France is much more than Paris! The main cities of France offer a diversity of culture, history, and beauty, from Nice’s Mediterranean seaside breeze to Strasbourg’s sauerkraut and Christmas markets. Discover the unique characters and personality of each of these cities.
With a population of 2.2 million, Paris is by far France’s largest city. Connected to London via the Channel Tunnel and the rest of the world by its major international airports, Paris sees upwards of 16 million international visitors a year.
Paris is one of the world’s major economies and a leading hub of finance, commerce, fashion, and more. However, it is best known for tourism, consistently ranking within the top five tourist destinations in the world.
Lyon is located near the Swiss border, 300 miles south of Paris. Considered by locals to be France’s “second city”, Lyon has the third-largest population in the country with roughly 500,000 residents.
Lyon is known as the gastronomical capital of France, as its streets are lined with gourmet eateries. In addition to its tasty cuisine, Lyon is of great geographical importance, serving as the main hub between Paris, the south of France, the Swiss Alps, Italy, and Spain.
Lyon’s history goes back to the height of the Roman Empire when Lyon (known then as Lugdunum) was a major city. While its global influence has waned, Lyon remains a place of immense historical and cultural import, from the winding passageways of its Renaissance district (Vieux Lyon) to its striking modernist landmarks.
Nice, the fifth most populous city in France, is the most iconic location in the French Riviera. Tucked in the southeast corner of France, this picturesque city sits at the foot of the Alps and stretches along part of the Mediterranean coast. Nice’s relatively warm climate and stunning seaside have made it one of France’s most popular destinations.
During the 18th century, Nice became a popular winter getaway for the English upper class. The name of the seaside promenade name reflects this part of its history: Promenade des Anglais, which translates to Walkway of the English. Nowadays, the city attracts re-settlers from all over Europe. Nice hosts about 5 million tourists a year, second only to Paris.
Marseille is France’s oldest city and one of the oldest in Western Europe. Its timeline goes back to 600 BC when the region was settled by ancient Greeks. Marseille’s geographical position along the Mediterranean sea allowed the outpost to serve as an important port city throughout much of its history.
Today, Marseilles is France’s second-largest city and the main port for commercial and cruise ships. In recent decades, the city has developed into a popular tourist destination with around 4 million visitors a year.
Well known for its distinct and coveted namesake wine, Bourdeaux is considered the wine capital of the world. More than 700 million bottles of wine are produced here every year. Bordeaux wine ranges from simple table wine to some of the most prestigious wines in the world.
In addition to its most famous export, Bordeaux is also home to 362 national heritage sites, designated as historic monuments. Millions of visitors come every year to tour the city’s architectural marvels.
Toulouse is nicknamed la villa rose, or the “pink city”, for its buildings comprised of signature light red terra cotta bricks made from the river Garonne’s reddish mud. The city grew into prominence during the 15th century as a major producer of blue dye. Toulouse was among the wealthiest cities in France, but the economy took a major hit when a cheaper alternative pigment, indigo, was introduced from India.
Recovery was slow, but by the 18th century, Toulouse began to modernize. The long-time rival to Bordeaux has since re-invented itself as a European capital of the aerospace industry. The city is home to aeronautics giant Airbus’ headquarters and several major firms collectively known as an aerospace valley. The Toulouse Space Centre is the largest space center in Europe.
Strasbourg is among the most popular tourist destinations in France, but in some ways, the city has more in common with Germany. Situated close to the eastern border with Germany, the city is part of the Alsace region of France. Many locals speak Alsatian, a German dialect.
This heritage and a sense of Germanic identity are evident even today. Many of Strasbourg’s street signs are written in classic German script, and much of the cuisine includes German classics like sauerkraut. One of the most famous attractions is the Strasbourg Christmas market, the oldest and largest Christmas Market in Europe.
Montpellier, the seventh-largest city in France, is located in the country’s southern region. The city has gone through a process of rapid development, consequently distinguishing itself as more than just a port along the Mediterranean. Much of Montpellier’s increasing popularity is due to a growing student population, which makes up about a third of the overall population. Half of the city’s population is under 35.
The city of Dijon, located in eastern France, is one of the country’s wine capitals, but it is perhaps even more famous for its mustard: la Moutarde de Dijon. Sadly, much of the Dijon mustard sold in stores today is no longer produced in Dijon. Still, the Burgundy region is world-renowned for its vineyards and production of top-shelf wine. In the fall, the city holds its popular International and Gastronomic Fair, one of the most important food fairs in all of France.
During the 17th century, Nantes was the largest port city in France and a major trading center with other coastal Atlantic neighbors. Today, Nantes has a population of approximately 300,000, striking a balance between a booming artist culture and thriving service industries.
The different regions of France display incredible variety: culture and heritage, their traditions and cuisine, sea or mountain, town or country. Use your time studying in France to explore a colorful country.
NOUVELLE-AQUITAINE: WHERE VINES MEET THE OCEAN
With 250 kilometers of beaches, historic towns, chateaus, and vineyards, Nouvelle-Aquitaine have something for everyone. If you don’t want to go surfing at Biarritz, take a boat tour in the Poitevin marshlands, or perhaps go on a wine-tasting detour into the vineyards surrounding Bordeaux. There are as many things to do as there are opportunities to explore Nouvelle Aquitaine.
THE GRAND EST: AT THE HEART OF EUROPE
Steeped in history, in the First World War, the Grand Est was the scene of major battles, such as the Battle of Verdun. Once there you can visit Strasbourg, the European capital, and also the vineyards of Champagne and Alsace, or the Vosges mountains. Why wait? Set out now to explore the Grand-Est.
AUVERGNE-RHÔNE-ALPES: THE MOUNTAINS IN ALL THEIR GLORY
The Auvergne Rhône-Alpes region is a land of volcanos and snow-covered peaks: from the springs of Evian to the slopes of Mont-Blanc, choose from amongst the ski stations and the thermal spas. From Lyon to the shores of Lake Annecy, there’s everything to discover in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region.
HAUTS-DE-FRANCE, LAND OF THE NORTH
Hauts-de-France region is dotted with cathedrals, bell towers, and citadels, and its plains bear witness to its mining history. Lille’s carnivals and street market are the chance to try the best chips in France, before sauntering to the Côte d’Opale. There’s so much to discover in Hauts-de-France.
CORSICA: A PRESERVED JEWEL
With its villages perched up high and its hiking trails, beaches, and heavenly seabeds, Corsica has more than one attraction for visitors. From Calvi to the Gulf of Bonifacio, through the Citadel of Corte, this beautiful island holds more than one surprise in store for you. Don’t hesitate to explore Corsica.
NORMANDY: THE GOOD LIFE
People go to Normandy for its gentle climate, wooded countryside, cows, and steeples. You can also admire the cliffs of Fécamp, be speechless at the sight of Mont-Saint-Michel, walk the beaches of D-Day and follow the path of William the Conqueror. Go and explore Normandy.
BURGUNDY FRANCHE-COMTÉ: THE ART OF LIVING
The Burgundy Franche-Comté region is renowned for its vineyards. It’s also home to delicious escargots. Use the region’s many canals to stop off and enjoy all the different culinary delights from Dijon to Châlons-sur-Saône before reaching the Jura, with its magnificent view of the Alps. Discover Burgundy Franche Comté.
ÎLE-DE-FRANCE: A CAPITAL REGION
Île de France is the cultural and political heart of France. There are countless historic monuments, cultural events, and chances for an evening out. From nights out in Paris to walks in the woods surrounding the town, there’s so much to see in Île-de-France.
THE CENTRE-VAL-DE-LOIRE REGION: THE RUN OF THE RIVER
The Centre-Val-de-Loire region was the cradle of the French Renaissance; the majestic chateaus that line the river testify to that. The banks of the Loire are favorite destinations of fans of bicycle tourism, one of the best ways to explore the Centre Val de Loire region.
PAYS DE LA LOIRE: THE OPEN AIR
With its long beaches, islands swept by the ocean spray, and dunes as far as the eye can see, the Pays de la Loire region is the ideal destination for those in search of a breath of fresh air. Cultural life in Nantes is famously dynamic. From the cathedral in Le Mans to the saltwater marshes of Guérande, the Pays de la Loire is worth the visit.
BRITTANY: LAND OF MYSTERY
In Brittany, a region of tradition and character, the story of the sea meets the story of the Celts. There you can walk across the mist-covered moors before tasting seafood in a Morbihan fishing port. From Brest harbor to the lively streets of Rennes, Brittany is awaiting discovery.
OCCITANIE: LIFE IN THE SUN
Nestled against the Pyrenees and bordered by the Mediterranean, Occitanie has a wide variety of countryside and activities. Its inhabitants take the time to enjoy life and share the excellent regional specialties, such as the famous foie gras. From rose-coloured Toulouse to Catalonian Perpignan, Occitanie is ripe for exploration.
PROVENCE-ALPES-CÔTE D’AZUR: CONCENTRATED MEDITERRANEAN
From the beaches of the FrenchRiviera to the mountains of Mercantour, the “PACA” region is covered with fields of Provencal lavender, marinas, and “calanques” – the rocky creeks found in the area. Roam the laneways of Marseilles and listen to the sing-song accent of the locals before heading for the Esterel and Italy. Explore the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur region.
OVERSEAS FRANCE: FRANCE AT THE ENDS OF THE WORLD
Dream landscapes, good living, and the pleasure of the senses under the gaze of the “Old Lady”, the nickname of the volcano La Soufrière. Discover Guadeloupe.
Martinique offers a savory mix of Caribbean creole traditions at the base of Mount Pelée, which dominates the island. Discover Martinique.
The only French Overseas territory that is not an island, Guiana is a land of nature where the Amazon forest bursts out upon the ocean, as do the rivers that meander through it. Discover Guiana.
If you’re looking for a change of scenery, try this tropical and volcanic island in the Indian Ocean, where Tamil, Indian, Chinese, Malagasy, Creole, and French culture come together artfully. Discover Reunion Island.
(source: campus france)