North France vs South France – now that’s no easy one to weigh up. This nation of prized wines and rolling vineyards is a cracking place to travel, and both sides have their own pulls. But which is better for you an your travel buddies this year?
That’s what this guide will aim to unveil. It will run through a series of key aspects about both halves of the country, to outline whether it’s the north that has the better beaches or the famous Cote d’Azur down south, if the wine labels are superior in the Loire Valley or Bordeaux, and where’s better for beach bums, skiers, and city slickers.
To be honest, our overall advice would be to do both sides of the nation. As you’ll see in this article, northern France and southern France are both enthralling corners of Europe, replete with UNESCO sites, bumping metropolises, and stunning backcountry. They’re also now linked up by fantastic motorways and high-speed rail. Jus’ saying.
North France vs South France for general vibe
There’s quite a big cultural shift between northern France and southern France. But then that’s to be expected of two regions that differ immensely in culture, cuisine, climate, and history, right? The north tends to feel more similar to the Low Countries and Northern European nations. There’s a distinct edge of Anglicization, and a past that’s wrapped up in centuries of wars and rule with neighboring England. There are some regions that buck that trend – most notably Brittany, which is home to its own unique Breton culture.
Down south, there’s a more holiday-type vibe on the coast and the region is palpably Mediterranean by nature. Hit any of the Cote d’Azur and you’ll be keeping the company of vacationers hunting sun, sand, and R&R. Places like St Tropez and St Maxime get super busy in the hot months, while the action shifts to the ski resorts in the wintertime. Inland in the south, the vibe gets rustic and bucolic, as chilled hill villages and student towns take over.
Winner: No winner here, just unique differences.
North France vs South France for weather
It’s no secret that the south of France gets the better weather of these two regions. But are increased rainfall and lower temperatures enough to sway where you holiday? That all depends…
Northern France tends to have wet, cold winters and dry, mild summers. Temperatures usually hover around the 20-30 C (68 F+) mark in the hottest months (June, July, and August) but can regularly dip below freezing in the winter. The Atlantic coast around Brittany gets the most rainfall in the country apart from in the Alps, with something around 820mm of H2O falling from the sky each year.
The further south you go, the higher those summer peaks will be on the thermometer. By the time you hit Mediterranean France, you’re looking at potential highs of 35 C (95 F) in the midst of the summertime. That’s backed up by lower rainfall all round, which lends the countryside a drier feel, and makes space for all that lavender in Provence! Winters in the south are wetter but warmer than up north. There’s always snow in the Alps (which are in southern France), usually starting around November for a ski season that opens around December.
Winner: The south has to win this one!
North France vs South France for beaches
The north of France is all about wild, windswept beaches. We actually think that the very best of them sit on the rugged edges of Brittany, the westernmost part of the region. There, rocky capes give way to sweeps of golden sand that are blessed with unbusy surf breaks. Go to Normandy and you’ll be able to tour the famous D-Day landing spots of Omaha and Sword, and see the adjoining memorials and history museums. Summer resort beaches are also there for families in Fort-Mahon and Le Touquet, complete with campsites by the English Channel.
None of that can match what’s on the menu in the south. Some of the very best beaches in the world beckon down on the idyllic Cote d’Azur. Take the island of Porquerolles. It’s a picture of Mediterranean perfection that often makes the travel-brochure cut – think pebble coves ringed by stone pines and washed by see-through water. After that, you can hit the simply stunning Cap Ferrat, the Plage du Midi of Cannes, and the jet-setter Cap d’Antibes, which is just the tip of the iceberg, too.
Winner: There’s no question about it, the south of France takes this one!
North France vs South France for towns and cities
The north of France holds a trump card when it comes to comparing towns and cities: Paris. Yep, the big, bustling capital of the country makes its home in these parts. It’s a bucket-list place no questions, offering the priceless exhibits of the Louvre gallery next to the moody district of Montmartre and the Eiffel Tower. And the north isn’t ONLY about Paris. Nope. Come to get lost in the wiggling medieval lanes of Rouen, see the walled port of Saint-Malo, and tour the incredible fortress-cathedral of Mont-St-Michel.
In the south, the towns and the cities begin with France’s second-largest, Marseille. It’s gritty port with a whopping 3,000 years of history to its back. The Vieux Port area and its adjoining Le Panier district are the best places to unravel that. Don’t linger there too long, though, because the jet-setter resorts of the Cote d’Azur beckon to the east, in the form of film-mad Cannes and celeb-filled St Tropez. Go east a little instead to find the lovely student city of Montpellier, Arles of Van Gogh fame, and castle-topped Béziers, all of which are wonderful.
Winner: The north, because of Paris.
North France vs South France for nature
Northern France has raw and untamed beauty on its shorelines. Brittany meets the Atlantic in grand style with the beaches of Finisterre and the western capes, at hill-backed coasts like Crozon and Roscoff. Go inland and you can discover lesser-known reserves such as the Parc Naturel Régional des Boucles de la Seine Normande, a patchwork of wetlands and low-lying fields along the Seine River. Perhaps the most famous dash of countryside in the area is the UNESCO Loire Valley, which goes southwest of Paris through undulating vineyards and castle-topped ridges.
Again, though, there’s nothing that can live up to the sheer superlatives of southern France. We’ve already waxed lyrical about the paradise coastline on the islands and the Cote d’Azur. But there are also sweeps of scented lavender fields in Provence, flamingo-dotted lagoons in the Camargue Regional Natural Park, and the wooded reaches of the Pyrenean foothills to get through. Special mention should be made of the French Alps here, too. They skirt the western edge of southern France and host monstrous mountains like Mont Blanc, with ski fields and hiking trails that simply can’t be beaten.
Winner: The south.
North France vs South France for things to do
Northern France strikes a good balance between relaxation and culture. Naturally, it’s the bucket-list sites of Paris that hit the top of the bill. Go to the City of Lights to tour the Eiffel Tower, wander the Louvre, and drink red wines on the Canal Saint Martin. Then, you can head off to spy the Gothic wonders of Rouen, once the capital of the Normans, or choose to witness the turn-of-the-century majesty of Rennes. There are also WWI battlefields, WWII landing beaches, and sobering military memorials.
It’s different on the French Riviera of the south, where your holiday days are likely to be more about rest and relaxation on glimmering sands. But you can also choose adventure, by making for the Haute-Savoie and the peaks of Mont Blanc – it’s some of the best trekking and skiing territory in the world, depending on the season. Culture comes courtesy of artsy towns like Arles and the erstwhile Papal center of Avignon. Surf can be had on the beaches that string up from the Spanish Basque Country.
Winner: Draw. You won’t be bored in either one of these places!
North France vs South France for cost
Certain parts of the south of France might just be the most expensive destinations that you’ve ever visited. We’re talking the A-lister towns of St Tropez and Cannes, where a night in a five-star hotel with James Bond pedigree can be well over $1,000 a night. There are other options, of course, but the influx of oligarchs in these parts means that rates will be generally high. The same goes for the ski centers of the Alps, where you’ll pay above the odds for food and some of the higher ski-pass prices in Europe. Elsewhere in the south, you can get by on budgets of around $60 a day if you go camping and cook for yourself.
The north is generally seen as a touch cheaper than that. An ample supply of campsites that cost $20 per night are on offer all around Brittany and Normandy, largely thanks to decades of loyal British holidaymakers who hop across the Channel come the summer. That’s backed up by rural regions where everything from baguettes to B&Bs is likely to be cheaper than in the south. There’s one exception to that rule: Paris. Prices in the big capital can be among the highest in the country.
Winner: The north, bar Paris, is generally a little cheaper than the south.
North France vs South France – Our conclusion
We LOVE both northern France and southern France. We’d say that travelers keen on exploring this amazing nation to the full should have both on their itinerary, which isn’t all that hard since they are now linked by well-maintained roads and high-speed railways. If you can only choose one, then our general suggestion would be that it’s the south for beaches and relaxation, skiing, and honeymoons, but it’s the north for history, city breaks, and off-the-beaten-path travel.