What is Bastille Day & How to Spend Bastille Day in Paris

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The Quatorze Juillet (14th July) is celebrated annually as a celebration of peace and the unification of France. Many people have the day off work, shops are closed and there are celebrations throughout the night… But, what is Bastille day and why do the French celebrate it? And where do you go for Bastille Day in Paris?

What are the origins of Bastille Day?

Known as ‘La Fête Nationale’ (The National Holiday) in French, Bastille Day commemorates the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille. A former prison located at Bastille in central Paris, the Bastille has long since been demolished. But to understand why the French stormed the Bastille, let’s look at events a few months prior…

In the late 1700s, France was ripe for revolution. Previous talks with the King to form a democracy style of rule had failed, and the population of France had decided to take matters into their own hands. France was in the midst of a financial crisis due to a myriad of factors; including all-time high taxes and France’s intervention in the American Civil War.

Flight to Varennes of Louis XVI during the French Revolution

On the trail of Louis XVI and the Flight to Varennes, Oil on Canvas, painted 1854, via Wikipedia

The country was ruled by a monarchy who were out of touch with the ordinary people of France and many were disillusioned by the current system of rule. So, on a warm summer’s evening on the 14th-July 1789, the people of France stormed the Bastille.

Although the prison held just seven prisoners at the time of the storming, the power grab was seen more of a fall of the monarch rather than an actual physical struggle. And so, Bastille Day commemorates the beginning of the French Republic and the end of the last French monarchy.

Within twenty days of the storming of the Bastille, feudalism in France was abolished once and for all and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen were declared. France was well and truly on its way to becoming a republic- Vive la France!

Louis XVI flight to Varennes, Varennes-en-Argonne, France

Where to celebrate Bastille Day in Paris

When it comes to experiencing the best of Bastille Day in Paris, there are a number of options on offer based on what interests you and your personal preferences. And it’s also worth bearing in mind that even if you’re visiting France outside of its capital, there are bound to be ways to celebrate the day wherever you’re staying. Many of the larger French cities have their own military parades and firework displays come evening.

See the Military Parade 

There’s a military parade running the length of the Champs Elysees on Bastille Day. It has been held annually since 1880 and as such is the longest running and oldest military parade of its kind in the world. Smaller military parades are also held in the towns of Toulon and Belfort.

Marvel at the Patrouille de France air display

Similar to the Red Arrows in the UK, the Patrouille de France performs traditional air stunts, leaving behind clouds of red, blue and white. The Patrouille de France, also known as the PAF have been in operation since 1931 and typically open the military parade in Paris with 9 Alpha jets.

Get Free Museum Entry and See Opera Performances

There’s free entry to the Louvre museum (the biggest art collection in France- and the world), as well as to several other cultural hubs dotted throughout the city. There’s also a free opera matinée performance at the Opéra Garnier should you arrive early enough to get yourself some tickets! As is the case with the opera, head to the museums earlier in the day to ensure you actually get tickets. These events are all popular and what limited space there is often fills up quickly.

Best Museums in Paris you should know about: top 10 culture hubs in the city of lights, France

French Bastille Day Vocabulary:

14 July: Quatorze Juillet

Bastille Day: Fête Nationale Française/ Quatorze Juillet

Fireworks: Feu d’Artifice

La Revolution Francaise: The French Revolution

La Prise de la Bastille: The storming of the Bastille

Vive la France: Long live France!

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What is Bastille Day- 14th July French National Holiday. Where to celebrate Bastille Day in Paris, French Vocabulary and a history of the day.

About Author

Sophie Nadeau loves dogs, books, Paris, pizza, and history, though not necessarily in that order. A fan of all things France related, she runs when she's not chasing after the next sunset shot or consuming her weight in sweet food. Currently based in Paris after studies in London, she's spent most of her life living in the beautiful Devonian countryside in South West England!

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