Why Rennes is the best city in France for expats to live

In a study by The Local, the Breton capital of Rennes has topped the table for the best city in France for foreigners to live. Here’s why it beat the likes of Lyon, Nice, and yes, even Paris.

Why Rennes is the best city in France for expats to live
Photo: Nicolas Vollmer/Flickr

When most people consider relocating to France, their thoughts inevitably go to Paris, and then perhaps to the sunny French Riviera.

But in a quality of life study by The Local to find out the best city in France for foreigners to live, a humble city in Brittany in western France came out as the surprise winner. 

And the foreigners who live there are not one bit surprised.

Here's why they say Rennes is such an excellent place to live for foreigners (and French people as well, of course). 

It’s a ‘city with a small town vibe’

The mayor of Rennes, Nathalie Appéré, confessed that Rennes had long been counted as “the smallest of the big cities” in France, but added that it was on the way to becoming one of the “competing” European cities. 
“Brittany, and Rennes as its capital, have always been open land, welcoming and diverse,” Appéré told The Local.
“This is our true wealth. Our city has an exceptional historical heritage.” 
Many say Rennes is a perfect blend of city and small town life. 

Georgia Wyche, an American English teacher who has been living in Rennes for two years, described it as “a city with a small town vibe. The size of Rennes is quite comfortable and not intimidating,” she added.

Although it retains its small-town charm, Rennes is a cultured, international city according to locals. 

“Rennes is a lively university and student city that is accustomed to opening the door to foreigners,” said Wyche. “I have a smorgasbord of friends coming from Algeria, Morocco, Iran, Belarus, France, Greece, Brazil, Tunisia, Syria, and so forth.”

So as a foreigner in Rennes, you certainly wouldn’t have a problem making other international friends.  

Locals will welcome you with open arms

The French have a reputation for sometimes being a bit standoffish toward foreigners, but the city of Rennes shatters that stereotype. 

Stewart Bennett, who runs O’Connell’s pub and has lived in Rennes for 15 years, said the local Rennais were very welcoming – especially towards the Celtic nations, the Irish and Scots.

This openness makes for a well-integrated expat community. 

“Most of our friends tend to be mixed couples,” Bennett added.

Faire la fête 

Photo: Alter1fo/Flickr

In Rennes you’ll never have a problem finding a place to faire la fête, whether you’re looking to make some English-speaking friends in a jovial Irish pub or have a quiet glass of rouge in a typical French setting. 

The bar to people ratio is enviable, with a bar for every 1,670 inhabitants.

“You know Montmartre (in Paris) with its little streets and the village feel? There are parts of Rennes that are quite similar to that, with lots of bars and cafes,” said Bennett of O'Connell's pub. “But of course it’s not nearly as expensive as Paris.”

Rent doesn't cost an arm and a leg

As a foreigner living in France, it's certainly not ideal to shell out three-quarters of your monthly paycheck just on rent when you'd rather be enjoying your city. 

It can be hard to justify paying €1,000 a month to live in a 6m² studio (also known as a closet) with a shared bathroom in Paris when you can live in relative luxury in Rennes for only €470. The only average monthly rent lower than Rennes was in Clermont-Ferrand

An excellent place to find a job

Finding a job is probably the top concern for foreigners moving to France. And although the unemployment situation is rather grim in much of the country these days, in Rennes you might have a better chance of finding a boulot than in some other major cities in France.

Rennes had the lowest unemployment rate in the last three months of 2015 (8 percent) compared to all the other cities we looked at.

In a separate study, that we did not use for our rankings, Rennes was ranked as the best mid-sized city in France for starting a business, thanks in large part to the high quality of training the city's universities offer and the “eco-system” for creating a business, which includes the low jobless rate.

Getting around is a breeze

Photo: Mar Kiddo/Flickr

The compact city center in Rennes is easily walkable, and nightmarish traffic jams like those in Paris and Marseille are nowhere to be found. 

Eric Beaty, Economic and Commercial Attaché at the US consulate in Rennes for 16 years, praised the “efficient” and “quite inexpensive” Metro system.

“Somebody can live in the city and not need a car,” he said. “That’s quite important for expats.”

In The Local's study, based on several factors including bicycle paths and the number of residents served by public transport, Rennes beat out several major cities, including Paris.

And if you need a change of scenery?

Dinan, Brittany. Photo: Benh Lieu SONG/Flickr

If you want to take a day trip or head back to your home country for the holidays, apparently the only hard part about leaving Rennes is that you’ll miss it.

Bennett of O’Connell’s pub said that in recent years “the transport links have really improved. The Rennes airport is developing quickly so there are lots more flights back to the UK.”

Rennes is also a perfect jumping-off point to explore the best that Brittany has to offer, such as the villages that are often ranked among the most beautiful in France

Looking for love?

Photo: Mar Kiddo/Flickr

Some expats find themselves living in France because they’ve already fallen in love with a Frenchie, but plenty of others are single and ready to mingle.

Well, in Rennes, 57 percent of the population is single according to one survey, so your chances are good.

So forget the City of Love — in fact it's Rennes that gives you a better prospect of meeting your soul mate, or âme sœur in French. 

One of France's greenest cities

The capital of the Brittany region often ranks among France’s greenest cities, with a whopping 42 m² of green space per inhabitant, as compared to the national average of 31 m². 

The stunning Parc du Thabor alone should be enough to win over nature lovers, but if not there are 59 other city parks to explore as well as community gardens for those looking to flex their green thumb. 

Smart (or at least smart-sounding) people

The pleasantness and intelligibility factor of the local accent is not to be discounted as a foreigner living in France. 

The consensus is that the “sexiest” and most charming accents are found in the south of France (especially Toulouse), but who wants to sound sexy when you can sound smart?

Rennes has the most “intelligent”-sounding accent according to a survey by French dating site Parship. 

Ready to move to Rennes?

Well at this point we're hard-pressed to think of any reason you wouldn’t want to live in Rennes, honestly.

As the city's mayor said: Rennes will amaze you. 

Here at The Local, we have to say, we’re convinced. 

Adieu, Paris.

By Katie Warren

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Discover 13 of France’s most beautiful villages, plus the town the French love the best

Every year, the TV channel France 3 runs a competition to find the best-loved villages in France. It's one of the most popular events of the TV calendar, attracting around 2 million viewers, and it's also a great way to discover some more off-the-beaten track places to visit in France. So here are the 14 finalists for 2021.

Discover 13 of France's most beautiful villages, plus the town the French love the best
Photo: Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP

The final of Le village préféré des français (France’s favourite village) was screened earlier in the summer, but we reckon that each of the 14 finalists are well worth a visit.

1 Hérisson – Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes

Its name means hedgehog in French, but locals say there will be no spiky welcome for people who come to see the many historic treasures of this village, from the remains of the 10th century castle overlooking the village to its Roman remains and village houses dating from the 13th century.

The village is situated deep in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in eastern France, which is less well known for tourists but well worth a visit to explore its stunning scenery and many excellent cheeses.

READ ALSO 10 reasons to visit Auvergne

Villerville in Normandy is a popular holiday spot, but a lot less busy than nearby Deauville. Photo: JOEL SAGET / AFP

2 Châteauneuf – Bourgogne-Franche-Comté

This medieval village is generally agreed to be one of France’s prettiest, with its limestone houses huddling beneath a 12th century castle.

Situated in Burgundy wine country, it’s also close to the beautiful Morvan natural park.

READ ALSO Morvan: Why you should visit one of France’s most beautiful and least-known areas

3 Île d’Houat – Brittany

This tiny island off the Quiberon peninsula of Brittany is just 4km in length and has 230 inhabitants. There are no cars on the island, which is all the better to enjoy the peace, long sandy beaches and wildlife. The island was classified as a Natura 200 zone due to its unspoiled wilderness.

Nearby is the slightly larger island of Belle-Île-en-Mer if you fancy an island-hopping trip.

READ ALSO The 20 essential maps to understand Brittany

The circular wash house in Auvillar, south west France. Photo: PASCAL PAVANI / AFP

4 Sancerre – Centre-Val-de-Loire (the winner)

This is the heart of wine country and Sancerre is best known for the white wine of the same name. Surrounded by 3,000 hectares of vineyards, the village itself perches on a hilltop around the remains of a medieval castle.

There is also the House of Sancerre visitor centre which tells you more about how the wines are made, and a local goat’s cheese that goes particularly well with a glass of wine.

Maybe it was the wine-cheese combination, but Sancerre was the winner of the public vote and is now officially France’s favourite village (until next year, when the competition starts all over again).

5 Saint-Florent – Corsica

This former fishing port in the north of the island of Corsica shows much of the influence of the Genose who ruled the island before it became French territory in 1768, in particular the large coastal citadel.

It also has beautiful beaches.

6 Rocroi – Grand Est

This village, right on the Belgian border, is arranged in a highly unusual star shape around its 17th century fortress – the only village apart from Palmanova in Italy to have such well-preserved star-shaped fortifications and layout.

It is in the beautiful Ardennes national park and close to Belgium so combines well with a trip over the border to sample beer and chocolate.

7 Le Désirade – Gaudeloupe 

This 21km island lies off the coast of the French overseas territory of Gaudeloupe and has the white sandy beaches and coral reefs common to that part of the world. The island is also criss-crossed with hiking trails which are the best way to see its lush vegetation and diverse fauna before heading to the beach for a cocktail. 

8 Long – Hauts de France 

This village in northern France is located next to marshland which is described as a ‘fisherman’s paradise’. In the marsh you can also see the wild Camargue horses from the Camargue marshes in southern France as well as numerous other wildlife.

It’s also the site of one of France’s first hydroelectric power stations.

The architecture on Corsica shows the island’s Italian past. Photo: PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCA / AFP

9 Samois-sur-Seine – Île-de-France

An easy day-trip from Paris, this village borders the Fontainebleau forest and contains the former home of writers Châteaubriant, Alfred de Musset and George Sand. 

As the name suggests, it sits on the banks of the Seine, which offers some spots with a lovely view to enjoy a glass of wine in.

10 Villerville – Normandy 

The neighbouring Normandy towns of Deauville and Honfleur are much better known and, correspondingly, much busier during the summer season, but this small former fishing village perched on the clifftop is just as pretty.

It’s been a favourite haunt for artists over the years including musician Gabriel Fauré, the singer Mistinguett and the playwright Georges Feydeau and if you’re a fan of old French movies you might recognise it as the setting for Un Singe en hiver with Jean Gabin and Jean-Paul Belmondo.

11 Domme – Nouvelle Aquitaine 

This is a bastide, a fortified village from the 13th century that is perched 200m over the Dordogne river. As well as being exceptionally pretty with well-preserved fortifications, the village also has the region’s largest caves with an impressive collection of stalacmites and stalactites.

It’s in Périgord, which is duck country and the local cuisine is heavily based on duck and foie gras and is also delicious.

The village of Auvillar is on the Santiago de Compostella pilgrim route. Photo: PASCAL PAVANI / AFP

12 Auvillar – Occitanie

Auvillar was, until the 19th century, an important river trading post, after which it sank into obscurity. This combination has given it some impressive historic buildings – including the boat masters’ houses in the village centre – which have been well preserved as the village gradually became a backwater. 

It’s still a stopover point on the Santiago de Compostella pilgrim route, so you will see travellers heading though the village on their way to Spain, some of whom do the pilgrimage the traditional way with donkeys.

13 Fresnay-sur-Sarthe – Pays de la Loire

The village forms one of the ‘gateways’ to the Normandie-Maine natural park, this is another fortified village – originally a town build on the hemp trade (cloth, not cannabis). It also has a 9th century castle keep.

14 Saint-Véran – Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur

No, the health minister didn’t get sainthood, this is a village perched in the Alps on the French-Italian border – it’s the highest commune in Europe at 2,042m above sea level.

Unsurprisingly its views are stunning and it is popular with tourists in both winter and summer, especially as the village has kept its traditional centre with a communal bread oven, fountains and church that is a historic monument.

If these have inspired you to do some exploring, you can also check out the shortlists from the favourite village competitions in 2020 and 2019