Bastille Day

July 14, 2016

Bastille Day, or as it is known in France La Fête Nationale, is one of the most important events in the French calendar. Taking place each year on July 14th, it sees fireworks, street parties, the continent’s largest military parade and much much more all across the country. But many people in the UK won’t have experienced the French national celebration for themselves, so for those unfamiliar with La Fête Nationale, here is everything that you need to know…

A Historic Celebration

Bastille Day marks the anniversary of the storming of La Bastille, an imposing fortress and prison in Paris which was seen by many as being a focal point of royal authority.

On the afternoon of 14 July 1789 Paris was in a state of alarm as the Bourgeois Militia of Paris had stormed the famous Hôtel des Invalides. The militia marched upon the Bastille and fighting broke out with French military forces led by Governor De Launay. Eventually, the building was successfully captured, and this was seen as being one of the most significant events in the French revolution.

Since then the storming of the Bastille has been commemorated and celebrated in many different ways and on different dates, but since 1880 14 July has been an annual yearly holiday.

A grisly end…

After the Bastille was successfully taken over, Governor De Launay was killed and his head carried through the streets on a pike!

Did you know?

While the Bastille prison was seen as a major symbol of royal power, it was actually barely functional as a prison and only held 7 prisoners at the time of the battle. Among them were 3 counterfeiters who were quickly recaptured and a mentally unstable Irish nobleman with a waist-length beard who proclaimed himself Julius Caesar!

The Modern Celebration

These days, Bastille Day is marked with a number of spectacular events, in line with the original philosophy that it should be “celebrated with all the brilliance that the local resources allow”. Most of the most famous celebrations take place in Paris, but every city in France will host events, from block parties and feasts to concerts and festivals.

The Military Parade

Marching along the capital’s famous Champs Elysées, from the Arc de Triomphe, this military parade is the largest in the whole of Europe and has taken place on the morning of 14 July since 1880, almost without exception. The parade is made up of 7,000 soldiers, 5,000 of which are on foot, 300 vehicles, 240 horses and more than 80 planes and helicopters. It really is a sight to behold. In 2015, the parade included 3 separate anti-terror squads to remember the service of soldiers who helped secure the city after the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

Eiffel Tower Fireworks Display

One of the must-see shows of La Fête Nationale, marvel as the Eiffel Tower and the surrounding Trocadero Gardens are lit up in technicolour. The official display only lasts around half an hour, although we’re sure you won’t have to look too hard for more DIY, ad-hoc displays around the city!

After all, what better way is there to toast the revolution than with fireworks?

Bals de Pompiers (The Firemen’s Balls)

A more modern tradition, starting in 1937, are the firemen’s balls. On the evening of 14 July, fire stations all over France open their doors to the public to help host fundraising dance parties. The money collected goes to help pay for the upkeep and maintenance of fire stations all across France.

Outside of Paris

Paris may be the capital, and the centre of the French celebrations, but there are festivities all over the country, so it’s easy to find something to help you have a memorable Bastille Day.


Marseille gave its name to the French national anthem, so it makes sense that it would take La Fête Nationale seriously, and that’s just what it does. The celebrations stretch on for 2 days, including fireworks at the Vieux Port (which you can watch from nearby islands for an even more spectacular view. Other than the fireworks, you can find a folk parade, a ball, music, dancing and more.


Carcassone’s beautiful medieval castle is the setting for a firework display to remember. Whether you watch it from the nearby motorway, one of the city’s bridges or a restaurant with a view serving up a special 14 July menu, it’s sure to dazzle and entertain.


This glamorous beach resort is a popular holiday destinations for Parisians in the summer, but hosts its own special events for La Fête Nationale which are among the best in the country. On 13 July there is an afternoon concert, followed by a ceremony for firefighters the next morning. On the evening of 14 July, revellers flock to Place du Marche, pick up a lantern each and are entertained by an extra special firework display and beach party.

Outside of France

While Bastille Day is a strictly French holiday, there are other cities which host celebrations for the day, mainly with French markets or in association with the French embassy. European cities which also celebrate on 14 July include Prague, Budapest, Dublin, Cork, Edinburgh and London, as well as a memorial in Liege to celebrate its resistance in the First World War’s Battle of Liege.

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