There's much to see and do on and around La Fête Nationale, aka Bastille Day, July 14th. This is a rundown of just some of the best options, including the dance parties, parade, and fireworks show, as well as some logistical tips on using public transportation, when you can legally drink alcohol on the Champ de Mars, and what shops and museums are open.
Most of these events (except where noted) are free and open to the general public. Be aware that with large crowds come pickpockets! Only carry what you absolutely need and have a bit of cash hidden in your shoe in case you need emergency taxi fare!
Les Bals des Pompiers aka The Firemen's Ball:
July 13th & 14th
The traditional Bals des Pompiers take place in fire stations (or casernes), all over France. They are modeled after the guinguettes, informal outdoor festivals with food and live music, a bit like a countryside wedding reception where family members of all ages would spend the afternoon eating, drinking and dancing. The Bals des Pompiers in Paris fire stations are for entertainment and for charity. There's always a small entrance fee, food and drinks to purchase, and the firemen also sell tombola (raffle) tickets, all proceeds going to charities. By midnight most of the younger children have gone to bed and the party becomes more of a dance club with a DJ, young people (and firemen) dancing well into the wee hours (note that the metro will be open until 2:15am on July 13th and 14th).
These are open to everyone, space permitting. Here is a short list of the major ones in Paris (translated from the Que Faire Paris site):
- Paris Center (near the Louvre): Caserne Rousseau, 21 rue du Jour, 1st,
M° Louvre-Rivoli or Les Halles
- Paris Marais (near Place des Vosges): Caserne Sévigné, 7 rue de Sévigné, 4th, M° St Paul
- Latin Quarter (Near Place Monge): Caserne des Arènes de Lutèce, 47 rue Monge, 5th, M° Monge (ONLY July 13th)
- Rive Gauche (near St Sulpice): Caserne Colombier, 11 rue du Vieux Colombier, 6th, M° St Sulpice
- West Paris (near Eiffel Tower): Caserne Grenelle, 6 place Violet, 15th, M° Commerce or Emile Zola
- Paris 9th (near Trinité): Caserne Blanche, 28 rue Blanche, 9th, M° Trinité (ONLY July 13th)
- Canal St Martin: Caserne Landon, 188 quai de Valmy, 10th, M° Jaurès (ONLY July 13th)
- Montmartre (near the cemetery): Caserne Montmartre, 12 rue Carpeaux, 18th, M° Guy Moquet (ONLY July 13th)
- East Paris: Caserne Chaligny, 26 rue de Chaligny, 12th, M° Reuilly-Diderot
- Port Royal (near Observatoire): Caserne Port Royal, 55 blvd Port Royal, 13th, RER Port Royal
- East Paris (near Père Lachaise): Caserne Ménilmontant, 47 rue Saint-Fargeau, 20th, M° Porte des Lilas (ONLY July 13th)
Défilé Militaire aka Bastille Day Parade: July 14th
One of the big events of Bastille Day is the military parade on the Champs-Elysées. The theme for 2015 is "Ordre de la Libération" to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Paris. The Champs-Elysées and all of the streets around it will be closed to traffic starting at 7am. Troops will start arriving from 9am. Then from 9:30am until 10:30am there is a succession of "inspection off the troops" by the officers and the French president Hollande, the placement of the Republican Guard, and then finally the "parade" begins at 10:40am with an Air Force flyover (you can see this from almost anywhere in Paris with a view of the sky). Then there is a succession of troops parading between the Place de la Concorde and Place de l'Etoile (Arc de Triomphe), a helicopter show, parachutes, and horseback troops. The guest country of honor this year is Mexico, so you will also see Mexican military troops in the processions. The president makes his exit at 11:55am ending the ceremony.
What you should know:
- Expect huge crowds. They will start gathering at 8am, and be impassable by 10am.
- Expect that you won't be able to see over anyone's head (some people bring stools to stand on).
- If you get there early enough you may get a seat in the upper level of one of the cafés or restaurants along the Champs-Elysées (they all have window seats overlooking the street, no idea if these will fill up fast or be closed until the parade is over).
- Many of the metro stations on and around the Champs-Elysées will be closed for security reasons from 8am-noon: Tuileries and Concorde will be closed completely; Champs-Elysées Clemenceau, Franklin D. Roosevelt, George V and CDG-Etoile will have only one entrance open. These will be mobbed, so avoid if you can.
- The Vélib' stations were closed last year on and around the Champs-Elysées (for drop-off or pickup). No news yet for this year, but don't expect there to be any access this year (or use your Vélib' app to check before you leave home).
- The Avenue des Champs-Elysées will be pedestrian-only until 6pm.
Concert & Feu d'Artifice aka Fireworks Show:
Parisians and visitors will be picnicking all day on the Champ de Mars at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, not just because it's a fun place to picnic, but also because they're staking out their spot for the July 14th music concert at 9:15pm and fireworks show at 11pm. If you decide to join them, here are some tips:
- Alcohol is not allowed on the Champ de Mars after 3pm (so get your drinking done early).
- The very few public toilets in the area will be inundated, and nearby cafés won't tolerate non-paying visitors using the facilities, so have some cash handy to buy a drink if you need the bathroom, and have a Plan B in case of emergency (the Berges de Seine will have public restrooms).
- The classical music concert starts at 9:15pm featuring the Orchestre National de France and the Choir of Radio France playing popular show tunes and movie soundtracks with the theme "Bienvenue à Paris". It always ends with the French national song, La Marseillaise.
- The fireworks start at 11pm (when it's finally dark enough!) They last 35 minutes, and will have the theme, Paris Welcomes the World. The show will be broadcast live on the site Quefaire.paris.fr.
- The metro stations Dupleix, Passy, and Ecole Militaire will be closed from 7pm. The stations Iéna and Trocadéro will be closed from 9pm. Station La Motte-Piquet-Grenelle will be closed from 23pm. Other stations may be closed if a secutiry risk is determined. In general other stations will be open until 2:15am. They will ALL be very crowded, so if you can manage, try to walk instead of taking the metro (don't even think a taxi or Uber is an option).
- The Vélib' stations around the Champ de Mars will all be closed (no pickup or drop-off).
- You can see the fireworks anywhere in Paris that you can se the top of the Eiffel Tower (you might not hear the music though). Bridges and the banks of the Seine and Trocadéro are popular spots where you can watch. A friend with a balcony is better (or anywhere with bathroom access!)
Other Entertainment on Bastille Day (July 13th and/or 14th)
- Longchamp Garden Party (at the Hippodrome de Longchamp, Bois de Boulogne)
- Bal Populaire on July 13th in the North Marais in the square of the Mairie du 3ème (2 Rue Eugène Spuller) from 8:30pm, free.
- Bal Pop' du Monde at Bercy Village (on the 14th July, live World Music dance party with flamenco and tarantelle lessons from 6:30pm)
- Bal Populaire at Le Point Ephémère (200 quai Valmy, Canal St Martin, from 7pm).
- Grand Bal Populaire on July 13th at the Butte aux Cailles (Place de la Commune de Paris, 13th) from 7:30pm, free entry.
- Place de la Bastille? Normally there is a Grand Bal here, but I haven't been able to find any legitimate information for this year so I don't think it's scheduled.
- Know of any other parties in your neighborhood? Let us know!
What's Open on Bastille Day, July 14th?
Food & Dining: In general, more things are open than in past years. The open-air markets are open as usual (although some stands may be absent), most supermarkets and convenience stores are either open all day or just for the morning, and the majority of restaurants and cafés are open as usual (but do call to make a reservation before crossing town). Basically, you're not at risk of starvation!
Shopping: The soldes (summer sales) are still going strong, and shops aren't about to miss out on a day when no one has to work. So many larger shops will be open, including:
Parks & Pools: Some municipal services will be closed like libraries and town halls (mairies), but the parks are all open, and a few public pools will be open as well: the Piscine Pontoise in the 5th, Roger Le Gall in the 12th, Josephine Baker in the 13th, Aspirant Dunand in the 14th, Aquaboulevard and Keller in the 15th, Champerret in the 17th, Pailleron and George Hermant in the 19th, and Georges Vallerey in the 20th.
Paris and Nearby Museums and Monuments Open on Bastille Day:
- Musée du quai Branly
- Musée d'Orsay
- Musée Jacquemart-André
- Musée Rodin
- Musées des Arts Décoratifs
- Cité nationale de l’histoire de l’immigration
- Egouts de Paris (Sewers)
- Musée de l'Erotisme
- Musée Grévin (Wax Museum)
- Musée du Luxembourg
- Musée Marmottan Monet
- Pinacothèque (only 2-6:30pm)
- Musée Picasso
- Institut du Monde Arabe
- Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace
- Musée des Arts Forains (Carnival Arts Museum)
- Tours Notre Dame (Towers and Church)
- Arc de Triomphe (only afternoon)
- Tour Montparnasse
- Sainte Chapelle
- Château de Vincennes (the upper floors of the keep/tower are closed)
- Parc Zoologique de Paris (Vincennes zoo)
- Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte
- Versailles Château (it will be exceptionally busy, not recommended)
- La Fête des Tuileries (the carnival fair in the Tuileries Gardens)
- Le Jardin d'Acclimatation (in the Bois de Boulogne)
The RATP and SNCF will be running as usual, although as mentioned above there will be certain station closures around the Champs-Elysées and the Eiffel Tower on the 14th. The RATP (metro) will be running until 2:15am on both the 13th and 14th. Vélib' stations may be locked down around the Eiffel Tower and the Champs-Elysées. Taxis will be very difficult to get (Uber as well) because of large crowds and road closures, all which can change without notice. Pack an extra pair of comfy walking shoes in your backpack!