Philadelphia International Dragon Boat Festival Preview

October 5, 2012 7:00 AM

Philadelphia International Dragon Boat Festival
Joe’s Boathouse
4 Boathouse Row St.
Philadelphia, PA 19130
(610) 642-2333

Hours: Saturday, Oct. 6 – 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Price: Free

The Dragon Boat Festival is a re-enactment of the story of ancient Chinese poet and royal advisor Qu Yuan, who was so heartbroken after facing exile from his home country that he attempted suicide by jumping into the Milou River. A group of fisherman paddled into the stormy seas to save him, beating drums to scare away water dragons. 

Today, Dragon Boat racing is a fast-growing water sport and family event that has caught on across the United States, especially here in Philadelphia, where the Philadelphia Dragon Boat Association boasts one of the country’s strongest teams. Each boat contains 20 rowers, a professional captain and a drummer. The drummer keeps the paddlers in sync — unity is more important than strength in this sport — while the captain steers with a pole. All crews at the Philadelphia International Dragon Boat Festival are coed, with at least eight women per team. 


Parking will be available for guests along Kelly Drive, and there will be designated parking for volunteers. Late arrivals should go to East Fairmount Park, where parking costs $12 but a free shuttle bus takes participants and spectators to the races. Shuttle buses will circle the race course to East Fairmount Park and run from Lloyd Hall to Kelly Drive.

Race Day

The race will take place along Fairmount Park’s Schuylkill River race course, with each team racing three times between 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Expect spectators to crowd the streets during racetimes, and arrive early to get parking. The race goes on rain or shine, so be ready for any weather. Organizers are still accepting volunteers for half-day shifts and are willing to donate to local schools that provide volunteers and chaperones.

Remember, this is a long day, so find Saint Joseph’s Boat House first to register (or check in if you’re a volunteer) and collect all of the information you’ll need to get the most out of the festival. If you’re really into comfort, rent a tent as a team, and bring or rent chairs, grills, etc. to make it an event everyone can enjoy.

Related: Top Fall Festivals in Philadelphia


Water Works Restaurant & Lounge
640 Waterworks Drive
Philadelphia, PA 19130
(215) 236-9000

This award-winning restaurant is on the pricey side, but it earns its keep with a delicious Mediterranean menu and its location inside of the Fairmount Waterworks, which pumped water into Philadelphia from 1812 to 1860. Since it’s inside the park, it’s also a great place for dragon boaters. Bonus: After your meal, you can visit the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center to learn more about the Schuylkill River.

Centennial Cafe
4700 States Drive
Philadelphia, PA 19131
(215) 877-3055

If you’re looking for a place to warm up for lunch on race day, visit Centennial Cafe inside Fairmount Park. It boasts steaming clam chowder and is a perfect location for race spectators. The building itself, which the state of Ohio built for the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, is brimming with historic charm and worth seeing on its own.

Related: Top Places to go Apple Picking in Philadelphia

Janet Todd is a freelance writer covering all things Philadelphia. Her work can be found on