"With a new record number of arrivals by foreign tourists... France in 2012 retained its first place in the world," France's DGCIS international competitiveness agency said in its annual report on tourism.
The figure beat the previous record of 81.4 million foreign visitors in 2011.
"The economic and political problems that are affecting many parts of the world continue to spare the tourism sector," the report said, noting that the number of global tourists was up four percent in 2012.
In France, Europeans continued to make up the bulk of visitors last year, accounting for more than 83 percent of tourists.
The number of European visitors to France was up 2.1 percent last year, the report said, while the number of Asian tourists grew at a rate of 9.9 percent.
The number of visitors from China alone was up 23.3 percent, it said, though they still represented only 1.4 million visitors.
The country that sent the most tourists to France last year was Germany, with 12.2 million visitors.
The number of tourists from the Americas was however down by 3.2 percent, while the number of African visitors was also down, by 2.5 percent.
The report said overall tourist spending was up by 6.3 percent last year, to €35.8 billion ($46 billion).
The news comes at a delicate time for the image of France, in particular Paris, a tourist-friendly destination.
In May, The Local reported how local tourism officials were forced to play down the significance of a riot near the Eiffel Tower and Champs Elysées, during whicha bus full of tourists was attacked by a group of looting football fans.
In March, French Tourism Minister Sylvia Pinel pledged to ensure the security of travellers, after 23 Chinese visitors were robbed of their cash and passports shortly after arriving in the capital.
In April, the world-famous Louvre art gallery in Paris was forced to shut down for a day when employees staged a walk-out in protest against pickpockets at the museum, who were "becoming more numerous and more aggressive".