Bastille Day to the French is like the Fourth of July to the Americans and the Queen’s birthday to the British — a holiday worth an epic celebration. But what if you can’t make it to Paris on July 14th for the official Bastille Day celebrations? These global destinations each put their own twist on this most typical of French events.
Eastern State Penitentiary; Philadelphia
OK, so visiting an abandoned prison is not the first thing that people looking to celebrate Bastille Day think of, but wait — Eastern State Penitentiary is the base of one of America’s most unique celebrations.
The 19th-century walled prison is a National Historic Landmark notorious for having housed inmates like Al Capone and Willie Sutton. It is also an almost like-for-like replica of the original Bastille fortification in Paris.
On Bastille Day the penitentiary is home to America’s largest historical re-enactment of the storming of the Bastille. The event’s theatrical performances also shed light on big issues of the day — from presidential elections to climate change.
Inside the grounds of the penitentiary, during the celebration, a market is held selling French-inspired food and drink, a Parisian militia parades through the prison gates to recreate the storming of the Bastille, actors sing and dance, and an actress portraying Marie Antoinette throws specially baked pastries at the advancing militia. It is definitely a sight to behold, and visitors can choose between standard and “Bourgeoisie” tickets.
Prague, Czech Republic
Many European cities join in the celebrations of Bastille Day, and Prague is no different. Nobody knows quite why the Czech capital celebrates Bastille, but the city embraces a decidedly French air on July 14.
A classic French market springs to life in Kampa Square, selling all types of cheese, bread, wines, crepes, sundaes, olives and sausages. Charles Bridge is draped in the French tricolor flag, and the city center fills with musicians, dancers, parades and a flag procession. Arrive later in the day for the best deals as stall holders try to sell their excess stock before driving back to France.
It should come as no surprise that the British capital celebrates Bastille Day — there are approximately 250,000 French nationals living in London, and it is often referred to as the “sixth-biggest French city.” Londoners also like a good festival, and the holiday is a perfect excuse to party together.
Borough Market in Bankside hosts a large French produce market, selling all manner of authentic French food and drink, and in a French demonstration kitchen, top French chefs show the public how to cook French dishes.
PAUL restaurants give out free croissants to anyone who says, “Bonjour, Paul,” the Zetter Town House Marylebone unveils a French cocktail day, and restaurant Les Deux Salons in Covent Garden hands out free glasses of pastis (an anise-flavored aperitif).
Outside of Paris, London is the best place to celebrate Bastille Day, with many restaurants, markets and pubs putting on some kind of French-themed events.
The French Polynesian island of Tahiti is perhaps the most exotic place to celebrate Bastille Day. The Bastille celebrations fall at the end of the two-month-long national Heiva I Tahiti commemoration period. After a long conflict between Britain and France, the French annexed Polynesia in 1881 and allowed singing and dancing on Bastille Day for the first time in 62 years.
On Tahiti’s Bastille Day, accompanying traditional dancers in grass skirts, carved drums, Polynesian singing and ukulele music fill the air. There is also a military parade of current and retired soldiers, many of whom served in the French army. Tahiti adds its own uniquely Polynesian twist to France’s national day.
Yes, really, the town of Pondicherry in India celebrates Bastille Day! Pondicherry was a French colony and France’s main port in India for almost 300 years before independence. The state of Puducherry, of which Pondicherry is the capital, is architecturally more French than Indian: Brightly colored wooden colonial buildings line the wide boulevards. The residents of the town take this French celebration seriously.
The day before Bastille Day, retired Indian soldiers parade through the center of town as military bands play the French and Indian national anthems. On Bastille Day itself, serving uniformed soldiers lead a parade, waving the French and Indian flags as residents share local Franco-Indian foods.