Celebrate Bastille Day in Paris

Join us as we celebrate La fête nationale—France’s national holiday—with fireworks, parades, and music!

July 14 is an exciting time to be in Paris.  Bastille Day festivities start the night before and culminate with a spectacular firework show at the Eiffel Tower. This year’s theme is “Paris welcomes the world” (Paris accueille le monde).

Henry Singleton's "The Storming of the Bastille" (1766-1839).

Henry Singleton’s “The Storming of the Bastille” (1766-1839).

France’s national holiday—known to English-speakers as Bastille Day—is called la fête nationale by locals or, more popularly, le quatorze juillet. On this date in 1789, French revolutionaries stormed the Bastille prison and attacked a dreaded symbol of the absolute monarchy. They liberated a handful of prisoners and seized the royal arsenal. This momentous event was soon followed by the signing of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, which formed the basis of France’s First Republic in 1792.

Le quatorze juillet first became a holiday a century after the fact, when the National Assembly selected July 14 for its official national holiday, in 1880. Tricolor flags, fireworks, the Marseillaise (national anthem), and military parades became the hallmarks of this colorful patriotic festival.

Why did it take almost 100 years to commemorate Bastille Day? In the century following 1789, the French political scene was a revolving door of emperors, kings, and short-lived republics. Only after 1871 would France definitively declare itself a Republic, and the fledgling government looked back to July 14, 1789 as its seminal moment. A Republican government needed a Republican holiday, and voilà, le quatorze juillet was born!

The "Bal des Pompiers" or Firman's Ball.

The “Bal des Pompiers” or Fireman’s Ball.

Today, festivities get underway the evening before, on July 13, with the unique French tradition of the firemen’s charity balls, or bals des pompiers. Select fire stations across Paris welcome visitors from 9 pm to 4 am. If you’re in town, don’t miss this unique opportunity to mix and mingle with local heroes at these all-night dance parties! The cost of entry is on a donation basis, and everyone is invited. Find your closest participating station here.

On the morning of July 14 starting at 10am, the Champs-Elysées is the scene of another memorable French tradition, a spectacular military parade.  Stake out your spot on either side of the Champs-Elysées, and you’ll see tanks, soldiers and François Hollande’s presidential convoy glide by as you wave your tricolor.  Keep an eye out for the red-white-and blue fly-over by the French Air Force.

The military parade on the Champs Élysées.

The military parade on the Champs Élysées.

The crowning event is the 35-minute fireworks show at the Eiffel Tower on the evening of July 14th. Seeing the tower lit up is truly a sight to behold, and well worth the crowds. We recommend a late picnic dinner on the Champ de Mars lawn or the Place de Trocadéro on the opposite side of the Eiffel Tower. The show starts with a free concert at the Champs de Mars at 9:15 pm, but get your place early! Fireworks start at 11 pm. Another option is to reserve a dinner cruise and be dazzled as you sail along the Seine in style.

Bonne fête nationale à tous!