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Bristol Balloon Fiesta 2023: Spectacular four-day family event brings record attendance

Bristol Balloon Fiesta, Europe’s largest free annual hot air balloon festival returns to Ashton Court for its 45th anniversary.

Image Courtesy - Bristol Balloon Fiesta
Image Courtesy - Bristol Balloon Fiesta

By Milan Perera, Deputy Editor

Bristol Balloon Fiesta returned to Ashton Court for another year with an action-packed weekend for the whole family. The four-day event, that runs from August 10 to August 13, is expected to bring a record attendance of over 100,000 to the city.

Bristol Balloon Fiesta, Europe’s largest free annual hot air balloon festival, got off to a fine start on Thursday, August 10 at its traditional launch venue for the 45th year.

The skies over Ashton Court came alive again as the Bristol Balloon Fiesta kicked off its annual four-day extravaganza. Families from all around the city and beyond gathered to witness the breath-taking display of colourful hot air balloons, parachute jumps, and memorable experiences.

The launch site at Ashton Court - Milan Perera

Bristol Balloon Fiesta featured over 75 hot air balloons with a mesmerising array of shapes and sizes: from classic round balloons to whimsical creations resembling animals, objects, and cartoon characters, the visual spectacle seemed to have captivated attendees of all ages.

Large crowds at Ashton Gate - Milan Perera

Despite the anticipation of thousands of festival-goers for the mass ascent, which was scheduled to take place on Thursday, August 10 at 6.00pm, the launch was called off due to high winds and the direction of winds. However, the ‘Night Glow’ event, where balloons illuminate in sync with music, went ahead at around 9.00pm.

The 'Night Glow' - Bristol Balloon Fiesta 

The mass ascent took place after 6.45am on Friday, August 11, after being given the green smoke for all clear. The fiesta's focus on family was evident in the wide variety of activities available.

For the hot air balloon enthusiasts, there was the opportunity to see tethered balloons up close, with a chance to speak to the pilots. Meanwhile, the child-friendly area was a hub of creativity and play, with games and activities led by the familiar children’s entertainers on stage.

Children-Friendly area at the site - Milan Perera

Beyond the festivities, the Bristol Balloon Fiesta made a strong emphasis on community engagement and environmental responsibility. The event collaborated with various local charities, especially Young Lives vs Cancer, whose representatives were seen on site for fundraising.

Due to the large volume of traffic and pedestrians heading towards the festival, the Clifton Suspension Bridge was closed on Thursday, August 10, from 6.00pm to midnight and alternative routes were in use.

The Clifton Suspension Bridge was closed at 6.00pm on Thursday due to the high volume of traffic and pedestrians - Milan Perera

Among the many hot air balloons featured in the festival was the University of Bristol’s own balloon which took part in the “Night Glow” event.

University of Bristol balloon at the 'Night Glow' - Bristol Balloon Fiesta

Designs of balloons varied vastly, with some more memorable than others. For example the Snow White balloon, which towered over 47 metres, appeared to be a fan favourite.

Entrance at Ashton Gate - Milan Perera

For some attendees it was their first encounter of the event, but for some it is a regular annual feature that see them return to the estate of Ashton Court year after year. Speaking to Epigram was Martin from Southampton, who has been a regular visitor for many years. When asked what attracted him to Bristol Balloon Fiesta, he said:

‘It’s the whole atmosphere. You like seeing people. You like talking to them and you share your interests. There’s something for everyone.’

Martin from Southampton has been a regular attendee of the festival - Milan Perera

The Bristol Balloon Fiesta first graced the skies of Bristol in September 1979 where a group of balloon enthusiasts launched 27 balloons. Since then, the festival has come on in leaps and bounds: its reputation has reached beyond the frontiers of Great Britain.

Mass ascent - Bristol Balloon Fiesta 

For many Bristolians, the annual event is iconic as the Clifton Suspension Bridge, Wallace and Gromit or Concorde.

Did you attend the Bristol Balloon Fiesta?