Every July, Firemen's Balls - Bals des Pompiers - become hot spots of Bastille Day revelry at fire stations and other special venues across Paris as well as the rest of France. There's no better way to celebrate la Fête Nationale!
You'll enjoy lots of fun and Champagne (or beer), meet and mingle with real Parisians, and get to ogle (oops, admire) the handsome and very physically fit members of the elite Paris Fire Brigade.
If you're lucky enough to be in Paris on July 13 and 14, put one or more of these famous all-night parties on your calendar.
Top photo: Bal des Pompiers at Arenes de Lutece, (c) Paris Discovery Guide
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What to Expect at a Bal des Pompiers
The Paris Fire Brigade dates back to 1793, just four short years after the storming of the Bastille, and in 1810 Napoleon decreed it to be a military unit of the French Army devoted to the safety of Paris after a particularly devastating fire burned for 23 hours in the city.
Today, the Paris Fire Brigade includes 8,700 men and women, making it the largest fire brigade in Europe and third largest in the world. They respond to about half a million interventions each year involving fires, explosions, floods, and accidents
Although Paris Fire Brigade members march twice in the huge Bastille Day Parade along the Champs Élysées on July 14 - once on foot and once in fire trucks and other vehicles - the real celebrations take place at their Firemen's Balls, a tradition that began in Paris 100+ years ago and then spread across France.
On July 13 and/or July 14th, the main fire station (caserne) in most of the city's 20 districts throws a huge party in its courtyard (or sometimes nearby at special venue such as a mansion or Roman arena) and welcomes in the public with music, dancing, and drinking for a rousing Bastille Day celebration.
Most of the parties offer food for sale, huge inflated balls to toss in the air, disco lights, live bands, DJs, and perhaps other special effects.
The Bals des Pompiers at most stations begin at 9pm (a few may begin as early at 7pm, especially if they have music for kids) and finally wind down around 4am, just as the sun starts to come up after the short July night.
The parties attract people of all ages, including families with babies and young children, although many of the families tend to leave by midnight.
By afternoon, you'll begin to see the firemen move their fire trucks out of the stations and park along nearby streets to make room for party guests in the courtyards next to their barracks.
In some districts, entrance to the "barracks" gives you a glimpse of another era.
In the 4th Arrondissement in the Marais, for example, the Sévigné Firehouse is in Hotel Chavigny, an enormous mansion built in 1265 with additions such as courtyards, gardens, and galleries added in the 1700s.
The 5th Arrondissement fire station in the Latin Quarter hosts its Bal des Pompiers in nearby Arènes de Lutèce, a huge 1st century Roman arena hidden from the street by tall apartment buildings.
At the most popular locations in central Paris (for example, Arènes), you should expect to wait in line to get in - one or two hours or even more is not unusual. Crowds are mellow and the time passes quickly.
Once you get close to the entrance, you will need to pass through two or three security checkpoints before being admitted. At most locations, the firemen stop letting people in at around 3am.
Some firehouses charge a small entrance fee (usually 2€ or 3€) while others request a small donation to be dropped into a traditional barrel (you can give what you want, but 2€ - 3€ is reasonable). Proceeds are used to improve the working conditions in the firehouses.
Occasionally, the admission fee will be larger, typically because of a special fundraiser. For example, the Versailles caserne charges 10€, with a little of that amount going to the firehouse and the rest to a fund for children of firefighters killed in the line of duty.
Once you're finally inside, get ready to dance and have fun for the rest of the night! The balls resemble country-style guinguettes, convivial outdoor summer festivals with musicians, plenty of beverages, and dancing.
During peak hours - perhaps 11pm - 3am - most venues will be packed, which is part of the fun.
Champagne by the glass or bottle, beer, and non-alcoholic drinks as well as food are available for purchase at most of the party. But dancing is the main activity, with plenty of lively music, flashing disco lights, and other special effects, and huge plastic balls to toss in the air.
Since these are Bastille Day celebrations, expect to join in periodic rousing renditions of "La Marseillaise."
Don't know the words? Have another glass or three of Champagne, and you will by the time you leave.
Firemen's Balls Locations and Dates for 2023
Notes: Caserne is "fire station" in French. TBC=To Be Confirmed
Please note: A couple of dates are still to be confirmed for 2023. We will continue to post updates as soon as they become available. Fingers crossed that the party at Arènes de Lutèce in the 5th will happen this year!
Firemen's Balls on July 13
- 1st Arrondissement: Caserne Rousseau - 21 Rue du Jour. Metro: Les Halles
- 3rd Arrondissement: Town Hall of the Central Paris - 2 Rue Eugene Spuller, starts at 7pm with children's party; adults music starts at 9pm. Metro: Temple
- 4th Arrondissement: Caserne Sévigné - 07-09 Rue de Sévigné. Metro: Saint-Paul
- 5th Arrondissement: Compagnie de Commandement et de Logistique No. 5 (CCL5) - Arènes de Lutèce, 49-53 rue Monge. Metro: Place Monge TBC
- 6th Arrondissement: Caserne Colombier- 11 Rue du Vieux Colombier. Metro: Saint-Sulpice
- 6th Arrondissement: La Monnaie de Paris - 11 Quai de Conti. Metro: Pont Neuf (walk across the bridge) to the Left Bank
- 9th Arrondissement: Caserne Blanche - 28 Rue Blanche. Metro: Trinité d'Estienne d'Orves
- 12th Arrondissement: Caserne Chaligny - 26 Rue de Chaligny. Metro: Reuilly Diderot
- 13th Arrondissement: Caserne Masséna - 37 Boulevard Masséna. Metro: Les Gobelins
- 13th Arrondissement: Caserne Port-Royal - 53-55 Boulevard Port-Royal. Metro: Porte d'Ivry
- 15th Arrondissement: Caserne Grenelle - 6 Place Violet. Metro: Commerce
- 16th Arrondissement: Caserne Dauphine - 8 Rue Mesnil. Metro: Victor Hugo
- 17th Arrondissement: Caserne Boursault - Centre de Secours et Voie Publique, 27 Rue Boursault. Metro: Romes
- 18th Arrondissement: Caserne Montmartre, 9pm - 4am - 12 Rue Carpeaux. Metro: Guy Moquet - there's conflicting information about this one - stay tuned!
- 19th Arrondissement: Caserne Bitche - Centre de Secours et Voie Publique, 2 Place de Bitche. Metro: Crimée
- 20th Arrondissement: Caserne Ménilmontant - 47 Rue Saint-Fargeau. Metro: Pelleport
Firemen's Balls on July 14
These firehouses host parties on the night of the 14th.
- 18th Arrondissement: Caserne Montmartre - 12 Rue Carpeaux. Metro: Guy Moque
- 19th Arrondissement: CMAI - City of Sciences and Industry, 30 Avenue Corentin Cariou. Starts at 9pm. Metro: Porte de la Villette
Firemen's Ball in Versailles (the town)
- Versailles : Caserne de Versailles, July 13, 7pm - 3am, with music, dancing, and food trucks behind the town hall, 10€ - 4 Avenue de Paris (across from the entrance to the chateau). RER C: Versailles Chateau Rive Gauche. Combine this experience with a visit to the Palace of Versailles, and stay overnight in order to attend the Firemen's Ball
What's the History of Firemen's Balls?
How and when did les Bals des Pompiers begin?
According to the Montmartre firefighters' website, the first firemen's ball happened spontaneously in 1937, when local residents followed them as they returned to their barracks after marching in the Fête Nationale military parade.
In the excitement of the moment, the firefighters opened the gates to their barracks and invited in the residents to continue the celebration in an impromptu party. Everyone had so much fun that they and surrounding barracks repeated the experience on the following July 14th. Year by year, the celebrations spread across Paris and beyond, especially after music and refreshments became part of the celebration.
However, the roots of the tradition go back to August 15, 1806, when firestations across the city opened their doors to introduce themselves to the residents of their neighborhoods.
Getting Back to Your Hotel or Apartment after a Firemen's Ball
Important to keep in mind: The Paris Metro stops running at about 12:30am on week nights, and about 2am on Saturdays, Sundays, and the nights before holidays such as Bastille Day - but not on the night of the holiday itself.
In other words, if you go to one of the Firemen's Balls held on the 13th, you can stay until about 1:30pm and probably still catch the metro in time to get back to your hotel or apartment.
But, if you go on the 14th and if the following day, the 15th, isn't a Saturday or Sunday, be prepared to leave by midnight if you need to take the metro.
Of course, buses are also an option but after around 11pm, you'll need to look for a "Noctilien" (ie, late night) bus. The best way to find the nearest location is to use the RATP app. It will show you what all the options are.
If you plan to take a taxi later, find the location of the nearest taxi stand location before you go.
Ride share services such as Uber and Bolt depend on the availability of drivers. You may be lucky - or not.
In any case, if you plan to stay at one of the parties until 4am, you may want to choose a fire station within easy walking distance of where you're staying, since taxis and ubers can be scare at that hour.
Want to know more about Paris's awesome Fire Brigade? Here is their website
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