Why the Renaissance Festival in Tennessee Is the Best Family Weekend

by | Apr 19, 2022 | Destinations, Family Adventures, South East, USA

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As you drive along the highways just south of Nashville, you may be surprised to see a castle tucked away among the hills. Once a year, a gang of armed soldiers, roving pirates, and traveling merchants take over the castle and its grounds for the Tennessee Renaissance Festival. Each May, the village of Covington Glen springs to life with the bustling Renaissance marketplace and the sounds of Renaissance musicians. For families looking for the perfect weekend adventure, the festival is a great excuse to dress up, embrace the nonsense, and enjoy full days of family fun. 

 

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Renaissance Festivals: Why the Tennessee Renaissance Festival Is the Best Family Fun

 

Jousting

A centerpiece of the Renaissance festival is the jousting tournaments. Hosted by “Queen Elizabeth” and her court from 16th century England, knights on horseback compete in skill competitions to win the queen’s favor, while audience members look on in awe from the sidelines. 

During breaks between jousting battles, you can catch other activities on the field, like the living chess match directed by the queen. And don’t miss the excellent, Knightwings Birds of Prey demonstrations, an interactive, entertaining, and educational free flight show. 

 

A jousting tournament at the Tennessee Renaissance Festival

Don’t worry, there’s no blood. (Usually.) Photo by Paul Nicholson.

 

Performers

Shakespeare, tavern singalongs, magic, and more: there are talented people performing throughout the festival. Be sure to check posted schedules to see if a performance is family-friendly. While most are fine for kids, a few R-rated shows include bawdy jokes and plenty of innuendoes.

One of our favorite experiences is the Buckle and Swash pirate show, where the non-stop jokes and antics leave my kids in giggles (with several peels of laughter from the adults). But beware – you may get drafted for the audience participation section!

 

Two actors in Renaissance garb fight with swords at the Tennessee Renaissance Festival

When you arrive at the festival, check the schedule for the best times to see jousts, sword fights, comedy shows, and more! Photo by Paul Nicholson.

 

Activities

Exploring the Tennessee Renaissance Festival doesn’t mean watching other people have all the fun – there are plenty of ways to participate. For young kids, there’s a simple maze with a treasure at the end, a wooden jousting ride, a children’s knighting ceremony, and a visit by Robin Hood. Kids and adults alike can try archery or various Renaissance-themed carnival rides (but maybe save the knife-throwing for adults). If you have teens, they’ll be tempted by the challenges of games of skill that offer rewards – like the rope ladder climb that is WAY harder than it looks. 

 

A young boy tries archery at the Tennessee Renaissance Festival.

None of us can resist the opportunity to try out our archery skills. (Yes, the kids are way better than I am.) Photo by Paul Nicholson.

 

Castle Gwynn

One of the things that make the Tennessee Renaissance Festival unique is Castle Gwynn, which was built by owner Mike Freeman piece by piece over the last forty years. Freeman, a photographer, opens up his castle – which is his home – for tours every year during the festival, and it’s worth taking the short bus ride to get from the festival to the castle itself. While the tours inside the castle are interesting – especially the tapestry and armor collections – the beautiful castle grounds are my favorite part. Allow plenty of time for pictures!

 

Pro-Tip: The line for the castle shuttle bus closes at 3 pm, so I recommend prioritizing this stop before lunch.

 

Castle Gwynn at the Tennessee Renaissance Festival

Castle Gwynn spends most of the year as a private residence, but each May it transforms into a Renaissance fortress overlooking the festival. Photo by Paul Nicholson.

 

Food

I don’t get excited about Ren Faire food, but don’t tell that to my friends who looooove those turkey legs and other tastes of specialty foods at the festival. Sausages and fish & chips are the other vaguely Renaissance-themed foods, but you’ll also find general carnival snacks: pizza, funnel cakes, fried Oreos, and lemonade. There are usually long lines at every food booth, so if you see something you like and the line is short, don’t hesitate! Food booths are cash-only, so be prepared. 

 

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Shopping

The village marketplace is brimming with vendors and skilled artisans offering fascinating wares. If you need elf ears, chain mail, swords, or princess dresses, then bring your wallet and plan to spend some time in the booths spread around the festival grounds. Some of our favorite vendors at the Renaissance Festival are the ones who offer interactive crafts, like the ability to design your own pendant. My youngest son loved making his own candle one year, while my other kiddo found a wooden sword to take home (to my surprise, it hasn’t resulted in any injuries). 

 

Colorful powders at a candle-making booth during the Tennessee Renaissance Festival

My son had a blast making his own candle. It smelled lovely, which was a surprise considering one of the fragrance options was labeled “Monkey Farts.” Photo by Christy Nicholson.

 

Costumes

You definitely don’t need to dress up to go to the festival – many people don’t – but why miss a perfect opportunity to do something a little silly? Costumes at the festival range from professional outfits handmade by cosplayers to Halloween costumes to ensembles thrown together out of regular wardrobes. There’s no judgment, just fun! (And no, don’t worry about historical accuracy. Most years I see combinations of fairies, minotaurs, Renaissance princesses, medieval princesses, wizards, and Jack Sparrow.) Check out the Rules of the Realm to see detailed information: full face masks and toy guns aren’t allowed, while swords and arrows must be “peace-tied” with cable ties for safety reasons (they’ll help you with that at the entrance).

 

A boy in brown robes climbs a rope ladder at the Tennessee Renaissance Festival.

No, my child is not dressed as a medieval monk. He’s wearing Jedi robes, because anything goes at the Renaissance festival! Photo by Paul Nicholson.

 

When You Go

When Should I Visit the Renaissance Festival?

The Tennessee Renaissance Festival runs on weekends in May, ending on Memorial Day. Check the calendar to find out the theme of each weekend. The first weekend of the festival often has the best ticket prices thanks to family discounts, but other days offer fun-filled themes like Pirate Invasion, Celtic Weekend, and the Fairy House competition. 

 

What Ages Are Best for the Renaissance Festival?

Our kids were toddlers the first time we attended the festival, but we definitely had more fun once our kids were in elementary school and could enjoy more of the games and performances. However, free admission is offered for kids under 5, so if you want to take your littles, you’ll get a great deal on ticket prices. 

 

 

Getting There

The Tennessee Renaissance Festival is located about 45 minutes from the Nashville International Airport. Because the festival is out in the country and away from hotels and commercial areas, the best way to get there is to bring (or rent) your own vehicle. The festival entrance and parking lot are not convenient for rideshare services. 

 

Pro-Tip: The free parking is helpful, but parking areas will become mud pits on rainy weekends, so don’t wear your favorite shoes.

 

Where to Stay

The towns of Franklin and Murfreesboro are reasonably close to festival grounds and offer several hotel options. For a luxury stay, try the Harpeth Hotel in downtown Franklin, which is a 30-minute drive from the festival. Murfreesboro offers affordable lodging nearby, including a Fairfield Inn and Suites and a Days Inn about 20 minutes from the festival’s location on New Castle Road.

 

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Other Festivals Around the U.S.

If you won’t be in Tennessee any time soon, fear not! Check out some of these other festivals from around the United States:

California: The Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Irwindale, California, runs on weekends in April and May.

Wisconsin: The Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin, will begin in July and run through Labor Day. 

Texas: The Texas Renaissance Festival outside of Houston will take place in October and November, including Thanksgiving Day. 

 

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The Tennessee Renaissance Festival: The Best Weekend for Family Fun

 

Christy Nicholson is the Associate Editor for L.A. Family Travel and is a writer, editor, and recovering perfectionist from Nashville, Tennessee. When not traveling with family, she enjoys cozy days at home reading, gardening, making music, and wrangling two awesome kids. Christy writes at Any-Worth.com about travel and sustainable living.

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