What is the difference between a town and village in France?

The difference is sometimes based on population, but this is not necessarily the most important factor

Do you live in a town or village?

Reader Question: I want to buy a second home in France, and am torn between two. One is classed as being in a ‘town’ whereas the other is in a ‘village’. Is there any real difference?

Whether an area is classed as a town or a village in France can be based on a number of criteria, however the distinction means relatively little. 

This is because most local administrative decisions are made through communes – with almost 35,000 of these currently in France. 

Communes themselves can sometimes consist of a number of small rural settlements, one larger settlement, or even subdivisions of densely populated areas. Paris itself is a single commune covering over 2,000,000 people.

In addition, the word for town – ville, as opposed to village – can be used for anything from settlements of a few thousand people to major cities.

The smallest areas in French are referred to as a hameau, or hamlet, which consists of a few buildings together, usually with no tertiary services. You will also find lieus-dits, which is a similar term, for a small settlement that is in an outlying part of a larger commune.

No official criteria to differentiate

The easiest way to distinguish between a village and a town in France is population – towns generally have more than 2,000 people.

Residences need to be in an almost continual link without large gaps between, with less than 200m² in every 1km² left empty.

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If these conditions are not met, the area is generally considered a village.However, this is a rule of thumb, and not a set-in-stone criteria.

There are certain times when an area that would usually be considered a village is instead classified as a town.

This can be for a number of reasons: 

  • Village-sized communities with administrative importance are classed as towns, including those that have been awarded a charter (charte de ville).

  • Any communes that are the headquarters of prefectures are automatically classed as towns.

  • Municipal councils can declare any village as a ‘town’, although this is less common.

  • Villages that have an importance to the local area (they host important facilities such as schools or train stations) are also classed as towns.

  • Similarly, the presence of significant economic activities, including a strong tertiary sector, can transform a village into a town, especially if it is the strongest economic performer in the area.

Read more: How to find out more about an area in France before you move there

Can I find official data? 

If you are looking for information about whether a specific place is classed as a town or village, you can check using the national statistics body Insee (Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques). 

You can also ask the local mayor of the commune where the town is located, or the prefecture the area falls under.