Today is la fête nationale (le quatorze juillet) in France, or Bastille Day as those outside of France know it. This is France’s own national holiday marking the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille which kicked off their revolution in 1789.
While you can find local celebrations with other Francophiles all over the world, there is something so special about being a part of the holiday in France.
Seven years ago, I was in Paris for le 14th juillet and had one of the best weekends of my life. If you find yourself in Paris for the holiday, here are my top 8 ways to celebrate in the City of Light.
- Bals des Pompiers. Different districts within Paris have fire stations that organize dances (or bals) for the community to celebrate the holiday. They are typically free or just a couple of euros, or there is a donation suggested at the door. I attended the one at Caserne Colombier (11 rue du Vieux Colombier) in the 6th arrondissement. My friends and I took the Metro to Saint-Sulpice and then walked over. We were greeted by overflowing Champagne glasses, charming firemen, a DJ pumping up the crowd, dancing, and an electrically convivial atmosphere. The parties are held on the 13th and 14th of July and you bet I went both nights! The two nights were very different that year. It rained the first night so it wasn’t as crowded and it was easier to meet people. And dancing in the rain in Paris was as amazing as I had fantasized! The second night was very crowded (with a very long line to get in) and felt more like a outdoor night club.
- Eiffel Tower Fireworks. The fireworks at the Eiffel Tower are the main evening attraction in Paris. They begin around 11pm and last approximately 30 minutes. There’s an outdoor opera featuring the Orchestre National de France and the Chœur et la Maîtrise de Radio France which commences at 9:30pm. The main area to see the fireworks and listen to the show is the Champ de Mars, which as you can imagine, gets packed! People camp out all day and picnic to get a good seat. If you prefer to get away from the city centre and avoid the crowds, try watching from the Parc de Belleville which has a panoramic viewpoint of the whole city.
- Military Parade on Avenue des Champs-Élysées. If the fireworks are the main event of the evening, this is the big attraction of the daytime on the 14th. The energy is high and you can taste the excitement as the parade rolls by…it is quite impressive. This year, I read that the parade is to begin at 10:30am and end at 11:45am. The sounds of trumpets will announce the arrival of French President Emmanuel Macron.
- The French Revolution Walking Tour. My friend did this tour and said she couldn’t recommend it enough. Not just for history buffs, she said it was the best tour she had been on (and we went on A LOT of tours!). If you’d like more information, click here.
- Picnic on the riverbanks (les quais) of the Seine. Gaze out at the Seine as the boats packed with revellers pass by. Sip your wine and nibble on some cheese as people dance and enjoy themselves around you.
- Paris Plages. The artificial beaches along the Seine that open only for a few months each summer are a welcome respite from city life. You’ll find sand, chairs with umbrellas, water sports, and plenty of places to eat. I used to pull up a chair and lie down to rest my feet after a day of sightseeing (or flâneuring).
- Boat cruise on the Seine. Many boat tours and dinner cruises offer a chance to watch the fireworks as you float down the Seine. The city looks extra spectacular from the river and I imagine very magical with the vibrant fireworks above.
- Louvre. This iconic museum and must-see is open for free on the 14th of July. Take advantage of the free admission to see the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and much, much more. (Please double check this before you go as admission and special offers are always changing.)
Bonus: Versailles Musical Fountain Show. About 30 minutes outside of Paris, Versailles is an apt historical spot to spend the holiday. Tour the palace and then stay to watch the fountain show as it’s a spectacle you don’t want to miss!
Tips: As you can imagine, the 14th of July attracts large crowds so it’s a good idea to plan ahead. Try to schedule your day so you can walk to your destinations. The Metro can be overwhelming with so many people and it can be difficult to get anywhere by car. Arrive early to the events you select. As I mentioned earlier, lines can be very long (the second night of the bals des pompiers that I attended was wrapped around a city block) and the fireworks attract massive crowds.
Whether you’re in France for the holiday or celebrating elsewhere in the world, I’d love to hear how you spent the day!
Bonne Fête Nationale!
Photo Credit: Unless otherwise credited in the caption, photos are by Living Frenchly.