First posted September 26, 2013. Updated to include photos and this year’s dates.
Doesn’t every girl dream of being a knight?
Maybe not. And to be fair, I definitely dreamed of being a princess earlier, and more often—the tally is at least five princess Halloween costumes versus only one knight costume. You can bump it up to two if you count the Pink Power Ranger, which you definitely should.
But from age eleven on, knights were cool, thanks to Tamora Pierce’s Tortall series, and that meant that between my culturally sponsored love of tiaras and my new love of swords, the Renaissance Faire was a favorite summer treat. I still have, at my parents’ house, a wooden dagger and unicorn shield, along with a circlet of dried flowers with ribbons that trailed down my back when I wore it. My brother acquired at least one wooden sword (which I definitely borrowed for that knight costume…which happened to get worn in high school). We didn’t go every summer, but we went enough that I remember it: the dunking pond, the puppet shows, the dragon glider ride, and of course the jousts.
I’m also fairly certain I once rode an elephant at the faire—but even if I didn’t, there were definitely elephants there.
So with my deep love of all things Ren Faire, it’s unsurprising that I was thrilled to hear about the Medieval Festival that happens at the Cloisters every year. Yes—each fall, Fort Tryon Park is invaded by an idealized version of the Middle Ages, from food vendors serving turkey legs to guys in armor jousting on horseback. Sometimes you can even catch a Quidditch match.
While it lacks the immersive feeling of a Ren Faire—the booths here are tents, rather than wood, and the vendors in costumes are not necessarily in character—there are enough ribbon wreaths, sword fights, and characters to satisfy me. Plus, there’s pumpkin pie and hot chocolate on sale.
And if the faux Arthurian style is a bit too much, the Cloisters are right there, filled with actual medieval art, including the famous unicorn tapestries everyone remembers from history class. They’re worth a pay-what-you-wish visit any time of the year, but they’re especially nice as an escape from the festival crowds. The park itself is also stunning, with views of the Hudson as well as back down at the rest of Manhattan.
My favorite act the two times I’ve gone to the festival was the showdown between the Sheriff of Nottingham and Robin Hood’s band of merry men, though the knights on horseback were also pretty badass.
The festival this year is Sunday, September 28, from 11:30 AM to 6 PM, at Fort Tryon Park, and while I unfortunately can’t go, I highly recommend making the trek. If you do, bring me back a sword—or at least some pie.