From the Buddhist temples on the Bagan Plains in Myanmar, to the pyramids at Teotihuacan just outside of Mexico City. From the ruins of Pharaonic Egypt on the West Bank of Luxor to the historical landmarks of 20th century Berlin. These are not only amongst the most popular and sought after tourist destinations around the world, they are also places that can be experienced from above. Here are ten breath taking ancient and historical places that can be seen on a hot air balloon ride.
A hot air balloon gently drifts along, above the rising early morning mists in a rural town in Germany.
Have you ever watched, with your feet firmly on the ground, mesmerised as a hot air balloon floated by above? Then imagine what it is like to be up there. Gently drifting along.
There is something quite magical lifting off just as the sun is coming up over the horizon. As you get carried away by the wind, the sounds from below are muted, as if far, far away. Dogs barking and car engines revving amongst the many other sounds, are intermittently drowned out by the roar of the gas burner just above your head. But you really are fixated on the view, wherever and whatever it is.
The red brick Htilominlo Temple, at three stories tall it has a height of 46 m.
Although my first hot air balloon ride was not one of choice, I was not really in a position to decline. Anyway, I did want to try it at least once. So it was probably best I was given a gentle nudge. Also, I was with a good group of people – some of whom felt much like I did. To be candid, I suffer acrophobia. Climbing Lion Rock at Sigiriya in Sri Lanka was tough for me. What kept me going was knowing there was some great archaeology at the top, and some exquisite frescoes on the way up.
Usually my acrophobia is so strong I my feet tingle when looking at someone standing too close to the edge of a building in a film! Truthfully, I my feet did tingle, especially when I looked down. But riding along in that basket just felt so natural. Floating above the ravines of Terra celle Gravine in Puglia (not that far from Matera, see below) was one of the most memorable experiences I have had.
This list of hot air balloon rides over some of our most amazing archaeological and historical sites is then my hot air balloon ride bucket list. Being able to look down upon these ancient places, ignoring those tingles, is to have yet another perspective on the past. For me this is what archaeology travel is all about: finding different perspectives on the world’s pasts.
1. Bagan Plains, Myanmar
Bagan’s Dhammayangyi Temple at dawn.
Before and/or After Your Bagan Temple Balloon Ride: having been mesmerised by the sun rising over the temples and pagodas on the Bagan Plains, you could immerse yourself further. Take an All-Day Guided Tour of the Temples With an e-Bike. Lunch in a local restaurant is included. Of course there is no need to do it on the same day. And there are many other Activities in Bagan you can choose from.
2. Paestum, Italy
Two of the three Greek temples at Paestum.
Before and/or After your Hot Air Balloon Ride Over Paestum: most people visit Paestum as a day trip from Naples (by train). But there are some very good hotels in Paestum next to the large archaeological park. So an overnight stay for an early morning or late afternoon balloon ride is a great idea. It is possible to come to Paestum for an afternoon balloon flight and return to Naples, or other nearby town, in the same day. Whatever, having come this far you will certainly want to visit the Archaeological Park of Paestum, and the museum over the road. There is a Two-Hour Tour of Paestum, with an archaeologist that includes all the necessary entrance fees.
3. Teotihuacan, Mexico
Looking on to two of the largest temples at Teotihuacan from a hot air balloon: the Temple of the Sun in the foreground and the Temple of the Moon in the distance.
Before and/or After your Teotihuacan Hot Air Balloon Ride: once you have seen Teotihuacan from above, you will surely want to experience those temples walking along the Avenue of the Dead. As Teotihuacan is a few hours drive from Mexico city, it is probably best to do a tour of the site on the same day as your balloon ride. The balloon ride recommended here allows you to add a transfer to the archaeological site. You can either see the site with or without a guide. Without a guide you will need to purchase an Entrance Ticket. Or take a Guided Tour of Teotihuacan that includes admission to the site and transport back to Mexico City (the above recommendation included transfer from Mexico City to Teotihuacan).
4. Segovia, Spain
One of the best preserved Roman aqueducts as viewed from above, still a dominant structure today.
5. Cappadocia, Turkey
The soft rock of the Fairy Chimneys in Cappadocia have been cut for domestic and religious use.
Before and/or After your Cappadocia Hot Air Balloon Ride: there are many sites to see in Cappadocia, from cave houses and rock cut churches to monasteries and natural fairy chimneys. See something of everything on an all inclusive Small Group Full-Day Tour of Cappadocia. Or take in the local night life in Göreme, with a Dinner and Folk Show at a Cave Restaurant.
6. Matera, Italy
The Sassi of Matera above a ravine with caves that have been occupied since prehistory.
Before and/or After Your Matera Balloon Ride: having visited Matera three times, I readily vouch for the charm and fascination of this amazing rock cut settlement. Wondering around the town is a must. There are many restaurants to choose from. But I also highly recommend a guided tour, most guided tours are two hours – and appropriately so. Take a Private Tour of Matera at a range of times to suit you, or consider a Private Tour By Night. There are a number of very good hotels in Matera, and Bari is the most convenient airport, in which case you will need a Transfer from Bari Airport to Matera.
7. Luxor West Bank, Egypt
The vast or mortuary temple complex of Pharaoh Ramesses II just at the edge of the arable land beside the Nile River.
The stark contrast between the desert sands on the left and the narrow strip of arable land alongside the Nile River to the right could is so clear from above. Here you see hot air balloons riding above the Ramasseum.
Before and/or After Your Luxor West Bank Balloon Ride: if you have some time in Luxor, there really is so much you can visit on both the east and west banks. First, if you intend to visit a number of archaeological sites over a period of a few days, you should certainly consider Buying a Luxor Pass. If you have a few days in Luxor and want to see as much as you can, get a professional guide. They are not as expensive as you might think. Have a look at this Two-Day West and East Bank with Lunch and Felucca Ride to start with. If you only have a day in Luxor, make the most of your time with a Guided Tour of the East and West Bank. With this tour, you can choose a shared tour, or a private tour, a tour of just the west bank sites or both west bank and east bank sites.
8. Chenonceau, France
Château de Chenonceau, the second most visited castle in France.
You might think that a boat trip is a better way to see this extraordinary castle spanning the Cher River. There are indeed a few outfitters that hire out kayaks and small boats. The water is very calm making a boat trip a very enjoyable experience. From a hot air balloon you get to appreciate another dimension of this second most visited castle in France. That is the physical extent of the estate. Seeing the formal gardens and forest with its maze is just as spectacular from above as it is on the ground.
These balloon rides can be done, subject to good weather, from April to October. You have the choice of early morning or end of day departures. Like most, the balloon ride lasts an hour, but three hours is required from your pick up point to the launch site, and then returning from the landing site. During the ride you will be accompanied by a knowledgeable guide, who will point out the many not so obvious features of the UNESCO World Heritage area.
Before and/or After Your Loire Valley Balloon Ride: Chenonceau Castle is open to the public, Buy Your Entry Tickets Online. As are a number of other nearby castles, about an hour and a half away is Château Azay-le-Rideau (Entry Tickets) and only 20 minutes away is Clos Lucé Castle, where Leonardo Da Vinci lived (Entry Tickets).
9. Assisi, Italy
A panorama of Assisi from below. The buildings to the left are the Basilica of St. Francis and the Franciscan monastery. Imagine what the town looks like from above.
Before and/or After Your Hot Air Balloon Ride Over Assisi: take a guided tour of the town including the Basilica of St. Francis, you can take a Three-Hour Guided Tour of Assisi or a Full Day Guided Tour. As you are in a region well known for its gastronomy, do consider a Food, Wine and Extra Virgin Olive Oil Tasting. Here you visit a winery just to the east of Assisi. Need to get from Rome to Assisi, book your Fiumicino or Ciampino Airport Transfer.
10. Berlin, Germany
The Welt-Balloon docked until favourable conditions allow it to ‘fly’ again.
Berlin’s Welt-Balloon deserves a place on this list even though it is a very different experience to the other hot air balloon rides mentioned above. Known as a ‘captive balloon’ because it attached to the ground by steel cable. Once filled with fireproof helium the balloon ascends only 150 metres, with a maximum of 30 people in the steel cage suspended below the balloon. Even though the balloon is heavily controlled, the weather does effect the operation of this attraction. Otherwise, subject to weather, this attractions is open throughout the year.
At 150 metres above the streets of Berlin, at a point on what was the Berlin wall, you can still get a feel for the geography of some of the historical landmarks for which Berlin is well known. You get to see the iconic Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, and the Potsdamer Platz skyline. If the history of the Berlin Wall interests you, walk the length before going up in the balloon. Get a feel for its course. Then, from above, retrace your steps keeping in mind some of the historic photographs you have surely seen that show the extent of the wall.
Before or after your balloon ride above historic Berlin: take a ride in one of East Germany’s iconic cars, the Trabant. Book tickets for a 75 Minute Drive in a Trabi Through Berlin with Trabi World, which is right next to entrance to the Welt-Balloon. There much more to do within walking distance of this spot, such as Check Point Charlie and the Topography of Terror. For more ideas, see our Little Big List of Things to Do in Berlin.