July 13, 2012 / 12:09 PM / 5 years ago

Travel Picks: Top 10 Bastille Day celebrations

7 Min Read

San Francisco (Reuters) - Sing a rousing rendition of the Marseillaise, twirl a sparkler or head out to see the parades and fireworks for France's national day of celebration on Saturday. Francophiles around the world can find a place to join in the revelry with online travel adviser Hotwire.com's (www.hotwire.com) list of the top 10 destinations to celebrate Bastille Day. Reuters has not endorsed this list:

1. Paris

Welcome to the center of the universe for Bastille Day celebrations. Expect parties, special programming and general merry-making in cafes, parks, clubs and discos all over the city. Even the fire houses open their doors for balls where they serve food, drink and live music to a largely local crowd in exchange for small donations. On the morning of July 14, the French President presides over the military parade down the Champs Elysees that draws huge crowds and an aircraft flyover. Get there a few hours early if you want a spot close to the action, or hit Restaurant Georges on the rooftop of the Centre Pompidou, Montmarte or Belleville for the view. Later on, catch the fireworks display at the Eiffel Tower.

2. London, UK

Just a few weeks before playing host to the Olympics, London will throw a Bastille Day celebration second only to the one in Paris, and while festivities take place all over the city, the main event is the Garden Party at Battersea Park, complete with live Caberet performances, face-painting and games for the whole family. Burough Market will celebrate with an abundance of French wine, Absinthe and Champagne tastings and French food samplings. The Bankside will also be filled with street entertainment, performance art, theatrical performances, outdoor eating, drinking, dancing and singing and an exciting fireworks finale.

3. New Orleans, Louisiana

With its French Creole roots, New Orleans may be the best place in the United States to celebrate Bastille Day. This eclectic city is known for its culture, delicious food and great jazz, but most of all the Big Easy knows how to throw a great party and Bastille Day is no exception. The week-long celebration kicks-off with a traditional French Mass at St. Luis Cathedral followed by fireworks on the river, poetry readings, live music and French food. For Bastille Day, locals pay homage to their French heritage with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Joan of Arc Statue on Decatur Street, a French poodle contest in Dutch alley, block parties and a French market. The weekend closes with the traditional Waiters and Bartenders Race and cooking demonstrations.

4. Liege, Belgium

For a less crowded Bastille Day option, visitors should consider Liège. Liège is the biggest and the most important metropolis of Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium. But even with its French roots, Liege has only celebrated Bastille Day since WWI when the city was recognized by France's Legion d'Honneur for its heroic efforts by resisting the Germans in the Battle of Liege. Today, Liege has one of the largest French Bastille Day celebrations (it's even bigger than its own Belgian National Day celebration) in the world. Travelers can enjoy an array of festivities including military parades, concerts and a firework show outside the Place Des Congres (Congress Hall). Festivities continue well into the night with live DJs and dancing.

5. Budapest, Hungary

To celebrate Bastille Day in Eastern Europe, Budapest is the place to be. Described as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, its temperate climate and rich culture attract tourists from all over the world. For Bastille Day, the French Institute holds an annual two-day celebration along the banks of the Danube River and in nearby streets. The streets boast music, dancing and a local market filled with French cheeses, wine and local Hungarian specialties. At night, locals and visitors enjoy fireworks and a street party on the river banks. After the festivities, travelers can jump across the river to one of seven islands or take advantage of attractions like neo-gothic Parliament, Castle Hill and Andrássy Avenue.

6. Franschhoek, South Africa

For a gourmet Bastille Day, visit Franschhoek wine valley. Franschhoek literally means the "French Corner," named by French settlers in the 17th century. Although a long way from France, the city's French heritage comes alive on Bastille Day with the Franschhoek Bastille Day Festival Food and Wine Marquee hosted by the Franschhoek Wine Valley, where award-winning local and French wineries offer tastings. The festivities also include the running boules competition, Franschhoek minstrel parade, barrel-rolling contests, craft fairs and live music.

7. Montreal, Quebec

With Montreal being the third-largest French-speaking city in the world, it's no surprise that their Bastille Day celebration is a big one. Originally called Ville-Marie, or "City of Mary," Montreal is home to rich nightlife with many restaurants and bars - almost all of which will be celebrating Bastille Day - studding its cobblestone streets. Partiers revel in costumer at the Old Port, the Bastille Day Wine Crawl Montreal puts a French twist on the traditional bar crawl and the city lights up with parades, festivals and fun for people of all ages.

8. French Polynesia

Looking for somewhere tropical with a French twist? As a member of the French Republic (pays d'outre-mer), French Polynesia is made up of several groups of Polynesian islands, the most famous island being Tahiti. The islanders have made Bastille Day their own, however, using it to celebrate their own unique culture through events like Heiva, an inter-island contest of singing, dancing, drumming, and traditional acts of manhood such as banana carrying, coconut-opening, out-rigger canoeing and spearing over the backdrop of crystal-blue waters, beaches and sunshine.

9. St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

While St. Thomas is technically part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, its large French population gathers together for several days of Bastille Day festivities. The celebration begins with dancing at local bars and live performances from bands from the French community. The highpoint of the celebrations is the Kingfish Tournament, a fundraiser for local schools which is held on a Sunday. Fishermen cast their lines early in the morning and must return to the beach by noon to enter their catches into the contest. The participant who catches the largest kingfish is awarded prize money.

10. Cayenne, French Guiana

Even some of the most remote destinations celebrate Bastille Day. Cayenne (French pronunciation:) is the capital of French Guiana, an overseas region of France that enjoys the same customs, currency and holidays as its namesake. The city stands on a former island at the mouth of the Cayenne River on the Atlantic coast and Bastille Day activities are much the same here as they are in Europe, with rousing renditions of Le Marseillaise, libations, civic events, parades and fireworks.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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