Fall has always been my favorite season in New England. The coming of the fall colors also brings the fair season where you can stuff yourself with unhealthy food and bask in the agricultural roots of the region. There are 51 agricultural fairs in New England that have we sites and numerous other smaller celebrations in local towns. Most of the fairs in New England with the possible exception of The Big E are much smaller in scale than the big state fairs you will see in places like Texas or Minnesota. The smaller nature of our fairs make them all the more charming and quaint. They just seem to fit in with the fall foliage and rustic charm of old New England.
I certainly have not been to all of the fairs in New England and there are no doubt fantastic fairs that I have not visited, but I have lived in New England my whole life and have visited many of them on the list. This then is my top five favorite fairs:
#5) King Richard’s Faire – A little bit of a cheat here as this is anything but the traditional New England agricultural fair. This is a contrived and manufactured recreation of a fairy tale imagining of what a medieval Renaissance faire would be like. With those caveats in mind this is great fun for young and old alike. Cos=players will love the dress up aspect and the shopping and shows are a delight.
#4) Topsfield Fair – This fair has more of an amusement park and less of an agricultural feel. Its proximity to Boston brings more well known acts to their grandstand. The fair runs a full week culminating on the Columbus Day holiday each year. They seem to always have the areas largest giant pumpkin each year with many records set. The grandstand is at one end of the fairgrounds and the arena is at the other. In between these two areas are a mix of fast food, agricultural exhibits and animals. There is a little too much “flea market” feel for my taste in many of the buildings. Don’t miss the bee and honey display in the center of the fairgrounds.
#3) The Big E (Eastern States Exhibition) – This is the big one, a fair celebrating the agricultural and rural traditions of all six New England states. Enormous and crowded with more than 1.5 million visitors over a two week period in September. Each state has a replica of their state capital where you can go in and experience the sights, sounds and tastes that each state has to offer. This is the one fair on the list that is more than a pleasant afternoon diversion. This is well worth making plans and spending several days taking in the shows and events. Not a fair I go to every year but one you should make the extra effort and plan on staying for a few days.
#2) Fryeburg Fair – This week long fair held the first week in October in Southern Maine is a prototypical example of a traditional New England agricultural fair. Starting in 1851 the fair has grown into Maine’s largest agricultural fair. Despite the growth and the resulting large crowds it attracts the fair maintains its rural charm and has avoided the gentrification many fairs have undergone. Although it is only ~ 2½ – 3 hours from Boston I would recommend you plan ahead and book a stay in nearby Conway, New Hampshire.
#1) Deerfield Fair – This four day fair in southern New Hampshire is the perfect mix for the modern fair goer. The amusements are down at the bottom of a hill away from the exhibits and food stands. The shows are agricultural mainstays such as dressage competitions, horse pulling and animal shows. The food is plentiful and tasty albeit very unhealthy. Try to catch the sheep dog demonstration as you enter the park. The main horse ring is where you will find the horse shows and it is surrounded by food choices. The fresh caramel popcorn (still hot!) is a favorite. If there was one fair that I would go to every year this would be it.
The fall foliage season in New England is on many people’s bucket lists. If it is take the time and go to one of the many fairs in and around the area.