Bastille Day: a commemoration of the storming of the Bastille prison; a celebration of the first république; and, like many French festivals, fêtes and holidays, a real pain in the derrière if you’re out of the loop. Of course, Parisians make it look so effortless: a parade here, a picnic alfresco there—all while dropping by the Fête des Loges in the Tuileries, catching the fireworks and then casually strolling into a bal des pompiers (firemen’s ball). To ensure that you don’t miss out on any of the fun, we’ve concocted the perfect last-minute checklist for your Bastille Day (Sunday, July 14) sans stress.
A military parade down the Champs Elysées, brimming with pomp and complete with a presidential speech by the Arc de Triomphe, sets the ball rolling. Lay off the snooze button, as the festivities start promptly at 10 a.m. Remember to check the RATP website before heading over, as metro stops close to help police control the crowds.
If the weather plays along, a picnic is essential. Forgot to do your grocery shopping? Don’t panic! A selection of supermarkets stays open, even on this jour férié. Refer to the Monoprix website for stores open on Bastille Day. If you’re lucky enough to have a G20 in your quartier, it will likely be open as well. There’s also a website to find an open boulangerie (see link below).
As with the other French festivals, fêtes and holidays, all of Paris will be out picnicking, so it’s best to stay away from the big buttes around town, as everyone flocks to these hilltops to watch the fireworks. In the past, I’ve found that smaller parks, such as the Arènes de Lutèce (in the 5th Arrondissement) or the Square Louvois in the (in the 2nd Arrondissement), are bearable, even for those weary of the throngs. Regarding fireworks, don’t forget that in Paris, the sun doesn’t even think about going down until around 10:30 p.m.–10:45 p.m.
Prefer not to get your Sunday clothes dirty? Consider reserving a table at rooftop restaurants such as le Georges in the Pompidou or even les Ombres or l’Hôtel Concorde-Lafayette if you’re feeling fancy and have planned ahead. Le Saut du Loup by the Louvre also provides a wonderful ground-level view of the Eiffel Tower.
What girl doesn’t l-o-v-e the Parisian firemen? Party with the pompiers at the annual balls held to celebrate Bastille Day across the city. These vary in many respects: some require purchasing tickets in advance, while others readily let late-night drop-ins join the merrymaking. A handful of the barracks (i.e., rue Saint-Séverin) reputedly throw exceptionally wild balls, while others, such as Saint-Sulpice, keep the festivities calm and classy, so make sure you choose accordingly.
If for whatever reason the firemen don’t strike your fancy, how about an all-night soirée featuring Kavinsky (among others) at the Grand Palais? If you don’t already have tickets, take a peek on leboncoin.fr and Facebook for last-minute offers. The Déjeuneur en Blanc, an all-white picnic at Versailles, provides a chic and extramural alternative. If you’re out and about with the kids, consider checking out the Fête des Loges, a minifair by the Tuileries.
Last but not least, if you’d rather avoid the awkward thumb twirling every time an inebriated group breaks out into “la Marseillaise,“ why not finally memorize the thing (at least the first verse and the refrain)? After all, you’ll have many opportunities to practice throughout the day.
Of all the French festivals, fêtes and holidays in Paris, Bastille Day is one of the most enjoyable, so don’t let stressing about the details ruin your day!
Find an open boulangerie
Tickets to the show at the Grand Palais
Info about the firemen’s balls and locations
Video with lyrics to “la Marseillaise”
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