In an effort to do more holiday things this year, we rounded up my mom and hit up two of the most prominent and ongoing winter festivals in Vancouver last night. We had a good time spending the evening together and I wanted to share in case you’re thinking of checking either/both of them out.
First, we went to Vancouver Christmas Market, a German market located at Jack Poole Plaza surrounding the Olympic Cauldron from 2011.
It wasn’t our first time at that market, but it was the first in that location. It used to be over in the plaza outside Queen Elizabeth Theatre and we went with another couple and their two kids. The woman was German and we all went to try to share the German Christmas experience with her. Even she, especially she, was disappointed with our first visit. As can be predicted, it wasn’t as authentic as what she had expected, but it is challenging to recreate any cultural event in the other side of the world from its origin.
On our trip last night our memories of the first trip were quickly and thoroughly refreshed.
I’ll start with the good parts:
- Adult guests of the market can have the German experience of Glühwein, traditional mulled red wine (here’s a recipe if you want to make your own.) This was a big thing for our friend when we went the first time. I think it was something that she’d looked forward to most. My mom has some last night while Kevin and I stuck to the apple cider which was very good.
- There is a beautiful carousel operating throughout the market hours – last night was a slow night so we never actually heard it operate, but it might have been nicer and more festive to hear the sounds of it throughout the property.
- Guests can wander the area checking out “80 huts of German sweets, treats and treasures.” The highlight for me was a local jewellery maker, Stoneheart Jewellery. Her work was beautiful, her passion was evident and her displays were superb. My Mom bought some Christmas ornaments for her friends, but, besides beverages, that was about it for all three of us. To be fair, we were there for the experience, not for the shopping.
- There is a lighted patio for photo ops. Thankfully it wasn’t busy because it wasn’t a very big space with one one narrow in/out. On a crowded night, I bet it’d really test your patience.
The layout, put simply, is a rectangle with a Santa light display, a tower featuring decorations and live musical performances, a number of food offerings and a nice, big tree all down the middle. The outer perimeter is where all the hits were. There were a number of beautifully made German products for sale, but nobody (with the exception of the woman at Stoneheart) was even vaguely interested in us being there. And while there was a lot of stuff to see, it wasn’t really cohesive in creating a good – or any – vibe. The staff working at the market were equally as indifferent, bordering on annoyed that we were there. Every person that we interacted with – from the person checking our bags and informing us we couldn’t bring our coffees inside to the guy who took our tickets to the security guard that barked at my mom that she couldn’t take her booze into the area selling booze – acted like they didn’t want us there. It honestly sucked the fun right out of the visit so we gave them what they wanted and we left.
Beyond our own experience, we’d been warned not to go back by friends who were there on the weekend, but my mom wanted to go and I wanted to give her the chance to form her own opinion so we took one for the team.
Tickets are $12 for adults, $11 for seniors and $5 for youths 7-12, but you can save $2 per adult/senior if you buy them online. They’re open 11:30am-9:30pm every day until December 24th when they’ll close at 6pm. We drove down there and parked underneath the Convention Centre, but you could take the Skytrain and easily walk about ten minutes over from Waterfront Station.
Our second stop was at Aurora Winter Featival over at Concord Pacific Place, across the street from Rogers Arena. It had a decidedly different energy even from a distance. Full of bright lights and winter fun, it looks like a really fun place to be.
Before entering, you can see the Tube Park and the Ferris Wheel as well as some of the other attractions.
We walked in and were greeted warmly – so warmly, in fact, that nobody even bothered to check our tickets!
Our first stop was at the washrooms (something we hadn’t even been able to find at the market) – several rows of port-o-potties. From there, we took a stroll through some of the stalls where people were selling souvenirs and other things.
We lined up for a couple of minutes to take a tour through the Telus future home, a house featuring many conceptual pieces that Telus is seeing in our future. As you can imagine, it was pretty mind blowing!
From there, we wandered over to the food truck section of the park and decided to get something to eat. Both my mom and I went for Mac and cheese while I opted for the hot dish from Rolling Cashew, their Thai Cashew Cauliflower Wings. A++
We checked out the skating area mostly because I was in hot pursuit of a glimpse of the narwhal I could see in the distance. From there we wandered (backwards) through the Mystical Worlds: The Whimsical Forest, The Luminous Gardens, The Arctic Retreat and The Disco Den. For me, this was the real highlight because throughout all areas it was those things and more: whimsical, luminous, light, bright, fun. There was an Ice Queen, there were snow machines, there were lights and figures everywhere. It was like being transported into a whole different dimension. We were all smiling ear to ear the whole way through. ❤️
We didn’t buy much in the market area at Aurora either (again, we weren’t there for the shopping) but we did get to visit with my SweetLegs rep, Katerina, who is there through the duration of the market. (My mom is now hooked on SweetLegs, too!) We did have a great time, feel very welcome and spend nearly three times as long there.
Tickets to Aurora are $19.99 for adults and $14.99 for seniors and kids 4-12. You can buy them online ahead of time, but it requires a little planning. You need to book not only your date, but also the hour in which you will enter. (Once in, you can stay as long as you want.) They’re open 4pm-10pm, but they do close on some days. Check the ticket page for available dates and times. Again, we drove over from the Vancouver Christmas Market and parked at the lot across from Rogers Arena, but you could take the Skytrain and walk a couple of blocks over from Stadium-Chinatown Station.
Have you been to either or both of these holiday markets/events? What did you think?