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Bastille Day 2023: What to See & Do in Paris

BAstille Day Parade

La Fête Nationale celebrating the 1789 French Revolution is one of the biggest holidays in France, with a popular military parade and flyover on the Champs-Elysées and an evening of fireworks and music at the Eiffel Tower. But there are many more events taking place throughout the city to celebrate, and most of them are free!

The Military Parade on the Avenue des Champs Elysées

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 watched by thousands in person and more on live streaming on French TV (France 2). The two-hour procession begins at 10am with President Emanuel Macron starting at the Arc de Triomphe, leading 5,100 soldiers on foot, 66 planes, 28 helicopters, 221 vehicles and 200 horses of the Republican Guard down to the Place de la Concorde, where a musical choir sings for the grand finale. 

The 2019 Military Parade on the Champs Elysées

This year’s parade theme is “Les Forces Morales de la France’’, which highlights the values of the French armies: resilience, courage, military brotherhood, and a sense of commitment.

July 14th 2023 "Forces Morales" Poster

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.

The 2023 parade aims to emphasize France’s commitment to “strategic solidarity” with its allies. In total, soldiers from around fifteen nations are joining the French parade on the Champs-Élysées. Among them, India, the guest of honor, will be represented by its Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who came to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the strategic partnership between his country and France, along with 240 Indian soldiers on parade and three Indian Rafales for the flyover.

To illustrate France’s ongoing support for Ukraine, the Caesar cannons of the 4th infantry regiment and the SAMP/T of the air brigade for space control will be part of the parade. Another highlight will be the participation of cadets from African military schools who partner with France (Benin, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, Madagascar, Ivory Coast, Senegal) marching alongside the cadets of the French military schools.

At the end of the parade, there will be a musical performance in tribute to the 80th anniversary of the death of French Resistance hero Jean Moulin, the establishment of the National Council of the Resistance, and the Resistance Medal. For the first time, about forty reservists from the National Guard will have the honor of carrying the flag during this final performance.

Note: If you can’t make the parade (or hate crowds), you might catch the practice flyovers and processions in the days leading up to Bastille Day on July 9th and 11th at Place de la Concorde and along the Avenue des Champs Elysées.

Full Video of Last Year’s Parade

Bastille Day Parade Schedule

Note that all start at the Arc de Triomphe and finish at Place de la Concorde.

  • 9:30am: Completion of the positioning of the foot and motorized troops at the Étoile (Arc de Triomphe) and inspection of the troops by the general officers.
  • 9:45am: Completion of the positioning of the honor detachments of the Republican Guard, at Arc de Triomphe and Place de la Concorde.
  • 10:00am: Arrival of the President of the Republic, from Avenue Friedland then down the Champs-Elysées.
  • 10:15am: Honors given to the President of the Republic at Place de la Concorde by the 1st and 2nd infantry regiments of the Republican Guard.
  • 10:21am: International military music performance.
  • 10:33am: Aerial parade of 66 military planes (everyone’s favorite part!)
  • 10:44am: Parade of foot troops, beginning with this year’s Guest of Honor (India) and the honored troops (African military schools, French military schools, and technical training schools). They’re followed by 5100 men and women of the French armed services.
  • 11:29am: Aerial parade of 28 helicopters.
  • 11:33am: Beginning of the parade of motorized troops (157 vehicles and 62 motorcycles). These go so slow (also seem to get stuck in traffic jams, lol) you have plenty of time for pics.
  • 11:47am: Beginning of the parade of 200 horseback troops of the Republican Guard.
  • 11:51am: Final presentation celebrating the 80th anniversary of the Resistance Medal.
  • 12:05pm: Departure of the President of the Republic.

Bonus Downloads: Parade PDF and New Bastille Day Parade App

Click here to check out the infographics detailing ALL of the vehicles and troops participating in this year’s parade both on land and in the air (in French).

14th July app

New for 2023 is a free app, “14 Juillet” that gives you the fully-detailed program for the parade, including the description of each participating regiment and military equipment you’ll see going down (or flying over) the Champs-Elysées. Unfortunately all of the info is only in French, but there’s a tab at the bottom to watch the live feed in real-time (via the Elysée’s YouTube), so you won’t miss a thing. There’s also a tab for the post-parade activities taking place at Les Invalides, Hôtel de Ville, Place de la Nation, and the Parc André-Citroën, and a tab “Le Bleuet” for information about donating blood to support French troops (at Invalides throughout the day, reserve your time on the app). Scan the QR code here or find the app for iOS on the App Store and for Android on Google Play:

If you really want to geek out and can understand (or are willing to auto-translate) French, you can download the Minister of the Army’s media booklet with the complete schedule and images with very detailed descriptions of the participants, including their history and stats.

Tips for Attending the Parade

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. The police will funnel everyone through several checkpoints, so don’t bring anything like umbrellas, glass bottles, pocket knives, etc, which will be confiscated by security before you’re allowed to access the areas reserved for spectators. Alcohol is also prohibited in any container.

Many metro and RER stations in the area are closed for the entire morning and through 2pm, so expect massive bottlenecks on side streets as everyone tries to walk from the few open metro stations to the Champs-Elysées itself (Miromesnil on the north side of the Champs-Elysées and Alma-Marceau on the south side are popular). Vélib bike stations are locked in the area, and you may encounter large crowds blocking the streets if you come on your own bike. Note that it’s usually impossible to cross the Champs-Elysées, so plan accordingly. In any case, be prepared for long walks and wear a hat for the sun or rain!

The crowds trying to get to the Champs-Elysées...
The crowds on Rue Ponthieu trying to get to the Champs-Elysées…

You can get an inside peek of what’s it like in this Secrets of Paris Community members-only article, “Secrets of Paris Bastille Day Recap.”

Meet the French Military at Invalides

At the end of the parade, the public can visit some of the military planes and vehicles and chat with the soldiers on the Esplanade des Invalides from 10am-6pm.

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

There are military exercise demonstrations in the North Gardens, parachute jumps, military music, pastry sales from the military “field bakery”, a blood collection center for French troops in the Cour d’Honneur (reserve a time slot in advance here), and a stand selling products from the Bleuet de France boutique (“cornflowers” to support French veterans, victims of terrorist attacks, and their families).

You can see the full schedule here (again, in French, sorry!) Click the image below to see a larger PDF showing where to find everything once on-site.

Other military demonstrations and stands will be taking place at the Parc André-Citroën (Air & Space Force), Hôtel de Ville (Navy), and Place de la Nation (Army) throughout the day.

The Bal des Pompiers

The traditional Bal des Pompiers (Firefighters’ Ball) takes place each year on the eve (and night) of Bastille Day. Although each station, or “caserne” in French, is free to make their own hours, in general the parties usually start in the evening around 9pm and finish at 4am. The events are free in theory, but a €2 entry fee is usually charged, and raffel tickets are sold to help raise funds to improve the working conditions of the firefighters or local charities. Music is usually a DJ but sometimes live bands play early in the evening, and there are always food and drink stands.

Bal des Pompiers at Cité des Sciences

Here are the Parisian locations for July 13th:

  • Caserne Rousseau: 21 Rue du Jour, 1st
  • Caserne Sévigné: 7 Rue de Sévigné, 4th
  • Caserne La Monnaie: 11 Quai de Conti, 6th
  • Caserne Colombier: 11 Rue du Vieux-Colombier, 6th
  • Caserne Blanche: 28 Rue Blanche, 9th
  • Caserne Chaligny: 26 Rue Chaligny, 12th
  • Caserne Masséna: 37 Boulevard Masséna, 13th
  • Caserne Grenelle: 6 Place Violet, 15th
  • Caserne Boursault: 27 Rue Boursault, 17th
  • Cité des sciences et de l’industrie: 30 Avenue Corentin Cariou, 19th
  • Caserne Bitche: 2 Place de Bitche, 19th
  • Caserne Ménilmontant: 47 Rue Saint-Fargeau, 20th

Parisian locations for July 14th:

  • Caserne Port Royal: 55 Boulevard de Port-Royal, 13th
  • Caserne Montmartre: 12 Rue Carpeaux, 18th

WARNING: While they’re a ton of fun, they’re also very crowded, so be prepared to wait in lines for everything from entrance to food to bathrooms and watch your belongings for pick-pockets.

And don’t think that I forgot to share the famous “teaser” video of the Strasbourg Bal des Pompiers for 2023, enjoy!

There Will Be Fireworks

July 14 Fireworks Theme

The fireworks show and live musical concert at the Eiffel Tower is taking place as usual starting at 9pm 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. This year’s theme is “Paris Célèbre les Outre-Mer”, or Paris Celebrates the French Overseas Territories, so expect the music and colors of the fireworks to reflect Caribbean, Portuguese, and even Cuban influences (at least that’s what the press release says, ha!)

The fireworks above the Eiffel Tower begin 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, 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:

Bastille Day Picnic and Party Rules

If you’re going to picnic on the Champ de Mars for Bastille Day, know that there will be a huge police security presence, just like the Champs-Elysées, and you will likely have to go through one of the four checkpoints before entering. Knives (even for your picnic) and glass bottles of any kind are prohibited, as well as all alcohol after 4pm.

Despite the fact that you’ll see everyone trying to get away with popping open beers and wine all over Paris, 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 crack down.

The Prefect of Police has banned the “acquisition, possession and use” of firecrackers 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 firecrackers 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, such as the Observatory of the Tour de Montparnasse, which is selling spots for €50.

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 (€165/person, includes a box meal; or full dinner cruises from €165); the Vedettes du Pont Neuf (€25/person, includes a glass of Champagne); Les Bateaux Mouches has dinner cruises with live orchestra music from €230 (less formal ones from €95); and Captain Fracasse has dinner cruises from €199.

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).

And of course Paris Plage will be open all day and evening on the Quays of the Seine and the Bassin de la Villette.

Museums and Monuments Open on Bastille Day

If you’re looking for something to do, most — but not all — museums will be open on July 14th, including the Louvre (with free entry for everyone!), 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.

Note that the Arc de Triomphe will be closed all morning (so you can’t watch the parade from there) and the Eiffel Tower will close in the afternoon and evening (so you can’t watch the fireworks from there). The Petit Palais is closed all day.

Versailles fountains
The Musical Fountains of Versailles

What Else is 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 through July 19th, 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: Suzanne Berlioux (Les Halles) in the 1st, 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.

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 a fun escape, including the funfair rides more appropriate for younger kids (and anyone who doesn’t like rides that make you puke up your lunch).

Parks and Gardens Open Until Midnight

Most parks and gardens in Paris close at sunset if they have gates. But from July 1-September 4 there are many parks that stay open until midnight, including:

Parks and Gardens Open 24/7

And this week, because of the heat wave “canicule” temperatures predicted to reach 100°F, there are six parks open 24/7 from July 13th-19th:

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.

Metro/RER Stations Closed All Morning for Parade & Air Show from 6:30am-2pm

  • George V
  • Tuileries 
  • Concorde   
  • Champs-Elysées-Clemenceau   
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt   
  • Charles de Gaulle-Etoile  (only exit Ave. Carnot will be open at this station, transfers possible)

Metro/RER Stations Closed in the Afternoon

  • RER Champs de Mars – Tour Eiffel (from 3pm)
  • Passy (from 7pm)
  • Dupleix (from 7pm)
  • Alma-Marceau (from 7pm)
  • Ecole-Militaire (from 7pm)
  • Bir-Hakeim (from 7pm)
  • RER Pont de l’Alma (from 7pm)
  • Boissière (from 11pm)
  • Sèvres Lecourbe (from 11pm)
  • La Motte-Picquet – Grenelle (from 11pm transfers possible)

Vélib Bike Share Stations Closed All Day

In anticipation of the July 14 festivities and at the request of the Prefecture of Police, Vélib will be closing around twenty stations, mainly in the 7th and 8th arrondissements of Paris, near the Champs-Elysées and the Trocadéro. See the full list of closed stations here (ignore the date at the top of the post, it’s for July 14th, 2023).

That means that not only will there be no bikes to rent, but also the bollards will be blocked by red devices to prevent you from “parking” any other Vélib bikes there. You’ll need to check the Vélib app for the list of available stations to find a bike or a parking spot throughout the day.

Bus and Tram Closures

Many bus routes inside Paris will be disrupted or diverted for the parade and fireworks show, check your line here if you rely on it to get around. Additionally, because of the recent civil unrest in certain Parisian suburbs in late June, the trams and busses will stop operating by 10pm, with many lines making their last pass from 8pm. There will be no Noctilien night bus services on July 13 or July 14.

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”.

Planning for 2024

The Bastille Day parade took place on the Avenue des Champs Elysées for the first time in 1919, after the Great War, then sporadically (as the location changed each year) until 1980, when it became the permanent route. In 2024, since July 14th festivities take place only a few weeks before the Summer Olympic Games, the parade route will be moved to the east side of Paris, from Vincennes to Place de la Nation. It will be incorporated into the route for the Olympic Flame.

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