The Aurora Winter Festival is a Vancouver Christmas-themed attraction with holiday lights, market vendors and amusement rides at the PNE.
The event happened in 2018 and 2019. Because of COVID-19, however, it didn’t take place in 2020. Hopefully it will be back again in 2021.
Although the Aurora Winter Festival didn’t happen in 2020, the PNE still ran a Christmas-themed event in its place. PNE WinterLights was a drive-thru-style event featuring holiday illuminations, magical scenes and live entertainers. It ran on select dates between December 11th and January 3rd. See our article about the Pacific National Exhibition for more details.
This article contains the following information:
What’s New | What to Expect | Festival Video | Dates & Times | Admission Prices | Amusement Rides | Tubing Park | Food Gardens | Market Vendors | Ice Skating | Entertainment | North Pole | Mystical Worlds | Tips & Advice | Other Information
Aurora Winter Festival
A new North Pole-inspired Christmas festival arrived in Vancouver a couple of years ago. The attraction included market vendors, a tubing slide, outdoor skating rink, food trucks, live entertainment, visits with Santa Claus and various family-friendly activities.
Last year the Aurora Winter Festival celebrated its second year. This time it took place at the Pacific National Exhibition fairgrounds from November 22nd until December 31st. The year before, in its first year, it ran from November 23rd until December 30th at Concord Pacific Place which is located near the eastern tip of False Creek not far from Science World.
What was New in 2019?
In 2019 Vancouver’s Aurora Winter Festival celebrated its second year at a new and even bigger venue. The most recent event happened at Hastings Park at the PNE and it included an expanded Mystical Worlds zone and twice the number of rides compared to the previous year (so six instead of just three).
Similar to the year before, the festival was again decorated with festive light sculptures and illuminations. At the event were light tunnels, ice tubing slides, food trucks, market vendors and live entertainment.
What to Expect
In years when it does take place, the Aurora Winter Festival is a magical place and good for young families. Hopefully it will be able to run again in 2021.
To get an idea of what it looks like, take the present-day Vancouver Christmas Market and an outdoor version of Glow Christmas, and combine them together. Then add a tubing hill like you might find up at one of the local ski hills, but a smaller version, plus the ice rink at Grouse Mountain’s Peak of Christmas. Combine everything together in one spot, divide by two, spread it out over a large area and that’s what you’ll see at the Aurora Winter Festival. It’s pretty cool!
In years when there isn’t a global pandemic, at the event there is a tubing park, a Food Gardens area with food trucks, a Main Street with market vendors and an outdoor rink to go ice skating on.
At Aurora there is also an Entertainment Tent where live music and other performances take place, Santa’s Workshop where kids can write letters to Mr. Claus, and a Mystical Worlds area with pretty illuminations, light displays and other things to see. There is also half a dozen kid-friendly amusement rides including a Ferris wheel.
Aurora Festival Video
To help you know what to expect at the Aurora Winter Festival, below are scenes of what we saw and heard on our visit to the event in 2019. (To view the video click the triangular play button.)
Festival Dates and Times
The Aurora Winter Festival ran from November 22nd until December 31st in 2019 (so for about the same length of time as the year before). 2021 dates are to be confirmed, but will hopefully be similar.
In 2019 the attraction was open most days in November between the 22nd and the 30th except for the Monday and Tuesday of that week. In December it was open most days except for Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays in the first half of the month. It was also closed on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, plus a couple of extra rainy days.
The hours of operation were usually from 2 until 10 pm on weekends and holidays, 4 until 10 pm on regular weekdays and 2 until 8 pm on New Year’s Eve. During the last week or so of the season, however, the attraction opened at 4 pm instead of 2 pm.
Festival Admission Prices
Admission to the Aurora Winter Festival includes access to the entire venue. Prices for regular admission to the 2019 event are listed below (all plus taxes and online service charges). Prices at the gate were slightly more.
(Note: Prices and other details were subject to change.)
Online WEEKDAY Ticket Prices (for Monday to Thursday)
- Adults (ages 13-64): $17.99 (or $12.99 for admission after 8 pm)
- Seniors (ages 65+): $12.99
- Children (ages 4-12): $12.99
- Families (up to 5 members): $49.99
- Tots & Infants (ages 3 and under): Free
Online WEEKEND Ticket Prices (for Friday, Saturday & Sunday)
- Adults (ages 13-64): $19.99
- Seniors (ages 65+): $14.99
- Children (ages 4-12): $14.99
- Families (up to 5 members): $59.99
- Tots & Infants (ages 3 and under): Free
- Early Start Admission: tickets for arrival times between 2 and 4 pm save $2 per person or $10 per family
Additional Ticket Price Details
Early Start passes and specially priced Weekday passes were new for 2019. Both cost around $2 less than the regular online rates (or $10 less if purchasing the family pack).
Early Start tickets required folk to enter the venue between 2 and 4 pm (but guests could then stay for as long as they liked). Early Start tickets were available on weekends (Friday to Sunday) and holidays. Weekday passes were only applicable Monday to Thursday and on those days adults could purchase online tickets for arrival after 8 pm for just $12.99 (so $5 less than the full rate).
Attendants for people with disabilities were free. The person with the disability paid regular price based on their age, day of the week and time of admission. Their attendant, meanwhile, got in for free. To qualify, however, the person with the disability needed to be an Access2 card holder.
Access for everyone to the entire venue last year was included with the price of admission, but some things did cost extra. Food, drinks and market vendor merchandise all required extra money, obviously. There were also additional costs for the Tubing Park slides and amusement rides. Skating on the Frozen River was free, but you had to bring your own skates or rent them there. (It was a $6 charge for renting skates.)
Craft activities at the Aurora Winter Festival were free, and they were really nice crafts. There were colouring activities for children, but also Christmas ornament-making opportunities (or at least that was the craft when we went). Not far from the craft tent was a place where children under the age of 16 could fire balls at inflatable snowmen with a catapult. That activity was also free.
In 2019 tickets for the rides cost $3 and most of the attractions cost just one ticket, except for the Ferris Wheel and Super Shot which cost two. Unlimited Ride & Slide Passes were also available for $18 if purchased online, or $20 at the venue. For comparison, tokens for the rides the year before cost $4 each (including taxes), or three for $10 or eight for $20.
(Note: The rides were all pretty much “little kid rides.”)
TIP: “Thursday Night Specials” took place on December 5th and 12th in 2019. On those days skate rentals were free of charge and unlimited slides and rides passes cost just $9 (which was 50% off the regular rates).
ANOTHER TIP: Between December 14th and the 23rd in 2019, children under the age of 13 could enjoy the amusement rides and tubing slide for free. The regular price for unlimited rides and slides was about $20 per person, so this was a really good deal!
Things to See and Do
The venue at the Aurora Winter Festival at the PNE was divided up into a number of zones. There were the Amusement Rides, Tubing Park, Food Gardens, Main Street Holiday Market, North Pole and Mystical Worlds areas. Each zone featured different activities and attractions. Between them all, there was something for everyone.
At the north end of the festival venue (in the PNE Amphitheatre area) were the Amusement Rides section and the Skating Rink and Tube Park, with the Holiday Market in the middle and Food Vendors close by. The Mystical Worlds area was located around Hastings Park’s Sanctuary Pond, and the North Pole was just south of the Holiday Market.
In total the event covered about 15 acres of area throughout which there were more than 1 million sparkling lights.
Amusement rides at the Aurora Winter Festival both last year and the year before included a 60-foot-high Ferris wheel, Choo-Choo Charlie Train and Berry-Go-Round. In 2019 there were six rides instead of just three. The new rides were the Super Shot, Elephants and Bulgy’s.
Except for the Super Shot, the attractions were all “kiddie rides” and suitable for young children. The Ferris wheel of course was good for all ages.
All the rides cost extra and tickets could be purchased at the venue for $3 per ticket (or between $18 and $20 for an unlimited rides and ice tubing slides pass).
The Super Shot and Ferris Wheel both required two tickets to ride. The first had a minimum height requirement of 42 inches and the other 48 inches (or four feet). The other rides all cost just one ticket (so $3 per time). The Choo-Choo Train, Berry-Go-Round, Elephant and Bulgy’s all had minimum height requirements of 36 inches. Bulgy’s also had a maximum height restriction of 42 inches.
(Note: As already mentioned above in the Admission Prices section, kids ages 12 and under could go on all the rides, including the tubing slide, for free between December 14th and the 23rd in 2019. After Christmas Day though regular rates applied.)
Tubing Park Sliding Area
The Tubing Park at Aurora a couple of years ago consisted of a 20-foot-high and 180-foot-long tubing slide structure consisting of four tracks. Tubes to sit in were provided, but, the same as the amusement rides, trips down the slides cost extra. In 2019 the tubing slides were 30 feet high and 200 feet long (so slightly larger than they were the year before).
The Food Gardens was an area featuring a dozen or more of Vancouver’s most popular food truck vendors. Menu items for sale included everything from Mexican to Japanese, Chinese and Italian, plus traditional North American comfort foods and both vegetarian and vegan options.
There were two areas with food trucks in the Food Gardens area in 2019 (on either side of the Main Street Market lane). There was a covered tent in the middle of each area and lots of picnic tables for people to sit at while they ate. Around the outside of each of the two canopied areas were the food vendors.
Last year the Food Gardens section had expanded slightly since the previous year and included places like Buddhafull, Cannoli King Cartems Donuts, Cravings Kettle Corn, Dim Sum Express, Fat Duck, Japanese Teriyaki Express, Los Tacos Hermanos, Meat & Bread, Old Country Pierogi, Reel Mac and Cheese and Wood Fired Pizza, plus other popular local food truck vendors.
Main Street Vendors in the Holiday Market
Main Street at the Aurora Winter Festival a couple of years ago consisted of a couple of rows of huts with market vendors selling everything from jewellery to boutique clothing, honey, fancy soaps, Christmas pyjamas, art and European pastries. The year before there was also a face-painting and temporary tattoos station.
In 2019 the Holiday Market was fairly similar and featured around 40 vendors total, including around 20 market vendors and 20 or so food vendors. Some days there might have been fewer vendors and sometimes possibly more.
The Skating Rink is where visitors to the Aurora Winter Festival can go ice skating. There were two rinks actually at the PNE venue. One was the size and shape of a small ice hockey rink. Beside it was a tiny second rink which was reserved for families with small children (so they didn’t have to worry about getting run over by bigger kids).
Ice skating was free with admission. You needed to rent skates, however, or bring your own equipment. It cost $6 to rent skates. Helmets were free and cute animal-shaped skating aids were available.
The same as the year before, the Entertainment Tent at the Aurora Winter Festival was a heated indoor facility where people could buy refreshments and enjoy live music and other performances. Animated Christmas movies also showed silently at times on a large screen.
Live entertainment took place at various times and items for sale included hot cocoa, mulled wine and miscellaneous munchies. There were also lots of picnic tables to sit at.
Things you’d find in the North Pole zone in 2019 included story time sessions with Santa Claus and art projects to do in the Craft Tent. Also at the North Pole there was a Candy Shack, Gingerbread Hut and Candy Cane Lane.
In 2019 there were separate tents for the workshop and storytelling. The storytelling area was decently-sized, with benches for folk to sit on and enjoy the show. The tent was also heated (which was nice when it was cold outside).
Santa Claus entertained with stories where members of the audience were asked to help. It was a lot of fun for little kids (especially ones who got to help by acting out characters in Santa’s tales).
Right beside the storytelling tent was a smaller tent with tiny tables and craft supplies. There was also a little red mailbox for kids to put their letters for Santa in.
Crafts included papers with Christmas-themed pictures to colour on with crayons, and fancier things like glass Christmas balls to fill with colourful pretty papers. Everything you found in the Craft Tent was free to do (and you could take your creations home with you too).
Mystical Worlds is an area at the Aurora Winter Festival that features special light displays and other pretty things to see. Mystical Worlds attractions in 2019 included the Land of Giants, Polar Passage, Luminous Gardens and Whimsical Forest. It was an area that especially appealed to young families and little children, but for adults as well.
For comparison, the year before the Mystical Worlds zone featured an Arctic Retreat and Disco Den in addition to the Luminous Gardens and Whimsical Forest.
In the Mystical Worlds area in 2019 was the Land of Giants. Here you could find large animal sculptures, a yeti cave and LED lights. Also here was the Disco Dome, where you’d likely find DJ Elyon. There was also a disco floor and music for dancing as well as a lounge area and bar. The Disco Dome in 2019 was quite a bit larger than the one the year before.
Also part of the Mystical Worlds in 2019, the Polar Passage was a fairly simple maze with snow and ice-like walls, animals made of lights and other things to find and admire. It was also where the characters Yin the Yeti and Zaos often hung out.
In the Luminous Gardens section of the Mystical Worlds were a small palace, ice throne, unicorn and garden-like displays. The Whimsical Forest, meanwhile, was another small area with a fox character statue, gingerbread hut and gnome village.
The displays were spread out along the paths in the forest and required a fair bit of walking. (Note: The trails were in the forest. As a result it was recommended that you wear proper footwear as the paths could get slippery.)
Tips & Advice
Below are some tips and suggestions to help you make the most out of your experience at the Aurora Winter Festival.
TIP #1: If you want to go for a spin on the Frozen River, to avoid having to pay extra to rent equipment, don’t forget to take your skates (and helmets if you don’t want to borrow ones used by other people). Also remember though that you’ll then have to carry the stuff around with you for the rest of the evening.
TIP #2: Don’t forget your camera! There is a lot to take photos of, including Santa and all the Christmas illuminations.
TIP #3: The displays at Aurora are all outside, and the majority of the area is not heated (with the exception of some of the tents). Be sure to wear proper winter clothes and footwear for the trek through the forest.
TIP #4: Unlimited rides and slides passes cost $20 at the gate, but $2 less if purchased online in advance. As the rides are suitable for little kids, if you have tiny folk who’ll want to spend lots of time going round and round on the attractions, the passes can be worth paying for.
TIP #5: Don’t forget that between December 14th and December 23rd unlimited rides passes are free for children between the ages of 0 and 12. This is a fabulous deal! If you want to spend lots of time on the rides, and want to save money, visit the festival on one of these dates!
TIP #6: It’s not easy to find how to buy the unlimited ride passes online. When purchasing your admission tickets online, after selecting your admission times and number of tickets, but before proceeding to the checkout, click the blue “Aurora – Attractions (Games & Rides)” button to purchase the ride passes. Just remember not to pay for a ride pass for children during the 10 days prior to Christmas Eve (because on those days kids ride passes are free).
TIP #7: The highlight of the festival for very little kids could well be the rides (especially for tiny folk who get to enjoy unlimited riding). For older children, youth and adults without kids, however, we bet the Mystical Worlds light displays and illuminations will be most people’s favourite part of the festival. So if you want to end on a high note, do that area last.
For further details about the attraction see the Aurora Winter Festival website.
For information about other activities taking place in Vancouver at around the same time, check out the following:
- Vancouver’s November Calendar
- Vancouver’s December Calendar
- Top Things to do at Christmas
- Vancouver’s Best Christmas Activities
- Lower Mainland Festivals & Events