A Guide to Bastille day in Carcassonne, France

I’m rounding off my 2022 France series with a final post, and it’s my favourite.

Bastille Day is the common name for the national day of France, which is celebrated on 14 July each year. In French, it is formally called the Fête Nationale Française. Bastille day symbolises the start of the French revolution, and the ultimate downfall of the Monarchy. It’s a national holiday in France and is celebrated widely across the country.

One of the most amazing places to be for Bastille Day fireworks is the medieval city of Carcassonne, in the south of France. Visiting for the fireworks is one of my favourite European travel experiences – they were so special and I’d recommend going to anyone considering it.


Visiting Carcassonne

Carcassonne is an amazing medieval town, with a stunning castle and lots of fun things to do – you can read my post HERE to find out more. You can fly directly in to Carcassonne airport from airports across the UK and Europe via Ryanair flights – though the airport is small so flights aren’t that regular.

Carcassonne

If you want to visit for Bastille Day, I recommend coming a day or two before July 14th. It gets completely packed on the actual day so if you want to see the city, come beforehand. As a guide, Carcassonne’s normal population is c45,000 but on Bastille day it swells to over 600,000!

Many areas of the castle and town are also closed on the day itself in preparation for the fireworks, so if you really want to explore everything be sure to be there a couple of days prior.

Also be sure to book your accommodation well in advance. We booked a city centre hotel with a balcony to enable us to watch the fireworks (Hotel de la Cite), but they cancelled on us 4 weeks before we were due to travel as a famous celebrity booked out the hotel. I was furious, but very luckily managed to find a cottage outside of the city called Les Pimprenelles which was lovely.

Make sure you also book reservations for food ahead of time if you need to – we had to self cater on the day as no restaurants were available for lunch or dinner.


Where to watch the fireworks

The best place to watch the fireworks is from the Pont Neuf Bridge, followed closely in priority by the view from the Pont Vieux Bridge.  As of 2:30pm in the afternoon on Bastille Day, good spots on both bridges were still available. As it was 40C (104F) temperatures and no shade on the day, we weren’t prepared to stand in the boiling heat for 8+ hours to get the prime spots – and by 3pm, the bridges were full.

If you *really* want the prime spots, I also recommend taking a chair – standing for that long isn’t fun. As tourists we don’t often pack chairs in our hand luggage so I think this option is more for people who travel to Carcassonne by car.

With the prime spots out, we decided to venture a little further afield. There are a number of parks and spots along the river between the bridges (see picture below) which are nice and you could lay a blanket (just remember to pack one!), but again we weren’t willing to set up in the heat and all the spaces in the shade were gone by 3pm.

View from the bridge

So it was time to find another spot. We ruled out watching from inside the city walls as you wouldn’t get the full view of the fireworks and there would be a lot of smoke – but you could book a table at a central restaurant balcony and watch from there I think.

We think we found a gem though. At first we walked up the night before Bastille Day to scope out the ‘Carcassonne Castle Panorama Viewpoint’ as per google maps, just off the D6161 – but there were already cars and camper vans parked up and we decided it was so far away the view wasn’t that great anyway.

BUT, we did find a little road, just off the Chemin des Ourtets leading up hill between houses which brings you out at a vineyard at the top of the hill with the most beautiful views. There was literally no-one there as at 4pm on the day. We headed back at 8pm and there were a couple of cars but still plenty of space, and eventually at 9pm we went back up and got a prime spot right at the front. We laid out a blanket and waited an hour for the show.

The glorious view

By 10pm, we had people standing behind us, but it didn’t matter and the area was still pretty quiet compared to others. We found ourselves next to a group of French people singing medieval songs which added an interesting dimension to the evening – it was actually quite nice and thankfully they stopped once the fireworks began (!)

Waiting for the sun to set ahead of the fireworks


The Main Event

Wow. The best fireworks I have ever seen in my life. They start at 10.30pm, last about 30 minutes and are beyond incredible. Photos can’t possibly do them justice, and I alternated between snapping away and just watching in complete and total awe.

The view as the sun set

There were dazzling, magical white fireworks which sparked and glistened like diamonds. There were huge bangs of colours hanging in the sky and illuminating the castle in green, red, blue and yellow. There were fireworks which fizzed, those which whirled and those which thudded. At points the ground trembled under our feet and we were utterly whisked away in the beauty of it all.

Fireworks everywhere

I’ll never forget watching them – alongside my parents and my husband. My parents went to Carcassonne on their honeymoon 38 years ago but missed the fireworks by a day. This visit was for them to complete their honeymoon, and I’m so glad I got to enjoy it with them. I doubt I’ll ever see fireworks like it again and I am so privileged to have been able to see them.


Other Bastille Day tips

  • Pack some small pruners or sturdy scissors – if you’re sitting on the ground there will be rogue vegetation around you might want to be able to cut
  • Wear insect repellant as the mosquitoes can be very hungry
  • Take a large, thick blanket to sit on, as the minimum you will be waiting if you want a good spot is a couple of hours and you’ll want to sit down
  • If you’re waiting all day, be sure to take a sunhat and suncream as the area can get so hot and there isn’t that much shade
  • Bring some snacks and some wine, especially if you’re waiting for a few hours over dinner – the whole atmosphere in the city is a laid back party vibe so make the most of it
  • Pick a spot and stick to it. Scope out your ideal spots the day before. Set a limit on how long you’re willing to sit in each spot to get it. Then you’re not faffing about on the day trying to find somewhere. We had a plan A, B and C and a maximum time we would wait which meant we didn’t dither about (too much) on the day.
A short fireworks video

So, did you enjoy the fireworks? I can’t recommend this experience enough, it was a really special trip and one which will stay with me for life. Stay safe and happy travelling everyone!

35 Comments

  1. Carcassonne is high on my list of places to visit after reading your posts on this charming town Hannah. The fireworks looked stunning too and how lovely you shared the experience with both your husband and parents. I would also have been furious at a hotel cancelling on me because a celebrity wanted to take over the hotel. It was a terrible way for them to carry out business.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally agree about the hotel Marion, I was completely livid. Thankfully it turned out alright in the end and I can only hope the celebrity was awful! haha! I hope you enjoy Carcassonne when you go, it’s a wonderful city.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Most tourists tend to go to Paris (right at the Eiffel Tower) to check out the fireworks for la fête nationale– you really went against the grain to watch them in Carcassonne, and it worked out beautifully for you and your family! Glad it was a wonderful time and a wonderful end to your time in France. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, what a beautiful castle – I would love to discover every niche, passageway and parapet of it before navigating the streets of the hilltop settlement and Lower City. I am sorry to hear that your hotel was cancelled, it’s not a notification you would want to receive a few weeks before travelling! Did you get to try Languedoc-style snails? Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Carcassonne and its castle were truly spectacular Aiva, and we had a wonderful visit. Thankfully the hotel cancelling didn’t matter too much in the end, but I wasn’t at all impressed. I also didn’t try the snails as I couldn’t bring myself to – I probably missed out on a delicious treat!! 🙂 Thanks for reading xx

      Liked by 1 person

  4. wow, what an incredible experience to be there for those fireworks over the castle! Even with the hiccups, you could not have found a more perfect way to spend the day. So glad your parents got to complete their honeymoon years later-what a sweet thought that is 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post, Hannah! I loved every one of your photos, and while I think you captured the fireworks amazingly, I can’t imagine how beautiful they must’ve been in person. The photo of the sun setting on the castle is incredible too. Thank you for sharing your Bastille Day with us!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That’s pretty rude that the hotel cancelled. That very hotel is in the running for our accommodation this summer, but maybe it should be demoted given how they treated you. It’s funny you chose Bastille Day to go to this popular site. A few years ago, we found ourselves in another popular French getaway location – Annecy. I hadn’t realized I’d booked our time there over Bastille Day. It was awful. Here’s the link in case you want to laugh along to our misery. It’s actually categorized as one of my When Bad Things Happens to Good Travelers posts, so that should tell you something:

    https://thetravelarchitect.wordpress.com/2018/11/25/episode-4-the-most-beautiful-place-ive-ever-hated/

    Anyway, the fireworks in Carcassonne are amazing. But as soon as you mentioned Bastille Day I freaked out and googled the date. Whew! We will NOT be in France on Bastille Day. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh wowwww, I’ve just read you Annecy post, what an awful Bastille Day experience. I feel like Carcassonne was just as bad but because we knew to expect it we were prepared whereas for you guys to arrive on the day – I can’t even imagine the stress. We arrived 3 days before to avoid the crowds and then on the day just hunkered down, had food in etc – and the fireworks were spectacular. let me know if you do end up staying at that hotel, I was so annoyed at them I can’t recommend them to anyone but it did look really nice.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Aw, thanks for reading it. You clearly tolerated the crowds better than we did. I think you’re right though – being prepared for it and also getting in a few days before the biggest crowds probably makes a difference. I just booked an Airbnb inside the walled part of the city. I know it will be busy but we’ll be ready for it this time.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Looks like while you were looking for the perfect spot to watch the fireworks, you actually explored more of Carcassonne! And just from your photos, the fireworks look amazing…I can only imagine what it must have been like to be there yourself! Wonder where was the “so called” celebrity …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes we definitely did. The fireworks were so special and one of my favourite travel experiences of all time I think – so special to watch them with my parents as well 🙂 Thanks for reading Corna and have a great day x

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Your visit to Carcassonne for Bastille Day looks like a marvelous travel experience, Hannah. The medieval castles are amazing, captured wonderfully, as are your expansive landscape views. Love the sunset shot and stunning fireworks display, as well. Thanks for sharing, and I wish you a wonderful week ahead 🙂

    Like

  9. Looks like a great time to be there! Love the shot of the sunset glowing on the walls and castle, and the one with the sunlight just peeking over while you walk (I assume that’s your hat from the back).

    Liked by 1 person

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