Bristol balloon fiesta

If you look up and see a Smurf or a huge daisy floating through the sky it’s a pretty good bet that you’re in Bristol for the annual balloon fiesta. Held over 4 days each August it attracts half a million visitors who flock to see the morning and evening balloon ascents.

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We visited on the opening day of the 2014 fiesta. I’d provisionally planned to go on the Sunday but given the wet and windy forecast I decided that might be a foolish decision! The only downside to our early visit was that many of the additional events, for example the air displays and the BBC World War 1 experience (which looked fantastic), weren’t on until the Friday. On the plus side, the weather was perfect for ballooning.

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The fiesta is held at Ashton Court Estate, a couple of miles from the city centre. We walked to the site from Bristol Temple Meads railway station along the dedicated Festival Way. This included a detour to walk under Clifton Suspension Bridge which I’ve only ever seen from afar; it was as impressive as I’d imagined.

The special shapes
The special shapes

I hadn’t realised quite how big an event the Bristol Balloon fiesta is. In addition to the balloons there’s a huge fairground and lots of show stands. These included a kids section with a Lego imagination station, a Little Tikes play area and a Nintendo gaming area. We wandered around these for a while, before heading over to one of the viewing hills for the main event.

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There is no mass ascent on the Thursday evening but there were still a lot of balloons in the arena. The highlight is the unveiling of the special shapes and it was good fun trying to guess what the shapes were going to be. The Smurf was a popular shape with the audience although my favourite was the ‘Up’ balloon.

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It was quite exciting watching the pilots and support staff getting the balloons ready for lift off. There seemed to be a lot of balloons squeezed into a small area and as the balloons inflated they’d jostle with the ones around them for space.

Take off at Bristol balloon festival
Take off at Bristol balloon festival

Moments later a loud siren went off which signalled that the balloons were allowed to take off. The kids were incredibly excited and we had great fun spotting which balloon would take off next. There was a cheer each time a balloon took off with everyone on the ground waving them off.

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Some of the balloons gained height quickly and disappeared off over Bristol. A few others took a while to get going, and one in particular looked like it landed in a tree just over the brow of a hill before rising into the sky again. It was an amazing spectacle seeing the balloons heading off, one I hope the kids remember.

Heading over to Bristol
Heading over to Bristol

We left around 7.30pm which seemed to coincide with thousands of people arriving for the night glow (when the balloons are lit up to music) and fireworks. We hopped straight onto a shuttle bus back to the railway station. I dread to think what the queues would be like later in the evening, I was rather glad that I wouldn’t be finding out.

Our balloon viewing wasn’t quite over…..we spotted ‘Daisy’ from our train window as it had landed in a field a few miles out of Bristol. A perfect ending to one of the highlights of our summer!

More info:

  • Bristol Balloon fiesta is held at the start of August each year. Entrance is free, although there is a charge for car parking (£6 if you book in advance). There are plenty of food stalls (not much for vegetarians) but expect to pay festival prices.
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32 thoughts on “Bristol balloon fiesta”

  1. That looks amazing! I love the colours of the balloons. We have a red one that comes over our house every now and again and it stops us all in our tracks. Would love to take the boys to a balloon festival !

  2. What a fab event – perfect for a family day out! The various balloons look fantastic and it’s great that they also had plenty of other activities for the children to enjoy as well. Thanks for linking up and sharing with Country Kids.

  3. I loved the balloon fiesta when I lived in Bristol and need to take my kids to it. Cannot believe my husband has never been even.

    Great review of it, with helpful information, thank you.

  4. I adore hot air balloons. They used to have a balloon festival near where I lived as a child. Most years the balloons went the other way but one year they came in our direction and several landed nearby. Great for us but they freaked our horses that were in the field!

    1. Thanks Rosie. I remember being excited watching hot air balloons when I was a kid – great to see them actually landing too.

  5. I think you definitely choose the right day for it – didn’t they have to cancel a few things because of the tail end of Bertha? It’s one of those events that I keep meaning to go to – this year it wasn’t very practical but next year maybe?

  6. WOW this looks absolutely amazing and so much fun. Although I might be a little scared to do it myself. Love all the photos of the balloons. Looks like a fairytale land. Thanks for linking up to Share With Me. #sharewithme

    1. Thanks Jenny. I went ballooning in Australia many years ago and really enjoyed it (particularly the champagne breakfast afterwards).

    1. Thanks Becky. I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t even realise it was the Up balloon until it was pointed out to me. In my defence – I’ve never seen the film.

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