July 14th in Paris: How to make the most of Bastille Day celebrations

This year's Bastille Day celebrations on Saturday promise to be even more lively and patriotic than ever given France are playing in the World Cup final the next day. Here's how to make the most of them if you are in Paris.

July 14th in Paris: How to make the most of Bastille Day celebrations
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, which normally means a day off work although unfortunately this year it falls on a Saturday so those of us who work in France will miss out on a day off.

With France playing the World Cup final the next day this year's Bastille Day celebrations promise to be even more fevered and patriotic than ever. The excitement on the streets of towns, cities and villages across the country will be palpable so definitely make the most of it.

If you’re lucky enough to be in Paris on Saturday 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. 

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. Once he has been saluted the air show will get underway in the skies above the city with some 64 planes involved.

It promises to be spectacular. Check out the video below.

The military parade will begin at 10:45 and this year will salute Japan and Singapore. Soldiers from the two countries will join the 4,200 men and women marching down the cobbles of the famous avenue.

Those marching will include troops of firefighters, gendarmes and the Republican guard as well as the special forces who helped out after the disaster left by Hurricane Irma after it destroyed islands in the Caribbean in 2017.

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

If you really want to grab a close up spot to watch the parade you'll have to be prepared to get there early – like 7am. Place Clemenceau is the recommended spot.

Catch the fireworks show

Photo: AFP

There are fireworks shows all over the country  and  the Paris region 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 “romance”, which is appropriate for the so-called City of Love and the theme will be reflected with the colours of “amour”..

The firework show is 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, starting at 9pm. 

Be sure to show up early to snag a good patch of grass. If you can't make it out then you can watch the firework show on television live on France 2.

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. 

And this year the firework show will return to Nice on July 14th for the first time since the Bastille Day terror attack of 2016.

Firemen's balls

Photo: AFP

After being dazzled by some feux d’artifice, why not not dance the night away with some firefighters? 

The tradition of a fireman's ball (bals des pompiers) reportedly dates back to the start of the 20th century as the firemen who took part in the parade were allowed to bring ladies back to the entrance of the station.


Is this what gives French firefighters the incentive to stay in shape?

The traditional Fireman’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.

And don't be surprised if your local pompiers strip semi-naked and cavort around the stage doing impressions of those guys in The Full Monty.

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

Note that this year a huge ball will take place at the Cité des Sciences in the 19th arrondissement where an exhibition titled “fire” is currently taking place.

And for the first time in 40 years there will be a fireman's ball in the town of Versailles to the south west of Paris. Although Versailles won't be having a fireworks show. They were halted due to security concerns.

READ ALSO: Pompiers: Why are French firefighters so smoking hot?

French firefighters: Why are they so smoking hot?

Go to the Louvre or the Pantheon

Yes, you can go to Louvre pretty much anytime but on Saturday July 14th it will be open all day for FREE. And the same goes for the Pantheon in the 5th arrondissement.


Again why would you want to go shopping on July 14th? Well for the simple reason that most people will stay away from the shops thinking they are closed because its a public holiday.

But times have changed and the big stores in Paris like Galeries Lafayette, the Carrousel du Louvre, Bercy Village, the Centre Beaugrenelle, Centre Italie 2, Citadium Caumartin,and BHV Marais will be open. So it might be a good day to spend some money, especially given  the sales are on.





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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.