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The main French towns and cities

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photo by Edwin.11  Old Lyon - or Lyons







 

Page index  
Table 1: the forty largest metro areas Table 2: other urban zones with over 100,000 inhabitants Table 3: other communes with over 50,000 inhabitants

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A note on classification: By any system of measurement, Paris is the biggest city in France. That much is clear; but after that, classifying French towns and cities in order of size is an art, rather than a science, since the results depend very much on the criteria used. Different French statistical data use different  yardsticks, and "cities" can be classed in several different ways, notably by "urban area" (aire urbaine) , by "urban zone" (zone urbaine), or by borough (commune).

These terms are defined as follows:
"Urban area"  - A metropolitan area, i.e. the whole area which can be viewed as a coherent economic/employment unit.
"Urban zone" - The "conurbation", the densely populated heart of that area,  or "agglomération".
"Commune" - A borough, the basic unit of local administration in France, with its municipal council.

To make a comparison with London, "Greater London" would be an urban area, the "London postal area" would be an urban zone, and the "City of London" would be a commune.
 
Table 1 :  

Main French cities classed by population of metropolitan area

Latest figures from the INSEE, French national statistical office (Figures for 2010) .
All rankings refer to cities in Metropolitan France (i.e. France-in-Europe, excluding overseas departments and territories).


The 42 biggest cities in France, ranked by metropolitan area 
. Regional capital cities are indicated in bold.
Column D shows the population of the "urban zone" at the heart of each area, i.e. the city and its contiguous suburbs. If classed by the population of their urban zones, the order of the "biggest cities" in France is slightly different.

A B C D E F
Rank City Population Metropolitan area or urban area Population
by urban zone or conurbation
Region Departments
1 Paris* 12,089,2103 10 460 000 Ile de France 75,77,78,91,92,93,94,95
2 Lyon*  2,118,132 1,551,000 Rhône- Alpes 69 - Rhône
3 Marseille* –
Aix-en-Provence
1,715,096 1 559 789 Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur 13 - Bouches du Rhône
4 Toulouse  1,202,889 879,683 Midi-Pyrénées 31 - Garonne
5 Lille
Roubaix–Tourcoing
 1,150,530 1 018 356 Nord-Pas-de-Calais 59 - Nord
6 Bordeaux  1,105,257 843,425 Aquitaine 33 - Gironde
7 Nice  1,005,230 941,777 Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur 06 - Alpes Maritimes
8 Nantes  854,807 591,461 Pays de la Loire 44 - Loire Atlantique
9 Strasbourg  757,609 449,931 Alsace 67 - Bas Rhin
10 Grenoble  664,832 463,748 Rhône -Alpes 38 - Isère
11 Rennes  654,478 310,672 Brittany 35 - Ille et Vilaine
12 Rouen  649,291 389,862 Normandy 76 - Seine Maritime
13 Toulon  607,050 557,802 Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur 83 - Var
14 Douai–Lens  544,143 508,206 Nord-Pas-de-Calais 59 Nord & 62 Pas de Calais- 
15 Montpellier  536,592 390,962 Languedoc-Roussillon 34 - Hérault
16 Avignon  507,626 442,377 Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur 84 - Vaucluse
17 Saint Etienne  506,655 371,281 Rhône-Alpes 42 - Loire
18 Tours  473,226 346,105 Centre 37- Indre & Loire 
19 Clermont-Ferrand  459,250 260,681 Auvergne 63- Puy de Dôme
20 Nancy  434,202 286,215 Lorraine 54- Meurthe et Moselle
21 Orléans  415,471 263,292 Centre 45- Loiret
22 Caen  396,959 196,743 Normandy 14 - Calvados
23 Angers  392,940 226,843 Pays de la Loire 49 - Maine et Loire
24 Metz  389,603 288,940 Lorraine 57 - Moselle
25 Dijon  371,798 269,724 Burgundy 21 - Côte d'Or
26 Valenciennes  366,781 334,785 Nord-Pas-de-Calais 59- Nord
27 Béthune  365 513 352,945 Nord-Pas-de-Calais 62 - Pas de Calais
28 Le Mans  338,404 207,658 Pays de la Loire 72 - Sarthe
29 Reims  313,818 208,639 Champagne-Ardenne 51 - Marne
30 Brest  311,735 199,852 Brittany 29 - Finistère
31 Perpignan  296 104 190,668 Languedoc-Roussillon 66 - Pyrénées Orientales
32 Le Havre  293,851 241,037 Normandy 76 - Seine Maritime
33 Amiens  292 047 162,718 Picardy 80 - Somme
34 Mulhouse  281,520    242,353 Alsace 68 - Bas Rhin
35 Limoges  280 119 186,499 Limousin 87 - Haute Vienne
36 Bayonne  275 25 224,487 Aquitaine 64 Pyrénées Atlantiques
37 (Geneva) Annemasse  262,822 156,686 Rhône- Alpes 74 Haute Savoie
38 Dunkerque  259 566 178,449 Nord-Pas-de-Calais 59 - Nord
39 Nîmes  246 344 175,503 Languedoc-Roussillon 30 - Gard
40 Poitiers  249,196 127,845 Poitou-Charentes 86 - Vienne
41 Besançon  243 363 135,050 Franche-Comté 25 - Doubs
42 Pau 240 262 197,611 Aquitaine 64 Pyrénées Atlantiques
Rank City Population Metropolitan area or urban area Population
by urban zone or conurbation
Region Departments

* Note: Most of the larger metropolitan areas,  particularly those with over 500,000 inhabitants, contain more than one town (commune) with over 80,000 inhabitants. The Paris urban area, for instance, contains a number of large communes. Villeurbanne, a suburb of Lyon, is included in the Lyon metro area and urban zone, even though the commune ranks 27th in its own right when French "communes" are ranked by population.


Table 2
Other towns/cities in metropolitan France with an urban zone (conurbation - unité urbaine) of over 100,000 inhabitants, ranked by population or urban zone.

Rank City Population of
the urban zone
Region Departments
43 Chambéry 177,955 Rhône-Alpes 73 - Savoie
44 Annecy 157,805 Rhône-Alpes 74 - Haute Savoie
45 Saint-Nazaire 149,762 Pays de la Loire 44-Loire Atlantique
46 Valence 134,449 Rhône-Alpes 26 - Drôme
47 Troyes 132,751 Champagne-Ardenne 11 - Aube
48 Thionville 131,738 Lorraine 57 Meurthe et Moselle
49 La Rochelle 126,725 Poitou-Charentes 16 - Charente Maritime
50 Lorient 114,360 Brittany 56 - Morbihan
51 Maubeuge 112,571 Nord-Pas-de-Calais 59 - Nord
52 Montbéliard 108,502 Franche-Comté 25 - Doubs
53 Angoulême 107,824 Poitou-Charentes 17 - Charente



Table 3
Other towns in metropolitan France with a commune (borough) of over 50,000 inhabitants.
This table only lists those boroughs of over 50,000 inhabitants that are not already included in a metropolitan area or an urban zone listed in the two tables above.
Hence the gaps in the ranking, which are taken by large communes that are essentially suburbs, and as such already included (though not mentioned by name) in  the urban areas or urban zones listed in tables 1 and 2.
The classification by "commune" is only meaningful for country towns where a single commune accounts for the bulk of the "town". For larger urban zones, the commune population figures can be very misleading. The fact that "Paris intra muros" has 2.12 million inhabitants is of little relevance, hardly more than the fact that the population of the "City of London" in 2009 is a little over 8,000 inhabitants.

Rank City or town Population 2010
(commune)
Region Department(s)
63 Antibes 74,120 Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur Alpes-Maritimes
64 Calais 73,636 Nord-Pas-de-Calais Pas-de-Calais
66 Cannes 73,234 Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur Alpes-Maritimes
67 Béziers 70,955 Languedoc-Roussillon Hérault
71 Bourges 66,381 Centre Cher
68 Colmar 67,615 Alsace Haut-Rhin
73 Ajaccio 65,542 Corsica Corse-du-Sud
77 Quimper 63,550 Brittany Finistère
78 Valence 63,405 Rhône-Alpes Drôme
91 Niort 57,325 Poitou-Charentes Deux-Sèvres
94 Montauban 56,271 Midi-Pyrénées Tarn-et-Garonne
95 St Quentin 55,978 Picardy Aisne
98 Beauvais 54,711 Picardy Oise
102 Cholet 54,098 Pays de la Loire Maine-et-Loire
108 La Roche sur Yon 52,664 Pays de la Loire Vendée
109 Arles 52,661 Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur Bouches du Rhône
111 Vannes 52,515 Brittany Morbihan
114 Fréjus 51,039 Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur Alpes-Maritimes
118 Grasse 51,036 Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur Alpes-Maritimes
119 Laval 50,940 Pays de la Loire Mayenne
121 Evreux 50,537 Upper Normandy Eure
117 Narbonne 51,039 Languedoc-Roussillon Aude
122 Annecy 50,379 Rhône-Alpes Haute Savoie
123 Belfort 50,078 Franche-Comté Territoire de Belfort

Population data from the French National Statistical Office, the INSEE.

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