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Bristol Balloon Fiesta 2016 insider’s guide | where to watch, where to park

Are you coming to the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta? Whether you’re a local planning to make an adventure out of watching one of the flights, or a visitor to Bristol to see one of the most special sights in the UK, here’s a guide.

Bristol Balloon Fiesta kids

The Balloon Fiesta itself – facts:

  • The Fiesta is FREE. If you are going on site to Ashton Court, it’s free to get into. Unless you are arriving by car.
  • If you are coming by car, you HAVE to have pre-booked car parking. You can do that here. 2015’s traffic shouldn’t be repeated, with a bit of luck.
  • If you come on public transport, or approach on foot, there’s no charge. If you’ve never been to Bristol before, Ashton Court isn’t a family walk from Temple Meads station, or even the city centre. Use normal public transport, even the ferry, or, hooray, there’s a shuttle bus running every ten minutes, timetable here 
  • There are, fingers crossed, two flights per day, plus the night glow. So effectively three chances to see some really incredible sights up close. The insiders tip if you are going on site is to go to the morning flights, at 6am, especially if you’ve got kids. Quieter, maybe more reliable, and, honestly, utterly magical at that time of day
  • The site gets busy. It’s a family event but it’s also an iconic Bristol event, so expect crowds, teenagers and twenty-somethings having fun, loud music, booze, queues for loos, and all the good stuff a summer event brings. Don’t be naive about getting in and out – take a buggy if you have any doubts, or look at this:

Bristol Balloon Fiesta kids

  • The huge funfair and more leisure focused elements have been erased this year, to focus on more gentle family entertainment. Cirque Bijou, who entertain the masses of families at Harbour Festival, are in charge.

Bristol Balloon Fiesta with kids

Where to watch if you’re not going up to Ashton Court

This is the best bit really – the insider’s tips, all from actual The Bristol Parent readers (thanks, you legends!) Many, many Bristolians don’t ever go up to the Fiesta site. The fun lasts for four wonderful days, and due to our hilly city and the summer winds, you’re as likely to see and hear a balloon over your street or office as you are to see one at the Fiesta.

Bristol Balloon Fiesta with kids

Here’s a list, in no particular order, of where to go if  you want to see some balloons. For a fuller recommendation, check out this thread on The Bristol Parent’s FB

  • Perrett’s Park, Knowle
  • Trooper’s Hill, St George
  • Dundry Hill
  • Harbourside – the SS Great Britain/Underfall Yard stretch
  • Brandon Hill
  • Bedminster Down (traffic/parking can be bad though)
  • Clifton/Durdham Downs (traffic/parking, same)
  • Ashton Vale Rec
  • Mount Hill Rd, Kingswood
  • Anywhere near Bristol Water Main Offices
  • Anywhere near South Bristol Crematorium
  • Horfield Common
  • Victoria Park (top end, near Mrs Browns Cafe)

All these locations come with some caveats. Wind direction is key, check our local news and radio (I found Twitter the most help last year). Everybody wants to know when the balloons are going up, and in what direction, and the Fiesta team work really hard to let people know asap.

Also key is that some, or most of these vantage points have no amenities, so take chairs, picnics, fizz, blankets, whatever floats your balloon, really. However, please, please take your litter home – huge problems and pollution are caused every year by careless people just tipping their stuff when they’re done. Bristol is special, let’s keep it that way.

Where to park if you’re not driving on site

I’m not going to tell you to leave your car at home, that’s unrealistic for lots of families.

But if you’ve not been to Bristol before, I can’t stress this enough: it’s an awful city to park in, especially if you don’t know it.

  • Parking in the city centre is mostly easier than the residential areas. My go-to carpark is the horrifically expensive Charlotte Street. Small spaces, but usually emptier on weekends
  • The cheapest (and good for ferry goers and waterside enthusiasts) is Wapping Wharf
  • Parking at Temple Meads is impossible, don’t even try
  • Cabot isn’t a bad place to try, especially if you’re coming off the M32
  • Avoid Clifton unless you know it, or have a space sorted out. It’s very difficult to find a space, especially on sunny days or during big events like the Fiesta
  • Southville can also be very difficult – both these areas are Resident Parking Zones
  • Be warned – risking it in either Southville’s Aldi, Bedminster’s Asda or the Riverside Garden centre is a bad idea…all three love a good privately applied fine, and sometimes a clamp

I hope you enjoy the Balloon Fiesta, whether you live here or are visiting. There’s nothing like hearing that great roar of air just above your head, and looking up to see some lucky souls floating serenely by, on their way to wherever they land.

Happy spotting!

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3 Comments

  1. Laney Laney

    Fab as always and very informative. I’m gutted to be missing the fiesta this year 🙁

  2. This, again, makes me want to move to Bristol! The top photo of you holding the baby is stunning x

    • It’s my sister, with her second baby…but I agree she’s stunning 🙂

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