Every year, tens of thousands of students descend on the city for their studies, most likely with visions of passing one of the city’s architectural landmarks while commuting to class.

This article is the first in a series featuring the top five cities for students around the globe in 2012, determined by QS. A number of factors were considered in the organization’s ranking, including educational institutions, quality of living, affordability and employer activity. Paris came in first.

Few cities are more enchanting than Paris, one of the most-visited cities in the world -- and its allure reaches more than just travellers. Every year, tens of thousands of international students descend on the city for their studies, most likely with visions of strolling the Left Bank at dusk, taking regular outings to the Louvre, and passing any one of the city’s astounding architectural landmarks while commuting to class.

Attending university in Paris can be a wise move financially, since international tuition fees are low compared to those in the US, Australia and the UK. And class sizes tend to be small, rarely more than 30 students, which is especially appealing given the illustrious teaching rosters at the city’s elite universities, such as the Université Paris-Sorbonne, École Polytechnique and Sciences Po. As a downside, living in Paris can be pricey, but the beguiling City of Lights tends to win students over regardless.

Best spots
Many of the city’s main universities are located in the student-heavy 5th and 6th arrondissements on the Left Bank. During lunchtime on sunny days, crowds of students grab food at the many small cafes, restaurants or bistros by Metro Saint Michel or Vavin and picnic in the Jardin du Luxembourg.

Students also frequent the Jewish quarter of the Marais, which spans the 3rd and 4th arrondissements, where many believe the best falafel in the city can be found.  Students can buy sandwiches for cheap at L’As du Falafel or stop in at the city’s oldest food market, the indoor Le Marché des Enfants Rouges, which dates back to the 1600s and contains stalls selling tasty and affordable pre-prepared food.

Students are also drawn to the cafe culture in the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank near the Sorbonne, where they congregate in the neighbourhood’s open squares and in bistros and bars like the laid-back Le Teddy’s Bar with its lengthy happy hour and the budget-friendly Le Requin Chagrin.

For nightlife, the ever-cool Oberkampf neighbourhood in the 11th arrondissement attracts the city’s most stylish. Favourite spots include the belle-époque Café Charbon and the rock-and-roll bar Au P’tit Garage. Nightlife in the upscale and centrally-located 6th arrondissement, where Sciences Po is located, is also popular among English-speaking students, who hang at the international-friendly bars Frog and Princess and Moose. With bar after bar and cheap concert venues, the once quite raunchy Bastille and Pigalle/Blanche areas bordering the 9th and 18th arrondissements are also top night time spots for the university crowd, who fill venues like the convivial Le Sans Souci, a restaurant by day and bar by night, and the free-to-enter club Chez Moune, which regularly has long queues to get in.

Student activities
When not in class, most students explore the city’s many cultural institutions and hidden corners. Organised extra-curricular activities for students are available too, especially in regards to sports and exercise, and universities often have their own sports facilities or work with local gyms to provide students free or steeply discounted membership. The Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris is a student housing complex that offers activities and services for international students studying at a range of universities, including sports facilities, seminars and student-centric social events.

Individual universities such as the Sorbonne also host choir and orchestra concerts, festivals and student workshops throughout the year. The university also participates in citywide festivals, such as the poetry event Printemps des Poètes and the student arts festival Ici et Demain. The Université Paris Diderot also offers students the chance to take supplementary art workshops and also screens thought provoking films weekly through their CinéDiderot programming.

Student discounts
All EU citizens under 26 years old and anyone with a student ID gets free entry to Paris’ state museums, including the Le Petit Palais, the city’s fine arts museum; the Musée Carnavalet, which features the city’s history; and the eerie subterranean ossuary Les Catacombes, where the remains of skulls can be found. Art students receive ID cards from their universities that declare their area of study and act as a free pass to enter most art museums in the city, including the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay and the Centre Pompidou. In addition, the Louvre, is free on Friday nights for those 26 and younger.  

The Théâtre du Châtelet musical theatre venue offers free shows for students from time to time, and pricey-ticket venues like the national Ópera and the Theatre des Champs-Elysées shell out last minute, inexpensive tickets for same-day performances. They can be purchased at varying, but always significant, discounts at the Kiosque Place de la Madeleine in the 2nd arrondissement, Le Kiosque Montparnasse in the 14th.

Day trips
With inexpensive train prices throughout the Parisian metropolitan area day trips outside of the city are very doable. At the top of the list is at least one visit to the opulent Le Château de Versailles, about a 30-minute train ride to the west of the city, to see where Marie Antoinette frolicked. Art students also make it a priority to visit Claude Monet’s hometown of Giverny, about 45 minutes by train from the capital, where visitors can enter his gardens and see the lily ponds he painted, as well as his house and the local museum. Many students also make it to the medieval town of Provins, about 80km or a little over an hour on train from Paris, to see the well-preserved historic sites, including the town’s surrounding fortifications, as well as to Saint-Denis 15 minutes on Métro or train, to visit the town’s impressive Gothic cathedral. A number of study-abroad programmes also schedule trips to the English channel beaches and regions Normandy , about one to two hours away by train, so their students can visit the WWII memorial, cemeteries and sites.

Travelling on a budget
The metro in Paris, which reaches across the city, is one of the most convenient methods of transport, and discounted passes are available for students. The most economical student transport card NaviGo Imagine R grants student cardholders unlimited rides on the metro, bus, tram and train. The year-long pass is 300 euros for the basic Parisian metro area zones, and month-long passes run 34 euros. Over weekends and university holidays, the card is “dezoned”, meaning students can travel throughout Paris’ suburbs and surrounding areas, such as to Disneyland Paris, regardless of which zones their ImagineR usually covers. The card carries other discount benefits as well, including certain cinemas and restaurants.

The city’s bike rental service Vélib offers student rates, and students can ride the regional French rail system, the SNCF for free on Sundays, or use a youth card, a discounted travel card for those 26 and younger, the rest of the week. For farther trips Easyjet and Ryanair are popular budget carriers and students often scour sites like flight aggregator Edreams to find the best airline deals.