The Renaissance Festival is a tried and true Michigan tradition. It’s one of my favorite things about the fall: something to look forward to every year.
Before we get into my favorite things to do at the festival, let’s get in a little history lesson…
History of the Fest
The Michigan Renaissance Festival began in 1979 in Clarkston, MI. A few years later it settled into its permanent home in Holly, just 12 miles south of Dixie Highway. More than 250,000 visitors are attracted to the festival per year from Michigan, surrounding states, and Canada.
For those who have never been to the Festival, it is an immersive experience with a full village set-up. When you enter the 17-acre spread you feel like you are actually being transported back into the sixteenth century. Building reproductions of shops, taverns, and a castle line the streets. 17 stages provide themed comedy shows, live music, interactive games, and more.
If you’re looking for souvenirs, there are several stores featuring Michigan-made art, clothing, foods, and brews. It’s easy to lose track of time at this festival and difficult to do it all in one day!
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2017. We plan to revisit and update it before the 2022 Ren Fest!
But if you only have one day, there are some things you have to do. Let’s get into my picks for the top 10 activities to do at the Ren Fest:
1. Mow down on some turkey legs.
I’m not going to say it’s all about the food, but I’m not going to say it isn’t. Out of all the splendid eats provided at this festival, the turkey legs at the Ren Fest are some of the best you’ll ever try, and the fact that you’re enjoying them in a medieval atmosphere will only add to your experience. There are booths scattered across the grounds where you can pick up a steaming turkey leg, so be sure to take advantage.
2. Pick a pickle from the pickle barrel.
There are pickle barrels all over the grounds and you can get a pickle from most of them for only $1! Nibble on your pickle while visiting the many shops throughout the park for a quick cool down.
3. Watch the Washing Well Wenches.
This is another comedy show offered at the festival every year that you won’t want to miss. The Wenches are an interactive experience, selecting from people in the crowd to be included in their sketch. I don’t want to say too much else, so as not to ruin the fun of the show, so you’ll just have to watch the show to find out!
4. Flare your medieval style.
There are shops all over the village where you can try on corsets and dresses and all matters of garb from the olden times. You’ll notice as you traverse the festival that many people are season pass holders and have an entire outfit put together especially for the festival. Even if you’re just going for one weekend, it’s still fun to play dress up. Don’t have the clothes? You can buy some there.
5. Get roasted by Christophe the Insultor.
There are a few comedy shows at the Renaissance Festival, but one of my favorites is “Christophe the Insultor.” Christophe engages with the crowd in this hilarious performance, picking volunteers to insult to no end until you are inevitably left busting your sides about your own imperfections. Here’s how it works: you pay Christophe and he will insult you on stage, in front of everyone. The more you pay him, the more he digs into you. Warning: might want to leave the kids out for this one, as some of Christophe’s jokes aren’t exactly “kid friendly.” This is a unique experience you won’t get anywhere else. I would definitely recommend it.
6. Join the joust!
Jousting tournaments are held every weekend at the Renaissance Festival, near the Queen’s castle. What’s better, all of the jousts are free for the public to enjoy! The knights are dressed in full armor, and the winner gets a kiss from the Queen, so competitors take the event very seriously. Anyone of any age can enjoy this timeless performance, and it’s something I personally go back to enjoy every year.
7. Sip tea with the Queen.
On select weekend days you can sample a variety of teas with the Queen of the Renaissance Festival. If you’re into tea, or into royalty, this special event may be of interest to you. It is an extra $20 aside from your entrance fee.
8. Participate in the Ded Bob show.
Yet ANOTHER comedy routine at the festival. This show is also interactive, allowing audience members to volunteer to be included in the ventriloquy dummy-“Ded Bob’s”-routine. In this show, Bob tells a story and you play the characters that are assigned to you from his story. Long story short, it’s a hoot.
Editor’s Note: Clark Orwick, who performed as Ded Bob and Smuj at the Michigan Renaissance Festival, passed away in 2021.
9. Shop till you drop.
There’s a variety of other shops at the festival that offer handmade items, some of which are crafted right here in the mitten state. Some items you can shop for: candles, musical instruments, paintings, textiles, blown glass art, tools, pottery, toys, clay sculptures, perfumes and more!
10. For the particularly ambitious festival-goer: FEAST.
For $75 (including festival admission) you can attend the “Feast of Fantasy” festivity in the Blackstone Castle. This daily event features a six-course gourmet meal, beer, wine and live entertainment!
Just a hint, if the Queen passes you on the street during the festival, yell “off with her head!” This gets you arrested by her guards and paraded around the festival as a royal traitor.
Have you ever been to the Ren Fest before? If so, what did I miss?