The Most Famous

EXPLORERS from France

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This page contains a list of the greatest French Explorers. The pantheon dataset contains 498 Explorers, 35 of which were born in France. This makes France the birth place of the 3rd most number of Explorers behind United Kingdom, and Spain.

Top 10

The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary French Explorers of all time. This list of famous French Explorers is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of French Explorers.

Photo of Jacques Cartier

1. Jacques Cartier (1491 - 1557)

With an HPI of 74.64, Jacques Cartier is the most famous French Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 145 different languages on wikipedia.

Jacques Cartier (31 December 1491 – 1 September 1557) was a French-Breton maritime explorer for France. Jacques Cartier was the first European to describe and map the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and the shores of the Saint Lawrence River, which he named "The Country of Canadas" after the Iroquoian names for the two big settlements he saw at Stadacona (Quebec City) and at Hochelaga (Montreal Island).

Photo of Jacques Cousteau

2. Jacques Cousteau (1910 - 1997)

With an HPI of 74.47, Jacques Cousteau is the 2nd most famous French Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 81 different languages.

Jacques-Yves Cousteau, (, also UK: , French: [ʒak iv kusto]; 11 June 1910 – 25 June 1997) was a French naval officer, oceanographer, filmmaker and author. He co-invented the first successful open-circuit self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA), called the Aqua-Lung, which assisted him in producing some of the first underwater documentaries. Cousteau wrote many books describing his undersea explorations. In his first book, The Silent World: A Story of Undersea Discovery and Adventure, Cousteau surmised the existence of the echolocation abilities of porpoises. The book was adapted into an underwater documentary called The Silent World. Co-directed by Cousteau and Louis Malle, it was one of the first films to use underwater cinematography to document the ocean depths in color. The film won the 1956 Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and remained the only documentary to do so until 2004 (when Fahrenheit 9/11 received the award). It was also awarded the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1957. From 1966 to 1976, he hosted The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, a documentary television series, presented on American commercial television stations. A second documentary series, The Cousteau Odyssey, ran from 1977 to 1982 on public television stations.

Photo of Pytheas

3. Pytheas (-380 - -310)

With an HPI of 69.08, Pytheas is the 3rd most famous French Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 55 different languages.

Pytheas of Massalia (; Ancient Greek: Πυθέας ὁ Μασσαλιώτης Pythéas ho Massaliōtēs; Latin: Pytheas Massiliensis; born c. 350 BC, fl. c. 320–306 BC) was a Greek geographer, explorer and astronomer from the Greek colony of Massalia (modern-day Marseille, France). He made a voyage of exploration to northwestern Europe in about 325 BC, but his account of it, known widely in antiquity, has not survived and is now known only through the writings of others. On this voyage, he circumnavigated and visited a considerable part of the British Isles. He was the first known Greek scientific visitor to see and describe the Arctic, polar ice, and the Celtic and Germanic tribes. He is also the first person on record to describe the midnight sun. The theoretical existence of some Northern phenomena that he described, such as a frigid zone, and temperate zones where the nights are very short in summer and the sun does not set at the summer solstice, was already known. Similarly, reports of a country of perpetual snow and darkness (the country of the Hyperboreans) had reached the Mediterranean some centuries before. Pytheas introduced the idea of distant Thule to the geographic imagination, and his account of the tides is the earliest one known that suggests the moon as their cause.

Photo of Louis Antoine de Bougainville

4. Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1729 - 1811)

With an HPI of 65.50, Louis Antoine de Bougainville is the 4th most famous French Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 50 different languages.

Louis-Antoine, Comte de Bougainville (, US also , French: [lwi ɑ̃twan də buɡɛ̃vil]; 12 November 1729 – 31 August 1811) was a French admiral and explorer. A contemporary of the British explorer James Cook, he took part in the Seven Years' War in North America and the American Revolutionary War against Britain. Bougainville later gained fame for his expeditions, including a circumnavigation of the globe in a scientific expedition in 1763, the first recorded settlement on the Falkland Islands, and voyages into the Pacific Ocean. Bougainville Island of Papua New Guinea as well as the Bougainvillea flower are named after him.

Photo of Samuel de Champlain

5. Samuel de Champlain (1567 - 1635)

With an HPI of 65.39, Samuel de Champlain is the 5th most famous French Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 65 different languages.

Samuel de Champlain (French: [samɥɛl də ʃɑ̃plɛ̃]; c. born 13 August 1567 – 25 December 1635) was a French explorer, navigator, cartographer, draftsman, soldier, geographer, ethnologist, diplomat, and chronicler. He made between 21 and 29 trips across the Atlantic Ocean, and founded Quebec City, and New France, on 3 July 1608. An important figure in Canadian history, Champlain created the first accurate coastal map during his explorations and founded various colonial settlements. Born into a family of sailors, Champlain began exploring North America in 1603, under the guidance of his uncle, François Gravé Du Pont. After 1603, Champlain's life and career consolidated into the path he would follow for the rest of his life. From 1604 to 1607, he participated in the exploration and creation of the first permanent European settlement north of Florida, Port Royal, Acadia (1605). In 1608, he established the French settlement that is now Quebec City. Champlain was the first European to describe the Great Lakes, and published maps of his journeys and accounts of what he learned from the natives and the French living among the Natives. He formed long time relationships with local Montagnais and Innu, and, later, with others farther west—tribes of the Ottawa River, Lake Nipissing, and Georgian Bay, and with Algonquin and Wendat. He agreed to provide assistance in the Beaver Wars against the Iroquois. He learned and mastered their languages. Late in the year of 1615, Champlain returned to the Wendat and stayed with them over the winter, which permitted him to make the first ethnographic observations of this important nation, the events of which form the bulk of his book Voyages et Découvertes faites en la Nouvelle France, depuis l'année 1615 published in 1619. In 1620, Louis XIII of France ordered Champlain to cease exploration, return to Quebec, and devote himself to the administration of the country. In every way but formal title, Samuel de Champlain served as Governor of New France, a title that may have been formally unavailable to him owing to his non-noble status. Champlain established trading companies that sent goods, primarily fur, to France, and oversaw the growth of New France in the St. Lawrence River valley until his death in 1635. Many places, streets, and structures in northeastern North America today bear his name, most notably Lake Champlain.

Photo of Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse

6. Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse (1741 - 1788)

With an HPI of 64.59, Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse is the 6th most famous French Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 44 different languages.

Jean François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse (French: [ʒɑ̃ fʁɑ̃swa də ɡalo kɔ̃t də lapeʁuz]; variant spelling: La Pérouse; 23 August 1741 – 1788?), often called simply Lapérouse, was a French naval officer and explorer. Having enlisted at the age of 15, he had a successful naval career and in 1785 was appointed to lead a scientific expedition around the world. His ships stopped in Chile, Hawaii, Alaska, California, Macau, Philippines, Korea, Russia, Japan, Samoa, Tonga and Australia, before wrecking on the reefs of Vanikoro in the Solomon Islands.

Photo of Jules Dumont d'Urville

7. Jules Dumont d'Urville (1790 - 1842)

With an HPI of 63.54, Jules Dumont d'Urville is the 7th most famous French Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 46 different languages.

Jules Sébastien César Dumont d'Urville (French pronunciation: [ʒyl dymɔ̃ dyʁvil]; 23 May 1790 – 8 May 1842) was a French explorer and naval officer who explored the south and western Pacific, Australia, New Zealand, and Antarctica. As a botanist and cartographer, he gave his name to several seaweeds, plants and shrubs, and places such as d'Urville Island in New Zealand.

Photo of Jeanne Baret

8. Jeanne Baret (1740 - 1807)

With an HPI of 63.27, Jeanne Baret is the 8th most famous French Explorer.  Her biography has been translated into 38 different languages.

Jeanne Baret ([ʒan ba.ʁɛ]; 27 July 1740 – 5 August 1807) was a member of Louis Antoine de Bougainville's expedition on the ships La Boudeuse and Étoile in 1766–1769. Baret is recognized as the first woman to have completed a voyage of circumnavigation of the globe, which she did via maritime transport. Jeanne Baret joined the expedition disguised as a man, calling herself Jean Baret. She enlisted as valet and assistant to the expedition's naturalist, Philibert Commerçon (anglicized as Commerson), shortly before Bougainville's ships sailed from France. According to Bougainville's account, Baret was herself an expert botanist.

Photo of Jean de Béthencourt

9. Jean de Béthencourt (1362 - 1425)

With an HPI of 62.44, Jean de Béthencourt is the 9th most famous French Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 24 different languages.

Jean de Béthencourt (French pronunciation: [ʒɑ̃ də betɑ̃kuːʁ]; 1362–1425) was a French explorer who in 1402 led an expedition to the Canary Islands, landing first on the north side of Lanzarote. From there he conquered for Castile the islands of Fuerteventura (1405) and El Hierro, ousting their local chieftains (majos and bimbaches, ancient peoples). Béthencourt received the title King of the Canary Islands but he recognized King Henry III of Castile, who had provided aid during the conquest, as his overlord.

Photo of Charles Marie de La Condamine

10. Charles Marie de La Condamine (1701 - 1774)

With an HPI of 61.63, Charles Marie de La Condamine is the 10th most famous French Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 32 different languages.

Charles Marie de La Condamine (28 January 1701 – 4 February 1774) was a French explorer, geographer, and mathematician. He spent ten years in territory which is now Ecuador, measuring the length of a degree of latitude at the equator and preparing the first map of the Amazon region based on astro-geodetic observations. Furthermore he was a contributor to the Encyclopédie.


Pantheon has 37 people classified as French explorers born between 380 BC and 1910. Of these 37, none of them are still alive today. The most famous deceased French explorers include Jacques Cartier, Jacques Cousteau, and Pytheas. As of April 2024, 2 new French explorers have been added to Pantheon including André Thevet, and Louis-Gustave Binger.

Deceased French Explorers

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Newly Added French Explorers (2024)

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Overlapping Lives

Which Explorers were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 25 most globally memorable Explorers since 1700.