Bristol’s world-famous Balloon Fiesta kicks off today, with organisers promising the event will stay true to its roots and showcase the best of the West with a host of activities to suit all the family.
Some 500,000 visitors are expected to visit Ashton Court over the weekend for the 34th Bristol Balloon Fiesta, Europe’s largest annual hot air balloon event and one of the UK’s top five outdoor events.
A new ‘Summer Set’ zone run in conjunction with Thatchers Cider will feature a village fete style marquee equipped with hay bales and cider, as well as a bandstand programmed with local up-and-coming bands by Jelli Records.
For those feeling active, a new Sports Zone will showcase the skills of local community groups who will be encouraging visitor participation in everything from boxing to free running.
Young festival goers can enjoy a helter-skelter and big wheel as well as a dedicated Kids Zone.
Meanwhile, the world’s largest science experiment will be recreated, with visitors able to walk through a full-size replica of the Large Hadron Collider – the world’s most powerful atom smasher – as well as having the chance to meet physicists involved in the recent Higgs boson discovery.
The hot air balloon’s place in scientific history will also be celebrated as live cosmic ray experiments are recreated in the skies above the festival.
And a West firework company has promised that this year’s display will be the best in years. Skyburst has been firing the display for the past 15 years but say this year’s performance will be spectacular.
Managing director Alan Christie said: “The fireworks at the 2012 Balloon Fiesta are going to be magnificent. Organisers have agreed to up the budget for the first time in 15 years and we have agreed to match what they put in, pound-for-pound, meaning we are able to use some of the best products and technology on the market.
“Historically the fireworks at the festival have been a real talking point and one of the main attractions at the event. We are hoping to get back to that kind of buzz this year and we really hope the crowds enjoy what we have put together.”
The Bristol Samaritans will be the official charity partner, and will host a stress down area, where visitors can talk to members of the organisation and learn more about their work.
Chris Hathaway, chair of the fiesta organising committee said: “It is fantastic for us to be working with such a worthwhile charity. They are entirely reliant on public donations, so the generosity of the half a million people that visit the Fiesta could make a huge difference.”
The free event, sponsored this year by Jones Lang LaSalle, kicks off today with the popular Special Shapes Rodeo and the evening Night Glow.
For more information and to buy advance car parking visit www.bristol balloonfiesta.co.uk.