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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 units with over 100,000 inhabitants Table 3: other communes with over 50,000 inhabitants

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Updated 2016
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 unit" (unité 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 unit" - 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 unit, 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 2012) .
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 unit" at the heart of each area, i.e. the city and its contiguous suburbs. If classed by the population of their urban units, 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 unit or conurbation
Region Departments
1 Paris* 12,341,418 10,550,350 Ile de France 75,77,78,91,92,93,94,95
2 Lyon*  2,214,068 1,584,738 Rhône- Alpes 69 - Rhône
3 Marseille* –
Aix-en-Provence
 1,727,070 1,565,879 Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur 13 - Bouches du Rhône
4 Toulouse  1,270,760 906,457 Midi-Pyrénées 31 - Garonne
5 Lille
Roubaix–Tourcoing
 1,166,452 1,024,075 Nord-Pas-de-Calais 59 - Nord
6 Bordeaux  1,158,431 863,391 Aquitaine 33 - Gironde
7 Nice  1,004,914 943,695 Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur 06 - Alpes Maritimes
8 Nantes  897,713 606,640 Pays de la Loire 44 - Loire Atlantique
9 Strasbourg  768,868 454,475 Alsace 67 - Bas Rhin
10 Rennes  690,467 318,127 Brittany 35 - Ille et Vilaine
11 Grenoble  679,863 504,734 Rhône -Alpes 38 - Isère
12 Rouen  658,285 465,879 Normandy 76 - Seine Maritime
13 Toulon  611,237 561,155 Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur 83 - Var
14 Montpellier  569,956 406,891 Languedoc-Roussillon 34 - Hérault
15 Douai–Lens  540,981 506,097 Nord-Pas-de-Calais 59 Nord & 62 Pas de Calais- 
16 Avignon  515,536 445,501 Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur 84 - Vaucluse
17 Saint Etienne  512,830 371,937 Rhône-Alpes 42 - Loire
18 Tours  483,743 349,427 Centre 37- Indre & Loire 
19 Clermont-Ferrand  469,922 262,911 Auvergne 63- Puy de Dôme
20 Nancy  434,479 284,974 Lorraine 54- Meurthe et Moselle
21 Orléans  423,123 271,550 Centre 45- Loiret
22 Caen  406,633 197,114 Normandy 14 - Calvados
23 Angers  403,675 218,657 Pays de la Loire 49 - Maine et Loire
24 Metz  389,700 287,274 Lorraine 57 - Moselle
25 Dijon  377,590 238,576 Burgundy 21 - Côte d'Or
26 Béthune  368,633 353,926 Nord-Pas-de-Calais 62 - Pas de Calais
27 Valenciennes  368,094 334,653 Nord-Pas-de-Calais 59- Nord
28 Le Mans  344,893 209,598 Pays de la Loire 72 - Sarthe
29 Reims  317,311 210,311 Champagne-Ardenne 51 - Marne
30 Brest  314,844 199,016 Brittany 29 - Finistère
31 Perpignan  309,962 195,679 Languedoc-Roussillon 66 - Pyrénées Orientales
32 Amiens  293,671 162,141 Picardy 80 - Somme
33 Le Havre  290,890 238,421 Normandy 76 - Seine Maritime
34 Bayonne  288,359 230,850 Aquitaine 64 Pyrénées Atlantiques
35 Mulhouse  284,739   245,797 Alsace 68 - Bas Rhin
36 Limoges  282,971 184,624 Limousin 87 - Haute Vienne
37 Nîmes  259,348 180,449 Languedoc-Roussillon 30 - Gard
38 Dunkerque  257,773 181,553 Nord-Pas-de-Calais 59 - Nord
39 Poitiers  255,831 128,180 Poitou-Charentes 86 - Vienne
40 Besançon  246,841 134,585 Franche-Comté 25 - Doubs
41 Pau 240 857 196,561 Aquitaine 64 Pyrénées Atlantiques
42 Annecy 221,111 159,761 Rhône-Alpes 74 - Haute Savoie
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 unit (conurbation - zone urbaine) of over 100,000 inhabitants, ranked by population of urban unit.

Rank City Population of
the urban unit
Region Departments
43 Chambéry 181,553 Rhône-Alpes 73 - Savoie
44 (Geneva) Annemasse 165,963 Rhône- Alpes 74 Haute Savoie
45 Saint-Nazaire 148,141 Pays de la Loire 44-Loire Atlantique
46 Troyes 133,286 Champagne-Ardenne 11 - Aube
47 Valence 127,537 Rhône-Alpes 26 - Drôme
48 Thionville 132,585 Lorraine 57 Meurthe et Moselle
49 La Rochelle 126,435 Poitou-Charentes 16 - Charente Maritime
50 Lorient 114,607 Brittany 56 - Morbihan
51 Maubeuge 112,369 Nord-Pas-de-Calais 59 - Nord
52 Angoulême 108,818 Poitou-Charentes 17 - Charente
53 Montbéliard 107,990 Franche-Comté 25 - Doubs



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" wan 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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