The celebrating of Bastille Day in Paris is one of the French capital’s most hectic and celebratory times of the year. On the 14th July every year, the Fête Nationale, as it is officially known, commemorates the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille fortress in 1789 – an event which is still regarded as the symbolic beginning of the French Revolution and the birthplace of ‘Liberté, Egalité et Fraternité’.
The actual celebrations themselves begin in earnest on July 13th, with open-air dancing in the Bastille Square, the Bal du 14 juillet, a themed dance party. Also, there will be numerous other galas and parties around Paris. Famous amongst these are the Firemen’s Galas, ‘bals des pompiers’– the tradition being that the firemen of each of the Parisian arrondissements open up their fire stations and host fabulous parties. You will be expected to make a small donation at the door but it will be well worth it for an evening of gloriously French kitsch fun and games. Additionally, there is an annual outdoor Gay Ball and various open air picnics and parties.
The 14th July itself is a wonderful combination of military pomp and circumstance and uninhibited partying.
The centre piece of the day’s celebrations is the enormous formal military parade, focussed on the Champs-Elysées. You’ll find that much of the city is fenced off for the procession and many of the Metro stations closed for the day, so getting around Paris won’t be as easy as usual but you should be able to find a map of the route that will enable you to get a decent view of the procession without necessarily having to go to the most packed places. There will be jets swooping along the Champs-Elysées, marching military bands and many representatives of the armed forces, the police force and even those firemen who have managed to survive their parties from the previous evening. If the parade appeals to you, remember to take a bottle of water with you, as it gets very hot and dusty during the day and prices along the route itself are suitably inflated!
After the parade, the serious partying begins in earnest, with most bars, clubs and cafés decorating themselves appropriately and joining in with real Gallic gusto. The parties don’t stay confined to the interiors, though; this is street partying at its most energetic and fluid – in both meanings of the word.
At around about 10.30 in the evening, the enormous firework displays will begin. Spectacularly lighting up the Eiffel Tower, the main display, centered around the Champs de Mars, is best enjoyed by finding somewhere perhaps in Montmartre or Belleville, where you are a little above the city streets – or perhaps be a little extravagant and get into one of the various vessels on the Seine.
And, of course, after the fireworks, the parties continue right through until the next morning, when you can have a Parisian breakfast on your way back to your hotel for a few hours well-deserved sleep.
Bastille Day, although obviously similar in spirit to Independence Day in the USA, or Canada and Australia Days, is very much a French tradition with its own unique flavour. As well as Francophiles from around the world, many Parisians like to come home at this time to enjoy the special atmosphere with their family and friends. Hotel rooms, therefore, do get booked up well in advance. There are some terrific camp sites in the Paris region, though. For instance, the one at the Bois de Boulogne, just 3 kilometres from the city centre, has excellent facilities and is quite reasonably priced, even in July, and there are several other top-class sites for you to consider – all with good transport links into the city.