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All about the French National Holiday (known as Bastille Day in English) and the main events to celebrate the 14th July in Paris 2021.
Bastille Day vs 14th of July
Bastille Day is a term invented by the Anglo Saxons to define the French National Day which means nothing in France. If you ask your friends in France what are they doing on Bastille Day, they will look at you with big questioning eyes: ‘C’est quoi le Bastille Day?!‘. Same, wishing a ‘Happy Bastille Day!’, has no sense in France.
In France, the French National Holiday is called La Fête Nationale, Le 14 Juilllet (14th of July) or le Pont du 14 Juillet, if it means a long weekend in France (not in 2021, though).
For the average French, the 14th of July is not a big celebration like Christmas, Easter, or Independence Day in the US but of course, July 14th National Day is a day off for us. For some, Le 14 Juillet means the beginning of the summer holidays while for others (me included) is a good opportunity to explore other places in France on a long weekend getaway while waiting for the summer holidays.
So if you expect to see us with berets, striped shirts, and French flags singing the Marseillaise everywhere, we are sorry to disappoint you!
The French Flag
The use of the French Flag is not the same as the American or British one. On the 14th of July, you won’t see French flags in our gardens or balconies. We won’t be buying objects with the colors of the French flag either.
We, the French, have big respect for our flag but we don’t overuse it. You will see the French Flag in all the official places and also on sports events to support our national team but you will never see it on our t-shirts, caps, or decoration objects.
Also, some people see putting out too many French flags as a sign of ‘extreme right’.
What Does the French National Day Commemorate?
The short answer is that it is not clear. The French National Day was instituted by the Raspail Law of 6 July 1880. There are two important events in the history of France that took place on a 14th of July:
14 July 1789 | Storming of the Bastille prison, the symbol of the end of absolute monarchy.
14 July 1790 | The Fête de la Fédération, the symbol of the union of the French Nation.
The Raspail Law (single article) does not mention which event is commemorated: ‘The Republic adopts July 14 as the annual national holiday’, so you can choose 😉
1. Firemen Ball on 13th of July
this event is canceled this year
The French National Holiday celebrations usually start with the Bal des Pompiers (Firemen’s Ball) on the 13th of July. These balls are organized in the fire stations in Paris and animated by the firemen themselves. There’s usually an entrance fee, and the drinks inside are paid apart, but it’s a good opportunity to see hot French firemen and, who knows, dance with them!
2. Bastille Day Parade (Le Défilé)
The défilé (or military parade) along the Champs Elysées is the main official event during the French National Day. The traditional military parade honors the French military regiments. It is also a good opportunity to see the French President as he walks down the Champs Elysées.
The military parade is confirmed for this year 2021 (the Health Pass is compulsory) and it will start at 10 am. For two hours, spectators will have the opportunity to see 4,300 soldiers on foot, 71 planes, 25 helicopters, 221 vehicles, and 200 Republican Guard horses. The event will end with a choir of 120 committed young people while several activities will take place at the Esplanade des Invalides, not far from the Champs Elysées.
Watch the replay of the Défílé (2021)
3. Bastille Day Fireworks
The Bastille Day Fireworks are the main event of the French National Day. The firework display takes place around the Eiffel Tower after dusk (11 pm) and it is always spectacular. The 30-minute show always turns around a specific topic. This year 2021, the subject is ‘Liberty.’
The most popular place to see the Bastille Day Fireworks is on Champ de Mars, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. Needless to say, it is also the most crowded, and getting a free spot of grass is pretty tough. Some people arrive at Champ de Mars for a picnic lunch and they stay there until the fireworks.
Thanks to the Eiffel Tower’s monumental size, it is possible to have great views of the Eiffel Tower and the fireworks from different places in Paris so there are many alternatives to the long waiting on the grass at Champ de Mars:
Watch the replay of the Bastille Day fireworks (2020)
4. Special Seine River Dinner Cruise
A dinner cruise through the Seine River is an excellent opportunity to admire the firework show from another perspective and without the crowds. There are many Seine River Cruises offering a dining option but the Bastille Day Dinner Cruises are more festive (live music band included) and scheduled around the fireworks.
This Bastille Day Dinner Cruise, proposed by Bateaux Parisiens, starts at 8.30 pm and every year gets excellent reviews.
5. Self-Guided French Revolution Tour
Learn about Paris during the French Revolution by visiting some interesting French Revolution historical sites at your own pace with this self-guided French Revolution walking tour. This tour includes iconic places like Place de la Concorde, the Conciergerie, or the few remains of the Bastille prison.
6. Visit Versailles
Why not spending the French National Day outside Paris? Admire the impressive Palace of Versailles, home to King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette during those troubled times. With all that opulent interiors, it is easy to understand why the French weren’t happy with their king!
On the 14th of July, you will also have the opportunity to enjoy the Grandes Eaux Musicales – the special show in the Versailles Gardens, with music and all the fountains of Versailles running – and the Grandes Eaux Nocturnes, the spectacular firework display in Versailles at night. Check out this quick Versailles Guide for planning your trip to Versailles.
7. Monuments & Museums Open on Bastille Day
So you were ready for a full day of sightseeing in Paris and you just realize that the 14th of July is a public holiday in France? Sure, you will have to review your schedule but nothing is lost as there are many monuments and museums open on Bastille day. These are our favorites:
- Arc de Triomphe (but closed in the morning during the défilé)
- Sacré Coeur of Montmartre
- Louvre Museum
- Montparnasse Tower
- Musée de l’Armée – Les Invalides
- Château de Vincennes
- Sainte Chapelle
- Catacombs of Paris
- Musée Marmottan-Monet
- Orsay Museum
- Rodin Museum
- Picasso Museum
- Opéra Garnier
- Musée Carnavalet
Due to painting works, climbing up to the Eiffel Tower on July 14th National Day won’t be possible. The Eiffel Tower will re-open its doors on the 16th of July 2021.
For bars and restaurants, stay central in the touristy neighborhoods in Paris. Establishments in lesser-visited districts of Paris tend to be closed on the 14th of July.