Here is a list of the largest French cities, which range from most-visited Paris to Mediterranean Nice and German-influenced Strasbourg. Learn about the characteristics of each city and the main highlights and attractions of each.
Population: 2,140,526; Department: Paris; Region: Île-de-France
Paris is the ultimate urban destination in France, indeed in Europe. This is a city that features a seemingly endless must-see list of museums, sights, and tours. It's also the perfect city to wander around aimlessly, discovering lovely neighborhoods like the Île Saint Louis and the Marais. The French even have a word for this; it's flâneur which conjures up city slickers in top hats strolling through the parks and gardens. And of course, Paris is the place to find world-class cuisine and world-class art, not to mention some of the world's best shopping.
The main attractions in Paris are the most popular in France, from Disneyland (14 million visitors) to the Louvre (10.2 million) and the Eiffel Tower (7 million). While all French cities are great for enjoying the café life, Paris elevates that to an art form.
Population: "870,01."; Department: Bouches-du-Rhône; Region: Provence-Alpes-Maritimes-Cote-d’Azur
The largest city in Provence and now the second largest in France, Marseille has seen a huge resurgence in recent years. The great historic maritime city has been extensively redeveloped in many areas, while the new MUCEM (Museum of the Civilisations of Europe and the Mediterranean) has brought a new cultural buzz.
Marseille offers a wonderful combination of Mediterranean climate, big city and that joie de vivre of the South of France. It's also a great place for restaurants, bars, cafes, and shopping.
Marseille is easily accessible from many other destination cities and you can now take the train from London St Pancras to Marseille without changing trains or stations; it takes a mere 6 hours 27 minutes.
Population: 496,343; Department: Rhône; Region: Auvergne - Rhône-Alpes
Lyon is frequently underrated but it is one of the most interesting and lively cities in France and well worth a visit.
The inventors of the cinema lived and worked here; don't miss the Lumière Museum and watch the first film ever made. There are others as well, covering the fine arts, the French Resistance (a particularly brutal history in Lyon), and printing. Oh, and the Romans started it all.
Population: 475,438; Department: Haute-Garonne; Region: Occitanie (Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées)
Known as the ville rose (pink city), Toulouse is another lovely city often ignored by visitors. On the Garonne river, this gracious, spacious city spreads out along the river banks. The food here, and in the rest of the region, is superb. The shopping options are vast.
Toulouse is also a great start for regional tourism, and it's from here that you are met for a slow barge trip through Gascony.
Population: 342 637; Department: Alpes-Maritimes; Region: Provence-Alpes-Maritimes-Cote-d’Azur (PACA)
Nice is a wonderful French Riviera city, and a popular destination for couples, honeymooners, and sun-worshipers. The Queen of the Riviera, as the city is known, has a delightful Old Town, enticing pedestrian walkways lined with cafes and boutiques, and one of the best markets in the south of France at the famous Cours Saleya. Beloved and discovered by the Impressionist artists, it's full of delightful, small art museums, many of them in the houses the artists lived in. It's well known for its lively restaurants and bistros, as well as its street food for those in a hurry.
Population: 306 694; Department: Loire-Atlantique; Region: Pays de la Loire
Nantes is a charming western France city at the western end of the Loire River. A huge and impressive renovation has catapulted the city into the major league of French cities. Its history is tumultuous; its river banks now bustling and lively with artworks, boutiques, restaurants, and cafes.
But its most quirky and famous project must be the Machines de l'Ile. Ride on the huge elephant or take to one of the Jules Vernes-style creatures on the carousel' you'll be amazed by the ingenuity.
Population: 279,284; Department: Bas-Rhin; Region: Grand Est (Alsace, Champagne-Ardennes, and Lorraine)
Strasbourg is the ultimate European city. It has flavors of both France and Germany and sits right on the border of the two countries. It's picturesque la Petite France neighborhood looks like something straight out of a fairy tale book, a riverfront neighborhood with timbered buildings accented by colorful flower boxes.
But it also has great museums, shops, a wonderful Christmas Market, well worth visiting, and of course, top Alsatian restaurants.
Population: 281,613; Department: Hérault; Region: Occitanie (Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées)
Another of those cities which many have heard of but fewer have visited, Montpellier is a delightful city. It'd one of the top cities of the south of France, with a venerable past, good museums and an old pedestrian-friendly centre for strolling around.
Population: 241,287; Department: Gironde; Region: Nouvelle Aquitaine (Aquitaine, Limousin, and Poitou-Charentes)
Bordeaux on the French Atlantic coast is a thriving city filled with shops, amazing historic attractions and nestled in the heart of wine country. Bordeaux's great history as the major port to the New World as well as the great producer of wines shipped to England has been revitalized, most recently by the opening of the world-class Bordeaux Cité du Vin which shows the history of wine throughout the world from 600,000 years ago to today. Atmospheric and urban, Bordeaux is one of the loveliest cities in France.
Population: 232 440; Department: Nord; Region: Hautes-de-France (Nord, Pas-de-Calais and Picardie)
Lille is blessed with a central European location. It's an hour and a half from London by Eurostar, 1 hour from Paris and a half hour from Brussels. Not surprisingly, Lille reflects the influences of a variety of European cultures. It is a lovely city, with winding cobbled streets in the old town, delightful museums (including the atmospheric Hospice of the Countess Museum which feels as if you're walking through a Dutch Old Master painting) and very good restaurants.