What if you could escape for a weekend not just to another place but another time?

That’s the allure of the Texas Renaissance Festival, which welcomes more than 500,000 guests through the festival gates during its eight-weekend run each fall. Not only is it the largest Renaissance festival in the nation in terms of attendance and sheer size—this year it also was named the No. 1 cultural festival in the nation by USA Today’s Reader’s Choice Travel Top 10.

In the forest near Todd Mission, about 50 miles northwest of Houston, the re-created 16th-century English village is inhabited by an array of musicians, acrobats, jugglers, jousters, dancers and all types of costumed revelers. More than 55 acres of grounds also feature more than 400 shops with artisans skilled in glassblowing, weaving, pottery making, blacksmithing and other crafts. Food and drink options represent cultures from all over the world.

TexasRenaissance2Since there is so much to see and do, it’s not uncommon for people to visit multiple times in one season, says Travis Bryant, director of marketing and public relations for the festival. “I think we offer a different take on what it means to be a ‘Renaissance’ festival. We are not an historical re-enactment of a particular period in European history. The word ‘renaissance’ means ‘rebirth,’ and every weekend of our festival, we are reborn as a different type of festival—every weekend has a different theme with unique events.”

Various weekends celebrate pirates, All Hallow’s Eve and Oktoberfest, among other themes. A favorite is the Celtic Christmas celebration on the weekend after Thanksgiving, when the grounds are decorated for the holiday season and gift shopping kicks into high gear. New additions to this year’s festival include free admission on Sundays for children age 12 or younger, adults-only TRF After Dark galas on Friday and Saturday nights, and a new Market of Florence section with an Italian market square and artisans offering handmade items.

For a more high-tech take on this Old World celebration, there’s also a new app to help visitors navigate the festival grounds. It includes maps, daily entertainment, schedules and a menu of approximately 1,000 food items and where to find them in the park–you can digitally forage for a wide variety of food from turkey legs and Scotch eggs to pizza and potato chips.

This year’s festival runs on Saturdays and Sundays, plus the Friday before Thanksgiving, from Oct. 10-Nov. 29. For more information, visit www.texrenfest.com or call 800/458-3435.

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