France, officially the French Republic, justifiably remains one of the world’s most hyped and written-about countries. The whole country can inspire a masterpiece and has on countless occasions. France is densely packed with attractions, both cultural and recreational. Moreover, it is permeated with style and known for its joie de vivre. Here are some interesting facts about France.
Facts about France
1. France has 13 overseas possessions.
France still possesses a string of overseas departments and territories scattered around the globe, from former slave colonies in the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean to remote tropical islands in the South Pacific. The 13 possessions have various statuses in relation to mainland France.
Five are officially overseas regions or departments — in that they are fully part of French territory and subject to French laws. Other French territories, called overseas collectivities, are more autonomous and can pass their own laws, except in certain areas.
However, all of the residents of the 13 regions and collectivities are French nationals, can vote for president, and send representatives to France’s National Assembly and Senate. Overseas France covers a land area of 119,396 km² (46,099 sq mi) and accounts for 18% of France’s total territory.
The overseas regions of France are Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique, Mayotte, and Réunion. The overseas collectivities of France are Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin, French Polynesia, New Caledonia. and Wallis and Futuna.
2. France is the largest country in the European Union and the third-largest country in Europe.
Metropolitan France (European France) occupies a total area of 551,695 km² (213,011 sq mi), making it the largest country in the European Union (EU) and the third-largest in Europe behind Russia and Ukraine.
3. Due to its shape, France is often referred to as “The Hexagon.”
France is commonly referred to as “The Hexagon” (“l’Hexagone”) due to the six-sided shape created by the outline of its borders.
4. France has a 4,853 km (3,016 mi) long coastline.
Out of France’s 4,853 km (3,016 mi) long coastline, 3,427 km (2,129 mi) can be found in metropolitan France. The character of metropolitan France’s coastline ranges from sandy and straight, as in Languedoc on the Mediterranean, to deeply indented capes and bays, as in the Côte d’Azur and Corsica.
5. France shares a land border with 11 countries and its longest border is with Brazil.
Metropolitan France shares a land border with 8 countries. It is bordered by Belgium (556 km/345 mi) and Luxembourg (69 km/43 mi) in the northeast, Germany (418 km/260 mi) and Switzerland (525 km/326 mi) in the east, Italy (476 km/296 mi) and Monaco (6 km/3.7 mi) in the southeast, and Andorra (55 km/34 mi) and Spain (646 km/401 mi) in the south and southwest.
France is also bordered by the South American countries of Brazil (649 km/403 mi) and Suriname (556 km/345 mi) through its overseas territory of French Guiana. Through its overseas collectivity of Saint Martin, France also shares a 10.2 km (6.3 mi) border with the country of Sint Maarten, which is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
6. France is joint home to the highest mountain in the Alps and the second highest mountain in Europe.
Lying on the border between France and Italy, Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in the Alps, rising 4,808 m (15,774 ft) above sea level. It is also Europe’s second tallest mountain behind Mount Elbrus.
7. France possesses the second-largest exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the world.
Due to the sheer number of its overseas departments and territories scattered across the planet, France possesses the second-largest exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the world, covering 11,035,000 km² (4,260,000 sq mi), just behind the EEZ of the United States. France’s EEZ covers approximately 8% of the total surface of all the EEZs of the world.
8. France has the most time zones of any country in the world, with a total of 12.
One of the interesting facts about France is that including its overseas territories, France uses 12 different time zones, the most of any country in the world. Time zones across the French Republic span from UTC-10 (French Polynesia) to UTC+12 (Wallis and Futuna).
9. France is the fourth most forested country in the European Union (EU).
Around a third (31%) of France is forest making it the fourth-most forested nation in the European Union (EU) in terms of area behind Sweden, Finland, and Spain.
10. France is home to the largest national park in the European Union (EU).
Located in the French overseas region of French Guiana, the Guiana Amazonian Park covers a massive area of 20,300 km²/7,838 sq mi (roughly the size of Israel).
11. The largest outermost region within the European Union (EU) part of France.
Occupying a total area of 83,534 km² (32,253 sq mi), the French overseas region of French Guiana is the largest of the European Union’s nine outermost regions.
12. France is the only European country facing both the North Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.
Due to its large size, France is bordered by the North Sea in the north and the Mediterranean sea in the southeast. It also borders the English Channel in the northwest and the Atlantic Ocean in the west.
13. France has the second-largest railway network in The European Union (EU).
At a total length of over 29,000 km (18,020 mi), France’s railway network is the second biggest in the EU (behind Germany) and the tenth biggest in the world.
14. France’s name comes from the Franks.
France’s name derives from the Latin “Francia” meaning “Land of the Franks.” The Franks were a group of Germanic tribes who spread from the Rhine River in the 5th century and merged with Gallic-Roman populations in succeeding centuries and to whom they passed on their name.
14. France was involved in the Hundred Years’ War – the longest military conflict in European history.
France was involved in the Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453), pitting it against its old foe England for control of French land. At the end of the war, the English were finally driven from France.
15. The French Army was the first to use camouflage.
One of the more obscure facts about France is that in 1915, the French Army became the first to create a dedicated camouflage unit. During World War I, artists painted vehicles and equipment to blend into their respective backgrounds.
The word ‘camouflage’ comes from the French verb meaning ‘to make up for the stage.’
16. One of the two shortest reigning monarchs in history was French.
According to Guinness World Records, Louis-Antoine of France (King Louis XIX) holds the distinction of the joint shortest reigning monarch in history. In July 1830, the French king ascended the throne after his father Charles X abdicated. However, after a mere 20 minutes, Louis-Antoine also abdicated in favor of his nephew, the Duke of Bordeaux.
King Louis XIX shares the astonishing record with Crown Prince Luís Filipe, who technically became king of Portugal after his father was assassinated. But he also died from a wound 20 minutes later.
17. The guillotine was the official method of execution in France from 1792 until the death penalty was abolished in 1981.
Made famous during the French Revolution, the guillotine remained France’s official method of execution until the abolition of capital punishment in 1981. The last person to be executed in France was Tunisian Hamida Djandoubi, who was guillotined on 10 September 1977.
18. France was the first country to introduce motor vehicle registration.
In 1893, France became the first country to introduce numbered license plates for automobiles. The now-defunct Department of the Seine in Paris passed the Paris Police Ordinance which introduced revolutionary requirements such as driving licenses, vehicle registrations, and unique identifier tags.
19. France is the most visited country in the world.
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, France is the world’s most popular tourist destination receiving almost 90 million visitors annually.
20. France is home to the busiest railway station in Europe.
Serving around 290 million travelers each year, Gare du Nord (officially Paris-Nord) is by far Europe’s busiest train station by total passenger numbers. Already one of the largest train stations in Europe, it is undergoing expansion in preparation for the 2024 Summer Olympics.
As a consequence of this redevelopment, the Gare du Nord is slated to become the largest railway station in Europe.
21. The French government mandates that at least 35% of all music played on private radio stations in the country be of French origin.
One of the most unique France facts is that at least 35% of all music played on private radio stations must be of French origin. The French government initially introduced a 40% quota in 1994 to ostensibly guard France against what the government considered the ‘Anglo-Saxon cultural invasion.’
However, after a 24-hour rebellious boycott by French radio stations, French MPs voted in favor of reducing the quota to 35% in 2016. Half of that quota of French music is also required to be less than six months old. Radio stations specializing in foreign music also have a 15% quota.
22. Contrary to popular myth, Napoleon was in fact, slightly taller than the average Frenchman.
Since there are countless myths about Napoleon, it is sometimes hard to separate fact from fiction. Arguably the most popular of these myths is that Napoleon was short in stature.
The myth about Napoleon being short spread because the British liked to denigrate and portray their French enemy as “Little Boney.” In truth, Napoleon was 168-170 cm (5’6” – 5’7”) tall, which was slightly above average for Frenchmen of his time.
While it is true that at his autopsy, Napoleon measured 5’2” (158 cm), this was because the height was calculated in French inches, which were larger than British and American inches.
23. Potatoes were illegal in France for 24 years.
In 1748, the French Parliament forbade the cultivation of the potato on the grounds that it was thought to cause leprosy. This law remained in effect until 1772.
24. In 1980, France launched an online service (MiniTel) that was the world’s most successful online service prior to the World Wide Web.
In 1980. France rolled out an online service (MiniTel) that gave its users access to online shopping, search engines, cybersex, etc. MiniTel’s users also had a mailbox and were able to chat on message boards in a similar way to what is now made possible by the World Wide Web.
In 2009, France Télécom stated the MiniTel network still had 10 million monthly connections. France Télécom only retired the service in 2012 after over 30 years in operation.
25. There is a secret burial ground in France which holds the bodies of American soldiers convicted of heinous crimes during World War II.
Plot E of the Oise-Aisne American cemetery lies near the remote village of Fère-en-Tardenois in northern France. It is where the remains of 94 American servicemen are buried, who were executed – by firing squad or hanging – for capital crimes (rapes and murders) committed in Europe during or shortly after World War II.
The secluded Plot E is deliberately hidden from view, and there is no official entryway for the public. It contains no gravestones, nor any plaques with names – the graves are designated by white index-card sized stone markers with stark black numbers, in four rows, and all facing away from the recognized burial ground nearby. No US flag is allowed to fly there.
26. France hosts the world’s fifth-largest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Given its rich history, it comes as no surprise that France is home to 45 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Some of the most notable UNESCO World Heritage Sites in France are the Palace and Park of Versailles, the Historic site of Lyon, Mont Saint-Michel, Le Havre, Reims Cathedral, and the Historic Fortified City of Carcassonne.
27. The headquarters of INTERPOL are situated in Lyon, France.
The city of Lyon in southeastern France is famous for being home to the international headquarters of Interpol – the world’s largest international police organization, with 194 member countries.
28. France has won more Nobel prizes in Literature than any other country.
It’s interesting to know that no country has won more Nobel Prizes for Literature than France. France has produced some of the world’s most influential writers and thinkers, so it comes as no surprise that 14 French individuals have won the prestigious award since 1901.
Among France’s most celebrated Nobel Prize Winners for Literature are Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Patrick Modiano, and François Mauriac.
29. In France it is illegal to publish photographs of a person in handcuffs who has not yet been convicted of a crime.
France has pretty strict privacy laws and it shows as it is not permitted to publish photographs of a person in handcuffs or shackles who has not yet been convicted of a crime. It is also illegal to seek public opinion about the guilt or innocence of an accused individual.
30. Champagne comes exclusively from the Champagne region of France.
It is illegal to label any product Champagne unless it came from the Champagne wine region of France. If it doesn’t come from there, it is simply referred to as a “sparkling wine.”
31. France has a “fixed book price” law (FBP law) in place, that requires all booksellers in the country — big-box stores, independent stores, online retailers — to sell a given book at the same price as all their competitors.
France’s “fixed book price” law was established in 1981 to protect culture and encourage bookshops to open all over the country. It means that the price is the same everywhere (except for special sales).
Publishers determine the price at which a book is to be sold to the public and retailers are not allowed to discount more than 5% from this set price.
32. The headquarters of Airbus – the world’s largest airliner manufacturer is situated in Toulouse, France.
Toulouse is regarded as the center of the European aerospace industry and is home to Airbus – the world’s largest airliner manufacturer. Although Airbus’s registered headquarters is in Leiden, Netherlands, its head office is based in Blagnac, a suburb of Toulouse.
33. The French Government awards medals to good parents of large families.
One of the more amusing facts about France is that the La Médaille de la Famille (Medal of the French Family) is awarded by French authorities to parents or guardians who have brought up or are bringing up four or more children in a moral and responsible manner.
The honor was created in 1920 and the medal features an image of a couple with their children. To get the medal, parents have to apply to the local Town Hall when the oldest child has reached the age of 16.
34. The first Winter Olympic Games, the 1924 Winter Olympics, were held in Chamonix, France.
France has also hosted the Winter Olympic Games on two more occasions – the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble and the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville.
35. France legalized same-sex marriage in 2013.
When President Françoise Holland signed the bill into law on 18 May 2013, France became the ninth country in Europe and 14th in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.
36. The Louvre Museum in Paris is the most visited museum in the world.
With over a whopping 9.5 million visitors, the magnificent Louvre Museum in Paris is the most visited museum in the world.
37. The oldest person who ever lived was a French woman named Jeanne Louise Calment.
The oldest person in the world was Jeanne Louise Calment (according to the Guinness Book of World Records), a French woman who lived to be 122 years and 164 days old (21 February 1875 – 4 August 1997). This is the greatest fully authenticated age to which any human has ever lived.
38. In France, pig owners can’t call their cochons (domestic pigs) Napoléon.
Always self-conscious, former emperor Napoléon Bonaparte apparently introduced this law to avoid himself becoming the subject of mockery.
39. France is one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
France is one of the UN Security Council’s five permanent members, meaning it has the power to veto any substantive resolution.
40. France has the world’s highest percentage of its electricity generated from nuclear power, at over 75%.
A nuclear state, France derives over 75% of its electricity from nuclear energy, due to a long-standing policy based on energy security. However, the French government is planning to reduce this to 50% by 2035.
41. Marseille is the oldest city in France.
Founded in 600 BC as a port city by Greek sailors from Phocaea in Asia Minor, Marseille is France’s oldest city. Today, it is the second-largest city in the country after Paris.
42. The French Army still employs carrier pigeons.
As unbelievable as this sounds, the French army is the only one in Europe still to have carrier pigeons as a means of long-distance communication. Carrier pigeons were originally used by French soldiers in the First and Second World Wars to carry messages when all other means of communication were down.
43. At its peak, between 1919 and 1939, the Second French colonial empire controlled 8.6% of the world’s land area.
France ruled over the second-largest colonial empire in the world (after Britain) from the late 19th-century to the 1960s. At its peak, the total area of the French colonial was about 8.6% of the world’s land area.
44. France was the first country in the world to declassify gender dysphoria as a mental illness.
In 2010, France became the first country in the world to declassify gender dysphoria as a mental illness. Gender dysphoria is a term that describes a feeling of discomfort or distress that a person may have because of a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity.
45. France experiences the highest tides in Europe.
The walled town of Saint-Malo on the coast of Brittany in France experiences the largest tides in Europe due to its geographical location. When a huge mass of water from the Atlantic Ocean pours into the English Channel, it is very quick and very strong. The tidal range – the difference between the high seas and the low seas – is on average more than 13 meters around the Saint-Malo area.
46. France is home to Europe’s oldest functional canal.
The Canal du Midi, which runs from Toulouse to the Mediterranean Sea, is the oldest canal still in use in Europe. It was built between 1666 and 1681 and is 240 km (150 mi) long.
47. The French city of Grasse is known as the “perfume capital of the world.”
Located on the French Riviera, in the hills north of Cannes, Grasse has been known as the world’s perfume capital since the 16th century. Grasse earned its distinction when rare scents such as jasmine, lavender, rose, orange blossom were used to mask the awful odors from its burgeoning tannery industry, and to produce fragrant gloves for royalty.
It was in Grasse that the iconic Chanel No. 5 (the world’s first abstract fragrance, which incorporated more than 80 ingredients in a complex, multi-layered formulation process that uses aldehydes) was invented in 1921.
48. Beauty pageants for children are banned in France.
In an effort to protect girls from being sexualized too early, beauty pageants for children under 16 are banned in France. Any person who enters a child into such a contest would face up to two years in prison and 30,000 EUR in fines.
49. In France, it is forbidden for couples to kiss while the train is at the platform.
Despite the country’s reputation for romance, a 1910 French law makes it illegal to kiss while a train is on the platform. This bizarre law was introduced at the request of rail chiefs to prevent the amorous French from delaying the departure of trains which led to costly delays to rail service.
50. The usage of the terms “left-wing” or “right-wing” to describe a political party began in France during the French Revolution.
Among the many things to come out of the French Revolution are the terms “left-wing” or “right-wing” to describe a political party. This is because the more radical reformists sat on the left side in the National Assembly, while the conservatives sat on the right side.
51. Paris was originally called Lutetia.
Did you know that Paris’s original name was Lutetia? It is commonly believed that “Lutetia” comes from the Latin word lutum meaning “mud” or “swamp.”
52. The oldest bridge in Paris is called Pont Neuf (“New Bridge”).
It is quite ironic and a little bizarre that the oldest standing bridge in Paris should be called the Pont Neuf (“New Bridge”). The bridge was built from 1578 to 1607 across the Seine River via the Île de la Cité.
53. The most visited attraction in France is Disneyland Paris.
It may come as a surprise that Disneyland Paris tops the list of the most visited sites in France but the enduring appeal of Disney reigns supreme. Disneyland Paris gets around 16 million visitors annually which is way more than its nearest competitors – the Louvre Museum, the Eiffel Tower, and the Palace of Versailles.
54. In France, you can marry a dead person.
No, we’re not making this up – we promise! One of the most mind-blowing facts about France is that under French law, you can marry posthumously in exceptional cases.
The law hinges on the condition that you can substantiate that the deceased had the intention of marrying you while they were alive. You must also receive permission from the French president.
This bizarre law stems back to when a dam burst in 1959 and killed 420 people in southern France. A pregnant woman who lost her fiancé was so upset that former President Charles de Gaulle penned a law allowing them to be married.
55. France is the only country in Europe where any kind of personal DNA tests, even paternity tests, and genetic genealogy tests, are prohibited by law.
In France, DNA testing is only permitted for medical, scientific, or judicial purposes. As a consequence of French bioethics laws, France remains the only European nation where any kind of personal DNA tests, even paternity tests, and genetic genealogy tests, are prohibited by law and punishable by heavy fines or prison sentences.
56. France has several towns and places with X-rated names.
One of our favorite France facts is that there’s a handful of town and place names across the country that regularly prompt bursts of laughter among English speakers.
Some of the wackiest and mirth-inducing town and place names in France are “Bitche” in northeastern France, “Anus” in central France, the tiny village of “Pussy” in the French Alps, “Craponne” in east France, “Condom”, “Cascade d’Ars”, “Pis”, and “Seix” in southwest France.
57. The Gallic rooster is the national animal of France.
The Gallic rooster has been the country’s symbol since the days of the French Revolution. It is seen on bell towers, French weathervanes, home decor items, stamps, coins, and even the official seal of the French Republic.
58. France was the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from throwing away food.
In 2016, France became the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food. Stores must now donate surplus groceries to food banks and charities.
Failure to comply can result in hefty fines of up to 75,000 EUR or two years of imprisonment. Furthermore, all French supermarkets are also prohibited from destroying food as a way to prevent ‘dumpster divers’ from foraging in trash dumpsters.
59. The national flower of France is the Fleur-de-lis (“Lily flower”).
The fleur-de-lis is commonly associated with French history because French monarchs used the flower as their emblem for centuries.
60. Croissants and French fries didn’t originate in France.
That’s right, believe it or not, croissants and French fries didn’t originate in France. The ancestor to the modern-day croissant was called the “kipferl” which originated in Austria and dates back to the 13th century.
Despite its name and popularity, the French fries are not French at all. Their origins can be found in Belgium, where historians claim potatoes were being fried in the late-1600s.
It’s often claimed that American soldiers stumbled upon the dish in Belgium during World War I and, since the dominant language of southern Belgium is French, they dubbed the tasty potatoes “French” fries.
61. The tallest bridge in the world can be found in France.
The Millau Viaduct is a multi-span cable-stayed bridge over a valley of the River Tarn near Millau in the south of France. It is the tallest bridge in the world with one of its masts as tall as 343 m (1,125 ft).
62. The tradition of wearing a white wedding dress originated in France in 1499.
The popular tradition of the bride wearing a white dress actually has its roots in France with the marriage of Anne of Brittany and Louis XII of France in 1499. She wore a white gown to the wedding, marking the start of the popular Western custom.
However, it wasn’t until 1840, when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert, that the white dress really took off in popularity and the tradition was established.
63. Both the national football team and the national rugby union team of France are nicknamed “Les Bleus” (“The Blues”).
Football and rugby union are the two most popular team sports in France. Both the national football team and the national rugby union team are nicknamed “Les Bleus” (“The Blues”) in reference to the team’s shirt color as well as the national French tricolor flag.
64. After the former USSR and the United States, France was the third country to launch a satellite on its own rocket.
France became the third country to launch a satellite on its own rocket when the first French satellite Astérix was launched on 26 November 1965 by a Diamant A rocket.
65. In France in the 1500s and 1600s, it was considered a crime if a man wasn’t able to get an erection, and this was enough to let a woman file for divorce.
In 16th and 17th century France, divorce was a rarity. The only reason for a couple to be granted a divorce was if the man was unable to sexually perform.
Back then, if a married woman accused her husband of impotence, he had to prove that he could become erect and show he could ejaculate in a courtroom in front of an “expert panel” of clergymen and physicians. Not surprisingly, many chaps failed this audition.
Upon failure, however, the man could demand a Trial by Congress and attempt to have sex with his wife in front of the experts. The practice was declared obscene and banned in 1677.
66. The French are an innovative lot.
Some of the most famous French inventions are the stethoscope, Braille, the hairdryer, the hot air balloon, the parachute, Pasteurization, the metric system, canned food, the refrigerator, the cinema, the cell-phone camera, the memory card, the silent metronome, the bikini, mayonnaise, and Aspirin.
67. France is the country with the most Michelin stars in the world.
As the Michelin Guide is a French institution, and French cuisine is a pioneer in fine-dining tradition, it is no surprise that France is also the country with the most Michelin stars (628) in the world.
68. The official motto of France is Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité (“Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”).
Having first appeared at the time of the French Revolution (1789-1799), France’s official motto “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” was written into the 1958 Constitution and is nowadays part of the French national heritage.
69. In France, by law a bakery has to make all the bread it sells from scratch in order to have the right to be called a bakery.
The 1993 French Bread Law, or “the Bread Decree”, outlines how bread should be produced and sold in the country. To be called a “bakery”, a bakery must make its own bread fresh on-site, no pre-made dough is allowed.
70. France was home to the first mayor of African descent in the Western World.
Severiano de Heredia, a Cuban-born biracial was elected mayor of Paris in 1879, making him the first mayor of African descent in the Western World.
71. France was the first country in the world to have an organized public transit system within a city.
In 1662, Paris became the first city in the world to have an organized public transit system. It came via “Five-sol coaches”, a system of horse-drawn carriages circulating at a fixed time and on lines linking various neighborhoods of Paris.
72. Natzweiler-Struthof was the only concentration camp established by the Nazis on French soil.
Located 50 km (31 mi) southwest of Strasbourg, Natzweiler-Struthof was the only concentration camp established by the Germans in pre-war France. It operated from May 1941 to September 1944.
73. France was the fourth country to acquire nuclear weapons.
On 13 February 1960, France conducted its first nuclear test, code-named “Gerboise Bleue” (Blue Desert Rat) in the Sahara Desert of Algeria. Thereby, France became the fourth country to acquire nuclear weapons after the US, Soviet Union, and the UK.
74. From 1309 to 1377, the papal headquarters were based in France.
In 1309, Pope Clement V moved the papal headquarters from Rome to Avignon, France, with Avignon’s third pope, Benoit XII, starting work on the resplendent Palais des Papes. The Holy See remained in the Provençal city until 1377.
75. during its failed attempt to dig the Panama Canal, FRANCE LOST SO MANY WORKERS that for a time their project’s main source of income was selling the corpses to medical schools all over the world as cadavers.
Under the leadership of Ferdinand de Lesseps, who had been successful in building the Suez Canal, the French attempted to construct a sea-level canal in Panama. However, after nine years of trying (1881-1889) and 287 million USD in expenditures, the French attempt went bankrupt and failed.
Over 20,000 workers perished during the French effort to build the Panama Canal. The debacle was blamed on poor administration and corruption, but the main causes more likely were malaria, yellow fever, and other tropical diseases.