There’s nothing like gliding through the sky in a massive floating vessel while enjoying the sunrise—and perhaps a glass of champagne. Hot air balloon rides take the act of sightseeing to entirely new levels. These are some of the world’s top spots to soar.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Every October, this small city in New Mexico hosts the biggest hot air balloon festival and race in the world: the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Over the course of nine days, the annual event features speed competitions and mass ascents of more than 500 balloons. Throughout the year, however, plenty of tour operators such as World Balloon help travelers experience the area from the sky, just like Fiesta pros do.
If anything could make a sunrise balloon float even more magical, it has to be the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia. The wild rock formations and caves found in Göreme, a small town in the Turkish region, have made this spot one of the world’s most iconic destinations for ballooning. Thanks to operators such as Hot Air Balloon Cappadocia, Voyager Balloons, and Butterfly Balloons, morning skies are filled with hundreds of whimsical balloons daily.
Sure, you’d head to Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park for a classic safari, but what if you want to get off the beaten Jeep track? Serengeti Balloon Safaris takes the experience to new heights by allowing ballooners to get deeper into the park and away from the regular roads to watch lions, hippos, and a slew of other wild animals interact in the most undisturbed way possible.
If you thought exploring the jungles and temples of Myanmar’s Bagan Archaeological Zone was incredible, wait until you see the ancient complex from the sky. Rise up through the mists with Balloons Over Bagan, which offers regular flights above the temples as well as ballooning tours of Inle Lake.
Yes, it is actually possible to go for a hot air balloon ride at the North Pole. Quark Expeditions offers an Arctic expedition to the North Pole that—in addition to Zodiac cruising and Arctic wildlife viewing—includes a tethered hot air balloon ride at 90° North (weather permitting, of course).
Napa Valley, California
What’s better than a tasting tour of Northern California’s wine country? Gliding over those rolling hills and vineyards in a hot air balloon, of course! Operators such as Napa Valley Balloons, Inc. and Calistoga Balloons make a balloon ride over the Napa Valley an extra special treat with the welcome addition of local sparkling wine.
Château d’Oex, Switzerland
A well-known destination in the hot air ballooning community, Switzerland’s Château d’Oex was the launch site for the first world balloon tour in 1999. These days, the snow-dusted area welcomes an array of colorful balloons during the International Hot Air Balloon Festival each January. If you can’t make the winter balloon festival, you can experience the magic on an alpine ride over the Swiss Alps with Ballon Château-d’Oex.
When you drift over the ancient temples and tombs of famous ancient Egyptians, it’s easy to feel like you’re lost in time. Tour operators like Sindbad Balloons will take you around—and above—Luxor in the early morning hours to catch views of the endlessly stretching desert and green banks of the Nile, all before the crowds pour in.
Letchworth, New York
Hot air balloons, rivers, and ravines, anyone? Book a ride with Balloons Over Letchworth and you can glide over lush forests, dip down into gaping gorges, and hover beside impressive waterfalls in “the Grand Canyon of the East”—otherwise known as New York’s Letchworth State Park.
One of the many cool things about Stockholm is that hot air balloons can land right in town instead of 30-45 minutes outside of the city. Joining a tour with Far & Flyg, Sweden’s oldest ballooning company, is a unique and easy way to explore Stockholm and to see its historic and modern mix in a new light.
Sonoran Desert, Arizona
In Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, not only will your balloon rise with the firey desert sun, but its freewheeling path also will bring you deep into the middle of the desert—far deeper than you could reach by car. Many tour operators offer balloon rides into the sweeping southwestern desert, among them Rainbow Ryders, Inc. and Hot Air Expeditions.
Wadi Rum, Jordan
You need more than a day to accurately explore Wadi Rum’s landscapes, but one of the best ways to do so is via a hot air balloon ride. After spending the night at a Bedouin camp under enchanting, star-filled skies, head out (or rather, up) with Royal Aero Sports Club of Jordan. You’ll get a bird’s-eye view of the ever-changing sand dunes and monolithic rock formations that make Wadi Rum one of Jordan’s most treasured places.
The ancient Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacan is stunning from any angle, but for a truly unique perspective, see it from a hot air balloon. Appreciate the UNESCO World Heritage site’s overwhelming scale and well-planned layout from above on a day trip from Mexico City with Bamba Experience. It’s the best way to get far enough away from the crowds to imagine what the site could have looked like over 2,000 years ago.
This beloved region in Italy is even more romantic from above. With Tuscany Ballooning, you’ll glide over miles of rolling plains, hilltop villages, and medieval castles in the Chianti region while working up an appetite for a truly Tuscan breakfast: local bread and olive oil, farm-fresh cheese, and cold cuts.
Park City, Utah
Believe it or not, balloon rides are one of the top reasons to visit Utah’s Park City during off season. (Those same impressive peaks that offer skiers and snowboarders so much fun during winter create an ideal backdrop for a summer ride through the sky.) Local tour operators like Park City Balloon Adventures even pair flights with a champagne toast at the end.
Yarra Valley, Australia
Wine regions and hot air balloon rides go hand in hand, and seeing the Yarra Valley from the sky with Global Ballooning is nothing short of unforgettable. This top wine region in the Land Down Under is just an hour’s drive from Melbourne, where the company offers urban hot air balloon tours as well.
The Namib Desert’s ever-shifting red sands are not easily explored by foot. With tour operators like Namib Sky Balloon Safaris, you can comfortably make your way over the dunes, including the oldest and tallest dune on Earth, as you glide over the grass plains of NamibRand Nature Reserve.
Loire Valley, France
To see multiple châteaux and vineyards all in one day in France, embark on an aerial adventure with AERFUN Balloons. You’ll get a unique view of manicured gardens of the area’s castles and carpets of vineyard dotting the countryside along the Loire River.
4 other must-attend events for hot air balloon lovers:
For those afraid of heights (or not particularly in the mood for an adrenaline rush), these festivals are the perfect places to spot the fun from below.
Every year at the end of July and beginning of August, Indianola hosts the National Balloon Classic. The nine-day event sees more than 100 balloons take flight above the region’s famous cornfields while live concerts play below. Extra-enthusiasts can pay to visit the National Balloon Museum and U.S. Ballooning Hall of Fame, both of which call Indianola home.
Travelers who visit the United Kingdom’s Lake District in early August shouldn’t miss the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta. This weekend festival is the U.K.’s largest annual ballooning event and includes an evening assent as well as a semi-choreographed light show. It’s fun, free, and great for the whole family.
Every August just outside of Montreal, the Montgolfières Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu International Balloon Festival hosts a week-long ballooning celebration complete with night glows, group flights, children’s activities, and performances by local and well-known musical and comedy acts.
Nevada’s most exciting annual ballooning event is the Great Reno Balloon Race, which takes place each September in Rancho San Rafael Regional Park. Originally conceived as a way to keep tourists in town between the Nevada State Fair and the Reno Air Races, today it’s world’s the largest free hot air ballooning event.
This article originally appeared online in July 2016; it was updated on December 12, 2018, to include current information.