8 balloon festivals to lift your spirits
It's up, up and away at these international celebrations of the hot-air balloon.
Imagine the roar of burners firing simultaneously to inflate dozens of behemoth hot-air balloons. Envision mesmerizing balls of color and jumbo animal and cartoon-character shapes drifting over cities, valleys and hills. Experience the magic of balloons illuminated from inside like giant glowing lanterns.
From the U.S. to Israel to Malaysia, international hot-air balloon festivals are, well, hot. Balloon pilots and fans alike are flocking to these events not just for the beauty and spectacle, but also for the food, music and chance to hobnob with balloon buffs from around the globe.
The following hot-air balloon fests are some of the biggest and best on the planet.
Canberra Balloon Spectacular
Australia’s premiere balloon blast will celebrate its 29th year this March. Held in the city of Canberra, the festival boasts a daily launch of balloons at dawn from the grounds of the Old Parliament House to fly over Lake Burley Griffin and the city. There are plenty of tasty treats, entertainment and activities galore, plus Canberra offers a veritable treasure trove of good food, wine, botanic gardens and surrounding natural beauty.
When: March 7-15, 2015
Website: Canberra Balloon Spectacular
Putrajaya International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta
This year marks the seventh annual balloon bash hosted in Putrajaya, just south of Malaysia’s sprawling capital, Kuala Lumpur. Balloons in a medley of sizes, shapes and colors drift over the city, known for its stunning architecture, lush tropical greenery and botanical gardens. Additional happenings include paint ball, archery, wall climbing, car simulators and helicopter rides.
When: March 12-15, 2015
Bristol International Balloon Fiesta
Europe’s largest balloon bash is held in Bristol, England, every year. Now in its 37th year, the festival, billed as the second largest in the world, takes place at the Ashton Court Estate with its picturesque mansion and grounds just outside the city. Besides the international kaleidoscope of bright-hued balloons and impressive night-glow event, festival-goers also enjoy model aircraft flying demos, helicopter rides, local foods, amusement park rides, musical entertainment and a parachute show.
When: Aug. 6-9, 2015
Website: Bristol International Balloon Fiesta
International Balloon Festival of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu
Held every August for the past 30 years, Canada’s largest international gathering of balloonists and avid fans is a must-see. Picturesque Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and surrounding countryside – located just south of Montreal – is renowned for its orchards, wineries and golf courses. The multi-day fete features 125 balloons representing a diverse roster of nations including Taiwan, France, Brazil and Australia. Attractions range from trendy bistros and concerts to kid shows and handmade crafts.
When: Aug. 8-16, 2015
Gilboa International Hot Air Balloon Festival
Israel’s largest balloon festival will kick off its fifth year in October. Last year’s festivities featured balloons from Israel, Europe and the US. Held in two locations – starting at Ma’ayan Harod National Park near Mount Gilboa in scenic Galilee and ending to the south in Eshkol National Park in the Negev region – the event includes a night-glow show, as well as family activities, food and entertainment.
When: Oct. 3-4, 2015 (tentative dates)
Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (Photo: Cindy Petrehn)
Nearly 600 multi-colored giants decorate the Albuquerque skies each autumn, lifting off from Balloon Fiesta Park, the 354-acre space specially built for the event. Hailed as the world’s largest international balloon rally, this year’s extravaganza will mark the 44th time a multinational contingent of balloons and balloonists has gathered in New Mexico to float over the spectacular Sandia Mountains and desert valleys. Events include special-shape balloons, night-glow programs followed by fireworks, music and even a film festival.
When: Oct. 3-11, 2015
International Balloon Festival (Mexico)
Hot air balloons fly over a lake during the International Balloon Festival at the Metropolitan Park in Leon, Guanajuato state, Mexico, in 2013. (Photo: Hector Guerrero/AFP/Getty Images)
Promoted as the biggest balloon fiesta in Latin America, this hot-air jamboree started in 2002 with only 27 balloons. Last year, some 200 balloons from 15 countries flocked to central Mexico to fly over the historic city of Leon, famous for its cathedrals, plazas and leather goods. Visitors enjoy the night-glow show set to music, a rodeo, dancing horses, a dog show and concerts on several stages.
When: Nov. 13-16, 2015
Website: International Balloon Festival
International Hot-Air Balloon Festival in Chateau-d’Oex
Balloons being prepared for the Hot Air Balloon Festival in Chateau-d'Oex, along the Swiss Alps. (Photo: Marc Garnier/Flickr)
Set against the heart-stopping backdrop of Switzerland’s snow-capped Alps, this nine-day hot-air soiree has been held every January since 1979. Nearly 100 balloons from 20 countries participate in flying competitions and a night-glow show. Spectators are also treated to hang glider and airplane acrobatics, a special-shape balloon event, and balloon rides. Break out those skis and snowboards for some alpine down time.
When: End of January, 2016 (date TBA)
Website: Association Semaine de Ballons
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