When moving to France, is Paris really the best city to live in? While some jobs do require living in the “City of Lights”, there are many other options across the country to consider. Here is our list of the best cities in France to live in for quality of life, family friendliness, great weather, incredible food, and more.
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Best Cities in France to live in for expats
France scores fairly well in the InterNations Quality of Life Index for Expats, hitting number 18 in their 2019 survey. While Paris looms large in the international imagination, it’s definitely not the only option when it comes to the best cities to live and work in. Whether it’s a sunny climate or a historic old town you crave, there are options across the country.
- Toulouse: Best for families
- Lyon: Best for foodies
- Strasbourg: Best for travel
- Montpellier: Best for nightlife
- Rennes: Best for budget living
- Paris: Best for culture
- Grenoble: Best for digital nomads
Toulouse: Best for families
This southern French city is the centre of the French aerospace industry, with big international employers like Airbus and Intel headquartered here. Correspondingly, there are good options for international schools and bilingual schools, and lots of expat families to connect with. The city is the fourth largest in France, and is nicknamed La ville rose (the pink city) as so many of its buildings are constructed using pale-coloured bricks. There’s the added benefit of the warmer climate, and the ability to visit Italy or Spain with a short journey by car or train.
Lyon: Best for foodies
This whole city is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it features on many “Best cities in France to live in” lists for good reason: Great food, incredible wine, and loads of culture and history. This central French city is in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alps region in the southeast, and you’ll be able to easily nip over to Switzerland or Italy for a weekend away. You’re right on the edge of the Beaujolais wine region, and in the hometown of Paul Bocuse, one of the most famous French chefs in the world.
Strasbourg: Best for travel
Strasbourg embodies both the spirit of France and Germany, having historically been a part of each country several times. Now, it serves one of the centres of European administration as the seat of the European Parliament, as well as many other related organisations. That translates to a city with many international school options. In Strasbourg, you’re near the centre of western Europe and the city is also a major train travel hub, so there’s lots to explore. The German Black Forest is a short train or car journey away, and Switzerland and Italy only a bit further afield. The famous vineyards of Alsace are on your doorstep as well.
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Montpellier: Best for nightlife
Another city in the south, Montpellier benefits from the warm and sunny Mediterranean climate and its seaside location. If you’re looking for a fun city that’s cheaper than Paris, this might be your best bet – every second resident in Montpellier is under 30 years old. It’s also more affordable than the famous cities further along the coast like Nice and Cannes. It does get very hot in the summer however, regularly hitting 40ºC, but thankfully the seaside is nearby. You’re close to Spain for easy holidays by car or train, or try the ferries to Corsica and Sardinia.
Rennes: Best for budget living
This small city in Brittany won The Local France’s poll for the best city in France to live for expats. Brittany is a favourite for its seaside villages and relatively cheap cost of living and housing. Lots of fresh seafood, a vibrant student community, and a beautiful old city centre make Rennes a pleasant place to settle down. It’s a favourite with Brits living abroad, with a large expat community. One downside is that the weather can be rainy, and it doesn’t get very hot in the summer. However, the seaside villages are frequently voted village preféré des Français (the best village in France) by a national TV station, so your weekend trips will definitely be Instagram worthy.
Paris: Best for culture
It’s impossible to make a list of the top cities in France to live in without including Paris. Yes, it’s expensive, busy, and a bit overwhelming at times, but you’re also in one of the cultural capitals of the world. Being able to take in world-famous landmarks on a February morning when no one is around is a special thrill reserved for those of us who have chosen to make a life abroad. Many job opportunities for English speakers will be based in Paris, and there are also several international school options.
Grenoble: Best for digital nomads
Grenoble is a great city to live and work in because it is affordable, vibrant, and surrounded by nature making it a great option for budget-minded people as well as digital nomads. Grenoble also has a diverse cultural scene, with museums, theaters, and universities. The city is surrounded by mountains and therefore a great place for hiking, biking, and other outdoor activities.
New city? New language level!
So now you have a list of cities worth considering when moving to France off the beaten path of Paris. No matter where you move to, living in France is much easier when your French language skills improve. No time for in-person class? Lingoda has you covered with their online classes led by trained, native-level teachers on a flexible schedule.
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Erin McGann is a Canadian freelance writer focusing on travel, living abroad, parenting, history, and culture. After nearly a decade living in the UK, Erin settled in Heidelberg, Germany with her husband and son. Dragging her family to every castle and open-air museum is a favourite activity, along with sewing, archery, and historical reenactment. You can check out her travel blog, and follow her obsession with half-timbered houses on her Instagram account.