The last decade has brought about a new tradition for us. Heading out to Bristol Renaissance Faire (RF) at least once a summer is a day trip we look forward to once the flowers start to bloom. Tasty fair food, fun atmosphere, pleasant location and tons of people watching make for an entertaining activity not too far from home.
The Faire is located just blocks over the state border in Kenosha, Wisconsin. RF is about an hour an a half drive from the greater Chicagoland area, depending on construction and Six Flags (about 25 minutes south of RF) traffic. RF does not require an overnight stay.
The Faire is open from annually from the July 4th weekend until the close of Labor Day weekend. Hours are 10-6, with peak crowd times starting around noon. Tickets run $25.95 per person, though you can find deals on their website. Additionally parking (in a grass field) is $5.00. From there, food and drinks are available, though their costs are reasonable.
Though much of the Faire is canopied by tall trees, plenty of full-sun areas make sunscreen a necessity. You are also permitted to bring an empty water bottle for refilling purposes – another necessity for hot days. No other outside food or drinks are allowed.
Fun, Fun, Fun – The Atmosphere
The atmosphere of the Faire is what brings us back year after year. Welcoming to everyone and anyone, the Faire brings out every slice of life. Perhaps it’s because of Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings, but it seems like the immersive fantasy culture at the Faire is an invitation for anyone to feel comfortable in their own skin – costumed or not.
As you enter the grounds you will hear jeering crowds at nearby activities countering the gentle sounds of lutes played by costumed musicians. Depending on the paths you walk, suddenly recognizing camouflaged fairies hiding in trees or seeing performances taking place in the middle of your path is what you come to expect. As soon as you enter the Faire, the medieval atmosphere and countless activities surround you.
In our experience, RF is best enjoyed just wandering the extensive grounds. Maps are handed out at the front gate, and the website provides extensively detailed information of everything at the Faire, but aimless wandering allows visitors to stumble upon the many activities, shows and stores, not to mention parades and groupings of the costumed performers and guests.
Performances and Activities
A typical stay for us is about 4 hours. Aside from the food, which is detailed later, there are many performances on the grounds. One of our favorite activities is listening to the jesters at “Vegetable Justice”, on the far end of the grounds. Guests pay to throw tomatoes at the jesters, being taunted all of the while with humor that you may be a bit surprised they can still get away with. If easily offended, this may not be the right place for you, but the tongue-in-cheek, quick wittedness of the jesters can get the crowds roaring with laughter.
Located right next to Vegetable Justice is the Jousting Arena. A full set of performers, including jousters on horseback, pull in large crowds throughout the day. If you are interested and hope to grab a seat, you will want to check the schedule for start times.
Much closer to the entrance you will encounter several other of the 20 great performances taking place throughout the day. Adam Crack: Fire Whip entertains large crowds with a mix of humor and high energy performances with fire and, uh, whips. Taking place right in the middle of a main thoroughfare, crowds build quickly for these performances.
This is just a sampling of our go-to’s. Walking the grounds throughout the day you will stumble on an enormous variety of many more performances – comedic, acrobatic, musical, etc.
Through the rest of the grounds you will find many opportunities for games as well. Ax throwing, climbing towers and zip lines are some of the more popular activities, but many more exist along all routes of the Faire. There is an additional cost for most of the games and rides, though there are some kids activities that are free.
For us, RF is all about the tasty, fairly priced festival food. While visitors could easily eat meals – everything from turkey legs to pizza is available, it’s the snack food which entices us. Though there are food courts in a few areas, standalone food stands can be found everywhere. A few of our favorites include the cinnamon-sugar pecans, butterfly chips, mushrooms and vegetable tempura. Throughout the rest of the Faire, pastries, chocolate, ice cream and more standard food items can be found. Pubs can also be found around almost every corner.
Much like the Activities and Food, there is a wealth of shopping experiences – clothes, books, weapons – all with a strong focus on medieval fantasy. A few of the stores – glassware and metal blades, offer demonstrations in glassblowing and blacksmithing. The glassblowing at Creations in Glass is a must-see, even if you only spend 5 minutes watching.
What a Day!
For years I had no desire to attend the Faire. It took considerable convincing to finally go with a few friends – and I have no problem admitting just how wrong I was about my prejudgement.
Despite the expense – the Faire is easily a $100 day for a couple – RF is simply one of our favorite activities in the midwest. Attendees play small roles in an ongoing medieval performance. The dozens, if not hundreds, of actors on the grounds of the Faire provide endless entertainment, and all of the activities, food and shops simply add to the environment. If you have not been to the Faire, leave your reservations aside and go for a day. There’s a chance you may not love it, but I cannot see anyone regretting having spent a day at the Bristol Renaissance Faire.