If you tell people you live in UK or England, chances are that you will hear the traditional list of cliche used to depict this part of the world :
- The bad weather and the rain ( .. well – not too far from reality)
- The wrong legend that British food is not good and limited to Fish & Chips, Roast beef. UK actually has a lot of great food and recipes and I would need a full post to talk about all of them.
UK is also too often “reduced” to :
- The city of London, Edinburgh, Manchester / Liverpool if you are a fan of football
- Queen Elizabeth, Kate Middleton, Harry and William and all the Royal family
- Home of Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, Shakespeare … you name it
All this to say that in the South West of England, there is a lovely city called Bristol which has A LOT to offer to put an end to the cliche people may have about England ( besides the rain thing … Yes – I must admit that quite often, it is pouring in Bristol).
Bristol is home to a great arts and overall culture scene, lovely food, cute coffee shops and summer/ spring festivals. From May until September, when the nice days kick-in, you will be able to find a festival pretty much every week-end. One that I particularly enjoy is the Bristol Balloon Fiesta that happens every year in August, in Ashton Court*. If you like Hot Air Balloon or want to spend a nice week-end with family and friends, this festival is for you, so make sure to spend few hours there if you are around.
What is the Bristol Balloon Fiesta?
It is an international Festival, featuring several hundreds of flights of Hot Air Balloons, and welcoming thousands of visitors over 3 days. On top of the balloons flights, the festival features 2 night glows, and a firework on the Saturday night. ( See the video of the night glow)
There is also a Fairground with lots of attractions for kids and adults. You will find wine and local food stands, local music talents. Long story short, everyone should be able to find attractions to be entertained during this festival.
The Bristol Balloon Fiesta is free and open to public.
It goes without saying that if you want to fly during the Balloon Fiesta, you would have to book in advance your flight. Note that prices to fly during this event are (for me) excruciatingly high compared to the prices that are practiced the rest of the year.
For me the best way to enjoy this festival is to go to Ashton Court in the mid-afternoon on Saturday, to enjoy a nice picnic with friends until the night kicks in, so you can see the night glows and the firework.
My advice if you want to go to the Balloon Fiesta :
Access by car is NOT recommended. There will be hundreds of cars and if you want to avoid being stuck for 2 hours to do less than 3 kms… avoid taking the car ( especially to leave after the firework, I REALLY do not recommend it.) There are buses services arranged for the event, and if you can come by foot – it is for me the best option.
Be prepared to see A LOT of people around. If you are with kids, or buggies : this may be a bit of a challenge. However, you do not need to go to Ashton Court itself if you want to see the shows or the balloons flying. You can have a great view from Clifton, or the White Lion Terrace – so depending on your situation and whether you like crowds or not so much – you have several options available to you so you can enjoy this event.
The success of this event relies a lot on the weather:
- If there is too much wind : balloons will not fly. As the whole point of this festival is to see those hundreds of balloons flying … it can be a bit of a non-event if they are to stay on the ground.
- If it is rainy, the picnic and event in the park can be a bit challenging ( but not impossible) : back to 2014, it rained pretty much the whole afternoon and night but we were still able to see the night glows and the firework. We were blessed with a nice and dry summer in 2015 and the event was simply great.
Bring cash if you want to buy food or drinks ( but you can also bring your own picnic) , take sunscreen with you : when the sun kicks in, it can be quite strong and you could end up with a nice sunburn if you are not well prepared.
I really like this Festival because for 3 days you will see the Bristol sky full of balloons, which I found very pleasant and “romantic”. I also love to get to the festival on the Saturday afternoon to picnic with my friends : it is a great moment to be all together, catch up and chill … one of the many little, simple pleasures in life.
If you need any additional reasons to go to Bristol :
- The street artist Banksy is said to be from Bristol : you can find a lot of his famous graffiti all over the city, including Naked Man,Mild Mild West, Girl with the Pierced Eardrum … (You can even see more if you walk around or go for the Banksy Tour organized by the city)
- Bristol is the Europe Green Capital for 2015
- We have amazing coffee bars, such as Brew, Bristol Coffee House, Spicer & Cole…
- There are many lovely food places and restaurants which will put an end to the legend saying that UK food is not good or limited to roast beef, fish & chips, jelly puddings …
- The great singer George Ezra is said to have studied and lived in Bristol for a while,
Ashton Court* :
Ashton Court is a huge park (850 acres), with gardens, a mansion and many grasslands. There, you can walk, bike (but again I do not recommend you bike during the Balloon Fiesta), bring the kids over to play and enjoy outdoors.There is no admission fee to enter the park (But you may have to pay to take part to events organized at Ashton Court) There is a parking – it costs £1.20 per vehicle per day.