Prise de la Bastille"Prise de la Bastille" (Storming of the Bastille) by Jean-Pierre Houël
(Public domain courtesy of the National Library of France via Wikimedia Commons)

On July 14, 1789, in response to widespread unrest and economic crisis during the rule of Louie XVI, hundreds of French commoners stormed the Bastille prison in Paris. The prison was a symbol of royal authority, so overtaking it sent a clear message to the aristocracy: enough is enough! Although Bastille Day commemorates the beginning of the French Revolution, the whole world likes to join in the party. Down with monarchy! Long live democracy! Here in the States, where we have a similar distaste for monarchs and pride in revolution, we have a number of excellent celebrations to choose from:


Bastille Day Waiter Race
Image courtesy of Micadew

Washington, DC

The nation’s capital isn’t only about political races. DC’s claim to fame on on Bastille day is a different kind of race—two races, in fact! There’s a French maid race, where all the participants wear French maid costumes, and then there’s the waiter’s race, where the city’s waiters must efficiently and gracefully carry a precarious tray of wine to the finish line.


Philadelphia’s Bastille Day is not to be overlooked. The city boasts a number of year-round French cultural offerings, such as the Rodin Museum, which houses one of the largest collections of Rodin’s work outside Paris. Philly’s festival takes place by the Eastern State Penitentiary, an old, castle-like building that takes the place of the Bastille prison in a reenactment of the storming of the Bastille and a ceremonial beheading, a unique highlight of festival. Here’s a preview of what you can expect:

Bastille Day Dog Costume Contest
Image courtesy of istolethetv

New Orleans

Leave it to New Orleans to know how to celebrate in style. New Orleans takes its French influence to heart with one of the best Bastille Day celebrations not only in the United States but in the world—according to Reuters, New Orleans’s Bastille Day takes the bronze closely following London and Paris itself. In addition to music and food, the event features language lessons, cooking demonstrations, activities for kids in New Orleans’s French bookstore, the French Library, and best of all, a French dog costume contest.

New York

Any worthwhile holiday is sure to be well represented in New York City. Unsurprisingly, several Bastille Day festivals take place throughout the city, but for the past fourteen years the highlight has been the Pétanque festival on Smith Street. The festival is now one of the largest Pétanque events in North America, drawing over twenty thousand visitors. The event features seventy-two teams of three people carefully tossing steel balls to get as close as possible to a wooden ball called a cochonnet (piglet).

Petanque for Bastille Day
Photo courtesy of Chris Waits

Wherever you plan to celebrate, make sure to dress appropriately (as a peasant or an aristocrat). If you’re lucky enough to celebrate Bastille Day in Paris, you can check out The Tall Trees of Paris for artists’ recommendations on the best museums and galleries as well as the hippest places to eat, drink, and shop.

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