From human-powered rides to playing in the mud to surprisingly good food, the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin, is the place to go if you want to party like it’s 1574. The Bristol Renaissance Faire is regularly voted “Best Renaissance Faire.”
The fun at the Bristol Renaissance Faire is just smutty enough for teens to label it “inappropriate for parents.” At least my kids said that the first time we took them. That means, of course, that they were uncomfortable sitting next to Mom and Dad while giggling at the performers who dish out silly, slightly dirty jokes. That kind of bawdy humor is the mainstay of much of the entertainment at this annual summer festival.
But if you don’t mind a little sexual humor amid period-costumed workers and faire visitors, then there’s plenty to enjoy at the Bristol Renaissance Faire.
Here are 12 secrets to having fun and making the most of a visit to medieval times.
Bristol Renn Faire Details
The faire operates Saturdays and Sundays and Labor Day Monday beginning July 6 and ending on Labor Day, September 2. It’s 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., rain or shine.
The Faire is located just off I-94 at 12550 120th Ave. in Kenosha, Wisconsin. That’s about an hour north of Chicago.
Admission is $40 for adults and $15 for children ages 5-12. Kids 4 and under are free. Members of the military with valid IDs and seniors age 62+ receive $5 off at the box office, but the deal is not available online. Buying tickets online includes a fee and sales tax, but you’ll have your tickets in hand and be able to skip the admission lines, which can get quite long.
SheBuysTravel Tip: The best deal is to buy discount tickets — $36 for adults and $13 for kids ages 5-12 — at participating Menards home center stores around the Chicagoland area. You’ll save money and time!
1. Bring Cash.
Bristol Renaissance Fair food vendors do not take credit cards. And the performers work for tips, so bring plenty of singles and $5 bills.
In fact, bring lots of $5 bills. These people work hard to entertain the audience. And they love those five-dollar bills!
You’ll find ATMs on-site in case you don’t bring enough cash with you, but you’ll get hit with a $4 transaction fee.
The ticket office takes credit cards, as do some of the 200 or so merchants. So, if you really must have that $300 velvet cape, there’s a chance you’ll be able to whip out your VISA card and walk away happy without a visit to the ATM.
2. Be on the Lookout for Bosoms.
Lots of bosoms. Enough to make a 12-year-old boy drool.
Chances are you will happen upon a young wench with her tip jar strategically nestled among her ample… Well, you likely get the picture. And if you don’t, just ask the nearest 12-year-old boy.
And the bosoms aren’t limited to the workers. I’ve been going for many years and every year I notice more and more of the visitors sporting increasingly outrageous costumes. On my last visit, I saw everything from people dressed up as fairies, complete with pointed ears and plastic wings, to one fully outfitted Batman. But the biggest group of costumed visitors were those honoring the time period with corsets and other get-ups that emphasize their chest area. (See #5 below for more on that.)
3. Don’t Miss the Mud Show.
Officially called The Sturdy Beggars Mud Show, this ongoing show is silly and smutty and fun. When I posted on Facebook that I was headed to the Faire and asked my friends what I shouldn’t miss, this was the most-often-mentioned feature.
With good reason. The “beggars” keep up a steady banter of off-color jokes interspersed with plenty of time spent wallowing in the mud. Their adage: “The whole world’s a stage, just add water.”
The performers live up to their billing as “beggars.” They spend a significant chunk of time during the show collecting cash from an appreciative audience.
4. Enjoy the Entertainment.
The faire schedule reads like a day planner on a cruise ship. This year, there are 16 stages, ranging from the Mud Pit to the Joust Arena, plus Queen Elizabeth and her Court parading through the ground and entertainers wandering the paths all day long. Every show we have seen over the years was worth at least a few minutes spent watching. Plus, I learned what a hurdy-gurdy is!
Like the Mud Show, the Barely Balanced trio of comedian acrobats is not to be missed. This talented crew tells jokes, juggles and entertains while climbing atop one another, twisting themselves into impossible shapes and holding some Olympic Gold Medal-worthy gymnastics poses.
Several of the shows include some funny jokes that younger kids won’t get but will make adults chuckle. Several of the performers announced at their early shows that they would be doing a later show that would be decidedly adults-only. So if you’re visiting with kids, go early for the family friendlier stuff.
SheBuysTravel Tip: If you plan to watch the jousting tournament, arrive early if you want a seat in the small stands. We didn’t and ended up sitting on the grass, where we ate a lot of dust stirred up by the charging horses.
5. Feel Free to Dress the Part.
Dressing up is a feature of this faire. And more revelers take part each year. In 2023, I felt odd NOT being in a costume. Cos-play is encouraged by weekend-specific themes, including Steampunk Weekend, Pirate Weekend and RennCon. All weekends include contests to find and reward the best hand-made costumes.
Each year, the costumes get more elaborate and more extreme. A few are downright scary-looking. Just be prepared if you’re bringing little ones.
6. Be Adventurous with the Food.
The food at the faire overall is pretty darn good. The beef stew in a bread bowl was tasty, but I couldn’t understand why hubby chose stew the year we visited on a 90+ degree day. Every year we see lots of people eating the traditional food of 1574: huge BBQ turkey legs.
On our last visit, we tried the Scotch egg — a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage and bread crumbs then deep fried. Yum.
7. Take a Spin on the Human-Powered Rides.
The faire might call them thrill rides, but they’re more kitschy fun. The teens enjoyed hopping on a ride and having a couple of able-bodied, period-costumed workers push them around.
Most of the rides require an additional per-person fee, generally a couple of bucks. There are some activities for younger kids that are free, including the chance to be made a Knight or Lady of the Realm by Queen Elizabeth.
8. Bring a Water Bottle.
It gets hot and dusty at the faire and bottles of water are pricey. So bring your own bottle and fill it up at the water fountains located outside the “flush privies.”
SheBuysTravel Tip: Because of the dustiness, it makes sense to wear comfortable closed-toe shoes such as sneakers to walk along the dirt and stone paths.
9. Test the Weapons.
This was the big draw for the males in our group — one teen and two guys 50+. This is another pay-to-play activity, but they thought it was well worth the money for the chance to throw axes, shoot arrows and toss Ninja-style metal throwing stars.
10. Don’t Expect a History Lesson.
Despite the parades, period costumes and non-electrified fun, my 17-year-old daughter, a history buff, was disappointed that the faire was more Disney than historically accurate. However, if you want more history, spend time at Queen’s College. The costumed courtiers are happy to tell you how things used to be. And they’ll give you a free activity booklet for the kids to keep them engaged and learning a little history.
11. Choose the Cheap Parking Lot
There are three parking options:
VIP parking lot that gets you really close and costs $20. That must be purchased online before you head to the Fair.
Preferred parking near the front gate. It costs $10 (cash only).
General parking lot on the far north side of the faire (entrance off the frontage road only) for $5. The $5 lot isn’t that much farther away. Save the $5 on parking and spend it buying another turkey leg.
12. Pay Attention to the Rules
This feels like a pretty laissez-faire operation, but there are some rules that you won’t want to break. For example, if you bring a weapon to accompany your costume, it “cannot be carried in hand and must be peace-tied to your person.” That means zip-tying your sword into a sheath. And leave your guns and your pets at home. Neither are allowed at the faire.