Every year over 100 hot air balloons take to the skies above Bristol for the biggest balloon festival in Europe.
The Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, which takes place at Ashton Court, is a multi-day festival which spans a number of days in August.
This year's Bristol Balloon Fiesta is being celebrated from Thursday, August 11 until Sunday, August 14 and promises four free days of family fun at the largest ballooning event in Europe.
If you've spent any time in Bristol you're probably very familiar with the sight of hundreds of colourful hot air balloons floating across the sky. This iconic Bristol event is famous the world over for being Europe’s largest mass gathering of hot air balloons and the biggest mass ascent. Bristol is so well known as a destination for hot air balloons that most of the Bristol souvenirs have hot air balloons on them.
Every year, the festival takes place in Bristol’s Ashton Court Estate, which has over 850 acres of lovely green woodland and fields. Just a stone’s throw from the Clifton Suspension Bridge, this spot offers amazing views of the city, the gorge and the harbourside, with all its colourful houses.
You can also find a deer park, a miniature railway, golfing, two on-site cafés, mountain bike trails, and plenty of places to have a lovely picnic at Ashton Court Estate.
And this year there is the chance to fly in one yourself! Taking off during the mass ascent you can be in a private hot air balloon ride during Bristol’s most magical and iconic event. What could be cooler?
The Bristol Balloon Fiesta is really the perfect time to immerse yourself in Bristol culture and celebrate this wonderful, eclectic city.
Looking for ways to soak up the excitement of the biggest balloon festival in Europe? Check out these top tips for enjoying the festival to the max:
Why is Bristol famous for hot air balloons?
The first modern hot air balloon in the UK was designed and made in Bristol. This balloon was constructed by members of the Bristol Gliding Club and was completed in 1967. The modern hot air balloon was called the Bristol Belle and took her first flight on July 9, 1967.
The Bristol Belle has completed many journeys in her time, but no longer flies due to safety concerns. In 2017 she was inflated within Bristol city to celebrate her 50th anniversary.
The Bristol International Balloon Fiesta was established not long after Bristol Belle's first flight, and thus cemented Bristol's place in the history of hot air ballooning.
What is the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta?
The Bristol International Balloon Fiesta was first held in 1979. The first fiesta was relatively small in comparison with today's event, with only 27 hot air balloons making an ascent. The first Bristol Balloon Fiesta was still held at Ashton Court Estate, and is still held there to this day.
Today, over 100 hot air balloons take off both at dawn and at dusk over the duration of the festival. There are also the famous Night Glows, which attract thousands of spectators. During the Night Glows around 20 hot air balloons are tethered and kept low to the ground, the balloon pilots then light up their balloons to music at Ashton Court.
This spectacular display is one of the best ways to enjoy the Bristol Balloon Fiesta since the balloons fly at dawn and dusk during the rest of the festival and if the winds aren't in your favour you might not catch the balloons in their full glory. The Night Glows allow spectators to see hot air balloons up close.
There are, of course, other ways to enjoy the thrill of a hot air balloon, but we will get into that shortly.
Where do the balloons take off from?
Each year the mass ascent is held at Ashton Court. Over the course of the free four day Bristol Balloon Fiesta over 100 hot air balloons from around the world take off at a time in mass ascents.
The best views of the Balloon Fiesta are found at Ashton Court itself as wind directions can change the course of the hot air balloon flights. The balloons aren't the only thing you can enjoy at Ashton Court; you can find amusement rides, musical entertainment, fireworks, and over 100 stalls and stands with an eclectic mix of food traders.
Where is the best vantage point for spotting hot air balloons during the festival?
There are multiple great locations to see the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta from. However, since the festival is very weather dependent you might not catch it in its full glory if the winds take the balloons away from Bristol. The best location to enjoy Bristol International Balloon Fiesta is the launch site at Ashton Park, but if you fancy some casual balloon spotting then these are some of the top locations in Bristol.
If the winds are in your favour, some of the popular vantage points for enjoying the festival are high points of Bristol (thankfully Bristol is very hilly so there are multiple locations that are on top of a hill).
- Clifton Downs: The Clifton Downs are the perfect location in Bristol for a picnic, they also happen to be a brilliant place to see hot air balloons. The wide open space undisturbed by tall buildings paired with the magnificent views of the Avon Gorge and the Clifton Suspension Bridge mean that this is a great location for enjoying the festival.
- Clifton Observatory: This great spot is a must-visit for the best picture of the Clifton Suspension Bridge and hopefully a good number of balloons. The Observatory has a great cafe for refreshments and is perfectly situated near to Clifton Village so you can make a day out of it. The Clifton Suspension Bridge is closed during the Bristol Balloon Fiesta for safety reasons, so this is the best location to go if you want to see both bridge and balloons for the ultimate Bristol photo!
- Bedminster Downs: Situated nearby the launch site and has a high vantage point. Bedminster is also a great place to visit for independent shops, restaurants, and cafes.
- Brandon Hill: At the top of Park Street, just off from the Clifton Triangle, you can find Brandon Hill. This stunning park has the iconic Cabot Tower, informal gardens, and beautiful views of the city. If you don't see balloons, it's a brilliant place to relax and enjoy the views- there are also many very friendly squirrels that will want to be your friends!
- Stoke Park Estate: Head to the 'big yellow building' and you will find Dower House on Stoke Park Estate. Another great picnic spot, there is a high vantage point to be found as well as big, open grassy areas.
- Perrett Park: In Totterdown you can find Perrett Park which is on a steep incline slope. With great views of the city it's also a fab vantage point for balloon spotting!
Can I enjoy hot air balloons in Bristol outside of the festival?
Absolutely! Hot air balloon season runs between April and October every year! If the weather conditions are perfect then you can expect to see a hot air balloon or two floating above Bristol city at dawn and at dusk.
You can even ride in a hot air balloon yourself! You can book a hot air balloon experience and take a champagne flight over the city. There are also private balloon flights available to take if you want to do something extra special for a birthday, anniversary, proposal, or any other special occasion!
There are multiple hot air balloon companies operating out of Bristol, and many people choose to buy a hot air balloon ride as a gift for a special someone. One of the most special hot air balloon experiences is the private flight during the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta. This experience gives you the BEST view of the balloon fiesta as you ascend into the sky with dozens of other balloons.