If you’re open to the idea of time travel and men in tights for a weekend staycation, Renaissance Faires across the country provide an escape unlike anything you may be used to as a globetrotting Go Girl.
The Renaissance Faire is a unique kind of travel destination — local yet otherworldly, authentic yet wildly exaggerated.
Put simply: It’s the best people watching (and fashion show) you’ll find all year. The shopping’s one-of-a-kind, and beer tastes crisper when you’re sipping from a tankard in the woods.
The New York Renaissance Faire has been one of my favorite destinations since the days that I’d watch Disney’s Robin Hood on VHS repeat. In the meantime, I’ve been lucky to travel and live around the world, including a semester in a real medieval Dutch castle.
But the Shire of Sterling nestled in Tuxedo Park, New York is where my heart returns to again and again.
Shall we, m’lady?
Where to Eat, Drink, and Be Merry
Grab a table at the Blue Boar, and catch some live music. Image by Paige Trubatch.
As far as indulgences go, the Ren Faire is perhaps best known across the realm for those giant turkey drumsticks, the most decadent portion of poultry you may consume for awhile thereafter. If an oversized turkey leg isn’t your thing, plenty of vegetarian options abound, including falafel, Mediterranean salads, and potato pancakes with applesauce. Yum!
But, really, we all know we came for the mead. The Blue Boar is one of my favorite parts of the Faire (or just “Faire”, as it’s affectionately called), and I wish more taverns existed in the woods of the outside world. Seriously! There’s no place more chill to geek out on a sunny, fresh September afternoon.
If you can snag a booth under the trees, along the wooden fence, just sit back and drink in the scene with good company and a few bawdy sing-alongs. You can even sign up for the organized pub crawl beforehand.
Over yonder, the somewhat intimidating Sheriff’s encampment sits in the far corner of the Blue Boar. If you’re anything like my friends, at this point you’ll get a kick out of pretending you’re part of Lord Roose Bolton’s host, recharging with a few brews before marching north.
What to See and Do
Visiting with the locals at the Faire. Image by Paige Trubatch.
Many activities in the Shire are fun for both kids and adults, while staying on-point price-wise.
You will pay more for a tarot card or palm reading, but practicing your archery or star-throwing skills will only set you back between $3 and $5 for a single go. This would be a good point in the tour to try to impress your date if you’re Katniss with a bow and arrow, before crossing Ye Olde Kissing Bridge to the next spot.
How NOT to impress your date? Pay to be insulted at Rotten Revenge. That guy is GOOD. Good at reading people in a snap, and good at egging them on to chuck smashed tomatoes at his face as he hurls their insecurities back in their own.
Great fun for everyone! Thou hast been warned…
Throughout the day, you can catch plenty of live shows, including the impressive educational program “Birds of Prey” by the rescue folks at Last Chance Forever. All performances are free to Faire ticket holders, though I generally tip performers or donate in the case of the “Birds of Prey” show.
Shopping the Shire
Take the time to ask some questions when shopping for that perfect pewter goblet or corset. Image by Paige Trubatch.
One of the first purchases many visitors make near the Faire entrance is a flower or pheasant feather crown. Though a bit costly, these gorgeous costume items are one of the most prevalent accessories you’ll see. They’re well worth it too, if you plan to return in the future; a friend was told her pheasant feathers should last upwards of 20 years.
The further you wander into the Shire, the more you come to realize the creative point of view and discipline of many artisans who choose to share their work here.
Mesmerizing glassblowing demonstrations. The hand-hammered knives by the blacksmith of Red Dog Forge. Custom leather moccasins fashioned in the Catskills to fit a mold of your own feet.
You’ll find a true love of skilled craftsmanship around every corner, in this place where not much else is real.
As the day winds down, now would be a good time to pick up souvenirs from your trip to share with friends. Handmade soaps and lotion candles are luxurious takeaways, though this time around I couldn’t take my eyes off a rich leather journal. I had to have it.
The vendor said the archival paper should last between 800 and 1,000 years. No pressure, right?
From my heart and journal to you, Go Girls…Let’s do this! Image by Paige Trubatch.
Have you ever traveled to a Renaissance Faire? What favorite character or mythical creature would you dress up as or hope to see? Sound off in the comments below!