Last week was Bastille Day (aka “le 14 juillet”) in France. As it goes with many independence days, there were fireworks featured in cities all over the country, the most-famous being in Paris. Considering that it falls in the middle of summer, during which tourist season is at its peak, the capital is packed with people who not only want to explore the city, but also see the national celebrations themselves.
It’d been exactly five years since I was last present for the 14 juillet fireworks in Paris– my first time was when I studied abroad for the summer and, even though I’d since been living in France for work, I was never around in the summer to see the celebrations again. I would usually return to Los Angeles around May or June for the summer, only to come back to France in late August or September to teach again.
That said, I made it my goal to stick it out long enough this year to be present for le 14 juillet. Even more so, I managed to book in advance for transport and accommodation, since again, Paris is inundated with tourists in the summer. Prices are more expensive, but of course, it’s that time of year to travel…
Depending on when and where you’re situated for the Bastille Day fireworks, experiences for the show viewings will vary. As it can be very overwhelming for first-timers, it’s important to have a plan to get around, see the fireworks, and make it back to your accommodation as smoothly as possible.
Having done le 14 juillet twice myself, I’ve learned a few things to help those who want to go and have a good time. In this post, I’ll give you a FAQ guide on how, where, and when to see the fireworks, as it’s truly a beautiful sight that must be seen if you’re in Paris during the summer. Let’s get started!
1. What’s “le 14 juillet?”
Commonly known as “Bastille Day” by anglophones, le 14 juillet is the largest French national holiday that commemorates the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789. This was a pivotal event that marked a watershed moment in the French Revolution, as the monarchy was soon overthrown and France became a republic. Since then, the nation has celebrated this day with parades, fireworks, and plenty of festivities into the wee hours of the morning.
2. When and where does it take place?
Celebrations take place throughout the day, with the défilé (“military parade”) in the morning on the grand Champs-Élysées and the president of France present to give a speech to French citizens and the fireworks at night at the Eiffel Tower. Following the fireworks, there’s also the bals des Pompiers (“Firemen’s Balls”) which are parties hosted by firemen at venues all over the city, with lots of dancing, drinking, and merriment into the next day.
3. Are places (restaurants, shops, banks) open on this day?
A good number of restaurants and shops, along with banks and post offices, will be closed for the national holiday. Others might have limited hours– however, the closer you are to the touristy sites (e.g. Eiffel Tower, Champs-Élysées, the Marais…), the more it’s guaranteed that places will still be opened that day.
4. When do the fireworks start?
Considering that the sun doesn’t set until past 22:30 in the summer, the fireworks often start late– this year, it started at 23:00.
5. How long do the fireworks last?
The fireworks last around 35-40 minutes, ending by midnight. Still early enough to stay out and party into the night!
6. How do I get around Paris on this day?
The metro will still be running in the day, albeit with limited hours. By evening, however, many of the major metro stations near or around the Eiffel Tower and Champs-Élysées will be closed off– this includes stations like Trocadéro, Iéna, Champs-Élysées-Clemenceau, and so forth. That means that, if you want to view the fireworks in these areas, you’ll have to walk quite a bit to an open metro when the show’s over. Your best bet is to walk, take a scooter, or bike– even getting an Uber might be tricky, since many roads will be blocked off for pedestrians.
7. How early should I arrive to see the fireworks?
Depending where you want to view the fireworks, anywhere from an hour to over three hours ahead is ideal– there are some people who camp out the entire day at the champ de Mars or pont Alexandre III with their friends, both to stake their claim and have apéro while waiting for night to fall. During my first rodeo, my friend and I arrived about 90 minutes before the show started, and it was a tight squeeze with the swarm of people at champ de Mars, who’d been camping out since the afternoon. Second-time around, I arrived over two hours early to the pont des Invalides, and I had the perfect, front-row view to the fireworks despite the long wait. If you really want to see the fireworks, you’ll have to sacrifice your time for them!
8. Where are the best places to view the fireworks?
The closer, the better! Most-popular viewing spots are within a one-kilometer range of the Eiffel Tower, e.g. champs de Mars, Trocadéro, école Militaire. Those places are where you can see the tower up-close, along with hearing the loud music and fireworks going off. The drawbacks, however, are the massive crowds and the metro stations there are closed off. I was able to stake my spot with a friend at champ de Mars my first time and, while I got great views of the show, getting back to my accommodation was hell.
If you’re not one for claustrophobic crowds, a *slightly* better option is to walk further out, away from the Eiffel Tower and towards the bridges along the Seine. Be careful, though, as not all of the bridges will you be able to see the tower: the ones you can see it from are pont Bir-Hakeim, pont de l’Alma, pont des Invalides, and pont Alexandre III. It’s guaranteed that they’ll also have lots of people on them already, since some will be closed off to pedestrians as they enjoy apéro while waiting for the show to start. Pont de l’Alma and pont Alexandre III were already crowded when I arrived my second time, but strangely enough, pont des Invalides wasn’t as packed. That said, I settled there, and not only did I get decently-close views of the fireworks, but also that along the picturesque Seine. Plus, the Invalides metro was luckily not closed off, so even if there were crowds trying to get onto the metro, it wasn’t nearly as bad as my first time five years prior.
Other options include camping out along the quay of the Seine, which can be a hit or miss, since some boats dock there and may block your view. If you don’t mind paying, then making reservations at a hotel bar or a boat dinner would work– more expensive, but less people!
9. Can I take photos/videos of the event?
Of course– snap away!
10. Is there anything else I should know?
As it goes with any major celebrations, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings at all times– definitely have a plan to meet somewhere if you and your friends get separated, and locate the nearest metro stop that’s open so that you can get back to your accommodation as smoothly as possible. And despite the summer weather, bring a jacket to wear, as it can still get nippy at night.
I hope all of this information is helpful, should you decide to attend the 14 juillet celebrations in the following years. Even if it can be stressful with the large crowds, it’s still a wonderful experience worth going to, as it only happens once a year. Stay safe, have fun, and vive la France!