France for Kids: Facts and Activities

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The Geography of France for kids

The location of France

France is situated in Western Europe and is a founding member of the European Union.

European Map with France © French Moments

This position between the north and the south of Europe has made France important throughout history as a crossroads of international trade and cultures. That is why France is sometimes referred to as the "crossroads of Europe".

France is one of Europe’s largest countries, after Russia and the Ukraine.

The country consists of:

  • Metropolitan France (la Métropole) which covers 551,500 square kilometres (212,935 sq mi), and
  • The French overseas regions (départements et territoires d'Outre-Mer) which are located across the world (French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Reunion Island, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna…)


France's total land area covers 643,801 km2 (248,573 sq mi), that is 0.45% of the total land area on Earth.


The borders of France

France is shaped like a hexagon, that is a six-sided figure.

  • Three of these six sides border the sea.
  • The other three sides border on land.

Due to its hexagonal shape, Metropolitan France is often referred to as l'Hexagone.

France Hexagone Map © French Moments

France shares borders with five countries and two micro-states:

  • Spain, 
  • Andorra, 
  • Monaco, 
  • Italy, 
  • Switzerland, 
  • Germany,
  • Luxembourg, and 
  • Belgium.
Bordering countries of France Map © French Moments

The English Channel separates France from the United Kingdom.


The seas around France

France is surrounded by one ocean and three seas:

  • the Atlantic Ocean (l'Océan Atlantique)
  • the English Channel (la Manche)
  • the North Sea (la Mer du Nord)
  • the Mediterranean Sea (la Mer Méditerranée)
Map of France - the seas © French Moments

The rivers of France

France is criss-crossed by an important water system that includes 5 main rivers.

Map of the Rivers of France © French Moments
  • la Garonne (575 km / 357 mi). It empties into the Atlantic Ocean.
  • la Loire (1012 km / 628 mi). It empties into the Atlantic Ocean.
  • le Rhône (813 km / 505 mi). It empties into the Mediterranean Sea.
  • le Rhin [Rhine] (1230 km / 764 mi). It empties into the North Sea.
  • la Seine (776 km / 482 mi). It empties into the English Channel.

The River Loire from above

Rivers in France: the Seine near La Défense © French Moments

The Seine near La Défense

Pont de Pierre spanning the Garonne, Bordeaux © French Moments

The Garonne in Bordeaux

Rivers in France: the Rhône in Lyon © French Moments

The Rhône in Lyon

The Rhine in Basel © Norbert Aepli - licence [CC BY 2.5] from Wikimedia Commons

The Rhine in Basel

The French make a distinction between ‘un fleuve’ (a river that flows into the sea) and ‘une rivière’ (a river that flows into another river).

There are many other rivers in France, many of them rising in mountainous regions (Alps, Massif Central, Vosges, Jura and Pyrenees).

(click on the toggle for more info!)

Tributaries of the Garonne
  • l'Ariège
  • la Dordogne (although some refer to it as a ‘fleuve’)
  • le Lot
  • le Gers
  • le Tarn
Rivers in France: the Dordogne River at Beynac © French Moments

The view of the Dordogne River from the castle of Beynac

Tributaries of the Seine
  • l'Aube
  • l'Essonne
  • l'Eure
  • la Marne
  • l'Oise
  • l'Yonne
River Marne in Noisiel © French Moments

River Marne in Noisiel

Tributaries of the Loire
  • l'Allier
  • le Cher
  • la Creuse
  • l'Indre
  • le Loir
  • la Mayenne
  • la Sarthe
  • la Vienne
Remparts of Vendôme following the banks of the Loir River © French Moments

Remparts of Vendôme following the banks of the Loir River

Tributaries of the Rhine
  • l'Aar (Switzerland)
  • l'Ill (France)
  • le Main (Germany)
  • la Moselle (France, Luxembourg, Germany)
  • le Neckar (Germany)
  • la Ruhr (Germany)
Moselle Valley - Photos of Spring in Lorraine - Pont-à-Mousson © French Moments

Pont-à-Mousson on the banks of the Moselle

Tributaries of the Rhône
  • l'Ain
  • l'Arc
  • le Doubs
  • la Drôme
  • la Durance
  • le Gard
  • l'Isère
  • la Saône
Isère River, Tarentaise © French Moments

The Isère River at Bourg-Saint-Maurice

Other 'fleuves'
  • l'Adour
  • l'Aude
  • la Charente
  • l'Escaut
  • la Meuse
  • l'Orne
  • la Somme
  • le Var
  • la Vilaine
Rivers in France: the Meuse in Lorraine © French Moments

The Meuse River in Saint-Mihiel, Lorraine

  Free Worksheets to Download!
Map of France Rivers © French Moments
Map of France Rivers © French Moments
Blank Map of France Rivers © French Moments

The relief of France

France is known for its wide variety of natural landscapes: 

  • cliffs with sandy coastlines,
  • plains (Parisian Basin, Aquitaine Basin),
  • rolling hills,
  • plateaus, and
  • mountain ranges.
Photos of rural France - The countryside of Lorraine near Sion © French Moments

The French countryside of Lorraine

La Roque-Gageac © French Moments

The French countryside of Périgord

France covers several mountain ranges:

  • the Alps (culminate at Mont Blanc: 4809 m / 15,777 ft)
  • the Ardennes (Signal de Botrange*: 694 m / 2277 ft)
  • the Jura (Crêt de la Neige: 1720 m / 5643 ft)
  • the Massif Central (Puy de Sancy: 1885 m / 6184 ft)
  • the Pyrenees (Aneto**: 3404 m / 11168 ft)
  • the Vosges (Grand Ballon: 1424 m / 4672 ft)
  • and the mountainous island of Corsica (Monte Cinto: 2706 m / 8878 ft)

* in Belgium - ** in Spain

Map of the Mountains of France © French Moments
Mountains of France by Massif © French Moments
Granier, Tarentaise, Mont-Pourri © French Moments

The French Alps

The Route des Crêtes of the Vosges © French Moments

The Vosges

  Free Worksheets to Download!
France Landscape Map © French Moments
Mountains of France © French Moments
Mountains of France blank map © French Moments

The climate of France

Did you know that Paris is situated as far north as Newfoundland and Vancouver? However the climate of France is rather mild as the European country does not have the extremes of temperature characteristic of some parts of North America. This is largely due to the long Atlantic seacoasts that are warmed by the Gulf Stream, and the Mediterranean sea, a large body of warm water.

France is located in a land area with a temperate climate. However, the country's territory is largely open to the seas and the ocean to the west, while to the east it is linked to the European continent.

The French climate is subject to oceanic, continental and Mediterranean influences.

  • The west of the country is dominated by an oceanic climate (heavy rainfall, cool summers and mild winters).
  • Inland, the climate is semi-oceanic and semi-continental. Rainfall decreases, the summer is hot and the winter cold.
  • In the south-east and in Corsica, the Mediterranean climate prevails. It is characterised by mild temperatures in winter and a very hot summer. Precipitation can be very heavy in autumn, but is almost non-existent in summer.
  • Finally, the French Mountains are subject to a climate dictated by altitude. Rainfall increases and temperatures decrease according to the degree of exposure to the winds.
The Middle Tarentaise near Aime-la-Plagne © French Moments

Spring in the French Alps

Thus, in summer, the sunny south-east attracts millions of holidaymakers, while in winter, they go skiing in the snowy mountains.

On a map, the five climatic nuances of France can be delineated. They are:

  • the oceanic climate,
  • the semi-oceanic climate,
  • the semi-continental climate,
  • the Mediterranean climate, and
  • the mountain climate
France Climate Map copyright French Moments

The population of France

The French population is 67.8 million which makes it the second most populous country of the EU after Germany.

The capital of France is Paris.

The population of Greater Paris is about 10,734,000.

Ile Saint Louis, Paris © French Moments
Eiffel Tower, Paris © French Moments
The Eiffel Tower seen from Tour Montparnasse © French Moments

Other main cities are:

  • Lyon - Pop. 1,652,000
  • Marseille - Pop. 1,588,000
  • Lille - Pop. 1,041,000
  • Toulouse - Pop. 958,000
  • Nice - Pop. 944,000
  • Bordeaux - 917,000
  • Nantes - 642,000
  • Toulon - 573,000
  • Grenoble - 510,000

(population including the suburbs)

France Map of Cities copyright French Moments

France Map of Cities copyright French Moments

Things to see in Lyon © French Moments

LYON

Bordeaux © French Moments

BORDEAUX

Lille © Velvet - licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

LILLE

Toulon from Mount Faron © David.Monniaux - licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

TOULON

Toulouse @cristinacristods via Twenty20

TOULOUSE

Largest cities of France - Marseille QXE325V by Sam741002 via Envato Elements

MARSEILLE

Nice Harbour AVYNA5L by didesign via Envato Elements

NICE

Nantes from Tour Bretagne © Adam Bishop - licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

NANTES

Grenoble © French Moments

GRENOBLE

  Free Worksheets to Download!

The administration of France

For administrative purposes, Metropolitan France is divided into 13 régions, 97 départements and 34,839 communes.


The regions of France

Metropolitan France is divided into 13 administrative regions.

(click on the toggle for more info!)

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes

Capital City:

Lyon

Population:

7,877,698

Area:

69 711 km2 / 26,916 sq mi

Landmarks:

Mont Blanc, Lake Annecy, Volcanoes of Auvergne,  Chauvet Cave, Vanoise and Ecrins National Parks, villages of Bonneval-sur-Arc, Pérouges and Yvoire, Lake Bourget, Lake Aiguebelette, Lake Geneva

Traditional Dish/Food:

salade lyonnaise, rosette de Lyon, quenelles, crozets, diots, Auvergne ham, raclette, beaufort cheese, reblochon, tomme de Savoie, cantal cheese, coussins lyonnais, pralines de Lyon, gâteau de Savoie, Nougat from Montélimar

Tourist Board:

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Tourisme

Bourgogne-Franche-Comté

Name in English:

Burgundy-Franche-Comté

Capital City:

Dijon

Population:

2,807,807

Area:

47 784 km2 / 18 449 sq mi

Landmarks:

Old town of Dijon, Semur-en-Auxois, Vézelay, Cluny, Citadel of Besançon, Côtes de Nuits, Côtes de Beaune, Joux Castle, Baume-les-Messieurs, Lion of Belfort, Fontenay abbey, Royal saltworks at Arc-et-Senans, Hospices de Beaune, Guédelon Castle, Alesia

Traditional Dish/Food:

beef bourguignon, Morteau and Montbéliard sausages, Bresse chickens, époisses, chaource, comté cheesemorbier cheese, cancoillotte, anis de Flavigny, cassis of Dijon, Dijon gingerbread

Tourist Board:

Bourgogne Franche-Comté Tourisme

Bretagne

Name in English:

Brittany

Capital City:

Rennes

Population:

3,335,414

Area:

27 209 km2 / 10 505 sq mi

Landmarks:

Saint-Malo, Dinard, La Baule, Quiberon, Quimper, La Trinité-sur-Mer, Vannes, Carnac stones, Locronan, Rennes, castles of Fougères and Josselin, Tréguier, Concarneau, Pointe du Raz, Morbihan gulf

Traditional Dish/Food:

galette de sarrasin, kouign patatez, oysters, moules marinières (mussels), salted butter, cider, far breton, kouign aman, galette bretonne, crêpes bretonnes, quatre-quarts, niniches from Quiberon, palet breton

Tourist Board:

Tourisme Bretagne

Centre-Val de Loire

Capital City:

Orléans

Population:

2,572,853

Area:

39 151 km2 / 15 116 sq mi

Landmarks:

Gothic cathedrals of BourgesChartres, Orléans and Tours, castles of the Loire (Amboise, Azay-le-Rideau, BloisChambord, Chenonceau, Cheverny, Langeais, Ussé, Valençay), gardens of Villandry, Vendôme, Châteaudun, Sologne Forest

Traditional Dish/Food:

Valençay cheese, Sainte-Maure de TouraineTarte Tatin, Pithiviers cake, Montargis pralines

Tourist Board:

Val de Loire France

Corse

Name in English:

Corsica

Capital City:

Ajaccio

Population:

338,554

Area:

8 722 km2 / 3 368 sq mi

Landmarks:

Bastia, Calanques of Piana, Citadel of Calvi, Bonifacio, old town of Corte, Palombaggia beach, Monte Cinto, Aiguilles de Bavella, Archipel des Sanguinaires, Agriates desert, Genese towers around the island

Traditional Dish/Food:

chestnuts, fleur du maquis cheese, clementines, coppa, tomme corse, brocciu, canistrelli, caccavellu, falculelle

Tourist Board:

Visit Corsica

Grand-Est

Capital City:

Strasbourg

Population:

3,335,414

Area:

57 433 km2 / 22 175 sq mi

Landmarks:

Strasbourg Cathedral and Petite France district, ColmarAlsace Wine RouteVosges mountains, NancyMetzMoselle Valley, Verdun, Domrémy, Reims cathedral, Montagne de Reims, Troyes

Traditional Dish/Food:

Alsatian sauerkraut, Strasbourg sausages, pretzels, Flammenkueche, quiche lorraine, mirabelles, madeleines of Commercy and Liverdun, bergamotes, macarons from Nancy and Boulay, biscuit rose from Reims, Kugelhopfbredeles

Tourist Board:

Visit AlsaceLorraine TourismeFrench blog

Hauts-de-France

Capital City:

Lille

Population:

3,335,414

Area:

27 209 km2 / 10 505 sq mi

Landmarks:

Bay of Somme, Cape Blanc-Nez, Cape Gris-Nez, Compiègne Forest, Gothic cathedrals of AmiensBeauvais and Laon, Arras squaresLille old town, spoil tips of Lens, citadel city of Montreuil, Chantilly castlePierrefonds Castle, Coucy Castle

Traditional Dish/Food:

fricadelle, French fries, maroilles, mimolette, ficelle picarde, bêtises from Cambrai, waffles

Tourist Board:

Esprit Hauts-de-France

Ile de France

Name in English:

Paris Region

Capital City:

Paris

Population:

12,213,447

Area:

12 011 km2 / 4 638 sq mi

Landmarks:

Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame cathedral, Sacré-CœurArc de TriompheLouvrePompidou CentrePanthéonLa Défense, Vincennes castle, Disneyland Paris, Meaux, Provins, Fontainebleau castle and forest, Park of Sceaux, Park of Saint-Cloud, Mont-Valérien, Saint-Denis basilicaSaint-Germain-en-LayeVersailles, Montfort-l'Amaury, Rambouillet

Traditional Dish/Food:

Paris ham, agaricus (Paris mushrooms), brie de Meaux, coulommiers, baguette, croissant, Paris-Brest, saint-honoré, opéra, macarons, financier

Tourist Board:

Visit Paris Region

Normandie

Name in English:

Normandy

Capital Cities:

Rouen (prefecture of the region)

Caen (seat of the regional council)

Population:

3,327,477

Area:

29 906 km2 / 11 546 sq mi

Landmarks:

Old town of RouenLe Havregardens of Givernycliffs of Etretat, Honfleur, Deauville-Trouville, D-Day beaches, Caen, Bayeux, Mont-Saint-Michel, Grandville, Cherbourg-Octeville, Barfleur

Traditional Dish/Food:

tripes à la mode de Caen, andouilles, scallops, Boursin, Brillat-Savarin, CamembertLivarotPont l’évêqueIsigny cream and butter, apples, teurgoule, Falaise berlingots, Isigny caramels

Tourist Board:

Normandie Tourisme

Nouvelle Aquitaine

Capital City:

Bordeaux

Population:

5,979,778

Area:

84 036 km2 / 32 446 sq mi

Landmarks:

Old town of Bordeaux, Lascaux Caves, Poitiers, La Rochelle, Ré island, Oléron island, Angoulême, Limoges, SarlatDordogne ValleyPau, Biarritz, Bayonne, Dune of Pilat, Bay of Arcachon, Futuroscope

Traditional Dish/Food:

Bayonne ham, magret de canard, foie gras, oysters, poule au pot, black walnut and truffle from Périgord, ossau-iratysainte-maure caprifeuillesoignon, gâteau basque, broyé poitevin, canelés

Tourist Board:

Nouvelle Aquitaine Tourisme

Occitanie

Name in English:

Occitania or Occitany

Capital City:

Toulouse

Population:

5,885,496

Area:

72 724 km2 / 28 079 sq mi

Landmarks:

Pont du Gard, Aigues-Mortes, Nîmes, Alès, Narbonne, Montpellier, Perpignan, Cathar castles, Carcassonne, Mount Canigou, Toulouse old town, Foix, Lourdes, Cirque de Gavarnie, Albi, Najac, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, Cahors, Rocadamour, Pech Merle cave

Traditional Dish/Food:

Collioure anchovies, cassoulet, Roquefort, Rocamadour cheese, bleu des Causses, tomme des Pyrénées, gâteau à la broche from the Pyrenees

Tourist Board:

Tourisme Occitanie

Pays de la Loire

Capital City:

Nantes

Population:

3,781,423

Area:

32 082 km2 / 12 387 sq mi

Landmarks:

Castles of the Loire (Angers, Saumur, Nantes, Brissac, Plessis-Bourré and Montreuil-Bellay), Gothic cathedrals (Angers, Nantes, Le Mans), Les Sables d’Olonne, Le Puy-du-Fou

Traditional Dish/Food:

Guérande salt, Rillettes du Mans, Petit Beurre from Nantes, sablé from Sablé-sur-Sarthe, brioche from Vendée

Tourist Board:

En Pays de la Loire

Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur
Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur on a Map of France © French Moments

Capital City:

Marseille

Population:

5,052,832

Area:

31 400 km2 / 12 123 sq mi

Landmarks:

Old harbour of Marseille, Pope's Palace of Avignon, Aix-en-ProvenceMontagne Sainte-VictoireLuberonSaint-Rémy-de-ProvenceAlpilles, Arles, Camargue, Les Baux-de-ProvenceCalanques, Iles d'Hyères, Verdon Gorges, Saint-Tropez, Maures, Estérel, French Riviera (from Cannes to Nice and Menton), Serre-Ponçon Lake, Ecrins National Park, Briançon

Traditional Dish/Food:

pastis, olive oil, herbes de Provence, rice from Camargue, fougasse, salade niçoise, pissaladièrepistouaïoli, tapenade, ratatouille, bouillabaisse from Marseille, Nice socca, Carpentras strawberries, Cavaillon melons, fruits confits from Apt, calissons, mendiants, Carpentras berlingots, tarte tropézienne

Tourist Board:

Provence Alpes Côte d'Azur Tourisme

France Map of Regions © French Moments

These regions should not be confused with the historic provinces such as:

  Free Worksheets to Download!
Map of the regions of France © French Moments
Map of the regions of France © French Moments
Map of the regions of France © French Moments

The French départements

The 13 administrative regions of France are in turn divided into 96 départements (excluding the overseas territories).
The departments were created in 1790 during the French Revolution to replace the old provinces of the kingdom of France. In an attempt to forget historical or cultural names attached to the former provinces, most of them were named after physical geographical features such as:

  • rivers: Ain, Drôme, Gers, Meuse, Oise, Tarn, Yonne
  • mount or mountains: Ardennes, Cantal, Jura, Vosges
  • coasts, gulfs or seas: Côtes d’Armor, Manche, Morbihan
  • islands: Corse du Sud, Haute-Corse, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Réunion
  • forests: Landes, Yvelines
  • geographic situation: Finistère, Nord
  • cities: Paris, Pas-de-Calais, Territoire de Belfort, Seine-Saint-Denis
  • poetry: Côte d'Or

Some départements were added after the French Revolution and bear old provinces names: Alpes de Haute-Provence, Savoie, Haute-Savoie.

Map of the French départements copyright French Moments

The départements are sorted in alphabetical number. Each département have its own number which is widely used to designate locations.
The first two figures are used in French postcode. For example: 

  • 01000 is the postcode for Bourg-en-Bresse, the préfecture (head city) of the Ain département [01]
  • 88000 is the postcode for Epinal, the préfecture (head city) of the Vosges département [88].


The numbers of the départements are featured on vehicle registration plates which reveals to anyone where they originate.
Some département numbers are well-known by the French, such as:

  • 13 - Bouches-du-Rhône (Marseille, Aix-en-Provence)
  • 2A and 2B - respectively Corse du Sud and Haute-Corse (Ajaccio, Bastia)
  • 59 - Nord (Lille)
  • 69 - Rhône (Lyon)
  • 75 - Paris
  • 78 - Yvelines (Versailles)


Each département has a préfecture or capital. For instance, the préfecture of Loiret [45] is Orléans.

➡︎ Download the French départements chart here...

The communes

The départements are divided into communes.

Created at the French Revolution, they replace the old parishes (la paroisse).

On the 1st January 2020, France totalled 34,839 communes.

The commune is the basic unit of local administration. It elects its own municipal council (le conseil municipal) and mayor (le/la maire) for a 6-year term. The mayor acts as the principal administrator of the commune. The mayor and its staff work at the municipal hall (la mairie).

The communes vary widely in population and area :

  • The most populous commune of France is Paris (2,206,388 inhabitants).
  • There are 7 communes with zero resident which are all located near Verdun in the Meuse. These villages were destroyed during the Battle of Verdun in WWI.
  • The commune with the largest area is Arles (Bouches-du-Rhône) with 758,93 km2 (293 sq mi).
  • The commune with the smallest area is Castelmoron-d’Albret (Gironde) with 0,0376 km2 (8.75 acres).


To sum up!

France Map Territories copyright French Moments

Do you know the answer?

  • Which European countries border France?
  • What shape does France look like?
  • Can you name the 5 main rivers of France?
  • What are the names of the 4 largest cities of France?
  • Which mountain is the highest of France?
  • How many administrative regions are in Metropolitan France?
Geography of France Activity Workbook © French Moments
Geography of France Workbook © French Moments

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About Author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. He has a background teaching French, Economics and Current Affairs, and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations, and a degree of Economics and Management. Pierre is the author of the Discovery Course on the Secrets of the Eiffel Tower and the Christmas book "Voyage au Pays de Noël".

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