An Expat’s Guide to the hidden gems of Northern France

France is a popular expatriate destination, for both professionals and retirees alike. The diverse country offers many great expatriate experiences. Traditionally, those moving from London gravitate to the big cities of Pairs and Lyon. Equally, the sunny Southern coastline has large appeal, thanks to its luxury living and high quality of life.
However, don’t overlook the north of France. For expatriates who want a more authentic French experience, away from the tourist traps, there are plenty of undiscovered gems. It’s also a good place to purchase property, given the vast, beautiful homes on offer. From quaint village apartments to sprawling villas, there are options to suit every taste and style.
If you are moving to France from the UK, here are some expat destinations in Northern France you might not have considered.


The city of Lens, in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais, is close to the Belgium border. It offers a diverse cultural mix and is perfect for art lovers. The five-year-old Lens is a regional outpost of the popular Parisian attraction. It is built on the site of a former mining yard, which closed in 1960. The contemporary museum displays collections on loan from the Louvre, often in temporary exhibitions that make it worth re-visiting time and again. Its modern architectural design pays tribute to its more famous sibling, making great use of the once-wasteland it now occupies.
The city centre has a distinct Art Deco vibe, particularly the Lens Railway Station, which is a French National Heritage Site. The 1920s building, with its many arches, looks deliberately like a steam locomotive, with a tall tower emulating a chimney.


In the Normandy region of France lies its capital Rouen, a city just north of Paris and on the banks of the River Seine. Steeped in history, this medieval city is now a vibrant centre without losing its cultural heritage. There are a number of excellent museums in the city, such as the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen.
Just wandering the streets unveils many marvels, including the Notre Dame cathedral. Monet painted the impressive Gothic architecture in a series of artworks. It’s also worth visiting the Gros Horloge, or astronomical clock, which dates back to the 14th Century.


Back in 2016, Rennes topped a study of the best cities in France for expatriates, beating Pairs, Nice and Lyon. Its quality of life is excellent and its proximity to the UK is a bonus for those with business on both sides of the Channel.
It’s praised for its small-town feel despite being a city. Expatriates receive a warm welcome from the local residents and integrate well into the community. However, it’s still an international city, with good employment rates and a strong economy. There are two reputable universities in Rennes. The Rennes School of Business is a Global School of Management in France, where subjects are taught in English and there is a high international intake. There is also ESRA (École Supérieure de Réalisation Audiovisuelle), a French Film School and the only private school in French that delivers a State degree.
It’s also an important city for the arts, home to the Museum of Fine Arts of Rennes. This highly regarded establishment features many works by the sculptor Pierre Charles Lenoir.
If you are planning on moving to France and are tempted by the north, get in touch with Cadogan Tate to find out more about our European removals service.