Bristol International Balloon Fiesta 2016

I’m very excited about today’s blog post! Partly, because I am (belatedly) getting to write about a wonderful weekend, but also because this is my first blogging collaboration! All illustrations in this post have been provided by a good friend of mine who blogs at Drakes Doodles and we’re hoping this could be the start of more combined posts… so please let us know what you think!


The Bristol International Balloon Fiesta is Europe’s largest annual gathering of hot air balloons, which attracts over 150 hot air balloons from around the world. This year the Fiesta was held from Thursday 11 August – Sunday 14 August; four fantastic, fun-filled days which are completely free! The Fiesta is held at Ashton Court Estate and can be accessed by car (although there is a charge for parking), foot, or bus, with regular shuttle buses running from Bristol Temple Meads station.


We didn’t make it to the Fiesta until Saturday, but were blessed with glorious weather and made the most of it while we were there. We arrived in the afternoon, and after watching a display by the Great Western Air Ambulance (the official Fiesta charity for 2016 & 2017), we proceeded to walk around the numerous commercial, charity and crafts stalls. Treating ourselves to an ice cream, we were lucky to find a space to sit down (it was incredibly busy!) so that we could watch Rich Goodwin perform in his highly modified Pitts Special S2S – the ‘Muscle Biplane’. Despite being slightly disappointed that he didn’t fly backwards as the commentator suggested he might, it was a very impressive display.

The next balloon ascent wasn’t scheduled until the evening but in hindsight we probably should have stayed where we were. Finding a place to sit later on that was big enough for five people and a large dog was a nightmare, but we did get there in the end! The ascent was stunning against the cloudless sky and a great warm up for the main event that day – the nightglow. I always try and describe the nightglow as ‘Disco Balloons’, but it only sums it up well if you have seen it… Basically, approximately thirty balloons are blown up, and then light up in time to music. It is a fantastic display and if you make it to the Fiesta I would thoroughly recommend it!


With less than six hours sleep, we were then back again the following morning for breakfast and balloons at 6am – a mass ascent accompanied by the sound of Classical FM. Despite being very tired, it was truly magical to see so many balloons take off in the early morning air, and with much smaller crowds to crane our necks over! As the air was so still, some of the balloons struggled to take off and others landed very close to the arena, however it also meant that the balloons were moving quite slowly, making the whole ascent last much longer than it had done the previous evening.


This was my second Balloon Fiesta, and I’m hoping to make it the second of many more to come. If you’ve been inspired to visit, here are my top tips:

  • Go to a nightglow and an early morning ascent – they are the highlights of the weekend
  • If you need the toilet – go. You have to expect to spend up to an hour in the queue at peak times so don’t leave it too late!
  • Donate to the charity – this is a fantastic event which is completely free. Surely you can spare a pound or two to show your appreciation and support a worthy cause.
  • Buy a programme. That way you’ll know which events are happening when, and you can use the helpful balloon spotters guide in the back – this year the lion shaped Longleat balloon was my favourite!

All illustrations in this post are the original work of R Drake of Drakes Doodles. All photographs were taken by myself.


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