Skip to Content

The Bristol International Balloon Fiesta

The sky is filled with flickering lights and shapes, and the crowd marvel at the spectacle above them. The annual Bristol International Balloon Fiesta is famous for the Night Glows, the most popular part of the four-day festival.

The pilots create various dazzling effects from “burn', “flicker' and “flash' which are set to music.

The array of sequences is impressive and expertly choreographed, and the dramatic finale is a colorful firework display that leaves even the most mature feeling like young children again. It's a night to remember!

Bristol International Balloon Fiesta (photo: 4atom)
Bristol International Balloon Fiesta (photo: 4atom)

The Fiesta began in September 1978 after Don Cameron of Cameron Balloons (the world's largest balloon manufacturer) decided to create an event for ballooning enthusiasts.

Local firms sponsored balloons and were allowed to help crew them.

A small gathering of balloonists from England, Ireland, Germany, and Luxembourg came together at Ashton Court (less than 2 miles from the city center) to celebrate what was to become the first-ever Bristol International Balloon Fiesta.

Spectators witnessed a mass ascent of 27 balloons and marveled at the weekend's 117 flights. A great success for Don, he decided to make the event an annual fixture.

Bristol is now a world center for ballooning, and the International Balloon Fiesta is Europe's largest balloon event, with over 100 balloons attending and crowds coming in their hundreds of thousands.

Seeing the Fiesta for yourself is well worth it, but good vantage points are at a premium, so get there early!

The event is held in August over a long weekend (Thursday to Sunday). Ashton Court opens on Thursday, and you can check out the various stalls and a free pop concert.

The first Night Glow is one of the Fiesta's most significant attractions as thousands of people flock to the official opening ceremony to catch sight of the breathtaking spectacle of some 30 tethered balloons illuminating the night sky.

There is another Night Glow on Saturday.

Related: Cappadocia Hot Air Balloon Ride

Dragon hot air balloon (photo: Emma)
Dragon hot air balloon (photo: Emma)

The unique shaped balloons are also launched on Thursday at about 6 pm. You can see all sorts of wacky shapes, from cathedrals to lighthouses!

If mass ascents are more your thing, they happen between 6 am and 6 pm on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Over 100 balloons take off in less than half an hour from a small patch of ground.

Many take part in a “hunt' across the sky for the “hare' (a balloon that takes off ahead of the rest).

You can see large clusters of balloons in hot pursuit. The pilot from the ‘hounds' who manages to land nearest the ‘hare' wins.

The festival's success relies on the weather as balloons need calm and clear skies to fly, the unique shapes even more so.

No need to worry because throughout the Fiesta, there are sideshows such as stunt bikes, parachute displays, and, if you are lucky, even the Red Arrows demonstrate their daredevil skills.

To see events from a higher perspective, take a ride in the basket of a balloon. It's a fantastic feeling drifting with the wind.

The journey is silent, apart from the firing of the burner to gain height. Sounds on the ground can be heard as you drift through the skies.

The landing will not necessarily be a smooth experience, though. You are sitting back in the basket in a brace position; you hit the ground with a thud.

The basket will not always stay upright either, as the balloon can drag it over the land. That said, the experience is fantastic, and if anything, the landing adds to the adventure.


About the Author:  Rebecca Tom lives in England and loves to travel.  You can catch up with her on Twitter @travelsoon1.

Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends: