July 14th is La Fête Nationale for France, an important national holiday. In English we refer to it as Bastille Day because it commemorates the storming of the Bastille (and thus the beginning of the French Revolution). If you're lucky enough to be in Paris for this holiday, you have many great options to celebrate some liberté, égalité, and fraternité!
Here's how to join in the celebrations and make the most of being in Paris on Bastille Day:
I'm just going to go ahead and start with my most favorite way to spend Bastille Day. I just can't hold back the excitement of one of my favorite days to spend in Paris (though Fête de la Musique is a pretty magical day too).
Here's what I do. First, I pack a big picnic, bring some blankets or beach towels, and gather friends for an afternoon on the Champs de Mars. I've learned that the lawn gets quite crowded to the point where you can't see any grass at all as the time for the fireworks show approaches. So I arrive in the afternoon to stake out a good spot in the center of the lawn, eat and be merry with friends, and watch the crowds grow.
As the sun sets, it's time for a free concert. This year, the concert and fireworks show revolve around the theme "War and Peace" to remember the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI in 1914. At 9:30pm at the base of the Eiffel Tower, the National Orchestra of France and the Choir of Paris will give a performance. No need to worry about being able to hear it - there are speakers set up to project the sound for all the enjoy.
The music stops, and excitement builds in the crowd. Soon the fireworks will begin (starting at 11:00pm this year), truly the most spectacular fireworks show I have ever seen. Watching the display with the Eiffel Tower in the foreground...it just doesn't get more romantic than that!
The show every year is a whole production, set to music and all, and lasts for about 35 minutes. This year the show will portray the history of the two World Wars followed by the reconciliation and peace that came at last afterwards.
The last little piece of advice I'll give about the fireworks is about transportation afterwards. The Metro will still be running, but make sure you have metro tickets beforehand. If you could only imagine the mass exodus of crowds descending into the Metro, you might very well consider trying to walk a good ways to your destination before attempting public transportation. But if you have to stand in line to buy a ticket first, you're done for! (Trust me though, the show warrants the crowds so don't be discouraged.)
The fireworks spectacle is not to be missed if you are lucky enough to be in Paris for Le quatorze juillet. But there are additional activities to take part in as well, of course.
Every year the firemen of France host what is known as les bals des pompiers (the firemen's balls). Firehouses throughout Paris will be throwing big parties on the evenings of July 13th and 14th as a fundraiser. Some balls charge an entry fee and others are by donation only. You can expect to find lots of Parisian firemen, bottles of champagne, live music and/or DJ's, drinking, and dancing at these parties. Join in the fun and support the firemen!
Night owls prefer the balls but early birds flock to the parade on the morning of July 14th. It wouldn't be the La Fête Nationale without a grand parade down the Champs-Élysées! Watch and take part of a tradition that has made this parade the oldest and largest regular military parade in Europe.
Bleachers are set up along this grand avenue for spectators to watch the military parade. Get there early to scope out a seat and celebrate the La Fête Nationale. And look up at 10:35am for the military fly-by overhead!
Lastly, if you want to take advantage of the festivities without slowing down your sightseeing pace, head over to the Louvre. There is no admission to the museum in honor of the holiday on July 14th!
How are you going to celebrate Bastille Day this year? Have you ever celebrated the holiday in a past year?
Bastille Day Recap of Events:
Military parade down the Avenue des Champs-Elysées on the morning of July 14th. See the schedule of events (subject to change) at en.parisinfo.com. The opening event starts at 10:20am.
Free concert on the Champs de Mars, July 14th at 9:30pm. See the program here on quefaire.paris.fr (link in French).
Fireworks show, launched from the Bassins du Trocadéro on July 14th at 11:00pm (lasts about 35 minutes).
Firemen's Balls, evenings of July 13th and 14th from 9:00pm-4:00am. Some charge admission, others are by donation. See a list of fire stations hosting parties at en.parisinfo.com.