Metropolitan France

"Metropolitan France" comprises the 12 administrative regions (French: régions) on the mainland plus Corsica, or in other words all French territory within Europe. These are distinct from the country's overseas territories on other continents, which are talked about below. For travel purposes, the 12 regions are better understood when grouped into the seven cultural regions below, which are also used by much of the tourist industry. The 96 departments (départements) are the next level down of administrative division, two-thirds of them being named after a river, and most others taking after another natural feature, such as a mountain or forest.

The region surrounding the French capital, Paris.
  Northern France (Nord-Pas de Calais, Picardy, Normandy)
A region where the world wars have left many scars.
  Northeastern France (Alsace, Lorraine, Champagne-Ardenne, Franche-Comté)
A region where wider European (and especially Germanic) culture has merged with the French, giving rise to interesting results.
  Great West (Brittany, Pays de la Loire)
An agriculture-based oceanic region with a culture greatly influenced by the ancient Celtic peoples.
  Central France (Centre-Val de Loire, Poitou-Charentes, Burgundy, Limousin, Auvergne)
A largely agricultural and viticultural region, featuring river valleys, châteaux and historic towns.
  Southwestern France (Aquitaine, Midi-Pyrenees)
A region of sea and wine, with nice beaches over the Atlantic Ocean and the high Pyrenees mountains close to Spain.
  Southeastern France (Rhône-Alpes, Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, Corsica)
The primary tourist region of the country outside of Paris, with a warm climate and azure sea, contrasting with the mountainous French Alps.

Overseas France

Beyond Metropolitan France, also known as l'Hexagone for its shape, there are five overseas départements (départements d'outre-mer - DOMs), each as integral to France as any other department: French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte and Réunion.

In addition to this, France has six organised overseas territories (territoires d'outre mer - TOMs)—French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin, Saint Pierre and Miquelon and Wallis and Futuna—and some remote, uninhabited islands as nature reserves, including Clipperton Island and the French Southern and Antarctic Lands. Despite being administratively part of France, these entities are not covered further here, but instead in their own articles.

Due to its many overseas departments and territories scattered around the world, France actually spans twelve time zones — that's more than any other country. However, all of Metropolitan France uses Central European Time (UTC+01:00).


France has numerous cities of interest to travellers, below is a list of nine of the most notable:

  • Paris — the "City of Light", romance and the Eiffel Tower
  • Bordeaux — city of wine, traditional stone mansions and smart terraces
  • Nice — the gateway to the French Riviera with a world-famous beach promenade
  • Lille — a dynamic northern city known for its handsome centre and active cultural life
  • Lyon — France's third city with a history from Roman times to the Resistance
  • Marseille — on the Provençale coast sits France's cosmopolitan second city, known for its large harbour, its calanques, and its seafood
  • Nantes — the "Greenest City" and according to some the best place to live in Europe
  • Strasbourg — famous for its historic centre, and home to many European institutions
  • Toulouse — the "Pink City", for its distinctive brick architecture, and for its lively "terroir"

Other destinations

  • Camargue — one of Europe's largest river deltas and wetlands, with a strong and well-preserved Provençal culture of bullfighting called course camarguaise.
  • Corsica — the birthplace of Napoleon, a unique island with a distinct culture and language (but everybody speaks French too).
  • Disneyland Paris — the most visited attraction in Europe. Even has its own TGV stop.
  • French Alps — home to the highest mountain in Western Europe, Mont Blanc.
  • French Riviera (Côte d'Azur) — Mediterranean coastline of France with plenty of upper class seaside resorts, yachts and golf courses.
  • Loire Valley — the world-famous Loire Valley, best known for its wines and châteaux.
  • Luberon — the stereotypical Provence of picturesque villages, joie de vivre and wine.
  • Mont Saint Michel — the second most-visited site in France, a monastery and town built on a tiny outcrop of rock in the sand, which is cut off from the mainland at high tide.
  • Verdon Gorge — a beautiful river canyon of a turquoise-green colour, great for kayaking, hiking, rock-climbing or just driving around the limestone cliffs.

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France - Travel guide