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To complete my Edinburgh Hogmanay celebration, I went to see the giant lanterns at the Edinburgh zoo. While the lanterns might have been made for kids, I was fascinated by them. Sadly the dinosaur giant lanterns are only around until the end of January, but there will be more lanterns at the Edinburgh zoo next year.

About the Giant Lanterns

The Edinburgh zoo has had a giant lantern festival for the past three years. In 2017, the Giant Lanterns of China tradition was born with 34 different lanterns showing different animals found in the park, including lions and pandas. A year later, the attraction expanded to over 450 lanterns with a fantasy theme. Among the lanterns of the Folktales and Fantasy Nights were faeries, a hippocampus (half horse and half fish), unicorns, kelpies (like the Loch Ness monster), and a 50-foot Qing Niao (a majestic bird from Chinese mythology).

The Giant Lantern theme of 2019 was Lost Worlds. Over 600 lanterns were displayed along a trail that covered more than half the zoo. Each year, all the lanterns are produced by hand in China and shipped to Edinburgh to show Scotland’s connection to China, along with the two pandas in the Edinburgh Zoo. The lanterns usually last for 10 weeks over the holiday season and are available in the evening after the zoo itself has closed down.

Walking Through the Dinosaur Trail

The trail of the giant lanterns starts at the “Dawn of Time” – a giant clock display with the hands turning backward, symbolizing turning back time 3.5 billion years to when life first began to appear on this planet.

Turn Back Time Lantern

The “Explosion of Life” display has a beautiful tunnel of lights, balls, and the first creatures to swim in our oceans.

Lantern Tunnel

Moving on to the “Surface World” lanterns, the first display consisted of three Pareisaurs lanterns, followed by a pair of Cotylorhynchus lanterns. These looked surprisingly like modern-day mammals, even though they predated most of the dinosaurs that we know.

Lobster Lantern

First Anmial Lanterns

First Dinosaur Lanterns

The next display was really cute. It featured 12 zodiac dinosaur egg lanterns, giving a dinosaur with a different color and traits for each month on the zodiac. While it might have been designed for kids, I enjoyed it too. I had an olive-green dinosaur bringing peace and prosperity.

Zodiac Dinosaur Eggs

Selfie with Zodiac Dinosaur Egg

A primary feature of this year’s display was the volcano in the “Mass Extinction” section, located behind the dinosaur eggs. The volcano towered 32 feet in the air, with several smaller volcanos leading up to it.

Giant Volcano Lantern

Along the trail were information panels describing all the different periods and dinosaurs. The lanterns might have been designed more for children, but the information given wasn’t exactly kid-friendly. The next section we walked through featured synapsid dinosaurs, and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around what they are (perhaps an over-simplification is mammal-like reptiles).

Various Dinosaur Lanterns #2

I continued to walk around the zoo, following the trail which had the side paths roped off. Apart from the flamingoes and penguins, none of the animals were visible. The sun bear enclosure had the windows to their den boarded up, and not one monkey or meerkat was about. I couldn’t complain. Visiting the zoo is a full-day experience for daylight hours, and the lanterns take a couple hours to appreciate on their own.

Various Dinosaur Lanterns #1

The next displays I passed through were titled “New Beginnings,” “Taking Flight,” “Feathered Forest,” “Chinese Skies,” “African Showdown,” and “Above the Clouds.” As much as I loved dinosaurs as a child, I didn’t recognize any of the creatures, but that didn’t make the lanterns any less impressive. If anything, they were even more fascinating due to their unknown nature.

Stegosaurus Lantern

Within this section was the largest lantern in the display – a 65-foot-long snake with its jaws opened wide along the path. It made for some great photos if you wanted to stick your head between the teeth. I didn’t really see any signs saying not to touch the lanterns, although some of them were set at a distance from the path behind the ropes. Plenty of people were leaning into the closer lanterns for photo opportunities.

Giant Snake Lantern

I really liked the “Taking Flight” lanterns. They featured reptilian birds and the lanterns seemed to have more details and colors than any others in the exhibit. It wasn’t just the dinosaurs that were lanterns. Dozens of tree and plant lanterns were also created for the exhibit.

Flying Bird Lantern

Bird on Branch Lantern

Pteradactal Lanterns

In an unused exclosure (I think it used to house the seals), a large aquatic display was set up featuring dozens of sea creatures, plants, and a couple of larger amphibious reptiles. This display (as well as a few others) was interactive and the kids could press large buttons for different lanterns to light up.

Aquatic Lantern Display

Finally, I came to the “Mega Herbivores,” featuring the T-Rex and Triceratops. I guess I was surprised that they didn’t make the T-Rex bigger, but that’s probably just the original Jurassic Park fan coming out in me.

Herbivore Lanterns

Fighting Dinosaur Lanterns

Triceratops Lantern

The final displays were “Asteroid Strike,” “Rise of Mammals,” “New Kingdoms,” “Marsupial Land” and “Age of Ice.” I loved all these sections, but my favorite lanterns were in the “Age of Ice,” including the wooly mammoths, bears, and rhinos.

Meteor Strike Lanterns

Kangaroo Lanterns

Tapir Lantern

Giant Elk Lantern

Bears in the Ice Age Lanterns

Bear in Cave Lantern

Rhino Lantern

Before I arrived at the visitor center, one last big lantern display showed a clock bringing me back to present time. As a whole, the full exhibition was put together perfectly, covering all the different eras of dinosaurs. Sure, the intricate details probably went over the heads of most of the kids who visited. They were just fascinated by the lanterns while we adults were able to learn a thing or two.

Return to Now Lantern

Visiting the Giant Lanterns at the Edinburgh Zoo

The giant lanterns are available to visit between the middle of November and the end of January. You have to book a time slot between 4:45 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. You can stay as long as you want until the attraction closes at 8:45 p.m.; the time slots are just to ensure everyone doesn’t all arrive at the same time. I’d recommend booking a later slot to avoid the bigger crowds, but not later than 7 as it does take a couple hours to appreciate the full exhibit. Also, arrive a few minutes before your slot as the parking tends to back up a bit. If you’re traveling to Edinburgh with kids during the holiday season, this is a great activity to add to your itinerary.

Tickets are £21.79 ($28.65) with a 10% discount if purchasing more than 24 hours in advance. Kids under 17 are £11.14 ($14.65), and kids under 3 are free. There are several other ticket categories, such as students, elderly, RZSS members, etc. which can all be found on their website.

  • Location: 134 Corstorphine Rd, Edinburgh EH12 6TS
  • Hours: 4:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. on roughly 50 dates between mid-November and the end of January
  • Price: Adult – £21.79 ($28.65); Child – £11.14 ($14.65) Save 10% when booking online, 24 hours in advance!
  • Website: Edinburgh Zoo
  • What to bring: Walking shoes, a poncho if it’s raining, and your camera. Edinburgh zoo is located on Corstorphine Hill, so a bit of hiking is involved.

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Edinburgh Zoo's Giant Lanterns Pin

Further Reading

Don’t fancy going to the zoo? Here are some other activities to partake in around Edinburgh.

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

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Author Skye Class

Hi, I'm Skye. Writer, photographer, adventurer, foodie, teacher, masseur, friend, dreamer, etc. I think "normal" sucks. Let's aim for extraordinary. SkyeTravels seeks to find the good around the world, focusing on adventures, food and wellness. Be inspired. Be yourself.

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