events.

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Escape NYC Winter Lantern Festival  snug harbor
Displays at the NYC Winter Lantern Festival take on a whimsical look with their playful, rainbow hues. 

It's hard to pinpoint a favorite aspect of this display because we loved it all. Stretching out in all directions, you'll see themed sections of larger-than-life lanterns.

New in 2021, visitors can pick a Wish Lantern and decorate it, then bring it home as a luminous memory. Make a wish as you're crafting yours, and hope that it becomes “true life” as my daughter says.

RELATED: Brooklyn Botanic Garden Shines Brightly With Lightscape

Escape NYC Winter Lantern Festival  snug harbor
Majestic tulips bow to passersby as you walk one of the paths at the NYC Winter Lantern Festival. 

Enjoy a journey down a majestic walkway of tulips and ferns—but before you do, stand at a distance to truly capture the simple beauty of the flower walkways. Captivating color displays in reds, blues, pinks, and greens are hypnotic.

Another section of the show is dedicated to aqua life where giant sea turtles, seahorses, and a sea of fish invite you into their midst. Jellyfish here are bigger than some trees, with the lights to match the grandeur. Once you've crossed through the moray eel gate, you can explore an entire field of cats.

RELATED: Bronx Zoo Holiday Lights Take Visitors on an After-Dark Safari This Season

Escape NYC Winter Lantern Festival  snug harbor
Cat lovers will be thrilled with the sight of a field full of playful felines. 

These smiley, smirky, playful creatures have personalities that seemingly bring them to life. Cat fanatics will go crazy for the sight. Pretend to pet them, play with them, or just frolic in their presence.

The spirit of the season is captured without the madness of Macy’s. At the NYC Winter Lantern Festival, you can see an illuminated Santa on his train surrounded by reindeer, baby ducks, and more playful sights.

Another swath of land has been invaded by butterflies and more colorful creatures. Here chameleons on mystic sunflowers slowly move toward bullfrogs, and the bright color is as realistic as life. Each butterfly is a little different from the others, and some are as regal as royalty.

RELATED: Holiday Light Shows: Drive-Thru Christmas Lights Near NYC for 2021

Escape NYC Winter Lantern Festival  snug harbor
Look up, down, and all-around to take in the splendor of the lanterns at the NYC Winter Lantern Festival. 

Don't forget to look up into the trees where you'll find majestic owls guarding the grounds. You can be sure that your kids will be mesmerized by the realistic representations and attention to detail.

More playful sights await with every twist and turn, like squirrels fighting over acorns and panda bears eating bamboo shoots.

RELATED: Best Holiday Train Shows in NYC for Kids: NYBG Train Show and Beyond

Escape NYC Winter Lantern Festival  snug harbor
Photo-ops await in every lantern-filled direction.

If you need a break from the light-filled world, make a stop for snacks and hot chocolate, then take some time to warm your hands at the heaters before stepping back into this magical lantern-filled display.

If a trip to Staten Island is too far, consider visiting Illuminate the Farm, a brand new lantern show from the same organizers, which is playing at the Queens County Farm Museum. You'll find a similarly captivating display with a little farm-inspired flare.

Escape NYC Winter Lantern Festival  snug harbor

Know Before You Go to the NYC Winter Lantern Festival

  • The NYC Winter Lantern Festival runs Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through Sunday, January 9, 2022.
  • Advance tickets are required. Book online. Children ages 3-12, $16.99; adults, $24.99-$29.99 depending on the date.
  • Strollers are allowed.
  • Limited street parking is available or you can purchase a VIP spot during checkout.
  • There are port-a-potties available on-site.
  • Beyond the lanterns, entertainment includes a live DJ, interactive light projections, concessions for purchase, and a gift shop.

Photos by the author

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