The Carolina Renaissance Festival near Charlotte, North Carolina, is a surprisingly large event featuring turkey legs, costumes, jousting, and more. It’s sensory overload in the best of ways. Visiting the festival is the type of event that you might not choose to do every year, but you must visit at least once to enjoy the full experience.
Top Reasons To Visit Carolina Renaissance Festival
The renaissance festival isn’t like the annual fair that moves through with a Ferris wheel and large stuffed animals. Instead, the festival is a full-sensory experience that harkens back to a time gone by. Sure, there are some modern food choices and rides for the kids, but this is a different type of experience you will surely enjoy.
What Is a Rennaissance Fair?
You’ve probably heard of the renaissance festivals (also called renaissance fairs), but you might not know what it is. A renaissance fair is simply an event designed to recreate a historical setting, often during medieval times.
Many organizers set their renaissance fair in an imaginary village in England. You will often find performance stages and falconry exhibitions alongside knight jousting. The Carolina Renaissance Festival near Charlotte boasts many of these features.
1. People Watching and Costumes
When we first pulled into the festival parking lot, I told my son to look up and check out the costumes of some of the people walking by. The excitement took his 5-year-old breath away, and he matter-of-factly asked what costume he would wear. He was unimpressed when I told him we would go as daddy and son.
Renaissance costumes range from peasant-like to regal, and some people go all out with their costumes. It can even be difficult to tell the difference between the festival workers and average folk there for a good time.
Suffice it to say, the people watching is tremendous. A subset of people seemingly live for cosplay events and festivals like the Carolina Renaissance Fair, so this is their time to shine.
You will also see kids running around with wooden swords and shields. If you aren’t interested in wearing a full costume yourself, there are plenty of less extreme accessories that your kids will surely enjoy.
2. Turkey Legs and Funnel Cakes
The Carolina Rennaisance Festival features smoked turkey legs that are nearly world-famous. That might be a little bit of an overstatement, but there are some people that go to the festival every year mainly because they want to eat a turkey leg.
And indeed, the taste is smoky, authentic, and genuinely outstanding. The various food offers an intersection of current fair culture and medieval times. We paired our smoked turkey leg with a funnel cake and couldn’t be happier.
If there is one downside, it’s that the fair didn’t have fount sodas. I don’t drink beer and have a slight diet coke addiction, so this was a little disappointing for me, but it likely wouldn’t impact most people. Still, the line for alcohol was quite long, and the vendors only allowed the purchase of one beverage at a time.
There were several long lines for rides and for alcohol at the festival, but remember that patience is a virtue. The experience is what matters; for us, a smoked turkey leg and funnel cake were all we needed.
3. Medieval Jousting
No Rennaissance Fair would be complete without good old fashion jousting. The Carolina Rennaissance Festival is no exception, and they have an arena set up for the event.
Three times each day (on the weekend), the arena is packed with spectators watching as opponents charge toward each other on horseback. While the sport has faded away to the realm of the occasional festival, it is really fun to watch.
To win a joust, a knight must knock his opponent off of his horse or win points by landing solid hits or breaking a joust. Competitive jousting is still active, but only in very small circles. Jousting exhibitions are most common at fairs these days.
In many ways, the jousting is the main event for the Carolina Renaissance Festival, so it is rightly tucked far away in the back corner. Before you make it to the jousting arena, you will need to walk through the rest of the fair (and likely spend lots of money along the way).
If you leave the fair having enjoyed a smoked turkey leg and watched a bout of jousting, you know you had a good day.
4. Rides, Shows & Games For All Ages
Like most carnivals and fairs, the rides and games aren’t included in the price of admission. Still, the prices range from $2 to $7, which are all very affordable.
I was surprised at the number of options I visited with my son the first time. We intended to show up at the fair and meander over the main event (jousting), but we missed the first show because there were so many things to do along the way.
In addition to the various rides and games, a few exhibitions for kids are worth visiting. Kids can ride on a camel or visit the petting farm. The petting farm is right next to the jousting arena, so it is perfect to visit and kill some time before you grab your preferred seats in the arena to watch the jousting.
Here is a list of the many rides and games:
- World’s largest Rocking Horse
- Da Vinci’s Flying Machine
- Pirates Assault Catapult
- The Maze
- The Maze
- Queen Darts
- Axe & Star Throw
- Several More
There is also a station set up to shoot a paintball gun at various targets. My son shot a paintball gun for the first time, and he may never be the same.
There is plenty to do for several hours across the festival grounds, and a large variety of events will appeal to both kids and adults.
5. Impressive Size and Variety
There’s so much more to do than simply watch the jousting and eat a turkey leg, even if those are the main draws for inexperienced fair-goers. The festival grounds feature 16 stages offering various types of live entertainment. You read that right. There are 16 stages!
What can they possibly present across 16 stages? We are so glad you asked. Live events include the likes of:
- Cover Bands
Beyond the stage performances, rides, and games, the festival also features Sea Fairies! The Living Mermaid exhibit features mermaids that swim down into water tanks to greet the children as they pass through. We will warn you that the line for the Living Mermaid exhibit gets long, so ensure you arrive early if you want to see the Sea Fairies.
As you roam across the festival, you will see more than 500 costumes, including Fireblicker The Dragon, with which your kids may want a picture. There is so much to do, see, and experience at Charlotte’s Renaissance Festival that you likely need to plan ahead. You might even need to visit multiple times.
More About Carolina Renaissance Festival
The Carolina Renaissance Festival & Artisan Marketplace is a fun event featuring great food, fun events, exhibitions for kids and adults, and countless costumes. There is plenty to do and see.
Where Is The Carolina Renaissance Festival?
The Carolina Renaissance Festival is located in Huntersville, North Carolina, at 16445 Poplar Tent Road. It’s a fun event in the Charlotte metro area that is worth traveling to visit. The festival is conveniently hidden away from main highways, so you might not even notice it when you drive by.
Still, the festival is a big deal and highly attended, so don’t be surprised when you pull in to find a parking lot akin to what you might find at a sporting event or amusement park. Charlotte’s Renaissance Festival is a big deal.
How Long Is The Carolina Renaissance Festival?
The Carolina Renaissance Festival runs from the beginning of October through the week before Thanksgiving. It is open on the weekends (both Saturday and Sunday), rain or shine. The seven or eight-week period offers plenty of opportunity for you to make your way to the festival.
You might even consider hitting the festival up twice to ensure you have a chance to experience all of the magic. After all, there aren’t many places where you can buy a delicious smoked turkey leg, so you have to visit.
Did you know that the Renaissance Festival offers season passes? It sure does. The season passes target those individuals that are heavy users. If you plan to purchase an elaborate costume and attend every weekend, the season pass is a great deal. Individual tickets make more sense if you only plan to attend once or twice.
Take Cash or Know Your ATM Pin
Most of the vendors, rides, and games at the Carolina Renaissance Festival are cash only, so don’t be caught off guard! You can purchase entry tickets with a card, but nearly everything else requires cash once inside the fair. I recommend grabbing cash before you arrive.
There are ATMs on-site, but they can be busy. Plus, most of us in today’s age don’t use an ATM card enough to easily remember the PIN. You will get hungry and likely want a drink. Whether you want to buy refreshments, shop in the artisan market, or let your kids enjoy the ride, you need money beyond the entrance fee.
Paintball Gun Target Shooting
Who Owns The Carolina Renaissance Festival?
Jeff Siegel owns the parent company of the Carolina Renaissance Festival. The parent company, Royal Faires, also owns and operates the Arizona Renaissance Festival. The event has grown so large that nearly 200,000 visitors attend Charlotte’s fair each fall.
The Carolina Renaissance Festival started in 1994 and has since exploded in size and popularity. The fair initially covered a meager six acres with exhibits and attractions. Today, the festival covers more than twenty-five acres and is more akin to a theme park than a traditional fair.
Permanent cottages and castles sit throughout the festival grounds and serve as home to many vendors. Most of the cottages and castles don’t have running water since they are only used for two months out of the year, so they are largely used as fancy food stalls like you would find set up in tents at a weekend festival.
The downside is that you won’t find any fountain sodas on-site. Still, the structures are well maintained and offer a realistic setting for the renaissance village.
Doing Good For The Community
While the Carolina Renaissance Festival has become an amusement park-like adventure, they haven’t forgotten the early days and still give back.
For instance, the festival earmarks $300,000 in free admission opportunities annually. What does that mean? Well, for instance, they provide complimentary tickets for non-profits to use in auctions, raffles, and other fundraising events. They’ve also invited organizations like the local food bank onto the fairgrounds.
Where Is The Largest Renaissance Festival?
The Texas Renaissance Festival is the largest renaissance fair in the world, averaging nearly 400,000 visitors annually. The event in Plantersville, Texas, features glass blowing, candlemaking, metal forging, and more.
They say everything is bigger in Texas, so it’s probably not surprising that Texas features a second fair, the Scarborough Renaissance Festival, about the same size as the event near Charlotte.
Still, the Carolina Renaissance Festival is one of the largest renaissance fairs in the United States. The grounds cover more than 300 acres (which are needed for parking), while the festival itself offers 25 acres of attractions and entertainment.
Is Carolina Renaissance Festival Worth It?
While the Carolina Renaissance Festival is a seasonal event, it is one of the most unique things to do in Charlotte. The Travel Channel ranks the fair near Charlotte as one of the Top 10 Best Renaissance Festivals, while USA Today ranks the fair as one of the Top 10 Southern Festivals.
This renaissance fair is easily accessible to the Charlotte metro and sits near the geographic center of the Carolinas. Don’t be surprised if you see buses of people attending. Attend for the turkey legs and the jousting, but stay for the next-level people-watching, fun games, and unique atmosphere.