Bastille Day for Rookies

Arc de Triomphe
The Arc proudly holds the tricolour on Bastille Day

As someone who loathes crowds, I found myself in Paris on Bastille Day – what’s a girl to do?  Well I certainly discovered what not to do!

Mistake # 1 – we had a nice sleep in and a leisurely breakfast before heading out.

Parisians and tourists alike love the pomp and ceremony of Bastille Day.  This is the world’s biggest military parade, so it’s likely that you’re not going to be the only one to be interested.  To snag a spot with a good view, head out early!  Take a walk along the Champs Elysees the day before and choose a spot you think might give you a good vantage point.  Also take note where they’re setting up the seating as unless you’re 10 feet tall, you will not be able to see over it!

Mistake # 2 – we decided to get off at the closest Metro stop to Place de la Concorde.

That in itself wasn’t a mistake, but setting off without first checking which metro stops were open and without coming to the conclusion that every single other tourist in Paris was doing the same thing was. Check with the Tourist Information the day before to see which stops will be open and closest to the action.  FYI, getting off at Place de la Concorde will just mean you have to walk for 20 minutes back toward the Arc de Triomphe via the backstreets as only VIPs and ticket holders are allowed entry!  It was quite cool to see the streets so empty though.

Mistake # 3 – we stopped at the first barricade thinking we could’t get any further.

Rookie error at Bastille Day Parade

Wrong.  We spent the entire parade at a barricade looking enviously at all the people in front of us and watching as disembodied heads floated past.  Had we just investigated up and down the barrier a bit further, we could have joined the people in front of us in between the 1st and 2nd barricade and perhaps even squeezed a bit closer to the action! It would have been nice to see those heads attached to bodies and horses!

Mistake # 4 – “we’ll be able to get a great shot of the famous flyover from the Champs Elysees.”

hmmm, had I thought about that a bit more I may have remembered all those gorgeous trees lining the boulevard and realised that tall trees and views of aircraft don’t necessarily mix.  As it was I managed to snap off a quick shot as they flew overhead

Tower, requesting flyby

but the real money shot would have been way back at the Louvre.  From there, I could have watched as they came all the way down from the Arc de Triomphe, and maybe even captured them jetting over the famous pyramids. Next time.

And then we got it right!

After the Parade you have several hours to enjoy the beauty of Paris before settling down to watch the “Iron Lady” light up with fireworks.  Suckers for punishment and crowds may head to the Champs de Mars or Trocadero to ooh and ahh along with the entire population of Paris and 1.1 million tourists. Not this little black duck!

We were lucky enough to be staying at a hotel with a view of the Tower, so we headed back to our room to set up tripods and wait for the spectacle.

Firstly, the Tower is lit up with millions of lights blinking and flashing..

Then suddenly, she is plunged into darkness..

Then the night explodes with colour!

The aftermath is almost as spectacular with the Tower wreathed in smoke.

Was it good for you?

So although the day was plagued with crowds, elbows, disembodied heads and neck-breaking flyovers, it ended in a blaze of glory.

Next time, I’ll do my homework!


  1. Thank you so much for this post! I recently moved to Paris and plan to check out lots of the same Bastille Day festivities, really looking forward to it! Elissa


    • Thanks so much, this is my first ever blog post so I’m thrilled someone enjoyed it! I’d love to go back to Paris for a 2nd try at Bastille Day so I hope you enjoy it! Next time I’d love to check out the Fireman’s Balls the night before – they sound like fun! Olivia


  2. Your photos made me want to go to Paris, like right now. Great photos! My favorite is the last one, with the tower covered with smoke. How cool is that?!


  3. When you went back to your apartment to watch the Iron Lady light up didn’t you forget to mention setting up the champagne as well as the tripod?


    • I stayed at the Concorde Lafayette. It’s a large business hotel about 10 or so minutes walk from the Arc de Triomphe (away from the Champs Elysee) and has a handy metro stop right underneath. I probably wouldn’t choose to stay there again but for viewing the Bastille Day Fireworks without the crowds it was perfect (provided you have a tower view room!). There’s also a bar at the top with good views but it’s hideously expensive, as with most hotel bars in Paris I guess. Happy to provide more info if you need it. Cheers Olivia


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