On the 14th of July, France celebrates its largest national holiday. Known to the English speaking west as Bastille Day, the French call this holiday La Fete Nationale (The national Festival) or simply La Quatorze Juillet (The 14th of July). It marks the day in 1789 when revolutionaries stormed the Bastille, a prison and a symbol of the monarchy. The country comes together in a festive display of community and culture with military parades, fireworks, free attractions, street parties, and concerts. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in Paris around Bastille Day, here are some suggestions on how to make the most of this exciting public holiday. Paris is also one of over 100 countries where you can use Vodafone’s $5 Roaming, so you can use your Vodafone plan for $5 extra a day during your stay.
Learn about the history
To fully appreciate the significance of Bastille Day, put on some comfortable walking shoes and take a historical walking tour around the city. Tour guides can take you around many of the significant sites of the French Revolution which will help paint a vivid picture for you. A couple of major sites to see include the Place de la Concorde (where King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and over 1000 other aristocrats were executed during the revolution) and the remains of the Bastille itself.
Attend the firefighter’s ball
Though it might seem like an unusual tradition to foreigners, fire stations throughout Paris are open to party goers on the night of the 13th for a big party known as the Bal de Pompiers or the firefighter’s ball. Do a bit of research in advance so you know which barracks are participating. There is often a small donation or entry fee but all the profits go into improving conditions for firefighters and their working environments.
Watch the Parade
On the morning of the 14th, make your way to Champs Elysees to watch the military parade. It’s the largest regular military parade in all of Europe with fighter pilots flying over sky, leaving a smoke trail in the sky in the colours of the French flag. Around 8,800 soldiers take part in the parade, hundreds of horses and vehicles, and dozens of planes and helicopters.
Have a Picnic on the Champ de Mars
Later that night, enjoy classical music concerts and a stunning fireworks display around the Champ de Mars, which is a massive public greenspace on the southern side of the Eiffel tower. In 1790, the first festival celebration in honour of the fall of the Bastille was held at the Champ de Mars. The tradition remains, and every year since then the park is a central point for the celebrations of Bastille Day. Many Parisians will spend the whole day having a picnic at the Champ de Mars to guarantee a good spot for the evening celebrations before the throngs of people from the Parade come to watch.
Take advantage of free attractions
One of the added bonuses of Bastille Day is that many museums and attractions around Paris are free to enter. For example, you could check out The Louvre and see The Mona Lisa, The Venus De Milo, or (extremely relevant for Bastille Day) Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People. Another free attraction is the Panthéon, which was once a church dedicated to the patron saint of France but after the French Revolution became a mausoleum of Parisian heroes like Victor Hugo and Voltaire.
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