Introduced to the Charlotte area in 1994, the Carolina Renaissance Festival and Artisan Marketplace contained just six acres of village attractions. Now, the event has grown to become one of the largest Renaissance themed events in the country as well as one of the largest attractions in the Carolinas.
Operating seven consecutive Saturdays and Sundays in October and November, the 22-acre tree-lined Renaissance Festival village is nestled amongst 245 acres of beautiful forest coated in autumn colors. A perfect setting for a fictional, story-book renaissance village filled with charming cottages, castles, kitchens and pubs, all with simulated architecture and design of a 16th century European village. A fictional village called Fairhaven — a peaceful shire where pleasure and celebration rules the day.
It is within the walls of Fairhaven that villagers, artists, crafts-people, musicians, performance troupes and food vendors have gathered together to create a marketplace festival in celebration for the arrival of their visiting King and Queen.
With trumpets blaring and cannon blasting, the gates of Fairhaven swing open at 10 a.m. and close at dusk. The day is filled with an abundance of attractions appropriate for all age groups, including 11 stages, each packed with a unique mix of continuous music, dance, comedy shows, and circus entertainments. From sword swallowing to one-of-a-kind old world musical instruments, the entertainment options are endless. The shows are always spontaneous, and you can take part in the action if you wish – or sit back and enjoy watching the audience volunteers make spectacles of themselves. You will never know what happens next, on stage or off.
One of the special features of the Carolina Renaissance Festival is that the entertainment is not confined to the stage. The fun takes place right in front of you on the streets of Fairhaven Village, as a costumed cast of 300 medieval commoners, knights, and royalty celebrates a 16th century day of play. Part of the Renaissance experience is meeting and interacting with the colorful characters roaming the village, creating an interactive street theater. Musical fairies and lively woodland sprites embody childlike innocence. Close up magicians amaze and amuse. Wonderful statuary comes to life. There is even a walking tree! You can take audience with the King and Queen, or mingle with the mud-covered peasants who endlessly proclaim — “Welcome to the greatest show in Earth! Huzzah!” Outrageously unpredictable and unstoppably hilarious, the Carolina Renaissance Festival blends the comedy of Monty Python with the mythology of “The Lord of the Rings.”
One would be remiss without mentioning the incredible array of live musical performances — many of which are accompanied by ethnic dance influenced by Ireland, Scotland, India, Africa, and the Middle East. Ancient old world instruments such as the hurdy gurdy, hammered dulcimer, penny whistle, along with classical guitar ensembles and gentle harp music all fill the lanes of the village. Even scurvy pirates and old Irish folk songs have a home with adventure filled ballads that make you sing and shout along — all a part and parcel of the Festival day.
In addition to the non-stop schedule of entertainment, you cannot miss the birds of prey exhibition where the royal falconer will don his hunting garb and take you on a thrilling trip into the past explaining and demonstrating the use of falcons, hawks, owls and more in the ancient sport of falconry! Listen to fascinating bits of history delivered while a hawk flies overhead in a simulated hunt displaying the unique skills that enraptured nobles long ago and made falconry the sport of kings. It is both educational and awe inspiring as you learn about the popularity of falconry in the renaissance while watching a falcon dive at over 100 miles an hour!
A modern recreation of the Renaissance era wouldn’t be complete without a depiction of one of the grandest events of the time period – the tournament Joust! Easily the Carolina
Renaissance Festival’s most popular attraction, the joust is full of pomp, pageantry and chivalry. Three times daily, noble Knights strap on the heavy suits of armor and mount two tons of snorting steeds. With plumes waving and chain mail clanking, they take up their lances and charge at one another in tilt. Shattering lances, clashing swords, and daring deeds of bravery all collide into a realistic recreation of a joust to the death! These Knights (actually stunt riders and actors) battle inside the village on a large tournament field in a 2,000-seat arena. Adults and children alike can join in the fun and cheer their favorite knight with creative and sarcastic chants taught by the Fairhaven rabblerousers!
Games and Rides
The Carolina Renaissance Festival is home to plenty of activities for children including a most unusual collection of people powered rides and games of skill. Inspired by the joust? Try your skill with a lance on the Slider Joust challenge game. You can storm the castle in a paintball battle or try to solve the riddle of climbing Jacob’s Ladder. Mix skillful pleasure and comic adventure by throwing tomatoes at the insulting fools locked in the stocks at Vegetable Justice. Test your skill at games like the Dragon Climbing Tower, the Archery Range, and the Maze. Fly high into the sky on the Pirate’s Assault Catapult. Take a ride on Christopher Columbus’ Voyage to the New World, the Piccolo Pony (a rocking horse bigger than an elephant), and Leonardo’s Flying Machine; a people powered amusement ride based on Da Vinci’s designs for human flight.
A family favorite is Mother (and Father) Goose brought to life with their costumed ducks and geese, the Petting Farm, camel and elephant rides.
Already the Carolinas’ largest costume party, put the Carolina Renaissance Festival on your Halloween list of things to do with free event admission for all children 12 and under, with free tricks and treats to be found all around the Festival village, and a Halloween Treasure Hunt with prizes! Children are encouraged to show off their Halloween costumes and enter the Halloween Costume Contest!
In addition, the Renaissance Festival is a great place to buy your Halloween costume or accessories. Early holiday shoppers can peruse over 100 craft shops in an open-air village market which provides a diverse selection of handmade items such as pottery, jewelry, perfume, glass blown ornaments, ceramics, bath and body products, medieval costumes, hand carved candles, unique musical instruments, children’s toys, a full spectrum of clothing, and much more. You can even create your own special gift at the raku pottery booth.
Housed in rows of storybook shops and medieval style tents, you can watch artisans make a masterpiece right before your eyes. Enjoy demonstrations of fine skills such as weaving, woodcarving, blacksmithing, glassblowing, pottery, and jewelry making — all through the use of ancient skills and low technology.
Did you work up an appetite perusing all the shops and enjoying all the entertainment? Well you will be pleased to know that the food is as spectacular as all the attractions. In addition to the shows, music, crafts, and the wonder of getting lost in another time, people visit the Carolina Renaissance Festival for the food as well. Village kitchens cook up an endless feast of bread bowl stews, steak-on-a-stake, gourmet sausages, and the festival’s famous giant roasted turkey legs. For dessert, try the fresh crepes, the cakes and cookies from the Monks Bakery, candy delights from the Chocolate Shoppe, Italia ice, gelato, and a favorite of all renaissance wanderers: a bag of cinnamon-roasted almonds. Festival pubs soft drinks, a wide variety of craft beer, wine, champagne, ale honey mead, lemonade and Medieval Margaritas to compliment the day-long feast of hearty foods fit for royalty.
Each year the Carolina Renaissance Festival adds new entertainment and new facilities making it the fall destination for quality entertainment in the Carolinas. And for visitor convenience, the festival has embraced modern times. In addition to purchasing advanced discount tickets at Harris Teeter grocery stores region-wide, visitors can now print their own tickets in advance on the Festival’s website at RenFestInfo.com.
So bust out your sense of good cheer, leave your cares behind, and take a day trip out to the wildly popular and entertaining time machine known as the Carolina Renaissance Festival and Artisan Market Place.