It’s that time of year again! If you’re looking to get into the Christmas spirit in Toronto, you don’t have to look too far. There are lots of Christmas events in Toronto, including the famous Christmas Market at the Distillery District and various lights displays around the city. You’re going to want to add the Aurora Winter Festival Toronto to your list of Christmas celebrations. Seeing these Christmas lights in Toronto is well worth the price of admission.
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All About the Aurora Winter Festival Toronto
The Aurora Winter Festival Toronto is an event organized by the Canadian National Exhibition (yes, the CNE!). Unlike the CNE, which takes place at the Exhibition Grounds, the Aurora festival happens at Ontario Place. Inspired by the breathtaking northern lights, it’s one of the best light festivals in Toronto to celebrate the magic of the holidays.
At this Toronto winter festival, you’ll encounter four mystical worlds to explore with some of the best Christmas lights in Toronto. There are also alluring characters, food and drink to taste, amusement rides and games, and so much more.
Event Dates and Ticket Information
You need to buy tickets to the Aurora Winter Festival Toronto in advance from their website to ensure entry. There will be a limited amount of tickets at the gate, but this isn’t a guarantee as the event does sell out. The tickets have a timed entry, so you’ll need to choose your arrival time in advance. I appreciate that the festival only lets a certain amount of people enter at a time to keep control over the crowds for a more enjoyable experience.
Once you’re in, you can stay as long as you like. I feel like a couple of hours is plenty of time to view all of the Christmas lights, grab a drink or a snack, and take some photos at this Toronto winter festival.
The event dates change from year to year, but it typically starts mid-November and ends at the beginning of January. It’s open from 4pm to 10pm on weekdays, and 2pm to 10pm on weekends. You’ll want to visit once the sun goes down to experience the enchanting twinkling holiday light installations in their full glory. While the event ends daily at 10pm, the gates close at 9:30pm. You’ll want to make sure you at least arrive by 8pm to allow yourself enough time to fully experience the Aurora festival.
What to Bring to this Toronto Winter Festival
Make sure you dress warmly for the weather. While it’s pretty chilly in Toronto this time of year, it seems like it’s even colder at Ontario Place. The air that comes off the lake is frigid, so it’s really important to bring a warm winter coat, hats, scarves, and mittens. Layers are key. And don’t forget to choose suitable footwear, too.
Where to See Christmas Lights In Toronto
The four mystical worlds of Aurora Winter Festival Toronto are my favorite aspects of the festival. It’s the best place to see Christmas lights in Toronto. It’s a very magical experience to view the holiday lights in four distinct themes.
It’s as though you’re walking through a quirky forest with larger than life moose, deer, mushrooms and foxes. There are also gnome houses and fairy hollows. Look up into some of the trees to find hidden gnomes all around.
This is a world of ice and snow featuring giant icicles, huge polar bears, a lit up dome, and some caves to walk through. There’s also a Yeti Cave that’s very misty and mysterious. You might run into a couple of friendly characters here, too!
Candy Cane Lane
This one is perfect for those with a sweet tooth! You’ll discover candy canes, cupcakes, and even a big gingerbread house. And it isn’t just Christmas decorations: there’s also a Candy Shack where you can indulge in some treats.
Luminous Gardens is a captivating and colorful space with illuminated flowers, trees, and a palace with characters. After you walk through Luminous Gardens, you’ll come across a tunnel of lights, which is the perfect place to capture a selfie with your partner or loved ones.
Toronto Christmas Market at Ontario Place
Think you need to head down to the Distillery District to experience the Toronto Christmas Market? Well, the official Christmas Market might be there, but the Aurora Winter Festival Toronto captures the essence of a traditional German holiday market.
It’s on a much smaller scale than the one at the Distillery District. However, there are tons of cute, wooden booths with various handmade crafts and food items up for sale. There’s a large, purple Christmas tree near the small wooden shops, complete with a fire pit to warm up. While some of the booths don’t relate too much to Christmas, most of them sell Christmas ornaments, woolen outerwear, and yummy treats.
Food and Drink at Aurora Winter Festival
There’s lots of delicious food and drink at the Aurora Winter Festival Toronto. Of course, there’s the famous mulled wine that you find at traditional Christmas markets, as well as boozy hot chocolate, coffee, beer, and other non-alcoholic drinks.
As this is a vegan blog, I’m going to focus on the vegan eats and treats. There are food trucks selling veggie samosas, tater tots, and the tornado potato (potato on a stick). While I didn’t see it personally, the website states that the Rancho Relaxo food truck is there, and they’re known to be vegan friendly. Take a look at Randy’s Roti and Doubles to see if there are veggie options (usually doubles are vegan!).
My favorite food hut is Beavertails and we always get one as a sweet treat. This time, they have all of their vegan options marked clearly on their menu board. Make sure you request the vegan version when you’re ordering. Justin and I shared a yummy maple pecan Beavertail that was so delicious!
Hits and Misses at Aurora Winter Festival
My hits and misses at the Aurora Winter Festival Toronto might differ from yours, especially if you have children. Your kids might want to stick to all of the rides, whereas the adults in the bunch might seek the Christmas lights and the mulled wine. In my opinion, here’s what you definitely need to see at the Aurora Winter Festival Toronto and what you can skip.
What You Absolutely Need to See
You need to wander around the entire property to see all of the Christmas lights. The four mystical worlds are absolutely brilliant, but there are more lights beyond them. There’s a giant Christmas tree at the end of the Christmas market wooden booths. If ice skating is your jam, you can rent a pair of skates there (or bring your own for free) and glide across their frozen pond. There are also free skate rentals on Wednesdays.
For the kiddos, visit the North Pole to meet with Santa and make some Christmas crafts. This is an area that Justin and I skipped, but the little ones won’t want to miss it.
What’s Worth Skipping
While a midway and rides might be fun during the hot, summer months, I’m not so sure that I’d want to freeze my bum off on a Ferris Wheel in the middle of winter. We wandered around the midway section of the Aurora Winter Festival, but didn’t play any games or go on any rides. Like most carnival rides and games, it seems like a bit of a cash grab.
The only ride worth trying in this section is the sledding, although it’s more like a slide than anything. We didn’t feel that this attraction was worth it, but I could see that smaller kids would have a lot of fun. However, you do still want to venture down towards the midway at the Aurora Winter Festival. There are lots of Christmas lights as you walk around the park. Furthermore, there’s that Beavertails stand where you can find delicious Canadian pastries.
Where to Stay Near the Toronto Christmas Festival
I recommend staying at the hotel that’s closest to the Aurora Winter Festival Toronto, the Hotel X Library Collection Hotel. It’s right across the street from the festival grounds, and the views are absolutely stunning from this hotel. There’s also a swimming pool, a spa, and many other amenities at this luxury hotel. Book your stay at the Hotel X or read more reviews from fellow travelers.
All in all, we really enjoyed the Aurora Winter Festival Toronto and we hope that it returns year after year. There’s also the Aurora Winter Festival Vancouver, if you’re out on the west coast. While there are many places to see Christmas lights in Toronto, this is a Toronto winter festival that you won’t want to miss.