The Pingxi Lantern Festival in New Taipei has some of the most popular attractions in Northern Taiwan, and is known as one of the best festivals in the world. Thousands of lanterns are set off during the festival, to celebrate the traditional Chinese Spring Lantern Festival Holiday. It is definitely worth experience if you are in Taiwan during Lantern Festival.
The practice of lighting off sky lanterns in Taiwan began in Shifen, when during the Qing Dynasty local villagers would flee into the mountains during raids from bandits. Once the bandits had left, the remaining villagers sent sky lanterns into the air to let the fleeing villagers know that it was safe to come down from the mountains.
The people of Shifen send off sky lanterns as a symbol of peace, and celebrate every year during Lantern Festival (元宵節), a Chinese holiday.
Setting off sky lanterns as a tourist attraction began in the 1990's and you can find people lighting off lanterns every day from Shifen. Since 1990 the Lantern Festival has been held every year (expect 2021 due to COVID-19).
The Pingxi Lantern Festival is part of larger festivities around Taiwan at the time, known as the Taiwan Lantern Festival.
Because of the hundreds of sky lanterns set off every day, this creates an environmental problem with lantern trash piling around the forests and mountains of Pingxi District. The local people and volunteers help to clean up, but because of the tourism allure associated with lighting off the sky lanterns, it seems that this practice is not going away anytime soon.
The Lantern Festival is usually held for the entire week that Lantern Festival falls on, which is the 15th day of the first month of the Lunar New Year. Setting off hundreds of lanterns at night is usually done during the evenings.
How to get there:
By Train: Take the TRA to Ruifang Station, buy the Pingxi Railway line one day pass, and then switch to the Pingxi Railway line. Get off at any station! The main lantern setting is done at Shifen Square, which is right next to the Shifen Waterfall parking lot.
By Car/Scooter: Take provincial highway 2 east toward Pinglin, then get off the main highway once you reach Shifen. You can drive right or left to reach all of the stations on the Pingxi Railway line. But please know there is limited car parking around the stations.
Please see below:
Although I have been to Pingxi dozens of times, I have only attended the Pingxi Lantern Festival once. I attended it on a whim in 2020, and that turned out to be a good idea because the event was cancelled in 2021 due to COVID-19. This isn't necessarily a bad thing considering the harm to the environment from sky lanterns.
Also please note I have never lit off a sky lantern and I never will. If you love the environment, you shouldn't either.
There is a ton to see and do along the Pingxi Railway besides sky lanterns. The Pingxi Railway in New Taipei has some of the most popular attractions in Northern Taiwan. With a total of 7 stations (plus 2 if you count Ruifang and Houtong), there are endless places to explore, eat, hike, and enjoy Taiwan's history, culture, and natural beauty all in one place. For our full guide to the area, click here.
The last station on the railway, Jingtong, is also one of the biggest and most vibrant, behind Pingxi and Shifen. The police station here is shaped like a giant lantern and lights up at night as you can see in the video above.
For our full blog on Jingtong Old Street click here.
If you want to see hundreds of lanterns lit off at once, you have to go to the Shifen Parking lot and wait in line. You can light off the lanterns yourself (but you shouldn't) or just watch from the bridge nearby like I did.
Check out our documentary about the Pingxi Railway above.
The second largest station along the railway is Pingxi, which has a large old street, and they added this rainbow archway in 2020. There are usually Lantern festival events here as well.
For our full blog on Pingxi Old Street click here.
The largest station along the railway is Shifen. People are always lighting off lanterns here year round.
For our full blog on Shifen Old Street click here.
Lantern taking off from Shifen Old Street.
Around Shifen Old street, lots of tents were set up with live music and additional night market stalls.
I think these stalls were showing off local cuisine and crafts.
The line to get to the main lantern setting off festivities was long. At that time in 2020, COVID-19 was just starting to outbreak in Wuhan, but foreign visitors were still allowed to visit Taiwan freely. Temperature checks and masks were mandatory to enter. We are lucky there was not a bigger outbreak during this time.
The waiting line to set off lanterns was super long, and we would have had to wait close to an hour it seemed. So we decided to give up.
Tons of people lining up to set off lanterns.
We watched the lanterns being lit off from a distance. You can see all the photos I took in the gallery above.
PSA: Don't set off sky lanterns.
Sky Lanterns might look fun, and you will see many people lighting them off into the sky on your trip to the Pingxi Railway. But the lanterns have a dark side: after they burn out they fall into the nearby forests, rivers, houses, and roads. I have been driving on the roads many times and seen them fall right in front of me, creating a safety hazard. Countless fires have been caused by them. Also, there are hundreds of them stuck in trees throughout Pingxi. This is obviously harming nature but due to the money it provides to the locals, it likely won't be banned anytime soon. If you love the earth, do not set off Sky Lanterns, and if you have time go and help clean up the lantern mess.
The walk back to Shifen Old Street was also crowded.
Street view near Shifen Old street.
Lantern display near the old street.
Fireworks going off at Shifen OId Street.
I also want to share the Lantern Festival that went on in my home town of Nangang, Taiwan.
There was a big lantern festival in front of Nangang Station, but these ones were not sent into the sky. They were stationary lanterns in the shapes of animals and cartoon characters. I would equate it to a Christmas light show in the USA. There are tons of similar Lantern Festivities that go on all over Taiwan during this time as part of the Taiwan Lantern Festival.
We are US Expats that have extensive experience living, working, and travelling in Taiwan. In our day, we had to learn many things about Taiwan the hard way. But we have come to learn that Taiwan is one of the best places in the world for Foreigners to live. Our blog does not represent the opinions of every foreigner in Taiwan. We are just trying to help others learn more about this beautiful country.