The History of The Bristol Balloon Fiesta

The Bristol Balloon Fiesta is one of Bristol’s biggest and best events. The four-day ‘uplifting’ event attracts 500,000 visitors every year. And that makes it one of the UK’s top five events.


The Bristol Balloon Fiesta: in the beginning

The first Bristol Balloon Fiesta took place in 1979. But we need to delve back a little further into Bristol’s ballooning past to get the full history.

The fiesta first came about following a pub chat between famous balloonist Don Cameron and some of his friends. Don was part of the team that built Western Europe’s first modern balloon, the Bristol Belle in 1967. He had set up the now world-famous Cameron Balloons business from his Bristol flat in the early 1970s. And he was also the first man to cross The Sahara and The Alps in a hot air balloon.

As a result of his discussions in the pub, the first Bristol Balloon Fiesta was held on the weekend of 7-9 September 1979. 27 balloons gathered at this first spectacle, including one from Germany making it an international event from the off.

An uplifting event

Since the first Bristol Balloon Fiesta, the event has grown from strength to strength. The home of the fiesta is still the Ashton Court Estate where the first event took place. But it’s now held on the second weekend of August. And now every year, over 125 balloons from across the UK and the rest of the world come to Bristol to join the party.

The Bristol Balloon Fiesta is the largest balloon fiesta in Europe and the second biggest in the world. The only event that is larger is the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico, USA.

Balloons of all shapes and sizes

The balloons that take to the skies take all shapes and sizes – from huge dinosaurs to popular cartoon characters. Many are the seemingly impossible creations of Cameron Balloons, which is still based in the city.

Wowing the crowds

Some of the most popular spectacles of the fiesta are the group balloon ascents. These take place each morning and evening as long as the weather is okay. During these stunning mass ascents, up to 100 balloons fire up their burners and take to the skies. Watching them lift off is very special. And then when they are floating together over the city, it again can make for a perfect photo opportunity.

You’ll need to set the alarm if you want to enjoy the spectacular beauty of the morning ascents. They normally take place at around 6am. In the evening, the ascent is usually scheduled for around 6pm. However, weather can affect the timings of both daily ascents. In the evening, lift off may be delayed. And poor weather, including high winds, could mean that an ascent is cancelled altogether.

Another popular event with the crowds is the ethereal nightglow. For this, the balloons gather together as night falls. The balloons are tethered to the ground, so they won’t take off. And as darkness comes, the balloons are lit up from within by their burners. The result? The balloons look like lots of colourful light bulbs glowing in the darkness. It’s a very beautiful sight and one of the highlights of the Bristol Balloon Fiesta.

What else is there to do at the Bristol Balloon Fiesta?

After admiring the balloons and taking part in competitions, there is still alot more to do at the Bristol Balloon Fiesta. Whilst the morning and evening are the busiest times for balloon action, there is entertainment going on throughout the day. Music, food, drink and family entertainment, including fairground rides, keep all ages happy. There are also trade stands if you want to enjoy a bit of shopping. And if looking at all the balloons has left you feeling like taking to the skies yourself, you can even arrange to take part in a balloon trip of your own. Thursday and Saturday nights culminate with a stunning firework show, providing a show-stopping end to the day.

Check the schedule to find out exactly what is happening at the Bristol Balloon Fiesta.


Getting to the Bristol Balloon Fiesta

There are lots of ways to get to the Bristol Balloon Fiesta. If you’re driving, there’s a choice of car parks at Ashton Court, but it’s advised to book this in advance to avoid disappointment. The car parks are charged, but access to the event itself is completely free!

Other ways to get to the Bristol Balloon Fiesta include by bike or bus. For example, a regular shuttle bus service specifically for the fiesta runs from Bristol city centre. For details, check the official Balloon Fiesta website.

The best places to watch the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta

It’s free to go to the Bristol Balloon Fiesta and get up close to the balloons, though you will need to pay for parking. If you prefer to view the ascent from further away, there are a few spots across the city that command the best views:

  • Bedminster Down
  • Brandon Hill
  • Clifton Downs (Sea Wall area)
  • Clifton Observatory
  • Dundry Hill
  • The Harbourside
  • Perrett’s Park
  • Victoria Park

Festival and event insurance

If you’re planning a festival or event, the right insurance is an essential. Even if it’s not on the scale of the Bristol Balloon Fiesta, you’ll need to carefully consider what could go wrong and take out insurance for financial protection and peace of mind.

Park Insurance has been helping event and festival organisers to get quality cover at a great price for 30 years. Based in Bristol, we’re a family-run business and our aim is to work as your partner to help your event to be a real success.

We offer all types of event cover including:

  • Exhibitions
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Call our friendly expert event insurance team on 0117 955 6835 or get in touch.