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On July 14, all of France shuts down in celebration of la fête nationale. We call it Bastille Day.
The national holiday is in remembrance of the storming of the Bastille prison in Paris in 1789, a turning point in the French Revolution.
In celebration of the day, towns throughout France will set off fireworks, parades will march through main squares and people will attend festivals to eat good food, drink good wine and shout “Vive La France!” until the sun comes up.
But the celebration need not be limited to France. If you’re far from Paris but full of Francophilia, these eight destinations are a perfect way to indulge the French national holiday abroad.
Surprisingly, Milwaukee is home to one of the largest Bastille Day celebrations outside of the Hexagon. The four-day street party brings more than 250,000 visitors to revel in French culture, wine, and cuisine. Instead of storming the Bastille prison, attendees at this festival partake in a 5K race in commemoration of the historic event. Don’t leave without snapping a photo in front of the 43-foot Eiffel Tower replica.
San Francisco has been celebrating Bastille Day in the French Quarter for almost 140 years. The entertainment is true to what would be on offer if you were celebrating in Paris. Festival-goers can watch as waiters race each other while carrying a tray of beverages (a French tradition which dates back to the early 1900s) or join a game of petanque. Mix a dose of history into the celebration with a free tour of the neighborhood as it was in the 1850s, “Paris of the Pacific.”
New Orleans may lay claim to the most French city in the states and the neighborhood of Faubourg St John is home to the city’s most French celebration. This year’s Bastille Day Fete, on July 11, will feature live French music and food from local vendors, including Cafe Degas. The Gallic restaurant is one of the city’s most beloved French spots, created in honor of the famous painter Edgar Degas. Stop by the restaurant itself on the 14th of July for even more French fare.
Just a channel away from the main festivities, London’s version of Bastille Day is exuberant.
Head to Borough Market to take part in the annual transformation of French pride. Be sure to stop at the Le Marché du Quartier stall for French wine, cheese, and cassoulet. Feel free to walk around in a striped shirt and tuck a baguette under your arm for maximum effect. If you’re looking for a sit-down celebration, dine at Brasserie Zedel. Eat boeuf bourguignon or choucroute underneath a bunting of French flags while listening to live cabaret sounds imported directly from the Left Bank.
On the days surrounding the Bastille fete (from July 12 through 15), French Market sets up on Prague’s Kampa Island. This year, festival organizers decided that attendees would toast to “la vie en rose.” In addition to the Tricolore, the Bastille Day festival will be made more festive with rosé and pink macarons. An accordion player perambulating the market just adds to the ambiance.
The coastal town of Pondicherry (sometimes called “Puducherry”) may seem an unlikely destination to celebrate Bastille Day, but every July 14, the firework display will assuage any doubts. In 1674, the French East India Company established their headquarters here and the French connection has remained strong for more than 300 years. Spend the afternoon watching the city parade—where Bollywood and Can Can dancers perform next to each other down the streets.
French festivities continue down under. The Alliance Francaise de Sydney hosts the Bastille Day festival every year, complete with food, wine, and live can-can performances. While celebrating in Sydney, stop by the Four Frogs Creperie (run by four friends directly from France) or join the Boules Artistes for a game of petanque.
Located about an hours’ drive outside of Cape Town is the Franschhoek Wine Valley. The picturesque town is home to descendants of the French Huguenots, who arrived in the late 17th century. The valley is now famous for its Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon—all of which are served at the Franschhoek Bastille Festival. Be sure to stop by the Huguenot Memorial Museum and Monument, which honors the influence the French have had in the area.