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A Renaissance Affair

Two knights on horses jousting.

In the center of a wooden stadium, two knights mount their horses. Squires in feathered hats hand the knights wooden lances; an announcer bellows, and the two knights rush forward, the sound of their crash buried by a cheering crowd. There’s a mix of people watching—some in traditional 14th-century garb, some with elf ears and dramatic makeup, and some in jeans and T-shirts.

Though Queen Elizabeth I and her court are long gone, medieval sights like this aren’t. There are over 60 Renaissance fairs (or “Ren fests”) that take place around the United States. A typical fair usually happens over a series of weekends and includes performances, wandering actors, vendors, games, and festival food. Larger festivals can attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each season, and visitors are encouraged to dress up. If you’re looking to immerse yourself in another world, here are a few of the biggest and most unique Ren fests across the U.S.

The Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire—Irwindale, California

This Ren fest in Southern California (running April–May) bears the distinguished honor of being the first Renaissance fair ever created. The fair began in Agoura, California, in 1963 as an attempt to create a live version of Elizabethan England for children and families to learn from. You can experience this medieval world through vendors, shows, and RenQuestÔ, an interactive role-playing adventure where you complete quests throughout the park. These quests require you to interact with actors, play games, solve puzzles, and truly become part of the story.

Texas Renaissance Festival—Todd Mission, Texas

Held on a whopping 77 acres of land and boasting over 21 stages and 400 shops, the Texas Renaissance Festival is one of the largest and most popular Ren fests in the country. Guests flock to the festival for its eight to nine themed weekends during October and November (including Pirate Adventure, All Hallows’ Eve, and Celtic Christmas weekends). If you visit, make sure to check out one of their unique performances like the fire whip show, and don’t miss the royal fireworks, which close out the festival each night. You can even continue your vacation at the festival’s 200-acre campground.

Medieval Fair—Norman, Oklahoma

Attending a Ren fest can be a pricey experience, but the Medieval Fair in Norman is one of the only free Ren fests in the country and can save you some cash to spend on vendors and shops. This three-day event in April began as a forum for the University of Oklahoma’s English department and relies on donations for its operation. It now hosts over 200 vendors each year. Main attractions include educational exhibits and demonstrations, theatre and dance performances, interactive games, jousting, and even human chess.

Maryland Renaissance Festival—Crownsville, Maryland

The immersive Maryland Renaissance Festival, which runs from late August through October, is set in the 16th century under the rule of King Henry VIII. The festival boasts a jousting area that can seat 3,000 people. Visitors can follow along with the festival’s annual storyline by interacting with over 200 wandering actors and watching street performances. Costume rentals are available for those who want to join in on the fun, and there is an abundance of portable fair food—such as steak on a stake, cheesecake on a stick, and mac and cheese on a stick—to keep you going as you explore hundreds of craft vendors.

Meredith Gerard