10 Best cities to live in France

Find out the best cities to live in France, with insights from a local. From the cost of living, lifestyle, weather, and more.
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Everyone always dreams of moving to France. The French are known for embracing an art de vivre with great food, good benefits, and a certain je ne sais quoi, it can seem like the ideal place to move to for a refined lifestyle.

But France is a large country, and where in France you move can have a huge impact on your experiences. So let’s have a look at the top cities to live in France, shall we? Allons-y!

1. Lyon

Halfway between Paris and Marseille is the sunny city of Lyon. This was the historical capital of Gaul under the Roman empire. And Lyon is the city that most Parisians dream of moving to.

Located near the Alps mountains and forests, as well as being within three and half hours of the Mediterranean sea, this is a city with a lot of things to visit nearby. And it has a lot better weather than Paris in northern France.

City of Lyon

And when you add that the Lyon is famous for being the gastronomical capital with some of the best chefs in France, there are even more reasons to live in Lyon.

The center of Lyon is a small sliver of land between the rivers Rhône and Saône, that is today one of the most expensive parts of the city. La Presqu’île which translates to “almost island”, is a man-made isle that was created as part of a large18th-century urban engineering project to drain the marshes.

With a mix of gorgeous 19th-century architecture, elegant plazas, high-end shops, restaurants, and more Lyon is a wonderful place to live in France. You can read more about the city of Lyon here.

2. Nice

The quintessential beach city in France has to be the city of Nice on the French Riviera (Côte d’Azur). If you are looking for sun-filled days with sea views the city of Nice is the place to be.

Once part of the Duchy of Savoy, it only became part of France in the 19th century. And since then, with its famous Promenade des Anglais boardwalk and long expansive beaches, this is a seaside town that both tourists and locals regularly flock to.

Beach in Nice
Beach in Nice, just off of Promenade des Anglais

But there is more to Nice than just beaches and boardwalks. Dating back to antiquity, the city has always attracted an amalgam of visitors from across the Mediterranean sea.

With a niçois culture that is a mix of French, Savoyard and Italian, it is a city bustling with good food, restaurants, bars, shops and museums.

Other towns nearby include Monaco and Cannes, which are just a short train ride away. You can read more about the city of Nice here.

3. Toulouse

The city of Toulouse is famous for its buildings of beautiful pink terracotta brick, which have given it the nickname La Ville Rose (meaning “Pink city”).

With a population of around 500k, Toulouse is the 4th largest city in France. It is the headquarters of the French company Airbus and all its secondary suppliers, making it an engineering economic powerhouse in France.

toulouse on the river

From exhibitions to Michelin-starred restaurants, it’s also a city where you can enjoy nature and activities like canoeing, kayaking and biking along the Canal du Midi which ends in Toulouse.

Toulouse is also famous for its love of the local rugby team, Stade Toulousain which is one of the top sports teams in France. With great weather all year long, those looking to buy a house with a pool in France will certainly enjoy Toulouse. You can read more about the city of Toulouse here.

4. Bordeaux

The city of Bordeaux may be known for its wines, but it is also known for its quality of life. It is a lively city, with beautiful architecture, plenty of bars and restaurants, and a brimming town center.

drinking wine from Bordeaux

Located hear the Atlantic ocean, the property market here soared when a new high-speed TGV train line was completed between Paris and Bordeaux.

Once a part of Eleanor’s Duchy of Aquitaine, the area historically had strong ties to the British Isles. These days, its great weather and multitude of opportunities attract plenty of French locals, short-term expats, and long-term immigrants to the city.

5. Biarritz

The beach town of Biarritz is famous for its high waves, making it a favorite for wind-sailing and surfing. It is located in French Basque country, on the Atlantic coast in south-western France.

This stunning seaside town was once part of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s Duchy. But it was another queen who really made her mark on the city. Biarritz became a luxury seaside destination for the wealthy when the Hôtel du Palais was built in 1855 for the Empress Eugénie, the wife of Emperor Napoleon III.

With its beachfront casinos, wonderful local dishes, and surfing culture, this is a beachfront city that definitely attracts the crowds.

6. Chambéry

About 67 miles (108km) away from Lyon is the former capital of the Duchy of Savoy, Chambéry near the Swiss borner. While most locals and tourists tend to make their way to nearby Annecy, Chambéry is more of a hidden gem.

But for those who do visit, you will find that it is one of the top cities in the world to live in. Once the capital of the Dukes of Savoy, it became part of France in exchange for the Victor Emmanuel II becoming King of Italy.

chambery

The Savoy culture in this part of France remains strong. From its own language, cheeses, wines, and other traditions, there is plenty to see and taste.

With a charming old town and a newer and hipper surrounding area, there is an architectural flair and style to Chambéry that is difficult to replicate. It sits on Lac du Bourget and with scenic mountains all around, it is definitely worth the day trip from Lyon. You can read more about the city of Chambéry here.

7. Rennes

The capital of Brittany, Rennes’s history predates the Roman empire. It was a small Gallic village, with Celtic origins as early as 2BC. Those Celtic origins continue to be heard in names of places and people in Bretagne.

City of Rennes in Brittany
Flower market at Place des Lices in Rennes

The city is famous for being the seat of the Breton Parliament was established in 1485 under the Duchy of Brittany, which Anne of Bretagne fought for and managed to negotiate.

These days the city of Rennes is considered a hidden gem in France, with its own culture and even its own flag. It has been voted one of the top places to live in France by a national newspaper.

The heart of the city, this large square holds many restaurants and bars. But probably one of my favorite things to do in Rennes is to visit one of the biggest producers’ market in France, the Marché des Lices. You can read more about the city of Rennes here.

8. Nantes

One of the more popular cities in France in recent years has been Nantes in Brittany. The city is located on the Loire river near the Atlantic coast, and is not one that regularly attracts a lot of visitors. But Nantes is regularly considered one of the top cities in France to live in.

With good schools and good connections to Paris, the city of Nantes is growing in popularity for French businesses looking to offer their employees a better quality of life.

Today it is the 6th largest city in France with over 300k inhabitants. With a great transportation system, Nantes received the European Green Capital Award in 2013.

9. Strasbourg

Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace, is a city that has been much fought over in its history. Located on the French-German border, the city is a charming mix of both cultures, with its own regional language called Alsatian.

Living in Strasbourg, Alsace

Strasbourg is known for its old city center with its quaint little streets and half-timbered buildings date from the 16th and 17th centuries. The Grand Ile is the large island that is in the heart of the city, that is dotted with many small bridges, some dating from the medieval age.

The city is also home to the European Parliament building. This modern building is the official seat of the EU, where the ministers sit. It was chosen as a point of pride for France while also demonstrating the EU reconciliation with Germany.

With great food, wines, and beer, this is a city that has a lot to offer. You can read more about the city of Strasbourg here.

10. Paris

The City of Lights with its cobblestone streets and soaring Eiffel tower is certainly one that a lot of people dream of. But I should mention that while the charm of romantic Paris may seem like it is the city you want to live in France, it is not for everyone.

Around 60% of Parisians respond in polls every year that wish to leave Paris. The French saying “metro, boulot, dodo” (meaning “commuting, work, sleep” originates in Paris.

With its tiny rental apartments and high cost of living, Paris is an acquired taste. And it doesn’t have great weather either, getting almost as much rain as London.

street in Paris

If you are coming to France with a family, you may want to expand your research about moving to Paris to the nearby suburbs for a better quality of life.

The western suburbs Hauts-de-Seine and Yvelines are the most popular for their proximity to the La Defense business district. However, the eastern suburbs of Val de Marne and the northern Seine-Saint-Denis near the airport are also gaining in popularity.

Whether you decide you prefer city life in Paris intramuros or driving around Grand Paris, you can read more about living in Paris here.

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If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about the cost of living in France. A bientôt!

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