How best to celebrate Bastille Day in France

Fireworks, military parades, firemen's balls - here are some of the best ways to celebrate July 14th in France this year.

How best to celebrate Bastille Day in France
Photo: AFP

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, like US president Donald Trump, 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 theme is “Paris and the Olympics” and they're due to kick off at 11pm. Check out some photos and videos of 2015's stunning show for an idea of what to expect. 

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

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. 

Firemen's balls

Photo: AFP

After being dazzled by 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.

CLICK HERE for the full list and locations of the fire stations around Paris. 

Salute the French armed forces at the Champs Elysées military parade

Soldiers rehearse for the 2017 military parade. Photo: AFP

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

At 10am at the Arc de Triomphe, drums and trumpets will announce the arrival of President Emmanuel Macron and this year's honoured guest US president Donald Trump, who will watch as troops parade down the Champs-Elysees, marking 100 years since America entered World War I on France's side.

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

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

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 the annual garden party will see a mix of racing and DJs in celebration of France's national day. 

The first race starts at 4pm and then from 9.30pm, the race course will transform into a giant dance floor until the early hours.   

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. 

This year, the hour-long shows will take place on July 14th and 15th, beginning at 10pm. 

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 10 pm at the Olympic swimming pool. 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/Evie Burrows-Taylor

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Bastille Day: What will France’s July 14th ‘fête nationale’ look like this year?

While things are getting back to normal in France, many summer festivals and celebrations have been cancelled due to ongoing coronavirus crisis. So what will the traditional Bastille Day celebration look like this year?

Bastille Day: What will France’s July 14th 'fête nationale' look like this year?
The traditional Bastille day fireworks over the Eiffel Tower. Photo: AFP

France’s fête nationale on July 14th will be bit different this year as traditional parades and celebrations including the highly popular bals de pompiers, where French firefighters host parties in their station houses, have been called off.

But this doesn’t mean it will be all gloom, as some celebrations will be maintained – albeit with some new health measures.

Paris Bastille Day fireworks at the Eiffel Tower

The famous Bastille Day fireworks at the Eiffel Tower will be held as usual, but without the regular crowds watching the show from below.

The Prefect of Paris has banned any gatherings starting from 11am on on the Champs-de-Mars stretch of grass below the Tower.

Access around the metro stations Trocadéro and on the Pont d’Iéna will also be restricted starting from 4pm to restrain gatherings around the iconic monument.

The fireworks show is scheduled for 11pm. on July 14th will be visible on TV, but you can also enjoy the show from the Montparnasse Tower, who is selling tickets online to see the fireworks from its panoramic rooftop.  

You can also see the show from cruise boats, such as UNIK which organizes a special menu for July 14th.

Champs de Mars symphony concert

The usual symphony concert hosted by Radio France on the lawn of Champs de Mars will be maintained, but with a virtual audience only.

The live show will air at 9.15pm on the radio France Inter and on France 2 TV.

Paris' traditional airshow

This year the July 14th military parade down the Champs-Elysées will be replaced by a tribute to the medical workers on Place de la Concorde.

The French president's office announced that rather than the traditional march of soldiers and display of military hardware down the Champs-Elysées, this year will see a much smaller ceremony at the Place de la Concorde, where the parade normally ends.

The planned ceremony will be “reduced to 2,000 participants and about 2,500 guests”, in compliance with the rules of social distancing, the Elysée said.

However Bastille Day’s traditional airshow has been confirmed

For a great view of the show, you can head to the rooftop of the Grande Arche of La Défense, the business district in the west of Paris, to see fighter jets and other fighter planes flying over the building before heading to the Champs-Elysées. Doors open at 9am, but you can reserve tickets here.

What about other cities in France?

Many mayors don’t want to risk gatherings of more than 5,000 people, which are banned at least until the end of August.

Some cities will mark the celebration in alternative ways, like in Pau, southwest France, where the town hall will releas lantern lights into the sky.

The best is to check the website of your local City Hall to get the exact details on the celebrations in your area.

In Bordeaux the usual firework display over the Garonne river has been cancelled due to the ban on gatherings over 5,000 people and the authorities not wanting to take any risks.

A military parade will take place “behind closed doors” at Bordeaux's Hotel de Ville.

Macron to speak to the nation

Just in case you were interested in hearing what President Emmanuel Macron had to say, he will address the nation at 1pm on July 14th.