Grab a sword and shout, “huzzah!” because Bristol Renaissance Faire is back. The full-on homage to Elizabethan England—complete with costumed characters, period music, jousting tournaments, acrobatic and comedy acts, rides, games and food—is an outdoor village set back from the highway near the Illinois/Wisconsin border. It’s open every weekend beginning July 9 through September 5. To make the most of your visit, these are your must-dos.
You can watch jousting
Knights spar (and tell jokes) on horseback in the dirt arena at the Faire's north end. The jousting tournaments only happen a few times a day and fill up fast. Like, get-there-a-half-hour-early fast. So, check the schedule when you arrive and plan accordingly. If you don't care about grabbing a coveted bleacher seat, you can probably score a spot on the grass a few minutes before the show.
It's totally okay to play dress-up
Go ahead — let loose. People not only dress the part of Elizabethan-era royalty, pirates and peasants, but they speak it, too. It's hard to decipher who among you wearing a velvet cloak and talking with an English accent actually works there. And it really doesn't matter, because the whole experience is like walking through a play. If you don't come in costume, you can buy one there. There are shops selling everything from bodices to leather boots to clay devil's horns.
Giant turkey legs. Enough said.
They're almost as big as a child's head and no silverware is required (or given). If this isn't photo opp gold, we don't know what is. Oh, and they don't taste half bad, either. Actually, they're excellent.
Infants and toddlers are welcome. . . and they'll feel right at peaceful home in Nobles Glade.
The most serene area of the Faire is this grassy sweep at the far north end. Spread out a blanket and enjoy a bit of tranquility. The Glade borders a picturesque pond and is where the Queen and her court are known to hang when not holding sway over the jousting tournaments.
Your kid's one and only chance to be officially named a Lord or a Lady.
Queen Elizabeth herself shows up in Kids' Kingdom for the celebrated Knighting Ceremony, at which she personally dubs all attending children lords and ladies.
Photo opps galore.
Have your kids sit upon one of the thrones at the entrance of the Kids' Kingdom for the ultimate photo-opp experience. Choose from the Pirate Throne will all its shiny plunder, the Fairy Throne, the nasty-wasty Dragon Throne, the Jester Throne for your little joker or the Queen Elizabeth throne for your princess in waiting.
You can meet real fairies.
The Faire is set up like a real village — town pubs, merchants and all. In the midst of it, due east of the Ship Swings ride, is the unmarked Fairie Glen. This is where sprites in beautiful costumes and makeup flit through the grass. They don't talk, but engage with kids in truly mesmerizing ways through expression and movement. Get your camera out.
Pirates hang out at Blackfriars Tavern — and they're super-friendly.
This pit stop in the middle of the grounds is manned by a chatty pirate who knows how to work a crowd (i.e.: G-rated jokes when kids are around and bawdy humor when they're not). The stand sells soda, lemonade, water and beer by the bottle or on draft. If you leave any of the workers a tip, they ring a bell and make a scene.
There is a mud show. It gets wild.
The Sturdy Beggars Mud Show has been a highlight of this fair for many years. If you're looking for raucous (albeit kid-friendly) fun, it's a must-see. Three men do joke-y antics before a crowd and along the way, mud gets slung. You can imagine how it ends, with the actors practically dive-bombing into a mud pit. For more funny stuff, check out MooNie the Magnifi'Cent on the Globe Stage. He's a juggling, clowning fool, and you really must grab a seat near the front to catch all the fun.
Parking is free.
Most cars make a beeline for the main lot, where parking close to the entrance is $5. But if you don't mind walking, there is a free parking lot just north of the main lot. Shhh... your secret.
Your kids get to throw tomatoes at someone's face — without getting in trouble
At the far end of the Faire, next to the jousting arena, pull your pitching arm back and fire away. Your job (for a small fee) is to throw tomatoes at a guy peering out from a wooden shed. He'll give you plenty of reasons to take aim, starting with tossing insults your way. Don't worry, parents, they take it easy on kids with fun, innocent humor. No wonder they call this attraction Vegetable Justice!
Kids' Kingdom. Nuff said.
Okay, nuff said, but we'll give you the scoop. This is an area of the fair designed just for kids. They will explore pirate ships, adventure among the hobbit houses, meet fairy tale characters, hear stories, have pretend picnics, see stage shows galore and play games. Kids will go wild over The Painted Lady, who lets kids add paint to her canvas dress while she weaves stories. What's not to love about all that?
Bristol Renaissance Faire
Located off I-94 at the Illinois/Wisconsin border
Open Sat., Sun. & Labor Day, Jul. 9-Sept. 5
Hours: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. daily
Admission: $30/adults; $15/ages 5-12; free for ages 4 & under
— Amy Bizzarri & Kelly Aiglon