Before reading it, you need to remember that experiences of places are personal and therefore subjective. One may have preferred a particular city for specific reasons, while another may have picked another for similar or different reasons. However, various categories exist, and sharing them with you will ultimately give you a pretty good idea of where you will want to study in France. Let's get one thing out of the way already; regardless of the city, France is a great country to study in. There is no doubt about that. The best place to study in France depends on the cost of living, student life, activities the city has to offer, how easy it is to reach the city, and many other factors. Are you ready for a 10-minute trip around France? Let's get right into it.
How expensive are French cities?
Let's get an annoying yet essential aspect out of the way first; money. Different rankings exist about which city in France is the most expensive to study in. Although some of them differ to certain degrees, they all agree that Paris is by far the priciest. The most trustworthy study performed to measure the cost of living in French cities is from the French Student Union UNEF. Their study was released in August 2021.
Nine out of the ten first cities mentioned are in the Paris region, so we will include the region as one. Depending on the area in the Parisien region that you will be in, you will pay between 1,276.69 Euros and 1,055.69 Euros per month, everything (essential) included. By essential, we mean rent, food and transport. The cheapest city to study in is Limoges, where you will only pay 793.24 Euros per month. The main cities in the ranking is below; you can find the complete ranking online.
- Paris: €1,276.69 - €1,055.69
- Nice: €1,064.49
- Lyon: €1,035.82
- Bordeaux: €1,010.14
- Aix en Provence: €1,000.07
- Marseille: €962.07
- La Rochelle: €948.9
- Lille: €948.74
- Strasbourg: €946.74
- Montpellier:€ 943.44
- Toulon: €926.24
- Toulouse: €925.74
- Grenoble: €889.24
- Rennes: €885.65
- Rouen: €883.36
These numbers are approximations, so you may find cheaper or pricier options. Preparing your stay long in advance is usually what will allow you to find the best prices. If you prepare everything at the last minute, you may be forced to take whichever option you have in front of you due to a lack of choices. We recommend that you search for the town's Facebook groups or the university on which rentals are posted. Your university may also have housing, and these tend to be more affordable. France is known for its enormous supermarkets with relatively low prices. Leclerc and Intermarché are some of the cheapest ones you will find. In terms of transportation, every city has a different system and many offer discounts for students. The system in Paris is Navigo, in Marseille it's RTM, and in Lyon it's TCL. The website combiencoute compare prices of similar products in different countries.
French universities all have different prices in terms of tuition fees, and there's a bit of everything. Some fees will be based on income, some fees will be based on country of origin, and some fees will be fixed. Take a look at the website CampusBourse from Campus France, where you will see a list of all existing scholarships in France. The blog from the mastersportal will offer further insights on tuition fees in France and other recurring costs for students.
What do the University rankings say?
Needless to say, an important choice you need to make before choosing the city where you will study is determining the institution. This depends on what you want to study, what university offers those degrees, what courses the university offers, etc. There are numerous lists of best universities in France, such as QS World University ranking and The Times Higher Education. Again, every ranking will be different, although some major names can often be spotted. Here is the ranking from QS.
- Université PSL (Paris Sciences & Lettres)
- Ecole Polytechnique
- Sorbonne University
- Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon
- Ecole des Ponts ParisTech
- Sciences Po Paris
- Université de Paris
- Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne
- ENS Paris-Saclay
When you search for what institution to study in, make sure to research the best universities for your specific degree. General rankings do not often tell you much about how the university performs in a particular field.
What do blogs say
An analysis of 6 different blogs has allowed us to identify the cities mentioned the most when it comes to studying. Here are the cities that are practically always mentioned: Paris, Lyon, and Grenoble (more on Grenoble's surprising yet justified popularity later). Other famous destinations include Toulouse, Bordeaux, Nice, Montpellier, and Lille. Finally, other towns that receive occasional mentions are Rouen, Cannes, Aix, Strasbourg, and Clermont-Ferrand. You should take a look at blogs such as Masterstudies, Gooverseas, Eduopinions, and Edarabia.
Student Life in French Cities
The first ranking in this blog about money should give you an idea of what cities will be more expensive when grabbing a drink with friends. Indeed, a pint or a glass of wine in Paris will be more costly than the same in Grenoble. However, just like in every city, you can find cheaper bars and restaurants with excellent happy hour prices and student discounts. Make sure to see if your university has a campus bar or a partnership with places in the city because those are usually the lowest prices you will find. If you are looking for the typical French Bistrot experience, do not worry because you will have that. Every large city in France has movie-like bars with iconic terraces, wine caves and charcuterie platters. Be aware that the price you see on the menu will be the final price you pay. Taxes are already included in the price, and tipping does not happen as often in France as in Canada and the United States. Every major city in France has famous clubs that you can go to, and quite a few bars in smaller towns turn into clubs in the later hours of the night.
Activities and things to do
Another key factor that needs to weigh in on your decision is whether the city you are going to has a lot to offer in terms of activities. Are there good museums? Are there cinemas, theatres, festivals, concerts? Are there suitable recreational activities? Let's see what awaits you in 5 of France's most popular study destinations.
Paris, the capital city of France
We already talked about Paris' high prices and performing institutions. Despite the cost, Paris constantly tops the ranking of best destinations every year because of all that the city offers. You may (or may not?) have heard about the Louvre Museum, where you can discover art from all over the world, including the original Mona Lisa painting from Leonardo Da Vinci. The Centre Pompidou is another example from Paris' never-ending list of museums.
If you enjoy operas or performing arts, you will never run out of options in the city. While many small venues exist, some of the most famous ones include the Palais Garnier and the Opéra Bastille. Concerts, and major sports events take place every week in Paris. Either at the Stade de France, the Accor Arena, the Zenith or hundreds of other venues. You can attend Paris Saint Germain football matches or attend international tournaments such as Roland Garros (tennis) or the Tour de France (Cycling).
If you leave your campus after class and walk home or get lost in the city, you have a high chance of coming across a world-famous building. Maybe the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Panthéon, or the Cathédrale Notre-Dame.
Nice, the sunny life on the French Riviera
You might want to choose Nice over Paris for its warmer and sunnier weather. There are countless things to enjoy in Nice. You can read more on our article on the Provence region here. You have the Place Masséna, named after the French empire general André Masséna and built in the 19th century. It was inspired by the Piazza Vittorio Veneto in Turin. Visiting the old town, called the 'Vieille Ville' in French, is also a typical activity in French cities, especially in Nice. There is also the beautiful Promenade des Anglais, a magnificent 7-kilometres walking track on the coast of Nice.
The 'Parc de la Colline du Château' is a beautiful area of town, and if you appreciate art and architecture, there's the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art and the world-renowned Musée Matisse. There is also the splendid Cathédrale Saint-Nicolas de Nice constructed in the early 20th century. It is the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedral in Western Europe, and it belongs to the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate. Last but not least, you will be able to enjoy the beautiful view of the city from the 191-metres high Parc du Mont Boron, where you have the Château de l'Anglais. If you enjoy spending time in nature, Nice is the gateway to gorgeous parks such as the Parc naturel régional des Préalpes d'Azur or the Parc National du Mercantour.
Lyon, the city of the brothers Lumière
You might also choose to go to Lyon for its better weather than the North of France. Just like in many other French cities, Lyon has plenty to offer in terms of activities. Studying and living in the old town is a guaranteed success for international students. You will be able to discover the city's famous traboules, centuries-old secret pathways.
The Fourvière Basilica, the Ancient Theatre of Fourvière and the Lyon Cathedral will amaze you in architecture, history and culture. You will also enjoy walking in the Parc de la Tête d’Or that has fantastic nature. One of Lyon's best museums is the Musée des Beaux-Arts.
Marseille, the Mediterranean City
You can learn more about Marseille by reading our article on the Provence region here. Some of the things you will enjoy in Marseille include the gorgeous Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde and the Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-Majeure, known worldwide for its Roman and Oriental history and architecture.
In terms of museums, there is the Marseille History Museum, or the city's oldest museum, the 'Musée des Beaux-Arts.' You will also be able to discover a prominent architect of modernism of Swiss-French origin called Le Corbusier. Some of his work can still be visited today in Marseille. Take a trip back to the 20th century by visiting Le Corbusier's ‘Cité Radieuse,’ listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. If you enjoy nature, Marseille is close to the Parc national des Calanques. The park is full of beautiful rocky inlets and borders the Mediterranean Gulf of Lion.
Grenoble, a hidden paradise in the Alps
The city of Grenoble is not as famous as some of France's bigger cities. This is why it often comes as a surprise to international students that Grenoble is almost always listed as one of the best cities to study in for international students. So why would that be the case? There are many reasons for this, but four stand out: Not too big, loads to do, winter sports closely available and language opportunities. Read this article to learn more about why Grenoble is a perfect place to study. First of all, Grenoble is less overwhelming than larger cities such as Paris or Lyon, and students generally feel less stressed because of that. Secondly, Grenoble has a surprisingly high number of cafes, bars and restaurants per capita and a wide variety. Thirdly, it attracts many skiing and snowboarding fans since Grenoble was the site of the 1976 Winter Olympics. Finally, the city's relatively small size forces international students to adapt to the majority-french-speaking environment. Although this can be harder, there is no more efficient way to learn a language.
How easy is it to reach French Cities?
If you come from outside of Europe, you will want to look at the country's major airports. Luckily, a lot of cities are well connected to Europe and the rest of the world. It will not surprise you that Paris is the most reachable city of them all. No less than 263 destinations and 110 countries worldwide are directly connected to Paris' International Airport Charles de Gaulle. Paris is one of the most reachable cities in the world. If your nearest airport does not have a direct flight with Paris, it will likely be reachable with one layover. The city of Grenoble also has a small airport which has 14 direct routes, all of them within Europe. Here is the list of the most connected airports in terms of destinations (not in terms of passengers). (This list only includes the cities most often mentioned in this article.)
- Paris CDG - 263 direct routes
- Marseille - 114 direct routes
- Lyon - 114 direct routes
- Nice - 101 direct routes
- Bordeaux - 89 direct routes
Every major city also has a train station usually connected to Paris. There are fast trains (called TGV in French) connected from Paris to Nice, Marseille, Lyon, Bordeaux, Grenoble, Aix, Lille, Strasbourg and Montpellier. The French railway company OuiSNCF offers significant discounts for youth called the Carte Avantage Jeune.
Are these cities international-minded?
It is fair to say that the larger the city, the more adapted it is to international people. Big cities like Paris, Marseille and Nice will have universities that teach in English, administrative services in languages other than French, and most museums can be visited in English. The smaller the city, the less likely that becomes. Make sure to research your institution because various universities teach courses in English and not just in France's big cities. In this article from International Citizens, you can read about the best French cities to live in for internationals.
Hopefully, this article has helped you decide which city may be best for you to study. Doing extra research will only help you to make an even more informed decision. Reach out to anyone you know who either went to France or who knows someone who lived, studied or taught there. Regardless of where you end up, your time in France will not be one you'll easily forget.