Events

What to do on Bastille Day in Paris

by Diana Liu

Summer in Paris is all about music festivals and drinks out on terraces, but it’s also about celebrating Bastille Day, one of the most important dates in French history.

A crowd of people brandishing French flags gather in Paris for Bastille Day (left). A poster for a firemen's ball in Paris for July 14th (right).
Dorian Hurst Unsplash / Bal des Pompiers with DJ Oleg

What is Bastille Day?

Known simply as le 14 juillet (July 14th) by the French, Bastille Day commemorates the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789. What began as an angry mob of anti-monarchists looking for ammunition against royal authoritarianism turned into an enduring symbol of the French Revolution and today’s national celebration of the French tripartite motto liberté, égalité et fraternité.

A poster for a Bal des Pompiers on Bastille Day (left). A painting depicting a scene of the French Revolution (right).
Paris Tourist Office / Wikicommons

So how do you celebrate Bastille Day in Paris? While the festivities tend to be of a more jovial affair today, an annual military parade still takes place on the Champs Elysées. However, if that’s isn’t quite synonymous with your idea of fun, then here are some of our favorite Bastille Day staples.

Watch the Dazzling Bastille Day Fireworks

Other than camping out all day on the Champ de Mars, there are quite a few places from which to admire the best of France’s pyrotechnical wizardry. For a low-key evening, a late-afternoon picnic along the River Seine with a view of the Eiffel Tower (near Pont des Arts, Pont de la Concorde or Pont Alexandre III) will do the trick – just stay until the show begins at 11pm.

The bar with Eiffel Tower views on the Mademoiselle Mouche barge (left). The bar with a flower tree (right).
Mademoiselle Mouche floating bar on the River Seine

You can also grab a drink on a boat on the water like Mademoiselle Mouche, a verdant rooftop bar on a bateau mouche river cruise boat. For a luxury experience, book a dinner on the rooftop of Hôtel Marignan or La Maison Blanche close to the Champs-Elysées. Whatever you choose, the key is booking early and getting there before everyone else. Happy Bastille Day!

Dance the Night Away With a Firefighter

Believe it not, yes, partying with fire-fighters at their fire stations into the early hours is a Bastille Day tradition in France. Les bals populaires (literally ‘local balls’) bring together people of all ages and backgrounds for a light-hearted jaunt and is one those annual events high up on the social calendar.

Two women dancing at a firemen's ball for Bastille Day (left). A poster for a Bal des Pompiers (right).
Bal des Pompiers Flickr Franck Torralba / Bal des Pompiers Palaiseau

Each fire station has its own ritual and style of ball. The most popular are in the Marais, Saint Michel and La Sorbonne area, but make sure to get there early as there can be queues, especially for the more popular balls like in the Marais (starts at 7pm till 4am – see the full list). If you don’t make it to a bal des pompiers, then numerous venues across the city organize their own version of a bal, like the Monnaie de Paris on the River Seine, to more low-key venues like the Hasard Ludique and MOB Hotel on the outskirts of the city.

Go Boating on the Canal in La Villette

Canal de l’Ourcq is the more laid-back counterpart to Paris’ Canal Saint Martin, and Bastille Day is the perfect moment to check out its L’Eté du Canal festival as it’s a bank holiday in France.

The Canal de la Villette and people in row boats (left). Parisians relaxing at Paris Plage on the Canal de l'Ourcq in summer (right).
Canal de la Vilette boating / Paris Plage on the canal, Paris Tourist Office

Activities include boat rides, themed cruises, concerts, dance classes, performances, urban art and more. Make sure to duck into the docked houseboats – you never know whether you’ll stumble upon a jazz concert, an art exhibition, or a spot you’ll want to hunker down to some sunset cocktails.

Written by Diana Liu for HiP Paris. Looking to travel? Check out Haven In for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, France or Italy. Looking to rent long-term or buy in France or Italy? Ask us! We can connect you to our trusted providers for amazing service and rates.

Written By

Diana Liu

Diana Liu is a Paris-based writer and photographer who is currently completing her Master in media and creative industries at Sciences Po. She co-founded ChopChicks in Paris, a blog and community dining experience that brings people together to discover the wealth of Asian restaurants and Asian culture in Paris. She's written about food, fashion, art & culture, and French politics for Inspirelle, ChopChicks, Wheretoget Magazine, and other publications. See more of her photography on her Instagram @sheandhercat, and discover Paris' best Asian restaurants and join her for dinner at ChopChicks in Paris. View Diana Liu's Website

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