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What to do in Paris on Bastille Day 2019

There’s much to see and do on and around La Fête Nationale, aka Bastille Day, July 14th. This is a rundown of just some of the best options, including the dance parties, parade, and fireworks show, as well as some logistical tips on using public transportation, when you can legally drink alcohol on the Champ de Mars, and what shops and museums are open.

Most of these events (except where noted) are free and open to the general public. Be aware that with large crowds come pickpockets! Only carry what you absolutely need and have a bit of cash hidden in your shoe in case you need emergency taxi fare!

Les Bals des Pompiers aka The Firemen’s Ball: July 13th & 14th

The traditional Bals des Pompiers take place in fire stations (or casernes), all over France. They are modeled after the guinguettes, informal outdoor festivals with food and live music, a bit like a countryside wedding reception where family members of all ages would spend the afternoon eating, drinking and dancing. The Bals des Pompiers in Paris fire stations are for entertainment and for charity. There’s always a small entrance fee, food and drinks to purchase, and the firemen also sell tombola (raffle) tickets, all proceeds going to charities. By midnight most of the younger children have gone to bed and the party becomes more of a dance club with a DJ, young people (and firemen) dancing well into the wee hours (note that the metro will be open until 2:15am on July 13th and 14th).

These are open to everyone, space permitting. Here is a short list of the major ones in Paris (translated from the Que Faire Paris site):

  • Paris Center (near the Louvre): Caserne Rousseau, 21 rue du Jour, 1st,
    M° Louvre-Rivoli or Les Halles
  • Paris Marais (near Place des Vosges): Caserne Sévigné, 7 rue de Sévigné, 4th, M° St Paul
  • Rive Gauche (near St Sulpice): Caserne Colombier, 11 rue du Vieux Colombier, 6th, M° St Sulpice 
  • Hôtel de la Monnaie, Quai de Conti, 6th M° Mabillon
  • West Paris (near Eiffel Tower): Caserne Grenelle, 6 place Violet, 15th, M° Commerce or Emile Zola
  • Paris 9th (near Trinité): Caserne Blanche, 28 rue Blanche, 9th, M° Trinité (ONLY July 13th)
  • Montmartre (near the cemetery): Caserne Montmartre, 12 rue Carpeaux, 18th, M° Guy Moquet (ONLY July 13th)
  • East Paris: Caserne Chaligny, 26 rue de Chaligny, 12th, M° Reuilly-Diderot
  • Port Royal (near Observatoire): Caserne Port Royal, 55 blvd Port Royal, 13th, RER Port Royal 
  • Caserne Masséna, 37 blvd Masséna, 13th, M° Porte d’Ivry
  • Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, 30 blvd Corentin Coriou, 19th, M° Porte de la Villette

Défilé Militaire aka Bastille Day Parade: July 14th

One of the big events of Bastille Day is the military parade on the Champs-Elysées. The Champs-Elysées and all of the streets around it will be closed to traffic starting at 7am. Troops will start arriving from 9am. Then from 9:30am until 10:30am there is a succession of “inspection off the troops” by the officers and the French president Macron, the placement of the Republican Guard, and then finally the “parade” begins at 10:35am with an Air Force flyover (you can see this from almost anywhere in Paris with a view of the sky). Then there is a succession of troops parading between the Place de la Concorde and Place de l’Etoile (Arc de Triomphe), a helicopter show, parachutes, and horseback troops. The president makes his exit at 11:55am ending the ceremony.

What you should know:

  • Expect huge crowds. They will start gathering at 8am, and be impassable by 10am. There are security checks, so leave glass bottles and anything that could be used as a weapon at home.
  • Expect that you won’t be able to see over anyone’s head (some people bring stools to stand on).
  • If you get there early enough you may get a seat in the upper level of one of the cafés or restaurants along the Champs-Elysées (they all have window seats overlooking the street, no idea if these will fill up fast or be closed until the parade is over).
  • The military finish on the esplanade of Les Invalides for demonstrations for the rest of the day, open free to the public.
  • Metro stations on and around the Champs-Elysées — line 1 from Tuileries to CDG-Etoile — will be closed for security reasons for the entire morning, and opened progressively throughout the day (they will close again from 7pm for the Africa Cup match, see below). Neighboring station will be mobbed, so be prepared.
  • The Vélib’ stations are closed on and around the Champs-Elysées (for drop-off or pickup).

Concert & Feu d’Artifice aka Fireworks Show:
July 14th

Parisians and visitors will be picnicking all day on the Champ de Mars at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, not just because it’s a fun place to picnic, but also because they’re staking out their spot for the July 14th music concert at 9:15pm and fireworks show at 11pm. If you decide to join them, here are some tips:

  • Alcohol is not allowed on the Champ de Mars after 4pm (so get your drinking done early).
  • The very few public toilets in the area will be inundated, and nearby cafés won’t tolerate non-paying visitors using the facilities, so have some cash handy to buy a drink if you need the bathroom, and have a Plan B in case of emergency (the Berges de Seine will have public restrooms).
  • The fireworks start at 11pm (when it’s finally dark enough!) They last 35 minutes. The show will be broadcast live on French TV (like TF1).  
  • The metro stations on line 6 from Dupleix to CDG-Etoile and line 9 Iéna station will close at 5pm, and RER C Champ de Mars, Pont de l’Alma, and line 9 Alma-Marceau will close starting 7pm. In general other stations will be open until 2:15am. They will ALL be very crowded, so if you can manage, try to walk instead of taking the metro (don’t even think a taxi or Uber is an option).
  • The Vélib’ stations around the Champ de Mars will all be closed (no pickup or drop-off).
  • You can see the fireworks anywhere in Paris that you can se the top of the Eiffel Tower (you might not hear the music though). Bridges and the banks of the Seine and Trocadéro are popular spots where you can watch. A friend with a balcony is better (or anywhere with bathroom access!)

Other Entertainment on Bastille Day (July 13th and/or 14th)

  • Bal Populaire on July 13th in the North Marais in the square of the Mairie du 3ème (2 Rue Eugène Spuller) from 8:30pm, free.
  • Place de la Bastille? Normally there is a Grand Bal here, but it’s a huge construction site in 2019, so nothing is planned.
  • NOTE: The semi-finals soccer matches for the Africa Cup of Nations take place tonight as well, including a match between Algeria and Nigeria which will finish just as the fireworks are starting at the Eiffel Tower. If Algeria wins, expect a LOT of celebrating fans all over France pouring into the streets and possibly blocking traffic (which they did on the Champs Elysées when they won on Thursday night). The metro stations all around the Champs Elysées (pretty much the entire 8th arrondissement) are closed again starting 7pm. Check the stations on RATP’s page here.

What’s 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, 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: the Piscine Pontoise in the 5th, 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.

Many Museums and Monuments Are Open on Bastille Day

Most of the museums and monuments are open on Bastille Day. You can confirm here on the official Tourism Office list of what’s open on July 14th. Some notable points:

* The Eiffel Tower closes at 2pm

* The Arc de Triomphe doesn’t open until after noon.

* The Opéra Garnier closes at 1pm.

* The permanent collections of the Louvre and Invalides are free all day.

* Paris Plage is open all day and evening.

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