Top Tips for Visiting the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta with Kids

The Balloon Fiesta is one of the biggest and best events in the Bristol calendar and it's taking place right now! It's spread across four days and with so much to see and do there, it's taken us a few trips to really make the most of everything that the Fiesta has to offer for kids.
If you're planning to visit over the weekend (which you totally should) then make a note of our top tips before you go...

Book your parking space in advance
I can't stress this enough! The Fiesta itself is completely FREE to attend but if you're travelling by car then you'll need to pay to park on site. The car parks are huge but they fill up quickly so make sure you book in advance to avoid disappointment. Check for road closures before you set off, too!
Alternatively, if you're planning your route to the site via public transport then the easiest option is to get one of the regular shuttle buses from Bristol Temple Meads station, which drops you off near the entrance to Ashton Court. If you've got older children then you could also walk or cycle from the city centre but it's a bit of a trek for little legs!

Buggy, baby carrier or both?
If you need to bring a buggy then make sure it has big, chunky wheels. I say this from experience as I took a lightweight stroller first time round and it was a nightmare! There are lots of paths leading up to the main part of the site but most of it is on grass with lots of very steep, hilly areas to navigate. You might find it easier to bring a baby carrier (or put a younger child in a carrier and an older one in a buggy, which is what we did to sail through the crowds last year!) Either way, it helps to have something to carry younger children around in as Ashton Court Estate is HUGE and the main arena is a long walk from the car parks and shuttle bus drop off points.

Up, up and away!
Watching the balloons take off is easily the most spectacular part of the Fiesta so make it your mission to go to one of the mass ascents! If the weather conditions are right then the first balloons will take off at 6am. You can make the early start a little less painful by packing a bag the night before, getting the snacks ready (we usually take a breakfast picnic but there are plenty of food stalls on site if you'd rather grab something when you get there), finding the picnic blanket or camping chairs (the grass can be a bit damp because it's so early) and laying all the clothes out. I know it's not everyone's cup of tea but I've found that putting the boys in onesies over their PJs saves a lot of time and means that we can get on the road straight away. Of course if you'd prefer to have a lie-in then it's worth knowing that mass ascents also take place at 6pm on certain evenings too!

Let the kids stay up past their bedtime!
Stay up late to watch the Night Glow - an amazing display of regular shaped balloons firing their burners in time to music. The atmosphere is great but it can get very busy and obviously very dark so bring glowsticks, torches and any other light up toys you have - as well as making your kids more visible so that people don't bump into them, it will also keep them occupied while you're waiting for the show to start.
Speaking of waiting, you might find yourself doing a lot of standing around as the roads into the site are closed off a couple of hours before the Night Glow begins, so you'll need to be in before then. A 2+ hour wait is easier said than done when you've got young children but you can ease the stress by bringing a picnic blanket and/ or chairs, lots of snacks and a potty to save queuing up at food stalls and portaloos (the queues for these can get ridiculously long before the Night Glow!) Ear defenders are a must too, as the show ends with a fantastic firework finale.

Experience it all
Believe it or not, there's more to the Fiesta than just balloons! No matter how old your kids are, there's plenty to keep them entertained and you can easily spend a whole day there. In the main arena you'll find performances, demonstrations, model aircraft displays and tethered balloons in a range of special shapes.
Across the rest of the site there are different activities everywhere you look - this year's highlights include live music from Jelli Records, model making workshops with Aardman Animations (the Bristol-based creators of Wallace and Gromit!), a pop-up breakfast bar from Eat Natural, interactive games from Aerospace Bristol and a FabLand experience with a giant ball pit, slides and mazes (I'm SO excited for this!)
There's also a whole host of fairground rides plus a big observation wheel for the whole family to view the site from. I'd recommend bringing some cash for these but if you forget then there are cash machines dotted around the site (they do charge a small fee though).

Take a break
One of the Fiesta's hidden gems is the NCT baby change tent which is just around the corner from the big wheel. In here, you'll find changing stations, potties, feeding areas, bottle and food warmers as well as sticker sheets, paper and crayons for slightly older children. There are friendly volunteers on hand and a really lovely, welcoming atmosphere which makes it a nice little space to escape the hustle and bustle of the event for a bit.

Treat yourself!
Don't leave the Fiesta until you've been for a wander around the stalls alongside the balloon launch field. With so many food stalls, bars (Thatcher's cider, anyone?!), trade stalls (most of which have freebies and competitions) and locally-produced goodies, you'll be spoilt for choice!

If you're heading to the Balloon Fiesta this weekend then I hope you have an amazing time and find these tips useful!

Have you been to the Bristol Balloon Fiesta with kids before? How did you find it? Let us know!

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