Bastille Day in Paris
On July 14th every year, France celebrates Bastille Day, also called French National Day. When I realized that we were going to be in Paris for Bastille Day, I got really excited! This day is basically the French equivalent of the U.S. 4th of July - a day of French patriotism and pride that commemorates the start of the French Revolution with the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789.
Leading up to the storming of the Bastille, there was mounting tension between the people of Paris and the royalty, and the people were afraid that the royal army was going to attack them. So on the 14th of July, they stormed the Bastille fortress in order to get their own ammunition and gunpowder. That event started the French Revolution, which eventually overthrew the monarchy and is credited with furthering the idea of republics and democracy throughout the world.
Champs-Elysees Military Parade
Bastille Day celebrations in Paris begin with the oldest military parade in Europe. It takes place on the Champs-Elysees, which is lined with French flags, and the French president is present, along with other foreign guests. This year the president of Mexico was also at the parade, as France and Mexico are currently improving their relations, and the Eiffel Tower was even lit up with the colors of the Mexican flag later in the day. There is also a military flyover, with planes flying over the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysees.
Head To The Eiffel Tower
After the parade, crowds start staking out their spots for the evening's spectacular fireworks, which are shot off from the Eiffel Tower. We arrived at the park at the base of the Tower around 3 pm, and there were already significant crowds of people spread out with blankets. We found a good place to settle in (quick tip - there's a fountain in between the two large sections of grass, and if you set up your tripod at the back fence behind the fountain, you will get fantastic footage!) and had a delightful picnic while the French National Orchestra rehearsed for their concert that night, on a stage set up right in front of the Tower.
Le Concert De Paris
At 9 PM, they started the live telecast from the Eiffel Tower, interviewing French celebrities and getting sweeping shots of the excited crowd. Then the orchestra came out for the real concert, and they played a beautiful mix of songs, including Gershwin's "Rhapsody In Blue", "Mambo" from West Side Story, and a Puccini opera piece, for which several famous opera singers joined the orchestra. It was a great experience just to hear such a concert for free, especially in front of the Eiffel Tower.
Best Fireworks Ever
Then at 11 PM the fireworks started, and they were simply breathtaking. It was the most spectacular show I've ever seen…the fireworks were set to music, and each song had a different theme. There was a French song about loving Paris, and all the fireworks were red, white, and blue. Then there were several different songs that celebrated the different ethnic cultures in Paris, such as African and Indian. One of my favorites was a graceful set of purple fireworks set to Adele’s “Skyfall”; it was the most perfect combination of lyrics and pyrotechnics. At the end of the show (35 spellbound minutes later), the Eiffel Tower flashed its sparkling white lights while the grand finale of fireworks exploded and the crowd cheered.
It was an incredible experience to be part of the crowd for Bastille Day. Our girls were mesmerized by the fireworks show, including our 7-month-old Talia, and it was a special moment to be part of the French culture’s celebration.
Tips for enjoying Bastille Day in Paris:
- Arrive early to get a great spot for the fireworks… I would recommend between 2 and 5 PM. Have a blanket or two to stake out your spot
- Bring plenty of snacks, tons of water, and cash to buy more food from vendors.
- Take your children for one last potty break around 7 PM and then have diapers ready for any child who could possibly still use one… it is nearly impossible to find a path through the sea of people and blankets, and you will be thankful to be able to just stay in your spot
- Sunscreen and umbrellas for the afternoon… if it’s a beautiful sunny day, the open park will be very warm and bright until pretty late in the evening (the sun doesn’t set until 10!)
- Bring plenty of bubbles, dolls, books, card games, and small outdoor toys to entertain children (and yourself :))
And one more thing to note is that police start securing the area in the evening (maybe around 6 PM), and they perform bag searches and won’t let you bring in bottle caps. You can have bottled drinks, but you’ll have to leave the caps, so it’s best to stock up on water earlier in the day so you’re not trying to carry an armload of open water bottles back to your blanket. The police are very friendly though!
Celebrate Your Life
One of the best ways to experience a foreign place is to participate in their cultural celebrations, and I don’t think there could be many that top the opulent spectacle of Bastille Day in Paris. What’s your favorite foreign celebration that you’ve experienced? Let me know in the comments!
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