All about the 14th of July – France National Day (known as Bastille Day in English) and the main events in Paris (2023 update).
Bastille Day vs 14th of July
Bastille Day is a term invented by the Anglo-Saxons to define the French National Day. ‘Bastille Day,’ however, means nothing in France. If you ask your friends in France what they are 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 Day is called La Fête Nationale, Le 14 Juillet (14th of July) or le Pont du 14 Juillet, if it means a long weekend in France.
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, the 14th of July 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 are visiting France during the French National Day and 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
In France, the use of the French Flag is not the same as in the US or the UK. 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 14th of July – National Day of France 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 on the 14th of July: ‘The Republic adopts July 14 as the annual national holiday’, so you can choose 😉
What to Do on the 14th of July in Paris, 2023?
GOOD TO KNOW: During French National Day, there’s high security in Paris, so you may find some streets or metro exits closed by the police, especially around Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. Leave really early so you can arrive at your destination on time!
1. Firemen Ball on 13th July
The French National Holiday celebrations usually start with the Bal des Pompiers (Firemen’s Ball) on the evening of the 13th of July (from 9 pm to 4 am). These balls are organized in a dozen or so 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! The money collected during this evening is used to improve the condition of the staff.
2. Le Défilé (Bastille Day Parade)
The Défilé (or military parade) along the Champs Elysées is what tourists call the ‘Bastille Day Parade’. The Défilé is the main official event during the French National Day, a traditional parade that 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 will occur ‘under normal conditions’, 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. At the end of the parade, several activities are offered to locals and visitors on the Esplanade des Invalides and in other places of the capital.
The Défilé is a very popular event, so if you want to watch it from the Champs Elysées, try to arrive around 8 am to find a good spot.
Watch the replay of the Défílé (2021)
3. Concert – Eiffel Tower Fireworks 2023
The Eiffel Tower Fireworks are the main event of French National Day, on 14 July. 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, the topic is “Liberté” (freedom).
Before the fireworks, there’s a concert with the participation of numerous artists. The Orchestre National de France, the Choeur, and La Maîtrise de Radio France are offering a completely free and particularly original concert as an introduction to the big fireworks display on July 14. This concert starts at 9 pm.
The most popular place to see the Eiffel Tower 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 a couple of hours before the start of the concert, and they stay there until the fireworks.
Arrive at Champs de Mars well in advance! Come at least 45 minutes in advance for the security check at the entrance points. For security reasons, some metro stations will be closed from 7 pm:
- Line 6 : Kléber, Boissière, Passy, Trocadéro, Bir-Hakeim, Dupleix, La Motte-Picquet Grenelle, Cambronne, Sèvres-Lecourbe
- Line 8 : La Tour-Maubourg, École Militaire, Invalides, La Motte-Picquet Grenelle
- Line 9 : Trocadéro, Alma-Marceau, Iéna, Rue de la Pompe
- Line 10 : Javel – André Citroën, La Motte-Picquet Grenelle, Église d’Auteuil, Avenue Émile Zola, Boulogne Pont de Saint-Cloud, Boulogne Jean Jaurès, Chardon Lagache, Charles Michels, Michel-Ange Auteuil, Michel-Ange Molitor, Mirabeau, Porte d’Auteuil, Ségur
- Line 13 : Invalides, Saint-François-Xavier, Varenne
- RER C : Pont de l’Alma, Champ-de-Mars – Tour Eiffel, Avenue du Président Kennedy – Maison de Radio France, Javel, Invalides
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:
- Book at one of the hotels with Eiffel Tower views
- Many rooftop bars in Paris also come with Eiffel Tower views
- Place du Trocadéro (just in front of the Eiffel Tower, but on the other side of the river)
- The Park of Belleville, in Paris 20, has excellent views over the Eiffel Tower
- The Seine River banks
- Montparnasse Tower: soirée 14 Juillet + champagne cup for 60€ per person
Watch the replay of the Bastille Day fireworks (2022)
4. Special Seine River Dinner Cruise
A dinner cruise through the Seine River is an excellent opportunity to admire the Eiffel Tower fireworks from another perspective and without the crowds. Many Seine River Cruises offer a dining option, but the National Day Dinner Cruises are more festive (live music band included) and scheduled around the fireworks.
This Bastille Day Dinner Cruise starts at 9:15 pm and comes with a 3-course gastronomic meal and champagne. Please beware that the reviews below the description do not correspond to this specific cruise.
5. Self-Guided French Revolution Tour
Learn about Paris during the French Revolution at your own pace with this self-guided French Revolution walking tour. This free walking tour visits some interesting French Revolution historical sites like Place de la Concorde, the Conciergerie, and the few remains of the Bastille prison.
6. Visit Versailles
Why not spend 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:
Due to the preparation works for the concert and fireworks, going up to the Eiffel Tower on the 14th of July is not possible. The Eiffel Tower will re-open its doors on the 15th of July.
For bars and restaurants, stay central in the touristy neighborhoods in Paris. After all, it’s a holiday. Establishments in lesser-visited districts of Paris tend to be closed on the 14th of July.