Hot air balloon festival events are held annually around the world—from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Napa Valley in California to Belgium and New Zealand. One of the top balloon fairs for both Americans and international fairgoers is the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, which is held every year in October. This is a nine-day event that draws participants and spectators from around the world to watch mass ascensions of hundreds of brightly colored balloons take to the sky simultaneously. Other competitions and hot air balloon events are also held over the course of the festival.
The Albuquerque Balloon Festival is without a doubt the most popular and famous of the hot air balloon events in the United States, and one of the world's most recognizable festivals as well. It is also a top opportunity to showcase the culture, art, landscapes, and history of the region. Balloon spectators often take tours and excursions to the art and cultural mecca of Santa Fe and into the surrounding deserts and canyons, perhaps to inspirational Chaco Canyon.
Many of the world's top balloon fairs do the same thing to promote other attractions in the area. The Festival Internationals de Ballons is a hot air balloon festival held each January in Chateau-d'Oex, Switzerland, featuring daytime flights and parachute drops and balloon formations in the evenings over a weeklong period. The town is set high in the Swiss Alps between the jet set ski resort of Gstaad and the picturesque village of Gruyeres. People come to this region in the winter to ski on some of the finest slopes in the world and to hike amid the incomparable scenery during the rest of the year. The town's unusual microclimate is perfect for hot air ballooning, and passenger rides are available year round. The town's hot air balloon festival was begun in 1979 to provide a forum for balloon enthusiasts and as a means of drawing the ski crowds from the more popular area around Gstaad.
The greatest number of hot air balloon events will be found in the United States (there is scarcely a single state that doesn't have at least one) and Europe, although there are a number held in locations like the Philippines, New Zealand (Lift Off Levin), and Australia. The Canberra Festival Balloon Spectacular immediately follows Enlighten, a weeklong series of concerts by international artists and light shows played out against the backdrop of the capital city's finest buildings and monuments.
The top balloon fairs in the United States will probably depend on who you talk to, as each state and their residents are quite apt to partial to their own. Several of these are excellent, and if you happen to be traveling in the region during that time, stopping for a couple of the events is sure to be worthwhile. Check out the Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival in Foley, Alabama during June. From here, you're just a short drive away from the beaches of Pensacola, Florida or the great blues music scene and wonderful restaurants of Mobile.