Hot Air Balloon Festival Around the World
Hot air balloons: Just the words alone conjure bright images of colourful happy bulbs bobbing across a picturesque blue sky, over grassy fields. Hot air balloon festivals have captivated spectators all around the world, and people young and old gather together to experience the wonder and beauty of these marvels of flight.
The earliest hot air balloons were small and designed in China to carry tiny bright lanterns into the night sky to use as signals, and you can still see them used today during lantern festivals. The first hot air balloons designed to carry a human into the air were developed in France: brothers Joseph-Ralf and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier publically displayed their creation in Annonay, Ardeche, France, marking the first unmanned hot air balloon demonstration on September 19, 1783. This historic balloon flight lasted 10 minutes. Even though the balloon was void of any human passengers, it was a sight to behold. This gathering, a primitive hot air balloon festival of sorts, would soon be witnessing the first ever passenger ride by tethered hot air balloon…
After some time tinkering with unmanned hot air balloons, and some test flights using some unsuspecting four legged furry passengers, the first hot air balloon flight with human cargo took to the air almost one month later on October 15, 1783. The tethered flight, performed by Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier who launched from the yard of the Reveillon workshop in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine was later accompanied that same day by Pilatre de Rozier’s accent into the skies. de Rozier became the second human to take to the air via hot air balloon, reaching an altitude of 24 metres or 79 feet, extending the full length of the balloon’s tether. It was a phenomenal accomplishment for its time, and interest in hot air balloons gained momentum. Soon spectators would be gathering from all over the region any time there were to be hot air balloon demonstrations, and although the first full fledged large scale hot air balloon festival was a long way to come, the wonderous feeling spectators described watching those balloons ascend into the air was the same nonetheless.
Today, Hot air balloon festivals are traditions held annually in many places all over the globe, throughout the year.
These outdoor events invite hot air balloon operators and hot air balloon enthusiasts alike to assemble together to demonstrate balloons, talk shop, wow the crowd, and put on a variety of different family friendly activities. Entertainment and events range from races; evening “night glows”, in which balloons are fired while remaining tethered to the ground; carnival style games and rides.
What to bring to a hot air balloon festival:
- Be prepared for the weather – dress in layers. Ideally a jacket or sweater you can take off it the weather gets warmer over the course of the day. The balloons typically ascend in the morning when the weather is cool.
- Snacks – a few well packed healthy snacks are ideal to bring along, so long as the event organizers allow food from outside to be brought into the premises – check ahead before making that pack lunch! A picnic is also an ideal way to spend the midday.
- Water – stay hydrated! All that time outdoors, fun events, and amusing balloons to watch can make you forget about taking in enough water to stay hydrated. Bring a water bottle.
- Cash – most hot air balloon festivals operate games, contests, and booths that sell food and drinks, and of course they most likely only accept cash. There may also be a fee to park on the grounds, depending on the location.
- A camera – don’t forget to bring your camera and enough memory and batteries if necessary to capture all the excitement!
What to expect at a hot air balloon festival:
A hot air balloon festival isn’t only about getting up at the crack of dawn and staring up into the sky. Yes, the early morning is the ideal ballooning weather and you will probably want to get there early to find your place to watch the big event, but larger balloon festivals offer participants everything from the traditional morning mass ascension to exciting and competitive hot air balloon challenges to evening “balloon glows,” or “night glows” when the balloons are all lit up to music and fanfare against the darkness. A hot air balloon festival really is the perfect family event, with outdoor activities beginning before sunrise until well into the evening.
While it’s true that every hot air balloon festival is unique to its location and weather conditions, most of the festivals share a combination of similar traditional ballooning events such as mass ascensions in the morning with music performances, hot air balloon rides for the public, and many exhibitions and vendor booths selling everything from balloon festival souvenirs, to original art and photography, to educational displays for children of all ages. Some may involve local radio stations, mascots, and other kinds of promoters to help provide festival goers a great time.
One of the most exciting hot air balloon festival events is the Key Grab (or gift grab) where a key to a car, or an envelope with a cash prize for example, is placed on the very top of a tall pole in the middle of a large open field. Competitors must then decipher the anticipated directions of the wine and the speed, leave from the event with their balloon in the back of their truck, and then launch their balloon from a distant location. The hot air balloon operators must then maneuver their balloons to arrive at the field and then physically grab the key or prize from off the top of the pole. A variation of the challenge has the balloonists dropping a small sandbag onto a target to win. Awards are known to be valued upwards of twenty thousand dollars, so this is some serious competition and great excitement for the spectators!
Where to find the world’s best hot air balloon festivals:
Here are some of the largest U.S. events, and the most anticipated hot air balloon festivals in Russia, France, Germany, Canada! Also, you can always be sure to find numerous smaller events throughout each country.
The Great Reno Balloon Race – Reno, NV – September 7-9
Holding the title as the world’s largest free hot air balloon festival, this event also offers tethered balloon rides for kids. Competitions include Balloon Blackjack, where pilots navigate the balloons over giant playing cards and throw bean bags to try to hit “21″.
Official Website: http://www.renoballoon.com/
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta – Albuquerque, NM – October 6-14
Dubbed a “Granddaddy of a Hot air Balloon Festival,” The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta boasts festivities that go on for ten days and draws over five hundred hot air balloonists annually. Scheduled balloon events take place in the mornings and evenings, leaving the daytime free to enjoy Albuquerque’s wide array of attractions such as Sandia Mountain National Park, nearby Santa Fe, or even a day trip to Ojo Caliente natural mineral hot springs.
Official Website: http://www.balloonfiesta.com/
The Red Rock Balloon Rally – Gallup, NM – November 30-December 2
New Mexico offers ideal ballooning weather, and it comes as no surprise that the second biggest American hot air balloon festival takes place in Gallup, New Mexico – right in the middle of picturesque Red Rock country. The Red Rock Balloon Rally features approximately 200 balloons annually.
Official Website: http://www.redrockballoonrally.com/
The Colorado Balloon Classic – Colorado Springs, CO – September 1-3
Join the rest of the spectators in the Rockies for the first of the season’s hot air balloon festival events at The Colorado Balloon Classic. The event is free, and almost one hundred balloons take to the skies! Many family oriented activities are on the bill, and there is great entertainment for all ages. The Colorado Balloon Classic raises funds for St Baldricks, an organization which focuses on curing childhood cancers.
Official Website: http://www.balloonclassic.com/
The Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival – Foley, AL – June 15-17
Pilots from all over the United States will be present to participate in this annual free festival! This hot air balloon festival events include balloon glows both Friday and Saturday evening, the World Famous Disc Connected K-9’s Frisbee Dog Show, carnival rides for the whole family, arts and crafts booths and a lot of terrific food and entertainment.
Official Website: http://www.gulfcoastballoonfestival.com/
The Great Texas Balloon Race – Longview, TX – July 27-29
Texas is home to many large hot air balloon festivals, including The Great Texas Balloon Race! This event is said to be the festival where competitive ballooning events such as the key grab and the first balloon glow originated.
Official Website: http://www.greattexasballoonrace.com/
The Great Forest Park Balloon Race – St. Louis, Mo – September 14-16
This hot air balloon festival has celebrated over forty years of balloons and fun! The St. Louis’ Great Forest Park Balloon Race events are free – including parking – and is held annualy in the centre of the city’s massive Forest Park which hosted of the 1904 World’s Fair. Festivities begin Friday night with the Balloon Glow.
Official Website: http://www.greatforestparkballoonrace.com/
The REMAX Ballunar Liftoff – Clear Lake, TX – September 28-30
NASA supports and inspires the REMAX Ballunar Liftoff event each year, south of Houston, TX. This hot air balloon festival features activities and exhibits of all kinds, including all manner of flying objects from balloons to spacesuits, and tours of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The Kemah Boardwalk nearby has plenty of restaurants and carnival rides, including an wooden roller coaster, dubbed the Boardwalk Bullet!
Official Website: http://www.ballunarfestival.com/
Velikie Luki, Pscov Region, Russia – June 6 – June 14
This highly anticipated competition in the city Velikie Luki (in the Pscov Region, where Russian contemporary ballooning first took place) is the second most important event for Russian pilots. Every year since 1996, many pilots from Russia and other countries such as Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine gather together to take part in the ballooning festivities. More than 140 pilots have participated in the event competitions over the last 12 years. Four of the events that take place are The 4th Cup of Russia, The 4th Cup of Velikie Luki, The 2nd Princess Olga Cup, and The 1st Cup of Friendship. Between thirty and forty balloons took to the skies at their last event.
Web Site: http://balloon-cup.ru/2009/index_en.php
Montgolfiades de Dole, Dole, France, July 11 – 13
The fun doesn’t stop after the evening’s traditional balloon glow event! After the excitement of the night glow of the balloons, you are in for a glorious surprise – a spectacular choreographed fireworks display tops off this France hot air balloon festival! The event is also a benefit for children suffering with serious illnesses.
Official Website (French): http://www.montgolfiades-dole.groupecbf.com/
Saxony International Balloon Fiesta, Leipzig, Germany, July 30 – Aug 2
The annual Saxony International Balloon Fiesta is a German hot air balloon festival featuring up to 70 balloons taking to the sky in the mornings and lighting up the night sky after dark. Along with the balloon festivities, there is also a parade, concerts, circus, as well as a VIP lounge!
Official Website: http://www.balloonfiesta.de/
Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival, Gatineau, Québec, Canada, September 3 to 7
The Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival started in 1988 as a part of the “Gatineau, on y croît” promotion campaign to provide the Québec region with a major tourist attraction and family event. The festival quickly became the most anticipated hot air balloon gathering in all of Canada, and the fifth largest hot air balloon festival in the world. It has garnered the attention of European and North American pilots, who fly their regular and specially-shaped hot air balloons over Canada’s National Capital Region during this annual event.
Official Website: http://montgolfieresgatineau.com/en
Visit information about festivals section to explore a full list of festivals happening around the world yearly!