July 14 is an important day in Paris. Every year the city celebrates La Fete National, or Bastille Day, the day the French Revolution began in 1789 with the storming of the medieval fortress Bastille Prison.
The prison stood where Place de la Bastille is now and was used largely to house prisoners critical of the King and his government. To an increasingly hungry and dissatisfied French population it became symbolic of the unfairness of the system and storming it seemed a powerful way to make their voices finally be heard, even if, to their surprise, only seven prisoners were inside. The remains of the prison were demolished over the next few years but the site continued to be the focus of pro-democracy protests during coming decades as France fought to overthrow their monarchy, and finally become a democracy in 1849.
These days democratic France celebrates Bastille Day as their national day. There are fireworks and celebrations across the city, and in the Place de la Bastille itself there is always a costumed dance party on the evening of July 13, called Bal du 14 Juillet.
In the morning of July 14 there is a huge military parade down the Champs Elysees including the President of France and military planes flying overhead. It starts near Arc de Triomphe and heads down to Place de la Concorde. Get there a few hours early to get a spot and avoid the main strip of the Champs Elysees as the official seating takes up that space.
The Paris Fire Brigade finish the parade and it is tradition that fire stations open their doors to the public on July 14 – probably in reference to the fact that the original idea of storming the Bastille in 1789 came from a wish to steal the gunpowder stored there.
Also, it’s worth checking out the big state museums on Bastille Day as many open for free.
An impressive fireworks display centers on the Eiffel Tower at around 10.30pm.
Learn more with a Bastille district tour of Paris!