30 Spectacular Hot-Air Balloon Destinations
By definition, travel provides new perspectives on the world. And there’s no better perspective than the one you’ll enjoy while soaring thousands of feet above ground in a hot-air balloon.
In destinations across the globe, balloon trips allow you to zoom out, taking in wide swathes of spectacular landscapes. Here, we’ve rounded up the best spots in the world to splurge in this once-in-a-lifetime (or not!) experience.
Hop on the basket, light the fire, and prepare to glide through the air.
Even from the ground, Bagan’s more than 2,000 temples and pagodas are breathtaking. From up in the air, however, you can see all of them at once, while also taking in views of nearby farms and, on clear days, the Mount Popa volcano.
Sunrise rides are particularly recommended, and December to March offer the most optimal weather for flights.
You wouldn’t be the first to think that the chimney-shaped caves in Cappadocia look like they belong in a fairytale. Their unique geology and history have made this Turkish region one of the world’s premier ballooning destinations. Once back on the ground, the fun doesn’t end, as you can actually explore — and even sleep! — in the caves, made into homes thousands of years ago.
Fall and spring are the perfect time to go, as you will avoid the intense heat of summer.
Already a tremendously underrated European capital, Vilnius escapes from the radar of most ballooning enthusiasts. From above, you will get both a view of the city’s gorgeous architecture, and the uniformity of the clay roofs that make up its center. You can then drift to the surrounding countryside for views of forests and lakes.
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
While a safari will do the Serengeti justice, a hot-air balloon takes you to parts of it that are not accessible by land. This also means seeing the wildlife truly at ease. Look out for lions, elephants, gazelles, giraffes, rhinos and more.
Better yet, time your visit to the Great Wildebeest Migration, one of the most amazing natural occurrences humans can witness.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Get away from the uber-luxurious cars and skyscrapers of downtown Dubai and head to the Arabian Desert for a sunrise ride. Take in the peacefulness and quiet nature of this natural wonder before heading back into the city for a more bustling experience. This is the Dubai that most people miss, and one that is just as worthy of seeing.
Yarra Valley, Australia
Merely an hour outside modern Melbourne is one of Australia’s most renowned wine regions. From the air, you’ll see the picturesque vineyards that cover the valley, as well as the river that cuts through it. Once you land, you can celebrate with a glass of fine Australian wine.
With the Mediterranean on one side and the Alps on the other, Provence is surreally beautiful. People who opt for hot-air balloon rides can expect fields as far as the eye can see surrounded by picturesque villages that are seemingly stuck in time. For the most impressive views, time your visit with lavender season.
Queenstown, New Zealand
Queenstown may be a city, but it seems to perfectly coexist with nature. This is what has made it one of the most exciting adventure destinations in the world, and what has gotten it cast in films like “The Lord of the Rings” and “Avatar.” If the other adrenaline-filled activities are too much for you, ride in a balloon to see the city’s verdant landscapes from above.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
This Thai city gives Bangkok a run for its money in terms of activities, natural beauty and culture. Surrounded by mountains and dotted with Buddhist temples, the city and its outskirts provide a unique sight for ballooning enthusiasts. Soar above the forests and take in the contrast between their quiet peacefulness and the bustle of downtown.
Massai Mara, Kenya
One of the most incredible nature reserves in the world, the Massai Mara is teeming with life, including lions, cheetahs, leopards and elephants. There is no better way to get both clear views of wildlife in their natural habitat and front-row seats to the park’s astonishing views than on a hot-air balloon. If you’re lucky and get a particularly clear day, you might even catch a glimpse of Tanzania.
Chateau D'oex, Switzerland
Most balloon festivals and destinations take advantage of spring and fall weather, but not this one. Château D'oex provides the unique experience of ballooning in the winter at its International Hot Air Balloon Festival. What makes this festival so special is that you get to see the landscapes below turned into a snowy wonderland, with properties and trees blanketed in fresh white powder.
If you can’t make the trip in January, no worries: This destination offers balloon adventures year-round.
Wadi Rum, Jordan
This red desert is so otherworldly that it has often been used as the filming location for movies set on other planets, such as “The Martian.” The best way to experience Wadi Rum is by joining an overnight desert tour. This way, you can gaze up at the infinity of the sky at night, then rise towards it as you catch the sunrise on a balloon.
Napa Valley, California
Vineyards are always great places for a hot-air balloon ride, and few wine countries in the world boast the attractiveness of the Napa Valley. Take in seemingly never-ending stretches of vineyards rolling over the hills, then celebrate your ascent with a glass of local wine once you’ve landed back on solid ground.
In this scenic resort town, giant stones covered in vegetation rise above the still waters of the Li River. Complement a river cruise with a hot-air balloon flight, which will give you a new perspective of the mystic landscape. Take in the scenery, replete with rice paddies, water buffalos at work, and quiet rural towns.
Namib Desert, Namibia
The Namib Desert hides within its maze the world’s oldest and tallest sand dunes, colored in a particular red hue. The journey to the dunes by land is arduous and hardly accessible. However, if you take to the air you can more easily explore the desert, as well as the grass plains that lie within it like the promise of a miracle. You might even get to see some of the animals that call the plains home, including several varieties of antelope.
Montagne de Reims, France
The region of Champagne is known for its namesake drink, but is otherwise often overlooked by visitors to France. This is a shame, as a hot-air balloon ride over its landscapes is one of the best things you can do in the country.
Soar over the city of Reims and admire its medieval cathedral before floating over to the more natural landscapes that comprise the vineyards and forests of Montagne de Reims Regional Natural Park.
The former capital of the Aztec empire is one of Mexico’s most important treasures. And while there is truly no bad angle to this UNESCO World Heritage Site, a bird’s-eye-view of the pyramids of the sun and the moon might be the best way to see these architectural wonders. Once on land, don’t forget to also explore the complex on foot to get a closer look at the intricate details of the pyramids.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
This New Mexican capital hosts of one of the largest balloon festivals in the world. The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta celebrates the beginning of October with nine days of balloon-filled activities. The main event sees some 600 balloons take off at the same time in a beautifully coordinated aerial dance.
This is definitely one of those times in which you want to be part of the scene rather than simply a spectator.
Luxor is known for its ancient temples and pyramids. In fact, it is considered one of the best destinations for anyone interested in seeing first-hand the grandeur of the Egyptian Empire. But while you have to explore the temples by foot, this is no reason to deny yourself the opportunity to also see them in a way not even the Pharaohs could.
Atacama Desert, Chile
One of the driest places on earth may not be what comes to mind when thinking of balloon rides, but few experiences compare to seeing this desert’s unique geology from up in the air. Peer down below at towns, volcanoes, salt flats, lagoons and maybe even some wildlife.
Given its remote nature, this destination also gives you ample bragging rights.
Loire Valley, France
Famous for its numerous châteaux and vineyards, the Loire Valley provides truly magical hot-air balloon experiences. The castles look especially impressive when you can take them in all at once, and there is really no better way to appreciate the absolute symmetry of their perfectly manicured gardens.
Letchworth State Park, New York
This overlooked destination in New York state makes for a wonderful escape year-round. However, the fall, when the forest is exploding in reds and yellows, is the perfect time to take to the air. You’ll pass through the gorge and its three waterfalls that perfectly contrast the vibrancy of the colors that surround them.
Black Hills, South Dakota
Black Hills is best known for being the home of Mount Rushmore National Memorial. While the gigantic sculpture of four American presidents is quite a sight from the ground, it’s even more impressive when you get up close and personal to it via a balloon ride. The surrounding landscapes complement man-made wonders with those made by nature.
Perhaps Italy’s most romantic city, Venice is truly a sight to behold. There is always something new to see in Venice, but there are also several ways to see it. Once you have gotten familiar with every bridge and corner of this tiny island, fly above it and catch one of the most unforgettable sunrises or sunsets of your life.
Escape the bustling maze of Marrakesh and join a hot-air balloon ride over the majestic Atlas Mountains. You’ll still get to see the city in the distance, but contrasted brilliantly with the arid lands around it.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Siem Reap is the gateway to Angkor Archaeological Park, the largest religious complex in the world. To say that there is nothing anywhere on earth quite like this series of temples surrounded by jungle is not an overstatement. Catch the sunrise over the most important temple of all: Angkor Wat.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
There are many cities in Colorado that take advantage of the state’s natural beauty and agreeable weather to get people flying high. None of them, however, match Colorado Springs, the proud host of the state’s largest balloon festival: Labor Day Lift Off.
People outside of England don’t usually equate Bristol with ballooning, but the city holds one of Europe’s largest balloon festivals: The Bristol International Balloon Fiesta. Going on 40 years and counting, this proud tradition is well worth carving out time to see. Soaring over the 1.5-mile-long Avon Gorge alongside a plethora of other balloons is particularly awe-inspiring.
Lake Havasu, Arizona
Every January, this Arizona city holds the Annual Havasu Balloon Festival & Fair. Flights go above Havasu State Park, but not before floating over the idyllic city and lake. Be on the lookout for the famous London Bridge, which once stood over the Thames River in London.
Riding above the North Pole seems like a fantasy lifted from a late 19th-century novel, but Quark Expeditions has made it a reality. Of course, everything depends heavily on the weather, but if you’re lucky, you’ll get to see the ice caps and even some exciting wildlife like whales, polar bears and arctic foxes from the air.