9 Annual Events to Attend in France
Leah Walker April 18, 2019

If there’s one thing the French know how to do (besides make patisserie, strike and give the perfect Gallic shrug), it’s party. There’s no better time to visit France and experience the country’s true culture than during one of its most popular celebrations. Here are nine events to spark your wanderlust. And if you’re visiting for a typical fête, you’ve just got to check out one of these quintessential gîtes in France, too.

Tour de France
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Tour de France

When?

July

Where?

All over France

What?
This iconic men’s cycling race consists of 21 day-long stages over 23 days in July. The route and starting point change each year, but there’s guaranteed to be some lung-busting sections through the Pyrenees and the Alps as well as the famous finish along Paris’ Champs-Élysées. While each stage attracts tourists from all over the world, with some making a holiday of following the entire race, a lot of people visit to see the publicity caravan of vehicles owned by many of France’s biggest brands. Free gifts are thrown from the moving vehicles, but be careful not to get caught up in the swell of the crowd!

Mardi Gras

When?
February or March, 47 days before the full moon on or after the vernal equinox

Where?
All over France, but particularly Paris, Nice, Dunkerque, Granville and Sarreguemines

What?
While the date of this event may sound overly specific, it’s because it’s related to the moveable feast of Easter. Also known as Shrove Tuesday, it’s the final day before Christians begin their Lenten fast on Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras translates as Fat Tuesday and it’s easy to see why – it alludes to the practice of eating rich, fatty foods before strict fasting begins for 40 days and nights. Carnivals take place all around France (‘carnelevare’ is Latin for ‘to take out the meat’) and, as well as feasting, locals dress up in extravagant masks and party the night away. If you’re visiting for Mardi Gras, you’ve got to try the mouth-watering carnival food: crêpes, waffles and beignets.

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Monaco Grand Prix (Grand Prix de Monaco)

When?

The last weekend in May

Where?
The Principality of Monaco

What?

This annual Formula One motor race is considered the ultimate test of driving skills as it takes place on a narrow, winding course through the streets of Monaco. It’s a hugely popular event for tourists and, while a number of grandstands are built to house spectators, the best place to watch the action is from many of the balconies around the principality which offer a bird’s eye view of the race. If you visit outside of the racing weekend, you can get up close and personal with the circuit by walking the 3.2km route through the town.

Cannes Film Festival (Festival de Cannes)

When?

12 days in May

Where?

Cannes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur

What?
One of France’s glitzy and most glamorous events, Cannes Film Festival attracts Hollywood’s rich and famous for a celebration of the big screen. The major screenings take place at The Palais while the famous red steps outside the Lumière Theatre are where the stars of the silver screen are photographed. Unused tickets for these screenings are taken back and redistributed to well-dressed visitors, so it’s worth packing a fancy outfit just in case! For something a little more low-key, the open-air cinema at Plage Mace screens movies for free so you can pack a pique-nique and a bottle of red and soak up some of the festival buzz.

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Bastille Day (la Fête nationale)

When?

14th July

Where?

All over France

What?

Bastille Day marks the anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789 which signaled the beginning of the French Revolution and the eventual toppling of the monarchy. The party starts the night before when Paris hosts a huge party around the Place de la Bastille. Then on the morning of the 14th, the oldest and largest military parade in Europe is held on the Champs-Élysées in front of the President of the Republic. But the celebrations aren’t solely limited to Paris. Parties for le 14 juillet can be seen across the country, from huge cities to tiny villages, where people will shout the national motto liberté, égalité, fraternité – the core beliefs of the Revolution which are still valued today.

Le Mans (24 Heures du Mans)

When?
June

Where?

Le Mans, Pays de la Loire

What?

The world’s oldest, and arguably most exciting, sports car race sees 60 cars race for 24 hours while battling against mechanical failure and driver fatigue. Held at the Circuit de la Sarthe, the longest race course in the world, the sports cars can reach speeds of 400 km/h while around 260,000 fans watch on. While the race begins at 3pm sharp, a program of activities and exhibitions beforehand make this a great event to make a holiday out of.

Rock en Seine

When?

Three days in August

Where?
Saint-Cloud, Île-de-France

What?

This three-day rock music festival has drawn music lovers from around Europe and beyond since it began in 2003. It’s held in the Château de Saint-Cloud’s park, west of Paris, which was designed in the 17th century and was classed as a Monument historique in 1994 – making it a tourist destination in its own right. At the most recent festival, 78 artists played over six stages, drawing a crowd of over 90,000 spectators!

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Festival of Lights (Fête des Lumières)

When?

December

Where?
Lyon, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes

What?

Around the 8th December each year, every house in the area places candles along the outsides of the windows to express gratitude to the Virgin Mary in this highly unique tradition. It’s said to have originated from 1643, when Lyon was struck by plague. Councillors promised to pay tribute to Mary if the town was spared and since then, locals have lit candles and given offerings in the name of the Madonna. The flickering candles create an enchanting glow throughout the streets making it a magical time to visit the city. You can also take part in the other activities held during this time or visit the Basilica of Fourvière and the Place des Terreaux, both guaranteeing spectacular illuminations.

Medieval Festival of Sedan (Festival Medieval de Sedan)

When?

The third weekend in May

Where?
Sedan, Grand Est

What?

Held at the Château Fort de Sedan, the largest medieval castle in Europe, this festival sees nearly 14,000 people celebrate everything to do with medieval life and culture. You can take part in parades by torchlight, feast at banquets or try your hand at jousting after stepping back in time at this unique festival. The castle boasts 35,000 square metres of space given over the celebration, meaning there’s no end of things to see and do. The party spills out onto the streets and into the forest, too, so it’s a great way to explore this historic town close to the Belgian border.

Leah Walker

Leah's a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. She documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. Leah freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, USA Today 10 Best, Bonjour Paris, France Today, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel and wine ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's lived in Paris for four years, and was awarded additional time with a Passeport Talent visa renewal. Though, her talent for speaking French is abysmal.

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