On July 14, 1789, French revolutionaries stormed the Bastille and sparked a national uprising. These days, people fill the streets on July 14 just as they did in the 18th century—only instead of being there to revolt, their aim is to party.
Bastille Day lends itself to raucous celebrations each year, and France isn’t the only place to celebrate. If you’re looking to embrace the revolutionary spirit while enjoying great food and entertainment, then head to any of these cities for a Bastille Day you won’t soon forget.
Liege started celebrating Bastille Day after WWI in order to recognize France’s role in the Battle of Liege. The city does it up in style every year with one of the largest Bastille Day celebrations outside of France. Military parades, concerts, fireworks, and live DJs and dancing provide no shortage of entertainment. Together, they create a celebratory atmosphere that pervades the whole city.
London is home to a smattering of French-themed festivals that take place on and around July 14, so put on your walking shoes and plan to go “festival hopping”. Each destination features some combination of live music, French cuisine, cooking workshops, street entertainment, fireworks, French antiques, and plenty of French wine (or all of the above). One of the most popular is the Garden Party at Battersea Park, which showcases live Cabaret performances and family-friendly games.
Milwaukee might be an unlikely addition to this list, but it’s actually the locale for one of the largest Bastille Day celebrations in the U.S. The four-day event is jam-packed with activities to delight people of all ages, from live entertainment (think artists, street performers, and wandering minstrels) to a 5K run, live music, French cooking demonstrations, delicious French food and wine, and a live reenactment of the storming of the Bastille. The celebration also boasts a 45-foot replica of the Eiffel Tower, French language lessons, a French dog parade, and a beer tent (in case anyone were to forget they’re in Wisconsin).
No list of Bastille Day celebrations would be complete without a nod to Paris, where it all began. Don’t miss the annual military parade down the Champs Elysées, which features thousands of soldiers on the ground and a variety of fighter jets and helicopters in the sky. Next, head to one of the many firemans’ balls held at fire stations throughout the city. (Have a cup of coffee beforehand—the fundraising dances tend to last into the wee hours of the morning.) Top off the night by standing shoulder to shoulder with thousands of other celebrants ooing and ahhing over the city’s choreographed fireworks display.
Philly pulls no punches when it comes to its Bastille Day celebrations, and the result is one of the more bombastic festivals on this list. The event is staged around the Eastern State Penitentiary, a former prison located in Fairmount, one of Philadelphia’s hippest neighborhoods. The surrounding streets shut down for a Bastille Day block party featuring live entertainment and (of course) great food and drink. Once evening hits, revelers gather by the penitentiary to witness an hour-long performance showcasing the “beheading” of Marie Antoinette and a “historically accurate” reenactment of the storming of the Bastille (complete with the flinging of many a Tastycake from the prison’s towers).
From the birthplace of the French revolution to the birthplace of American democracy (and Wisconsin), there are plenty of great places to tilt your hat to the revolutionaries of yore.