Photo: RossHelen/Shutterstock

7 Bastille Day Celebrations Outside la Belle France

by Valerie Ng Jul 9, 2009
2009 marks the 220th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, a pivotal moment during the French Revolution when the people of Paris captured the medieval Bastille prison and fortress that symbolized a corrupt royal authority.

Even if you’re not in France on July 14, you can still celebrate the French national holiday with other Francophiles at one of many events around the world.


Across the Channel in London, Bastille Day will be commemorated at events throughout the city. On July 12, Battersea Park will host the Bastille Day Garden Party, one of the biggest celebrations outside France.

In addition to a picnic, the party includes a pétanque tournament, a French market, an open-air cinema, and a chance to win prizes such as cooking classes at the Alain Ducasse school in Paris.

New York

Each year, the Alliance Française puts on a large celebration on 60th Street between Fifth and Lexington Avenues. It goes down July 12 this year, with market stalls, music, dance, and food. Among the prizes being raffled off are trips to Paris and French language lessons at the Alliance Française.

The Committee of French Speaking Societies also holds its annual Bastille Day Ball on July 13, with this year’s theme being Les Années Folles, or the Roaring Twenties.


Philadelphia goes all out with a 4-day celebration at the Eastern State Penitentiary beginning July 9.

On July 11, revelers are invited to take part in a storming of the Bastille, with Marie Antoinette escorted by armed troops as she shouts “let them eat Tastykake,” throwing the locally-produced pastries from the prison tower.

She’s then presented to the audience, who decide her fate as she stands next to an executioner and real guillotine. French Revolutionaries, played by members of the Old Fort Mifflin Historical Society, also make appearances.


For the past 28 years, Milwaukee has put its predominantly German heritage aside for 4 days in mid-July by staging the Bastille Days festival at Cathedral Square Park downtown, complete with a 43-foot replica of the Eiffel Tower, street performers, minstrels, and music.

The festival begins with a Storming of the Bastille on the first night. Visitors can also participate in free French lessons, observe a traditional French Mass, and have their caricatures drawn. Genealogists are on hand to trace the roots of anyone with French heritage.


On July 11, Seattle’s celebration begins with a Bal des Pompiers, or Firemen’s Ball, which traditionally takes place in every French town and city the night of July 13 or 14. This year, the event features a Moroccan menu, recognizing the popularity of the cuisine in France.

On July 12, a day of free events is held at the Seattle Center with food, live music, painting workshops, theater, and cooking demonstrations.

Franschhoek, South Africa

Meaning “French Corner,” this town in the Western Cape province was originally settled by French Huguenot refugees in the 17th century. Each year, Franschhoek enthusiastically celebrates the French national holiday with a weekend festival.

A masked ball begins the festivities on July 10. This year’s event features a food and wine marquee, film festival, game of pétanque, and a chefs and waiters race.


The French Institute in Budapest and French Trade Office throw their Bastille Day celebration on the Buda side of the Danube on July 11, with food, wine from the regions of Aquitaine, Bordeaux, and Champagne-Ardennes, and music from French and Hungarian bands.

Fireworks cap off the festivities, just as they do in France.

*Feature photo: Cyril Plapied

Community Connection

If you’re lucky enough to be in France this time of year, check out these Matador titles for travel advice and anecdotes:

How to Enjoy Paris for Free

Top 10 Free Things to Do in Paris

Beyond Paris: 5 Other Places to Experience La Belle France

Losing My Travel Virginity: Homeless in Paris

How to Move to Paris with No Money

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