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28 Incredible Hot Air Balloon Rides Around the World

1. Albuquerque, New Mexico
28 Incredible Hot Air Balloon Rides Around the World
One of our favorite ways to get a perspective on a new place is to see it from above. There’s nothing like gliding along, enjoying the sunrise and perhaps a glass of champagne. But the best hot air balloon rides go beyond just a pretty view. With otherworldly scenery, unexpected locations, or hundreds of other balloons dotting the sky, these are our 28 favorite ballooning spots around the world. Make sure to scroll down for an interactive map of the ballooning experiences, too.

Photo by Edison Vee
By Maggie Fuller, AFAR Staff
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    1. Albuquerque, New Mexico
    1. Albuquerque, New Mexico
    The city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, is famous for two things: throwing Bugs Bunny off track and hot air balloons. Every October the unassuming city hosts the biggest balloon festival and race in the world: the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. The annual event, which has been running for over four decades, features mass ascents of more than 500 balloons, as well as speed competitions and general displays of grandeur over 9 days.

    If you can’t make it in October to watch the balloons take to the skies, not to worry—Albuquerque is also home to the Anderson Abruzzo International Balloon Museum (where you can learn more about the history of ballooning in the area) and plenty of tour operators, like World Balloon, that will help you experience the area like Fiesta pros do. 

    Photo by Edison Vee
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    2. Göreme, Turkey
    2. Göreme, Turkey
    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 of Göreme, Turkey, have made the spot one of the most iconic ballooning destinations in the world. This might be the one experience that is made better with a multitude of tourists: Thanks to operators such as Turkey Hot Air Balloons, Voyager Balloons, and Butterfly Balloons, every morning the skies of Cappadocia are filled with hundreds of whimsical balloons hanging in the dawn. 

    Photo by Ilene Schreider
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    3. Serengeti, Tanzania
    3. Serengeti, Tanzania
    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? Unconfined to the roads, Serengeti Balloon Safari takes the safari experience to new heights by allowing ballooners to get deeper into the park and away from the regular roads to watch animals interact in the most natural and undisturbed way possible.

    Photo by Katherine Nino
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    4. Bagan, Myanmar
    4. Bagan, Myanmar
    If you thought exploring the jungles and vistas of the Bagan Temple Complex in Myanmar was incredible, wait until you see it from the sky. Rise up through the mists with Balloons Over Bagan, which offers regular flights over the temples during the year as well as ballooning tours of Inle Lake

    Besides seeing Bagan from the air, the best time to watch hot air balloons in Myanmar is during the Taunggyi Balloon Festival. During the Tazaungdaing Festival, a national holiday that marks the end of the rainy season in November, the city of Taunggyi releases brightly candle-lit or firework-laden (unmanned and tethered) balloons into the sky. Over the rollicking crowds, the fireworks explode several hundred feet above as a symbolic way of driving away evil spirits.

    Photo by Jon Sheer
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    5. North Pole
    5. North Pole
    Yes, it is actually possible to go for a hot air balloon ride at the North Pole. Quark Expeditions currently offers an Arctic expedition to the North Pole that includes a tethered hot air balloon ride at 90° North. Not only do you get the opportunity to set foot on top of the world, but you then get to continue even higher. Talk about a unique experience! 

    Courtesy of QuarkExpeditions.com by Passenger Alice
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    6. Château d’Oex, Switzerland
    6. Château d’Oex, Switzerland
    A well-known name in the ballooning community, Château d’Oex was the launch site for the first world balloon tour in 1999. These days, every year at the end of January, the snow dusting the Swiss Alps in the area glows with the burners of 100 hot air balloons during the International Hot-Air Balloon Festival. The event is an uncommon one when it comes to hot air balloon festivals because many take place in warmer weather. Even if you can’t make the festival, you can experience the magic yourself with an alpine balloon ride, weaving through those majestic, snow-covered peaks.

    Photo by Eric Andresen/Flickr
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    7. Luxor, Egypt
    7. Luxor, Egypt
    How do you take in one of the world’s largest open-air museums? From the air, of course! Drifting 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 Luxor in the early morning hours before the crowds pour in. From views of the endlessly stretching desert to the green banks of the Nile, this tour gives you a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

    Photo by Ernie R/Flickr
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    8. Ojiya, Japan
    8. Ojiya, Japan
    Japan might not be the first place that comes to mind when you hear the phrase “hot air balloon festival,” but it probably wasn’t the place you expected to find snowsurfing, either. The Ojiya Balloon Festival of White and Lights takes place every year around the end of February, and it’s one of the few hot air balloon festivals that takes place in the snow. You can watch the brightly colored balloons—made even more vibrant by the white backdrop—compete in the balloon tournament in Nishinaka. Or you can go for your own balloon ride over in Hirasawa.

    Photo by Alfonso Calero
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    9. Napa Valley, California
    9. Napa Valley, California
    Sometimes, a winery bike tour through Northern California’s wine country just isn’t enough, and we often prefer to glide over those rolling vineyards. With the welcome addition of local sparkling wine, such operators as Napa Valley Balloons, Inc. and Calistoga Balloons make this ride an extra special treat. 

    Photo by Robert Day
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    10. Wadi Rum
    10. Wadi Rum
    You need more than a day to explore and experience the enchanting sands of Wadi Rum, but one of the best ways to see it is via a hot air balloon ride after spending the night camping under those pitch-black skies. Head out with Royal Aero Sports Club of Jordan to get a bird’s-eye view of those ever-changing rolling sand dunes and monolithic rock formations that make Wadi Rum one of Jordan’s most treasured places.  

    Photo by Jurriaan Persyn/Flickr
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    11. Magalies River Valley, South Africa
    11. Magalies River Valley, South Africa
    Rising with the sun over the Magalies River Valley in a hot air balloon gives you a peek into history. The area, just north west of Johannesburg, is known as the “Cradle of Humankind.” One of eight UNESCO World Heritage sites in South Africa, it is the archaeological site where over a third of early hominid fossils have been discovered. You can see it all—historical spots, wildlife, and nearly untouched scenery—on a balloon safari with AirVentures.

    Photo by Justin Lee
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    12. Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec
    12. Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec
    Just outside of Montreal, the Montgolfières Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu International Balloon Festival is 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. You can even book a hot air balloon flight and join in on the high-flying fun! The festival runs for a week every year in August, so there are plenty of opportunities to get in the spirit of things up in the air.

    Photo by Nicholas Raymond/Freestock
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    13. Park City, Utah
    13. Park City, Utah
    We’re big fans of experiencing ski resorts off season, and Park City, Utah’s balloon rides are one of our favorite reasons. Those same impressive peaks that offer skiers and snowboarders so much fun in season create an ideal backdrop for a summer balloon ride. Tour operators like Park City Balloon Adventures even pair the ride with a glass of champagne at the end. 

    Photo by Tom Kelly/Flickr
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    14. Mendoza, Argentina
    14. Mendoza, Argentina
    Get up-close and personal with the foothills of the Andes and the vineyards of Argentina with a hot air balloon ride over MendozaPulp Travel in the Rio Mendoza area offers unique excursions and will help you pair a balloon flight (complete with mystery destination) with a tour and tasting at local wineries.

    Photo courtesy of Adriana Cargemel
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    15. Sossuvlei, Namibia
    15. Sossuvlei, Namibia
    There’s something irresistible about sighting a rainbow pop of color against the vast expanse of the Sand Sea of Namibia, a UNESCO World Heritage site. With tour operators like Namib Sky Balloon Safaris, you can make your way over the dunes, including the oldest and tallest dune on Earth, as well as spot the mysterious  “fairy circles” as you glide over the grass plains of NamibRand Nature Reserve. You’ll also get to see remote areas where you’ll set down for a champagne breakfast. 

    Photo by Arsyad Siregar
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    16. Letchworth, New York
    16. Letchworth, New York
    Hot air balloons and waterfalls? This place may feel like a dream, but Balloons Over Letchworth is entirely real. Book a ride with it, and you can glide over those lush forests or dip down into the gorges to hover beside some of the area’s impressive waterfalls. Balloons Over Letchworth also holds the “Red, White & Blue Balloon Rally” every year at the end of May, and you can watch as around 30 hot air balloons ascend to float over the gorge-ous landscape of Western New York

    Photo by Rich Engelbrecht/Flickr

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    17. Teotihuacan, Mexico
    17. Teotihuacan, Mexico
    Seeing the ancient Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacan is stunning from any angle, but for a truly unique experience, you have to see it from a hot air balloon. Join the Bamba Experience and from above, you can appreciate the UNESCO World Heritage site’s overwhelming scale and well-planned layout. It’s the best way to get far enough away from the crowds to imagine what it could have looked like over 2,000 years ago. 

    Photo Avelino Zepeda Photography/Flickr
     
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    18. Queechee, Vermont
    18. Queechee, Vermont
    While not as expected or as iconic as Albuquerque or Cappadocia, a balloon ride in Vermont with Balloons Over New England is an idyllic experience. As with all balloon rides, the destination is irrelevant, and it’s gliding quietly over the countryside and picturesque spots like Dewey’s Pond—with nothing but the sounds of nature and the occasional cough of the hot air burner—that makes the whole thing unforgettable. 

    Photo by David Smith
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    19. Yarra Valley, Australia
    19. Yarra Valley, Australia
    Wine regions and hot air balloon rides go hand-in-hand. Maybe it’s because of those dreamy views of rolling vineyards, or maybe it’s because a champagne toast traditionally follows a hot air balloon ride. Whatever the reason, seeing Melbourne, Australia’s closest wine region from the skies is memorable. Not only does Global Ballooning give you the option of flying over wine country or Melbourne, but they’ll treat you like their new best friend. And those Australian sunrises are pretty spectacular, too.
     
    Photo by Justin Tan/Flickr
     
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    20. Tuscany, Italy
    20. Tuscany, Italy

    With Tuscany Ballooning, you’ll glide over miles of rolling plains, hilltop villages, and castles of the Chianti region while working up an appetite for a truly Tuscan breakfast: local bread and olive oil, farm-fresh cheese, and cold cuts. But remember, this is Italy, so no post-flight champagne—it’s all about the prosecco.


    Photo by mind_surfer/flickr

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    21. Stockholm, Sweden
    21. Stockholm, Sweden
    One of the many cool things about Stockholm is that it is a rare city where you can actually land a hot air balloon right in town instead of driving 30-45 minutes outside of the city. Joining a tour with Ballongflyg Upp & Ner AB is a unique and easy way to explore Stockholm and to see its historic and modern mix in a new light.

    Photo by Lola (Akinmade) Åkerström
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    22. Indianola, Iowa
    22. Indianola, Iowa
    True ballooning enthusiasts won’t be able to pass up a ride over Indianola, Iowa. Not only is the city the home of the National Balloon Museum and U.S. Ballooning Hall of Fame, but every year at the end of July or beginning of August, the area hosts the National Balloon Classic. The 9-day event features over 100 balloons of all shapes and sizes taking to the air over miles of the region’s famous cornfields while live concerts play below. You can watch the spectacle or take a hot air balloon ride yourself—there’s also an opportunity to win a ride.

    Photo by Vikki Morain
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    23. Sonoran Desert, Arizona
    23. Sonoran Desert, Arizona
    If seeing a desert sunrise is on your wanderlist, get yourself to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. Not only will your balloon rise with that firey desert sun, but the balloon’s 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 desert, but our favorites include Hot Air Expeditions in Chandler and Phoenix and Rainbow Ryders, Inc. in Paradise Valley. And if you find yourself craving even more desert ballooning, Gilbert hosts a Balloon Classic every December.

    Photo by Katarina Kovacevic
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    24. Lake District, England
    24. Lake District, England
    As you travel through the United Kingdom’s Lake District in early August, you can’t miss the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta. This U.K. weekend festival is the country’s largest annual ballooning event and celebrates Europe’s first modern hot air balloon, which was created in Bristol. The event includes an evening mass assent and a night glow, as well as a semi-choreographed light show. Plus, it’s fun, free, and great for the whole family.

    Photo by Samantha Juda
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    25. Ballonhotel, Austria
    25. Ballonhotel, Austria
    Sure, the Austrian Alps and Salzburg are both fine places for a hot air balloon ride, but the Austrian countryside south of Vienna loves ballooning so much that there is a hotel entirely dedicated to it: the Ballonhotel. With a launch site next to the hotel, there’s no need to get up much earlier than your scheduled flight time. You’ll learn how to help set up the balloon for inflation and help pack it away when you set down among the area’s rolling hills. Newcomers take part in Ballonhotel’s postflight induction ceremony, which includes having a bit of champagne and earth rained down on your head and earning a new, very long, and very silly ballooning name. After all that lofty excitement, get grounded again with a lunch of fresh, local ingredients at the hotel.

    Photo by Paul/Flickr
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    26. Dubai, UAE
    26. Dubai, UAE
    When you lift into the air above the expansive red deserts of Dubai with Balloon Adventures Emirates, you’ll be competing for height with the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa. Then you’ll then drift away from the bustle of that oasis and into the quiet beauty of the desert in a serene and unforgettable experience. Watch out for camels on the way down!

    Photo by Sarah_Ackerman/Flickr
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    27. Reno, Nevada
    27. Reno, Nevada
    Nevada’s most exciting annual ballooning event is the Great Reno Balloon Race held in Rancho San Rafael Regional Park. Originally concieved as a way to keep tourists in town between the Nevada State Fair and the Reno Air Races, today the event is an attraction all its own, and the spectacle of up to 100 colorful balloons rising into the air is worth the early morning wake-up call. If you get inspired, book a flight with Balloon Nevada for a very intimate (up to 3 people) hot air balloon ride that will introduce you to the beauty of Nevada away from the crowds of Reno and Tahoe.  

    Photo by Zoe-Rochelle/Flickr
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    28. Loire Valley, France
    28. Loire Valley, France
    How do you manage to see multiple châteaux and vineyards all in one day in France? Hot air ballooning, of course! During this aerial photographer’s dream, you’ll get a bird’s-eye view of manicured gardens of the area’s castles and carpets of vineyard dotting the countryside along the Loire River. Check out France Montgolfières to see Château of ChenonceauChâteau of Chaumont, and the village of Villandry from the sky. 

    Photo by Aubry Françon/Wikimedia Commons 
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    Courtesy of Blananeaux Lodge