Valenciennes lies in the north-east of France, in the Nord-Pas de Calais region. Located on the River Scheldt (French Escaut), the town sits at the centre of a larger metropolitan area.

Following a decline in the area's industry since the 1970s, economic activity has been rekindled through automobile production, the railway industry - it is a base for the European Railway Agency, Alstom, Bombardier and other suppliers - the University of Valenciennes and, in 2006, a new city tramway. The tramway has stimulated urban regeneration, and has since become the symbol of a new and dynamic city.