If you’re lucky enough to be in Paris on the 14th of July, you can experience one of the biggest national holidays in France! From parades to parties, fireworks to concerts, here’s your guide on how to celebrate Bastille Day in Paris this year.
What does Bastille Day commemorate?
Bastille day, known as Le Quatorze Juillet or La Fête Nationale in French, marks the anniversary of a major turning point in the French Revolution. On 14th July 1789, approximately one thousand revolutionaries attacked the Bastille, a medieval fortress located in the centre of Paris that held political prisoners, which had become a symbol of the oppression of the French people by royal authority. As the revolutionaries attacked, many of the soldiers in the Bastille changed sides and joined the people, and eventually the military leader of the Bastille, Governor de Launay, surrendered the fortress and the revolutionaries took control.
This event, now known as the Storming of the Bastille, gave hope to the French people and inspired them to rise up against the nobles who had ruled France for so long. It engendered a series of events that eventually led to the demise of the French monarchy, the culmination of which was the beheading of King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette in September 1779.
The Bastille was torn down by the revolutionaries following their victory. Today, a square called Place de la Bastille covers the area where the fortress used to stand, with the Colonne de Juillet (the July Column) standing at the centre of the square, which commemorates the Second Revolution in France.
Over 200 years later, the 14th of July is celebrated all around France every year. However, there’s no better place to be than in the city of its origins – Paris! Here’s a guide on all the traditional celebrations you can join in on in Paris.
Military parade on the Champs-Élysées
The national holiday opens with the arrival of the French President at the top of France’s most renowned avenue, the Champs-Élysées, where the military parade commences from the Arc de Triomphe down the avenue towards Place de la Concorde, heralded by trumpets and drums.
10.10am: Arrival of French President
10.30am: Start of parade
11.45am: End of parade
12pm: Departure of French President
Grand concert of operatic works at the Eiffel Tower
At the foot of the Eiffel Tower, the Orchestre National de France and the Chœur et la Maîtrise de Radio France will be performing a number of classical pieces around this year’s Bastille Day theme, ‘The Federations’. The programme includes pieces from Vivaldi, Tchaikovski, Beethoven and Berliox among many others, and is completely free to enjoy.
The concert will start at the Eiffel Tower at 9:30pm.
Fireworks display on the Champs de Mars
Gather at the Champs de Mars for a spectacular fireworks display in front of the Eiffel Tower. Expect to see a dazzling display of choreographed multi-coloured fireworks sparkling before a backdrop of the Eiffel Tower in the Parisian night sky.
The spectacle commences at 11pm for a duration of 30 minutes.
On both the 13th and 14th of July, fire stations in every district of Paris open up to the public to host traditional balls, known as Bals des Pompiers in France. The Paris Fire Brigade dates back to 1793, just four short years after the Storming of the Bastille. Following a devastating fire that burned for 23 hour in the city, Napoleon decreed the Paris Fire Brigade to be a military unit of the French Army devoted to the safety of Paris in 1810. To honour their service, you can enjoy a night of dancing and drinking with Parisians all over the city, where many of the dances go on until 4am!
This year, the Bals des Pompiers will take place on Saturday 13th July and most of them will begin at 9pm. Many of them are free, but some may ask for a small contribution.
Click here to find your nearest Bal des Pompiers – look under the subheading Paris 75 for the addresses for every ball happening in the centre of Paris.