France is famous around the world for the romantic city of Paris, lavender fields, delicious food, wine and champagne, and high fashion. It’s the kind of destination that attracts honeymooners, couples, students, and families.
However, while these the first things that comes to mind when you think of France may be wine, cheese, and the Eiffel Tower, you may be surprised to know that it’s also a pretty good destination for scuba diving.
When you think about it, France is basically the birth place of scuba diving. After all, Jacques Cousteau, the father of scuba diving, was born in Bordeaux and first tried his Aqua Lung in France’s Mediterranean Sea.
France is a great dive destination, but we are also aware that sometimes planning the PERFECT dive holiday to France can be somewhat stressful due to the lack of useful information online.
But it doesn’t have to be.
In this guide, it is my goal to show you all of the best dive locations in the country, how to get there, what to expect, who to dive with, visa information, and more.
There are quite a few options when it comes to scuba diving in the France, so I will tell you what makes each one unique and special, and once you decide where you want to go, I’ll give you all the information you’ll need to make it happen.
Without the stress of not knowing what to expect, and letting you plan every detail.
Where can you scuba dive in France?
Surrounded by three seas with miles of coastline, France offers a variety of scuba diving opportunities to travellers. The three main scuba diving areas in France are the north, especially around Normandy, which is home to many shipwrecks. The south of France, with warmer waters and great visibility.
And thirdly, the Mediterranean island of Corsica which offers a little bit of everything. While these three areas are home to the majority of the scuba diving sites in France, there are also a few inland spots as well that are popular among cave divers.
With that in mind, these are the best dive sites in France.
Along the coast in Normandy is one of the best spots to dive in France. The waters may be cool and murky, but they are filled with wrecks from WWII. There are hundreds of vessels sunk off the beaches here, many of which are accessible to divers. Don’t miss the following dive sites in Northern France:
Susan B Anthony: An American ship wreck off of Omaha Beach. A large portion of the wreck lies at about 20m deep. Divers can swim through parts of the wreck. Plenty of sea life.
USSA: A British steamboat, it wasn’t actually sunk during WWII, but in 1917 when a mine exploded nearby. Currents can be swift here but the vessel, still mostly intact, is fun to explore.
The Empire Flamingo: Dark, murky and cold water surround this wreck, but avid wreck enthusiasts will appreciate the fact that they are diving a D-Day Wreck.
The Lynghaug: Close to the Empire Flamingo, again the real highlight here isn’t the visibility or the marine life, but knowing that you are diving through a site of huge historical significance.
Milberry Harbour: The remains of the structures once used to offload troops and men off of the ships and onto Gold Beach during the Battle of Normandy.
The Empire Broadsword: This big wreck is divided into three pieces. When visibility is good, it’s easy to go inside and explore.
Turquoise: A German gunboat sunk in WWII by British torpedoes. Tons of marine life in this area.
Murree: A recent wreck, this Pakistani cargo freighter sunk in 1989. The wreck is almost fully intact and a favourite for divers to explore. Note: divers need to be wary of all the fishing nets that cover the structure.
Southern France, in the warm waters of the Mediterranean, is where the father of scuba, Jacques Cousteau tested his equipment. The French Riviera has the most number of dive sites in France, many of which are located around the city of Nice.
Visibility here is quite good as well; about 30-40m or better on a good day. Here are the top dive sites in the south of France:
Ile de Hyeres: A national park near Marseille. Clear waters and plenty of wrecks make it a popular area for divers. Plus, because it’s a protected environment, there is quite a variety of marine life.
Phare du Planier: A lighthouse on the coast of Marseille with several wrecks; both planes and ships.
Le Tombant Des Americains: An enormous gorge teeming with sea life. However, it is at 50m and requires special arrangements with a local dive shop to dive this site as it can be dangerous.
The Riou Archipelago: Off the coast of the town of Marseille are a few uninhabited islands. Around these islands divers can find steep walls covered in flora and fauns, as well as a few impressive shipwrecks.
The Rubis: Off the coast of St. Tropez, this mine-launcher submarine was sunk on purose in 1958 after being decommissioned a few years earlier. This site is also frequented by eagle rays.
The Pyramids: By Frejus, France, The Pyramids is a pinnacle-covered dive site. It’s perfect for divers of all levels and have enough to see to keep you busy for multiple dives.
While in Southern France check out 7 Nice Day Trips from Nice.
Corsica is a favourite dive spot in France. Warm Mediterranean waters with plenty of fish make it an attractive dive destination for many. Plus, the waters around this French island are also teeming with wrecks. These are the must-see dive sites:
Alistro: An Italian freighter wreck. It lies at 36m and is incredibly well preserved.
La Revelatta: A wide canyon with multiple caves and tunnels. Lots of sea life ranging from moray eels to eagle rays. Plenty of colourful corals as well.
B17 Wreck: An American Bomber plane. It was also nicknamed the ‘flying fortress’ because it had 13 machine guns. It was brought down by German fighters in 1944.
Campanina: A deep cave dive that goes down to 40m.
Alcione C: Considered be to be the best wreck dive in Corisca. This site is teeming with marine life and a favourite for underwater photographers.
Canadair Wreck: A plane wreck that went down in 1971. The engines are missing but other than that its quite well preserved. Penetration of this wreck is possible.
Cirques de Marifaja: Wide rock walls, a sandy bottom, and lots of Mediterranean critters.
Merouville/Peelu Shoal: A natural reserve best known for the large grouper family that love among the rocky plateaus of this site. The groupers are used to divers and can be quite friendly.
Pecorella: A small freighter wreck. It’s a favourite dive site because it’s only 14m deep making it easy to explore.
Les Cathedrals: A rocky area covered in bright red and yellow corals. Plenty of marine life here as well which makes it a favourite site for divers of all levels.
Capo Rosso: Gorgeous underwater rock formations covered in a variety of underwater fauna. Watch for moray eels, lobsters, stingrays, and scorpionfish.
Cave Diving in France
Cave diving exists throughout France, though the majority of the cave diving sites are located in the south-western part of the country. The limestone cave system and river valley offer crystal-clear visibility perfect for cave diving. If you are a cave diver, then don’t miss these dive sites:
Aroca tiquia: A classic cave dive in the Basque country; large cave network with lots of interconnecting routes.
Font del Truffe: Located near Lacave and Rocamadour. The caves here are narrow, but the beautiful colours make it a photographer favourite.
Emergence du Ruddel: A large cave system. After about 150m it splits off into two passageways (one is 10m deep while the second drops to 18m). They connect at the end again and eventually descend to a depth of 45m.
Trou Madame: A shallow cave system (about 15m) with overhead air pockets. It’s nearly 2.5km long. The interesting rock formations make it popular with underwater photographers. This dive site is located near Limogne.
Fontain de St. George: Located in the Dordogne Valley near Montvalent, this cave starts at 10m and descends to nearly 30m. It’s narrow for the first little bit, so can be a little awkward. After a while it opens up.
Unfortunately, when it comes to France, the marine life isn’t as spectacular and abundant than in other dive destinations because of over-fishing problems. Over the past few years however, regulations have been put into place and marine life is slowly returning to the waters around France in larger numbers.
With that being said, there are still some great critters to find in the dive sites around France. Here’s what to look for:
Eels: Especially moray eels, bream eels, and conger eels.
Crustaceans: Including crayfish, crabs, and lobster. Especially around the wrecks.
Cuttlefish and Octopus: Hiding in the crevasses and around the wrecks.
Scorpion Fish: Mostly in the Mediterranean dive sites along the south of France and Corsica.
Rays: Stingrays, devil rays, mobula rays, and eagle rays.
Whales and Dolphins: Sometimes seen in the northern France as they migrate.
Mola Mola (Sunfish): If you are really lucky, you may see them in early June in the warmer waters.
France travel information
France is a country in Western Europe where it’s the most famous tourist destination for a long time. The total area is 643,801km² with a population of approximately 63,929,000 in metropolitan France only.
France is all about world-class art and architecture, iconic landmarks, and outdoor activities. France has also the third highest peak in Europe the Mont Blanc at 15,772 feet. France will never disappoint you.
Capital city of France: Paris
Closest neighbors to France: It is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany to the north and northeast, Switzerland, Italy and Monaco to the east, the Mediterranean Sea to the southeast, Spain and Andorra to the south and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. France shares also maritime borders with the United Kingdom.
How to Get to France
France is an easily accessible destination for travellers from around the world and many American cities offer direct flights to the capital, Paris. If you are coming from another destination in Europe, it might be easier to train or bus into France.
Once you have arrived in France there are several options to get to the dive locations. You can take a domestic flight to a smaller, closer airport. The country also has a very good public transit system. The network of trains and busses throughout the region will allow you to travel around quite easily. Or, if you enjoy your freedom, consider renting a car to make the most of your time and your trip.
Visas for Americans
Travellers visiting France with an American or Canadian passport do not need any type of visa to travel. They are allowed to stay in the country for a maximum of 90 days*. However, visitors may be asked to show a departure ticket.
If you are not an American or Canadian citizen, please check the entry requirements with the French embassy of your native country ahead of time.
*France is part of the Schengen Area, so the 90-day allowance isn’t just for France, but for all 26 countries that are part of the Schengen agreement. Please keep this in mind if you plan on travelling extensively before or after your visit to France.
Best Times to Visit France
France can be visited throughout the year, however for scuba diving your best bet is during the summer months when the waters and the weather are warmer. During the summer, the waters in the south of French reach about 26C while waters in the north peak at around 16C. In the winter months, the temperatures drop to 14C and 9C respectfully.
However, while summer may offer ideal diving weather, it is also high tourist season which means and increase in crowds and prices. You can avoid the worst of it by booking before or after the school break (end of June until end of August) which is when the majority of tourists flock to the country.
What to see and Do in France
Scuba diving is definitely a highlight in France, but make sure to take the time to see and explore more of the country as well. Whether you are a foodie, or interested in art and history, or just love to explore the outdoors, there is no shortage of things to keep you entertained and occupied. Here are a few ideas:
Even if Paris isn’t your typical ‘scene’ it’s worth visiting for a couple of days. The architecture of the city is beautiful, and it’s surprisingly easy to escape the hordes of tourists if you stick to the smaller and more local arrondissements. That being said, as crowded as they may be, Paris’ sites such as the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral shouldn’t be missed.
Sip your Way Though Wine Country
Love wine? You’re in the right country, so why not spend a few days explore the Bordeaux region in southwest France? You can take wine tours and explore the countryside, of just wander through the picturesque city of Bordeaux and stop in the numerous bars à vin that can be found around town.
Relax in the Riviera
Located in the south of France, the French Riviera is the perfect place to kick back, relax, and soak up the sun. The city of Nice is not just perfect for diving, but also makes a great base for exploring smaller, local towns such as Eze, Saint-Paul de Vence, or even Cannes and Monaco.
Stroll Through Fairytale Towns
European countries are known for their adorable fairytale villages, and France is no exception.
Annecy is known as the ‘Venice of the Alps’ and its lake is perfect for relaxing in the summer time.
Colmar is another favourite; it’s best known for its Christmas markets but very picturesque to explore year round.
Disney fans should be sure to visit Riquewihr, which is said to be the town that inspired Beauty and the Beast. According to local folklore, the houses were painted different colours depending on your profession.
Another favourite is the island city of Mont Saint Michel. Exploring the winding shop-lined streets and make your way to the abbey at the top for stunning views.
Step back in time in Normandy
If you are interested in war history, then Normandy is a must visit. Normandy is the most important war site in France and travelers to the area can visit the D-Day Beaches as well as the areas cemeteries.
Explore the Loire Valley
They Loire Valley is a great pick for travellers to France because it offers a little bit of everything. There are beautiful chateaus, vineyards, and small towns to visit and it’s a good area for cycling and hiking.
Geography and Tips
Convinced that you should head to France for your next scuba diving holiday? Here are some helpful tips and fun facts that will come in handy during your vacation.
Language: The official language of France is French. English is widely spoken in the larger cities (though not always willingly). It helps to know a few basic French phrases in advance.
Currency: The Euro
UNESCO World Heritage sites in France
There are 43 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in France and 37 on their tentative list.
- Abbey Church of Saint-Savin sur Gartempe (1983)
- Amiens Cathedral (1981)
- Arles, Roman and Romanesque Monuments (1981)
- Belfries of Belgium and France (1999, 2005)
- Bordeaux, Port of the Moon (2007)
- Bourges Cathedral (1992)
- Canal du Midi (1996)
- Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Former Abbey of Saint-Rémi and Palace of Tau, Reims (1991)
- Champagne Hillsides, Houses and Cellars (2015)
- Chartres Cathedral (1979)
- Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay (1981)
- Decorated Cave of Pont d’Arc, known as Grotte Chauvet-Pont d’Arc, Ardèche (2014)
- Episcopal City of Albi (2010)
- Fortifications of Vauban (2008)
- From the Great Saltworks of Salins-les-Bains to the Royal Saltworks of Arc-et-Senans, the Production of Open-pan Salt (1982,2009)
- Historic Centre of Avignon: Papal Palace, Episcopal Ensemble and Avignon Bridge (1995)
- Historic Fortified City of Carcassonne (1997)
- Historic Site of Lyon (1998)
- Jurisdiction of Saint-Emilion (1999)
- Le Havre, the City Rebuilt by Auguste Perret (2005)
- Mont-Saint-Michel and its Bay (1979)
- Nord-Pas de Calais Mining Basin (2012)
- Palace and Park of Fontainebleau (1981)
- Palace and Park of Versailles (1979)
- Paris, Banks of the Seine (1991)
- Place Stanislas, Place de la Carrière and Place d’Alliance in Nancy (1983)
- Pont du Gard (Roman Aqueduct) (1985)
- Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the Alps (2011)
- Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vézère Valley (1979)
- Provins, Town of Medieval Fairs (2001)
- Roman Theatre and its Surroundings and the “Triumphal Arch” of Orange (1981)
- Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France (1998)
- Strasbourg, Grande-Île and Neustadt (1988,2017)
- Taputapu?tea (2017)
- The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier, an Outstanding Contribution to the Modern Movement (2016)
- The Causses and the Cévennes, Mediterranean agro-pastoral Cultural Landscape (2011)
- The Climats, terroirs of Burgundy (2015)
- The Loire Valley between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes (2000)
- Vézelay, Church and Hill (1979)
- Gulf of Porto: Calanche of Piana, Gulf of Girolata, Scandola Reserve (1983)
- Lagoons of New Caledonia: Reef Diversity and Associated Ecosystems (2008)
- Pitons, cirques and remparts of Reunion Island (2010)
- Pyrénées – Mont Perdu (1997, 1999)
More France scuba and travel resources
Want to write for us? Hit us up at Justin@artofscubadiving.com
- A Guide to Backpacking Europe
- Lunch at Guy Savoy: Michelin Three-Star on a Budget
More articles coming soon!