The Las Vegas Renaissance Festival: magical or meh?

Las Vegas locals in both costumes and normal garb wander the pathways of the Age of Chivalry at the Las Vegas Renaissance Faire. Photo by Sydney Stoddard

Once a year, pirates, fairies, maidens and squires all walk down Sunset Road, donning their cutlasses and corsets as they make their way inside the Las Vegas Renaissance Fair. Titled “Age of Chivalry,” the Las Vegas Renaissance Fair transforms Sunset Park into a portal to another time period every October. 

Several parts of the park become home to several guilds, made up of every day, unpaid people who show up in their cosplay and historical reenactment garb to share their passions with Las Vegas. That is perhaps the biggest magic of the Ren Faire, hardly any of it is pure performance. 

Most people along the path are big history or fantasy nerds that not only show up all day in Renaissance garb, but even camp there all weekend. You will see guilds roasting pigs on the spit and sitting down for supper with chalices and furs, every generation participating looks straight out of another time. 

This was UNLV student Mikkel Canlapan’s favorite part about roaming the Faire, “The atmosphere puts places like Disneyland to shame because it’s full of people who actually want to be there. Everyone and everything aims to be both fun and historically accurate.”

Many of these people in the Ren Faire are a part of guilds, which consist of people with various interests, like hobbits from “Lord of the Rings” or medieval weaponry. As you walk along the paths of the Ren Faire, you will stumble upon men demonstrating how to hold and use pikes, old women teaching people in fairy costumes how to use an old-fashioned loom and hosts of small children in dragon onesies playing swords with men twice their size. 

There are places to stop and learn about old firearms, Renaissance-era medicine, goldsmithing, blacksmithing, pirate lore, juggling, archery, horseback riding, belly dancing and, for a while, it really feels like you are in another realm entirely. 

Almost everyone at the festival got the memo to dress up. Even mothers and babies looked out of historical paintings, as it was almost impossible to tell who was a guild member and who was just an average festival-goer. There was everything from cosplay to Victorian steampunk to Viking warlords to barbarians decked out in black-and-white face paint from head to toe.

One UNLV student, Sami Romano, mentioned she wanted to attend the Ren Faire because she is “very invested in fairycore aesthetics and royal themes,” wanting an excuse to show off her new corsets and flowy dresses. She noted,  “It was very packed, but it was worth it, especially because it is such a unique and comforting environment.”

While hardly anyone stuck to a specific time period, culture or fantasy genre, some common threads were corsets, belts and swords by the hundreds. The Ren Faire not only came to life as people wore period-inspired fashion, but it also equipped festival-goers to get even more in the spirit. 

I walked in a simple shirt, dress and belt, and walked out on Friday evening with a Celtic mini-sword, dagger, belt-attachable suede leather pouch and a gorgeous sunflower flower crown, all purchased within the Ren Faire itself. 

Vendors were selling handmade and locally-sourced items such as crystals, potions, alchemy-inspired beauty, home products, Viking-style carved horns and chalices, hand-sewn dresses, bodices, chemises and plenty of leather contraptions to let you attach everything from a flask to a dagger to your belt. 

I knew I was missing out on the Ren Faire before this year, but I had no idea how much. There really is a special kind of magic to it, like Disneyland, but run on sheer passion instead of money and nostalgia. Here is a realm full of the truest form of nerds, folk that truly, fully care about keeping the past and imagination alive, even in the midst of a city obsessed with the new and innovative. I could hardly absorb everything I saw and felt, but I knew it was magical. 

The pirates on the side of the road made me laugh, the classically-trained dancers on the mini-stage I walked by brought me joy, the jousting was hilariously intense and, even with the long line for a turkey leg, devouring it among wood elves and Scottish warriors while sitting in a makeshift pub was surreal. 

After a year without the Ren Faire due to COVID-19, multiple people I spoke to mentioned this year’s Ren Faire being far more packed than usual. Wait times, main pathways and available seating were all pushed to the brim as dust and smoke flew everywhere. This was the case all weekend, as crowds filled Sunset Park to see jousting, pirates, and fairy wings. 

My brown shoes got as pale as my skin from all the dirt and every slit in my dress produced an oddly-shaped sunburn that I will have the honor of healing for the next few days. However, even with all the madness of a fully-packed weekend, it was worth it to be transported to such a rich and fantastic realm. 

A few tips I would leave for someone longing to attend the Las Vegas Ren Faire would be to ditch the realistic shoes, bring lots of sunscreen and water and wear a good durable belt of some kind. 

On my second day, I could almost tell the real Ren Faire goers from the casual folk just by the footwear. Almost everyone who was camping at the Faire or attending all day was wearing cushy flip-flops, supportive sneakers or even covert Crocs. No one cares if you are wearing real-leather Victorian-style heels if walking on rugged terrain puts you at risk for an ankle fracture. 

I made the mistake of wearing vintage heels the first day and that lasted for about three hours before I just made my tights work for the rest of the day. You will be walking a lot, so prepare accordingly. Save your complaining for the dust and the wait times, do not waste it on bad footwear. 

Second, please wear and bring some essential items. Things like sunscreen, water, napkins or handkerchiefs, and even a scarf or shawl are all vital to a good Ren Faire experience. These basics can be hard to come by, especially when it gets busy. Just because you are pretending you are in the Renaissance does not mean you have to fry like they did. You can and should remember to wear plenty of sunscreen. 

You can opt for a flask or bodice chiller to carry your water in if you want to feel festive, but drink lots of water. Things like napkins and handkerchiefs can come in handy for spills or runny noses, while a scarf or shawl is nice to have for a chill or nighttime, so you can stay in the spirit without getting cold or rushing to the porta potty for paper towels. 

Finally, I did not realize the necessity of a good belt at a Ren Faire. Nearly everything is belt-based. Not only does a sturdy leather belt or dress belt make your outfit more Renaissance-esque, but it also gives you a solid place to attach your mug, flask, wallet, pouch, sword, dagger, handkerchief, ditched shoes or whatever else comes along. 

Not many Renaissance outfits give themselves to having pockets, so a reliable belt makes up for that. Many purses and items at the Ren Faire lend themselves to sliding or tying onto a belt. You will not only feel more in character but also well-equipped for the “faire” day ahead.

Romano also noted that her main tip for someone considering attending Ren Faire next year would be to, “Go early when it first opens. I heard a lot of people leaving as we were heading in talking about how nice it was when they went in early, and how it was packed when they were leaving.” Decent parking at the Ren Faire may be worth getting up a little earlier for, making sure you are ready to enter even before the opening time of 10 a.m. 

Age of Chivalry was far more than the medieval market I thought it would be. It was a well-worth-it $40 trip into a land of mead, magic and mystery as there really were new and fascinating things around every corner. 

Attending was a full experience for every one of my senses, from the rich smell of cream and grass, to the sights of so many colors and costumes, to the feeling of real steel and fluttering flower crowns, to hearing about a world I have heard so much about in my English classes. 

To be surrounded by so much passion, excitement and entertainment, that alone was worth every bit I paid to be there. If you have ever wondered what the Ren Faire is all about, put it on your calendar for next October and you will not be disappointed.


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