Are you looking for something to do with your family that doesn’t require a lot of commitment, is arguably educational and absolutely a blast?
Try a Renaissance festival or fair! The first Ren fair was begun as an educational project initiated by Los Angeles schoolteacher Phyllis Patterson and her husband, Ron, way back in 1963. A decade or so later, Renaissance festivals started popping up all over the country. These fairs became a cultural phenomenon that eventually spread to every state.
Whether you’re a history buff, a lover of Medieval times or simply looking for a unique and fun experience, attending a Renaissance fair can be a great way to spend a day (or two) with friends and family. So, put on your best fantasy garb, grab a turkey leg and get ready to step back in time!
There are far too many fairs and festivals taking place each year to list them all, but here are some of the best you can find around the nation:
1. The Southern Indiana Renaissance Faire
This festival is held at a real castle, complete with a crenelated perimeter wall and massive courtyard, so how cool is that? This year, the festival operates from May 13 through May 21, with themed weekends focused on fantasy and pirates.
Come for the costumes, the live shows and the vendors selling their handcrafted wares. But leave knowing that your valued patronage helps fund a non-profit organization that focuses on promoting education and supporting the arts and entertainers from all walks of life.
2. The Texas Renaissance Festival
Texas never does anything in a small way, and that holds true even where the Texas Renaissance Festival is comes to town. Held on a 55-acre site in Todd Mission, the fair features more than 3,000 performers in 200 shows. They welcome roughly half a million visitors each year from October through November.
The festival has numerous themed weekends, including a Celtic Christmas, a Barbarian Invasion and a monstrously fun “All Hallows Eve” event (complete with “spooktacular” prizes). Guests are also encouraged to try their hand at archery or ax throwing and to sample food from many different cultures while they’re there – but be wary: You may fall under the Faery Queen’s spell and never want to go home again!
3. The Bristol Renaissance Faire
Held in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the Bristol Ren Faire is one of the most popular Renaissance Faires in the Midwest. This year, it kicks off July 8 and runs through Labor Day weekend.
More than 200,000 visitors pour through the gates of this 30-acre site each season, to check out the jousters, actors, musicians and artisans (although the turkey legs, traditional mead and cold beer are also big big attractions on their own). Guests are encouraged to come in costume just to add to the merriment and fun.
4. The Carolina Renaissance Festival
Located in Huntersville, North Carolina, this is one of the largest Renaissance Fairs in the Southeast. Held this year on every weekend from Sept. 30 through Nov. 19, rain or shine, the 22-acre grounds have more than 500 costumed characters and 16 stages of performances – including falconry and jousting knights in shining armor.
This festival goes crazy with themed weekends, and they have more than 140 different vendors displaying all kinds of old-world craftsmanship and unique creations.
5. The Ohio Renaissance Festival
The Ohio Renaissance Festival in Waynesville is one of the largest Ren Fairs in the Midwest. For 34 years, this 30-acre site (complete with a 16th-century village) has been delighting guests with costumed troubadours, acrobats, fire dancers, sword swallowers and other exciting performers. The unique shopping opportunities and food also are a big draw.
The festival operates every weekend, beginning Sept. 2 on Labor Day weekend through Oct. 29, allowing plenty of time to schedule a trip. If you have a chance, don’t forget to check out their special events that include a five-course “Royal Feast” and a guided “Pub Crawl” that will definitely get your spirits soaring.
6. The Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire
The Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire in Manheim is one of the largest in the Northeast – and this is its 43rd year in operation. Held from Aug. 19 to Oct. 29, the fair is expected to host more than a quarter-million visitors. This fair is so popular that they even offer season tickets!
Every weekend is a different theme, so plan your visit according to whether you’re a fan of Viking drums or Celtic dancers, time-traveling shenanigans or a good, old-fashioned Octoberfest. Whatever weekend you’re there, you can take in a real blacksmithing demo, see a glassblowing demonstration and learn more about the fascinating history of archery through the ages.
7. The Michigan Renaissance Festival
Step back in time to the 16th century and experience the magic at this festival in Holly, Michigan, from August through the first of October. Hollygrove Village is set up on acres of wooded land, where you’ll find 17 stages full of constant entertainment, including jugglers, musicians and magicians.
More than 250,000 guests are expected to take part in everything from “Hawk Walks” (where you can actually watch these fascinating birds of prey in action), to whiskey tastings and pub crawls. For an extra fee, you can also participate in a “Feast of Fantasy” or a bawdy (adults-only) “Kings Happy Hour.”
8. The Kentucky Highland Renaissance Festival
The Kentucky Highland Renaissance Festival is held in Eminence, Kentucky, and it redefines the phrase “high energy.” Held on a 50-acre site, you’ll have plenty of room to wander through the fictional 14th-century Scottish village of Briarwood.
While every weekend from June 3 through July 23 has a different theme, you can always find fair staples performing here, including the Celtic Dance Troupe, the Human Chess game and fire jugglers. You can also stop by the HooDoo Pub or The Twisted Thistle for a quick flagon of wine or ale.
Ultimately, Renaissance festivals are a great way to establish a family tradition and create with your loved ones bonding moments that are full of magic and mystery. With that in mind, pull some costumes together, pack the kids in the car and get ready to set off on a new adventure!