Overview of Geography

Geography of France

Map of France showing some of the major cities


Western Europe, bordering the Bay of Biscay and English Channel, between Belgium and Spain, southeast of the UK; bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Italy and Spain

Geographic coordinates: 46 00 N, 2 00 E

Map references: Europe


  • total: 547,030 km²
  • land: 545,630 km²
  • water: 1,400 km²note: includes only metropolitan France, but excludes the overseas administrative divisions

Land boundaries:

  • total: 2,889 km

Border countries

  • Andorra 56.6 km,
  • Belgium 620 km,
  • Germany 451 km,
  • Italy 488 km,
  • Luxembourg 73 km,
  • Monaco 4.4 km,
  • Spain 623 km,
  • Switzerland 573 km


  • total: 3,427 km

Beautiful sunbathed Riviera Beach

Maritime claims:

  • contiguous zone: 24 nautical miles
  • continental shelf: 200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation
  • exclusive economic zone: 200 nautical miles (does not apply to the Mediterranean)
  • territorial sea: 12 nautical miles

Internal Divisions:

France is divided into 15 metropolitan regions, which are subdivided into a hundred départements, which are further divided into 36,779 communes


Generally cool winters and mild summers, but mild winters and hot summers along the Mediterranean


Mostly flat plains or gently rolling hills in north and west; remainder is mountainous, especially Pyrenees in south, Alps in east

Elevation extremes:

Lowest point:

  • Rhone River delta -2 m

highest point:

  • Mont Blanc 4,808 m

Natural resources:

  • coal, iron ore,
  • bauxite, zinc,
  • fish, timber, potash


Land use:

  • arable land: 33%
  • permanent crops: 2%
  • permanent pastures: 20%
  • forests and woodland: 27%
  • other: 18% (1993 est.)

Irrigated land:

  • 16,300 km² (1995 est.)

Natural hazards:

  • flooding; avalanches

Environment – current issues:

  • Some forest damage from acid rain (major forest damage occurred as a result of severe December 1999 windstorm)

  • air pollution from industrial and vehicle emissions
  • water pollution from urban wastes, agricultural runoff

Environment – international agreements:

Party to:

  • Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Sulphur 85, Air Pollution-Sulphur 94, Air Pollution-Volatile Organic Compounds,

  • Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification,
  • Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Marine Life Conservation,
  • Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands,
  • Whaling

Signed, but not ratified:

  • Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants,

  • Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol

Geography – note:

  • Largest West European nation;

  • occasional strong, cold, dry, north-to-northwesterly wind known as mistral

The majestic Alps covered with snow... the most skied region in France

Cities and major towns or those of historical significance include:

Abbeville, Ajaccio, Albertville, Albi, Amiens, Angers, Angouleme, Aurillac, Bastia, Besançon, Bordeaux, Belfort, Brest, Brive, Caen, Cahors, Calais, Cannes, Carcassonne, Chamonix, Charleville-Mezieres, Chatellerault, Chinon, Clermont-Ferrand, Colmar, Deauville, Dieppe, France, Digne-les-Bains, Dijon, Dole, Domremy, Dreux, Dunkerque, Evreux, Grenoble, La Baule, La Rochelle, Le Havre, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Mende, Metz, Mont-de-Marsan, Montauban, Montpellier, Nantes, Nice, Nimes, Orléans, Paris, Pau, Perigueux, Perpignan, Poitiers, Quimper, Reims, Rennes, Rodez, Roubaix,Rouen, Saint-Gaudens, Saint-Etienne, Saint-Nazaire, Saint-Tropez, Saumur, Sete, Soissons, Strasbourg, Tarbes, Toulon, Toulouse, Tours, Tourcoing, Valence, Vichy

Topography of France viewed from Space
France, viewed from the NASA Shuttle Topography Radar Mission.
Larger picture

The remainder of this article is about the above image from space.

France, viewed from the NASA Shuttle”:

France, viewed from the NASA Shuttle Topography Radar Mission.
Larger picture

This image of France was generated with data from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM). For this broad view the resolution of the data was reduced, resampled to a Mercator projection and the French border outlined.

The variety of landforms comprising the country is readily apparent.

The upper central part of this scene is dominated by the Paris Basin, which consists of a layered sequence of sedimentary rocks. Fertile soils over much of the area make good agricultural land. The River Seine flows through.

The Normandie coast to the upper left is characterized by high, chalk cliffs, while the Brittany coast (the peninsula to the left) is highly indented where deep valleys were drowned by the sea, and the Biscay coast to the southwest is marked by flat, sandy beaches.

To the south, the Pyreneesform a natural border between France and Spain, and the south-central part of the country is dominated by the ancient Massif Central.

Subject to volcanism that has only subsided in the last 10,000 years, these central mountains are separated from the Alps by the north-south trending Rhone River Basin.

Two visualization methods were combined to produce the image: shading and color coding of topographic height.

The shade image was derived by computing topographic slope in the northwest-southeast direction, so that northwest slopes appear bright and southeast slopes appear dark.

Color coding is directly related to topographic height, with green at the lower elevations, rising through yellow and tan, to white at the highest elevations.

Elevation data used in this image were acquired by the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour, launched on Feb. 11, 2000.

SRTM used the same radar instrument that comprised the Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C/X-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SIR-C/X-SAR) that flew twice on the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1994. SRTM was designed to collect 3-D measurements of the Earth’s surface.

To collect the 3-D data, engineers added a 60-meter (approximately 200-foot) mast, installed additional C-band and X-band antennas, and improved tracking and navigation devices.

  • Location: 42 to 51.5 ° North, 5.5 West to 8 ° East.

  • Orientation: North toward the top, Mercator projection.

  • Image Data: shaded and colored SRTM elevation model.

  • Original Data Resolution: 1 arcsecond (~30 meters).

  • Date Acquired: February 2000.
    Image Courtesy SRTM Team NASA/JPL/NIMA

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