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How best to celebrate Bastille Day in France
Photo: AFP

How best to celebrate Bastille Day in France

The Local · 13 Jul 2016, 08:58

Published: 13 Jul 2016 08:58 GMT+02:00
Updated: 13 Jul 2016 08:58 GMT+02:00

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July 14th in France, often called Bastille Day among English speakers, marks the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille fortress in Paris, a key kick-off point for the French Revolution. 

It’s France’s national day and naturally a day off work. So what do people do?

These days in France it’s a big party, with events often kicking off the day before. 

If you’re lucky enough to be in France on July 14th there will be plethora of events and activities around the country to choose from, but here are some of the highlights you won’t want to miss. 

Catch a fireworks show

Photo: AFP

First things first: the fireworks.

There are fireworks shows all over the country on the 14th, but one of the most spectacular displays is in Paris at the Champ de Mars, the gardens stretching between the Eiffel Tower and the Ecole Militaire. 

This year’s fireworks kick off at 11:00pm with the theme of “Paris welcomes the world”. Check out some photos and videos of last year’s stunning show for an idea of what to expect. 

The pyrotechnics will be preceded however by a classical music concert with performances by France’s National Orchestra and the Radio France Choir, starting at 9:15pm. 

Be sure to show up early to snag a good patch of grass.

If you’re not up to braving the crowds at the Champ de Mars, take in the fireworks show from one of the bridges crossing the River Seine— we recommend either the Pont des Arts, Pont de la Concorde, or Pont Alexandre III. 

Otherwise just find some high ground such as the Montparnasse tower, the Sacré Coeur Basilica in Montmartre, or a friend’s rooftop for an optimal view of the show. 

Another fantastic Bastille Day fireworks show takes place in the southern city of Marseille, where you can watch more than 10,000 rockets exploding over the Old Port on the Mediterranean Sea. 

This year’s music-accompanied show is 80s themed, because why not?

Firemen's balls

A Firemen's Ball in Paris on July 13th, 1994. Photo: AFP

After dazzling your eyeballs with some feux d’artifice, why not not dance the night away with some firefighters? 

The traditional Firemen’s Balls are held in Paris and the surrounding suburbs the nights of the 13th and 14th of July, with stations opening their doors to the public from 9pm to 4am.

Some stations might charge admission fees but in most cases there will just be a barrel for public donations, which go toward better working conditions for the staff.

Find the full list and locations of the fire stations around Paris here.

Salute the French armed forces at the Champs Elysées military parade

Photo: AFP

The Bastille Day military parade down the Champs Elysées boulevard in Paris has taken place the morning of nearly every July 14th since 1880. 

At 10:00am at the Arc de Triomphe, drums and trumpets will announce the arrival of President Hollande and other officials followed by around 4,000 soldiers, police, firefighters, and various military academies. 

Don’t forget to look up for the aerial show — planes and helicopters will be putting on their own spectacle in the sky. 

The procession will move from the Arc de Triomphe to Place de la Concorde.  

If you are an Aussie or a Kiwi then you have more reason than most to watch the military parade this year. 

Troops from Australia and New Zealand will be the guests of honour in France's annual Bastille Day parade on Thursday to commemorate their participation in one of World War I's bloodiest battles 100 years ago.

Eight jets from the Patrouille de France aerobatics team will form the shape of the Eiffel Tower to promote Paris's bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is also among the foreign guests, alongside New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.

Horse racing, champagne, and electro music

Who says there’s nothing worth doing in the suburbs of Paris?

The place to be this July 14th just might be southwest of the city centre in Saint Cloud, where horse racing will mingle with electro music. 

The first race starts at 5:20pm, with a DJ mixing between in between each race. 

Then at 9:45pm the race course will transform into a giant dance floor until the wee hours of the morning.  

There are even free shuttles to get you there and back throughout the night, so if there’s ever a time to venture outside the Péripherique, it’s July 14th. 

Check out some of the best moments from last year in the video below.

Reserve your spot and find more information here.

Cinema in the park

What’s better than watching a film outside on a (hopefully) warm summer night with friends and a bottle or two of wine?

Celebrate Bastille Day with the Outdoor Cinema Festival at la Villette in Paris, which runs from July 13th to August 21st. 

On the 13th you can catch the space thriller Gravity, and on the 14th itself they will be showing Mustang, a French-Turkish production that has won an array of awards in France and abroad.

Bring along some friends and a picnic spread and make it a party. 

More info, including the program, can be found here (in French).

Celebrate like royalty at the Chateau de Versailles

Photo: Chateau de Versailles Official Website

Celebrating the French Revolution and the overthrow of the monarchy at the Chateau de Versailles might seem a bit paradoxical, but you’ll certainly feel like a French monarch (pre-guillotine, that is) as you watch the illuminations exploding over the gardens of the famed chateau. 

The show is inspired by the huge displays that were organized by Louis XIV during the construction of the chateau. 

These hour-long shows will take place on both the 14th and 15th at 10pm. More info to be found here

Glamorous beach revelry in Deauville

If fashionable beach parties are your thing, take your Bastille Day celebrations to this upscale resort town in northern France.

After an afternoon concert on the 13th and a firefighter-honoring ceremony the next morning, merrymakers will gather at the Place du Marché at 9:30pm. Lanterns will be distributed before everyone makes their way down to the beach for the fireworks show.

All the festivities will be serenaded by the Isle of Wight brass band. 

Keep it simple à la française

Many French people actually keep their July 14th celebrations relatively low-key, taking advantage of the day off by hanging out with with friends and family in the form of a BBQ or a picnic, perhaps playing a little pétanque. 

If you take this route, the least you can do is get into the revolutionary spirit by belting out the French national anthem.

Only know the first line? Refresh your memory with the lyrics below, plus a handy phonetic guide:

Vive la France!

by Katie Warren


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