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:
- A metropolitan area, i.e. the whole area which can be
viewed as a coherent economic/employment unit.
- The "conurbation", the densely populated heart of that
area, or "agglomération".
A borough, the basic unit of local administration in France, with its
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 :
French cities classed by population of metropolitan area
Latest figures from the
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.
Most of the larger metropolitan areas, particularly those
over 500,000 inhabitants, contain more than one town
(commune) with over 80,000 inhabitants. The Paris urban area,
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
Other towns/cities in metropolitan France with an urban
(conurbation - unité
urbaine) of over 100,000 inhabitants, ranked by population
Other towns in metropolitan France with a commune
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
tables 1 and 2.
The classification by "commune" is only
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