As local events go, the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta is one that really puts the city on the map, nationally and globally – but what’s worth making a beeline for this year, and how can you make sure your visit goes as smoothly as possible?
It’s the biggest event in Bristol’s busy summer calendar, with tens of thousands of people enjoying the sight of scores of colourful balloons gliding through the skies over the city. The Bristol International Balloon Fiesta returns to Ashton Court from 11-14 August, with more than 150 hot air balloons taking off at dawn and dusk and the evenings lit up with spectacular night glows. Here are five ways you can make the most of this fabulous free event…
There’s nothing like being in Ashton Court as hundreds of balloons are inflated for the mass ascents, and on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings you can beat the usual crowds and enjoy ‘Breakfast and Balloons’. On Saturday and Sunday the ascents take place to a soundtrack of classical music, courtesy of Classic FM, so set your alarm early and watch the spectacle unfold at 6am while enjoying a bacon sandwich and a cup of coffee as the sun rises. It’s a great way to start the day and when all the balloons have taken off, you can enjoy the rest of the fiesta site before it gets really busy. If you’re not a morning person, the evening mass ascents take off at 6pm.
Dawn and dusk are the best times to catch the beautiful balloons in flight
Being such a popular event, the fiesta does attract a huge number of visitors. The best way to avoid any problems and have the best experience possible is to sort out your travel plans in advance. Car parking tickets are available now and the earlier you book them, the better the rate – it’s currently £7.50 for standard parking and £12 for premium. To book car parking, visit bristolballoonfiesta.co.uk. If you’re a Bristol resident, the best way to avoid traffic jams is to go to the site by foot or bicycle, and there are plenty of easy access points. There is also a regular shuttle bus service to Ashton Court from Broad Quay in the centre and Bristol Temple Meads station.
Remember that 300ft ‘Park & Slide’ water feature that came to Park Street as part of Make Sunday Special and the Bristol Art Weekender, and saw a lucky 360 (of the 96,573 who signed up for the chance to get tickets) people sliding down the middle of the road? Well, this year’s balloon fiesta will feature a similar, but even more gigantic two-lane water slide so that visitors can make a splash while also raising money for a worthy cause. The SlideRider comes to the fiesta courtesy of Cancer Research UK Kids & Teens and their patron – ITV West Country presenter Alex Beresford. From 11am to 6pm on each day of the fiesta, there will be the chance to get a high-speed soaking, so why not enjoy the sight of all the balloons taking off while whizzing down the 500ft drop? Places are limited so you’ll need to book in advance at cancerresearchuk.org
ITV West Country presenter Alex Beresford gearing up to raise some money for Cancer Research UK via the SlideRider
Bristol’s very own Cirque Bijou – which aims to push the boundaries of contemporary circus, street theatre and spectacle, seeking out the new, unusual and surprising – will be making their debut at the family-friendly this year, and their presence is something we’re very excited about. Known for their eye-catching performances and breath-taking routines, the performers will be entertaining younger visitors and combining street theatre and circus skills to exhilarating effect. Firm favourites at events like the Bristol Harbour Festival, this group are well worth catching, as is The Desperate Men’s Balloon Toss – get involved!
Another first at this year’s fiesta will be a street food village, bringing some of the best stalls in the West Country to Ashton Court. The event has never been short of catering outlets, but this year the team are raising the bar. From halloumi to chilli dogs, tandoori and pizza, there will be something to cater for every taste – with Gourmet Farm, Chip Off the Old Block, La Rotisserie, Harissa and Lemon and Los Churros Amigos just some of the vendors who’ll be cooking up a treat for fiesta-goers. For those who like their balloons with bubbles, make sure to track down Betty the prosecco van and get yourself a glass of fizz!
To book tickets and find out more, visit the website: bristolballoonfiesta.co.uk