Fall is for pumpkin carving, knit sweaters, warm beverages, and if you're in Houston, the Texas Renaissance Festival. For a whopping two months every autumn, the city of Todd Mission is transformed into a medieval paradise.
The annual fair takes place about 55 miles northwest of Texas' largest city, Houston, on several acres of rural land. They say everything's bigger in this Southern state and that's certainly the case for this old-timey festival.
The Texas RenFest, as it's called, claims to be the largest Renaissance-themed event in the country.
Every October and November, more than 500,000 people flock to the mock 16th-century village where actors take on roles as kings and knights and visitors don costumes and dine on giant turkey legs.
With a fair this big, planning can be overwhelming. Some tips to help you make the most of your trip, ahead.
When to Go
The festival kicks off in early October and runs through Thanksgiving weekend. It's open only on Saturdays and Sundays with the exception of the Friday after Thanksgiving. A firing of the village cannon marks the opening of the gates at 9 a.m. The crowds accumulate fast, so get there early.
If you happen to be a sucker for a costume party, the fair hosts a slew of special weekends to participate in throughout the season. Oktoberfest, for example, is an annual theme that beckons hundreds of guests to wear dirndls and drink steins of German beer. Halloween and Celtic Christmas are notably popular times, too.
Guests can opt into obstacle courses and feats of strength during the Barbarian Invasion weekend or go treasure hunting during Pirate Adventure.
Secure your tickets for opening weekend in advance to get them at a discounted rate.
Where to Eat
Food is so much a part of this annual fair that planning out your treats could qualify as a necessary feat. The event is divided into a series of villages all centered around a given theme, such as the Italian Village or La Fiesta Hispanic Food. Despite where you end up, though, RenFest staples like turkey legs and ice cream are never too far.
For an elevated medieval experience, reserve a spot at the King's Feast. A $120 ticket gets you admission to the park, a six-course meal complete with wine, mead, and ale, and a two-hour show filled with fun and frivolity.
What to Do
Between bites of turkey and sips of mead, you can float around the park freely, stopping to listen to live music, take in a comedy act, or watch performers do tricks with knives and whips on your own accord.
Kids get a kick out of the medieval-themed carnival games, mock sword fights, and face painting and you certainly wouldn't want to miss the king and queen traipsing through the crowd in the daily parade.
The park closes at 8 p.m. with a fireworks show.
Where to Stay
The park grounds are about an hour's drive from Houston. While there isn't any lodging available on-site, non-local visitors have a few nearby options to choose from.
The official hotel of the festival is La Torretta Lake Resort & Spa, located on the edge of scenic Lake Conroe about 15 miles from the park. In addition to its laundry list of amenities, the resort offers discounted rates and shuttle service for those attending the festival.
The Fields of New Market Campground is the Texas Renaissance Festival's official campground, offering tent and RV lots on a first-come, first-served basis for $25 per night. The spots are primitive— don't expect electrical or water hookups—but if you don't mind roughing it a little, it's the closest accommodation, only about 2 miles from the park entrance.
Prefer to have more of the creature comforts but still on a budget? Several hotels are available in the nearby town of Magnolia for less than $100 per night.
What to Bring
Costumes are encouraged, but not required. Despite a focus on 16th-century England, you'll see all kinds of themes (even Doctor Who and Batman). A walk through this RenFest could fool you into thinking you've stepped into Comic-Con, only with a little more mead.
Regardless of whether you choose to don a corset or khakis, remember that comfort is key. The fair takes place almost exclusively outdoors with very little cover. Hats are a must for sunny days and umbrellas are essential in the rain. Your shoes should be comfortable and sturdy and don't forget it's Texas, y'all, so pack the sunscreen.
Guests aren't permitted to bring food or drinks inside the park unless they're for a baby or toddler, so you'll want to either budget for food or keep your picnic in the car. Water fountains are available near the restrooms, but you should expect to pay for any other provisions. While credit cards are accepted at many of the vendors, it's still a good idea to bring some cash along. ATMs are, of course, located throughout the park.
If you plan to bring your kids along, consider also bringing a stroller—or better yet, a wagon—as the park occupies several acres of land.