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Bye, Ringling: 10 Mostly Clown-Free Alternatives to the Circus

As news broke that Ringling Bros is shutting their tarps and hanging up their top hats, the reactions were mixed. While many people consider the circus an annual event and will mourn the end of a tradition, others are celebrating the closure and subsequent rehoming of the animals they consider to be grossly mistreated.

Despite it being a sarcastic part of my official bio, I have never cared for the circus. I don’t feel like my family is missing out on anything because most of the best parts of the circus can be found in other ways.

Depending on what makes the circus special for you, here are some ideas to consider.

If you love watching the animals


There are tons of ways to see exotic animals in a manner that is so much more humane than the circus.

AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums – There is still much controversy surrounding animals in captivity. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums offers educational opportunities and has a mission to make conservation their top priority. These are not the zoos with mistreated animals shoved in cages. At AZA zoos you will find large habitats for animals to roam. Bonus: If you become a member at an AZA zoo or aquarium, you get a discount at others.

Species-specific organizations – Do your research before you go. Not all of these places are above-board, but the ones that are can be an amazing opportunity to really get to know an endangered species. Just in my home state, there are raptor centers, a tiger rescue, and sea turtle conservation programs. My daughter went to a summer camp at the renowned Duke Lemur Center and now gives me facts and information whenever she sees a lemur.

If you love a good spectacle

Live Productions – If you can deal with the over-priced merchandise of the circus, then you might find something to love in live productions. Think Disney on Ice or Sesame Street Live. I was pleasantly surprised with the “on ice” events especially. The performances are top notch and I have seen adults and children thoroughly entertained.

Sporting events – Many major league sports have turned into bigger events. It is not uncommon to see fireworks, half-time shows that incorporate kids, interactive games and demonstrations, and other activities to keep both kids and adults entertained when there are not sports happening.

If the acrobatics and feats of strength are your thing

Cirque du Soleil – This name is synonymous with amazing acrobatics and human movement. It is also, unfortunately, very expensive. If you can swing it, there are a ton of different themed shows to choose from.

Contemporary circus – These modern circus acts rarely involve animals. These companies combine traditional circus acts with theatrical techniques. There are also sideshow events that include burlesque and vaudeville aspects.

Circus school – Why just watch the show when you can learn how it’s done? A fantastic way to marry exercise and excitement, at circus schools you can learn aerial skills, tightrope, and trapeze, to name just a few.

If you love activities and food

Fairs and carnivals – I get a little sketched out at the idea of riding on the rides at these temporary set-ups. Even without the rides, there is so much to do! Interesting animals, local arts and crafts, deep fried air, and games you can’t possibly win! There are usually educational opportunities and lots of people watching.

Children’s museums – A good kid museum is going to have lots of hands-on activities for kids where they can use their muscles and their brains. I usually learn new facts as well.

Make your own! – Have a circus-themed party! Break out the circus food, let your kids come up with activities and invite the neighbors over.


There are so many fantastic ways to fulfill the hole the circus leaves in your life. Ways that treat animals with kindness and respect and work against extinction. You can learn new things, develop new skills, and still eat cotton candy and deep-fried butter.

The best thing about all of these alternatives? No clowns.