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Bastille Day 2021: What to See & Do in Paris

Bastille day parade

La Fête Nationale is usually one of the biggest holidays in France, but despite the easing of Covid restrictions since June 9th and the return of the military parade on the Champs-Elysées, a few events such as the Bal des Pompiers still won’t be taking place again this year.

The Parade is Back! (with restrictions)

France’s Bastille Day Parade on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées — with its fighter jet flyover, procession of tanks, and soldiers marching proudly in their dress uniforms from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde — is returning this year. The two-hour procession begins at 10am with President Emanuel Macron starting at the Arc de Triomphe, leading 4,300 soldiers on foot, 71 planes, 25 helicopters, 221 vehicles and 200 horses of the Republican Guard down to the Place de la Concorde, where a musical choir of 120 military school students, members of the civic and military service, and volunteer firefighters will sing for the grand finale. 

The 2019 Military Parade on the Champs Elysées

About 25,000 people will be allowed into the “corrals” along the Champs Elysées to watch in person, so get there no later than 9:30am if you want to get access, and don’t bring anything like umbrellas, glass bottles, pocket knives, etc.

VERY IMPORTANT UPDATE: Today the Prefecture de Police de Paris announced that anyone who wants to enter the “corrals” along the parade route needs to have their Pass Sanitaire (either printed out or through the TousAntiCovid app; children under 11 do not need a Pass Sanitaire). And even though it’s outside, because everyone will be close together masks will be required as well.

The official Fête Nationale 2020 logo of the French Ministry of Armed Services.

Of course, the military flyovers that open and close the parade are one of the big highlights, with the bleu-blanc-rouge plumes of the Patrouille de France getting the most Instagram likes (approximately at 10:30am). You can try to watch from any location that gives you a clear view of the skies above the Champs Elysées. It will also be broadcast, along with the parade and fireworks show, on French TV as usual. At the end of the parade, the public can visit some of the military planes and vehicles on the Esplanade des Invalides.

The public’s chance to see military vehicles up close at the Esplanade des Invalides

“Winning the future” will be the theme of this 2021 edition, a double reference to “the collective capacity of the nation to overcome the difficulties linked to the health crisis and for the armed forces, to the fact of being turned towards harder, so-called high-intensity commitments, based on high-tech equipment,” said the Paris Military Governor in the French press. As usual, the parade will be the opportunity for France to show off its latest military toys, like the Griffon armored personnel carrier and new light reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft, and to highlight its currently military engagements around the world (although Franco-Malian operations in Mali were just suspended after another coup).

The Bal des Pompiers

The traditional Bal des Pompiers that takes place each year on the eve (and night) of Bastille Day has been canceled again in 2021, and even the Strasbourg fire station – famous for their hilariously sexy annual “teaser” videos (such as the ones from 2018 and 2019) – didn’t make a new video for 2021. Sad face. Here’s the one they made last summer showing their support for healthcare workers:

Alternative Events

Bal du 13 Juillet – The Town Hall of the 18th Arrondissement is organizing an open-air party on July 13th from 7-11pm in the Jardins d’Eole (56 rue d’Aubervilliers, 18th), part of the month-long festivities to “take back” the park after removing the drug dealers that set up business there during the pandemic. Free entry.

Rollerdance Party – The Carreau du Temple (4 rue Eugène Spuller, 3rd) is hosting an old fashioned roller skating party from 6pm-1am with “dance battles” and funk and disco classics from the 70s and 80s. Skate rental is possible for €5/half hour, or bring your own (inline or four-wheeled, but no metal-wheeled skates). Minimum age is 10. Free entry.

Bal Latino du Ménilmontant – The gardens of La Bellevilloise, 88 Ménilmontant (88 rue Ménilmontant, 20th) are hosting a festive Latino dance party on July 14th from 6-10pm. Live music by Le Cuarteto Cubano and DJ El Dany. Free entry.

There Will Be Fireworks

The fireworks show and live musical concert at the Eiffel Tower is taking place as usual starting at 9:15pm on the Champs de Mars with a classical music concert featuring the Orchestre National de France, the Radio France Choir, and various soloists. It will be broadcast live on France 2 television (and on many YouTube feeds), with the Marseillaise sung for the finale. The fireworks show above the Eiffel Tower begins at 11pm and last for about 35 minutes. Many people camp out on the Champ de Mars all day to have a front-row seat (social distancing and masks are required this year), but you can see this from anywhere with a view of the Eiffel Tower (you’ll want to turn on the TV to hear the synchronized music if you’re too far away to hear it in person). Here’s the recording of the 2020 show:

Although we haven’t heard anything yet for 2021, in 2020 the Prefect of Police banned the “acquisition, possession and use” of large fire crackers and fireworks by anyone (except professionals) in Paris and the surrounding Petite Couronne suburbs from July 4th until July 15th. So don’t think that you can pop down to Chinatown in the 13th and pick up some sparklers and fire crackers to throw your own private rooftop pyrotechnics show.

Parisian Rooftops

If you don’t want to watch the military flyover or the fireworks on the TV and you don’t have a decent view from your window, the next best option to avoid the crowds is to try and book a spot – quickly! – at one of the many rooftop bars and restaurants in Paris. Advance reservations are a must in all cases and spaces fill up quickly. Here are a few that seem to still be taking reservations:

  • The Toit de la Grade Arche de La Défense out in the western suburbs is open during the day at the regular rooftop visit prices (€15) if you want to be there for the défilé aérien flyover 9am-2pm (scroll all the way to the bottom for these tickets) and open at night for a special DJ party with Bob Sinclair and the Doppelgagner brothers from 7pm-midnight for €70.

Other Bastille Day Activities

Bastille Day on the Water

You can watch the fireworks show right on the Seine with a cruise on the Bateaux Parisiens (€70/person, includes a box meal) or with the Vedettes du Pont Neuf (€25/person, includes a glass of Champagne).

Self-drive electric boats on the Canal

You won’t see anything happening on the other side of Paris, but it’s the perfect daytime escape to escape the crowds on the Canal de l’Ourcq with six of your friends in a self-drive electric boat through Marin d’Eau Douce (€200 for boats up to 7 people for the afternoon).

Museums and Monuments Open on Bastille Day

If you’re looking for something to do, many — but not all — museums will be open on July 14th, including the Louvre, Orsay, Carnavalet, and the Catacombes, as well as Chateaux Versailles, Chantilly, Vaux-le-Vicomte and the gardens at Giverny. As usual, check online (you’ll need advance booking online anyway) to make sure you get in.

Versailles fountains
The Musical Fountains of Versailles

Outdoor Fun

The festive Fête des Tuileries has opened for the summer with the Ferris wheel, stomach-emptying rides, barbe-à-papa (cotton candy) and whack-a-mole games. Open daily at the Jardin des Tuileries, 11am-midnight (free entry, tickets can be purchased for individual rides), although it may open later on the 14th due to the official ceremony taking place right next door at the Place de la Concorde in the morning.

Fête des Tuileries

If you’d like to get out of the middle of the city, the Jardin d’Acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne is now open, including the funfair rides more appropriate for younger kids (and anyone who doesn’t like rides that make you puke up your lunch).

But Not Too Much Fun…

While it may be tempting to join the masses who will surely be picnicking in every available green space and along the Seine and Canal St-Martin on Bastille Day, don’t forget there are pretty strict laws now about alcohol consumption in public. The police will likely turn a blind eye if you’re behaving, but be prepared to have your wine or booze (especially if it’s in a glass bottle) confiscated if they decide to crackdown.

Public Transport Notes

Check the RATP website for station closures during the day. Usually stations all along the Champs-Elysées and around the Place de la Concorde are closed during the military ceremony, and stations around the Eiffel Tower and Trocadéro are closed during the fireworks.  If you do plan on going out, keep in mind that even if the Paris metro extends its hours like it usually does during the Fête Nationale, be sure you have a solid Plan B to get yourself home if you’re out after 12:45pm. Vélib service could also be affected (ie bikes are locked at certain stations to prevent vandalism), so pack your comfy shoes if you need to hoof it home.

Stations Closed All Morning for Parade & Air Show

  • George V
  • Tuileries 
  • Concorde   
  • Champs-Elysées-Clemenceau   
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt   
  • Charles de Gaulle-Etoile     

Stations Closed from 4pm

  • Boulainvilliers
  • Pont de l’Alma
  • Tour Eiffel-Champ de Mars
  • Kennedy Radio France
  • Javel
  • Bir-Hakeim 
  • Ecole Militaire
  • Trocadéro  
  • Invalides
  • Iéna
  • Alma Marceau
  • Rue de la Pompe

Stations Closed from 7pm

  • Javel
  • Invalides
  • La Motte Piquet Grenelle
  • Sèvres-Lecourbe
  • Dupleix
  • Cambronne
  • Passy
  • Boissière
  • Kléber
  • La Tour-Maubourg
  • Michel-Ange Molitor
  • Michel-Ange Auteuil
  • Emile Zola, Ségur
  • Charles Michels
  • Mirabeau
  • Eglise d’Auteuil
  • Boulogne-Pont de Saint-Cloud
  • Boulogne-Jean Jaurès
  • Porte d’Auteuil
  • Chardon-Lagache
  • Saint-François-Xavier
  • Varenne

How to Watch Online if you don’t get French TV

No doubt you’ll be able to watch all of the Bastille Day 2020 events on YouTube shortly after they take place (just do a search), but if you want to watch live and don’t have access to French television, you can download the free Molotov.tv app on your phone or home computer to stream all of the regular French TV stations for free including TF1, France 2 and France 3. I get my “Paris only” news from the “BFM Paris” channel.

Did You Know?

First celebrated in 1790 to mark the one-year anniversary of the July 14th storming of the Bastille prison that kicked off the French Revolution, it was originally called the Fête de la Fédération. And because the Revolution hadn’t quite yet entered “Terror” mode – they were still testing the Constitutional Monarchy model – King Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette were even allowed to leave their heavily-surveillanced residence at the Tuileries Palace to attend the event as “King and Queen of the French”.