Spend a summer, a semester, or a year studying abroad in Paris, France, and fall in love with one of the oldest, most historic cities in Europe. Students return claiming to have just spent the most memorable months of their entire life. This list will take your taste of Paris beyond fresh baked croissants, although those should be included!
1. La Tour Eiffel
The iconic Eiffel Tower isn't just the symbol of Paris, but the symbol of France for most of the world. Although it may be a more pleasant visit in the mild weather of the fall and early spring, many actually prefer the tower in winter. There are fewer tourists blocking the view with endless poses and photography sessions. The swarms of salesmen trying to sell cheap plastic trinkets and infamous pickpockets getting a little too close are also thinner. Skip the elevator and opt for the stairs; you'll be tired but happy when you reach the top.
2. La Métro
Some exchange students try to avoid the metro. They do everything possible to avoid it, taking cabs or buses instead. Although the underground public transport system has its share of weirdos and undesirables, and the passageways can be a little dank and rough around the edges, it carries with it a lot of the character of the city. You'll see performers moving from car to car singing songs – some impressive, some amusingly terrible. You'll really get a cross-section of real Parisians. And you'll get to share in their distaste when the cars get filled to the brim with loud, obnoxious tourists.
If you've got a little extra time for some cheap, effortless sightseeing and it's cold, try making the loop on lines two and six in their entirety. Large portions of both lines are above ground, so you'll get to whizz past buildings, over the Seine River, and through colorful neighborhoods bathed in spray paint. Even below ground has its fair share of unique characters. If you're traveling westbound (toward Charles de Gaulle Étoile) on line six, sit forward-facing on the right side of the car for some lovely views of the Eiffel Tower peeking over the tops of buildings.
3. Chez Prosper
With the chill still slightly in the air and the sun low in the sky, walk to the Place de la Nation or take one of the four métro lines that cross paths there. Place de la Nation, a large plaza visible from a distance because of its two large statues on columns, is home to a cozy bistro named Chez Prosper, or Prosper's Place in English. Try the duck, and don't forget to sample one of the many French desserts.
MK2 is a movie theater close to the métro stops Jaurès and Stalingrad that takes residence on both sides of the Seine. Moviegoers with a ticket can take a ferry across the river if they show up on the wrong side – so it might be a good idea to be pretend to be lost.
5. Les Catacombes
The earth underneath the city of Paris is like Swiss cheese – riddled with tunnels, some mapped and frequented, some used for the métro and other transportation, and some lost to the ages. While this is definitely not a visit you'd want to make in the colder part of the year, try to get to it before the tourists start flooding in, or you could be stuck waiting in a line that winds all the way around the block.
La Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre, meaning the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, is an iconic structure that can be seen from almost anywhere in the City of Lights. Construction began in 1875 and it sits on the highest point of the city. The cathedral itself needs several hours to explore and shouldn't be missed but the bustling neighborhood around it is a great place to explore and get to know what makes Paris unique.
It is lined in adorable shops with shopkeepers who will ramble to you about their travels. It's varying heights and staircases make it quite the aerobic endeavor, literally a rollercoaster of French culture. Of course, if the hills get to be too much you can catch a ride uphill on the Montmartre funicular railway that serves only that area.
7. Arènes de Lutèce
As the spring warms up and the trees begin to flower, you may find yourself wanting a quiet place to enjoy a small packed lunch, tucked away in the city. The Arènes de Lutèce is the oasis you have been searching for. These ruins of an ancient Roman amphitheater can be found close to the Jardin des Plantes, another great place for springtime ambling.
8. La Mosquée
If you get thirsty while in the area of the Arènes, you can't go wrong stopping at La Mosquée. Although it is a bit of a tourist attraction and often crowded, the mosque's outdoor patios are a great place to relax and enjoy a hot cup of thé à la menthe, a foamy sweet mint tea that you're sure to love.
9. Parc des Buttes Chaumont
Spring is the perfect time to discover the Parc de Buttes Chaumont, off in the northeast corner of Paris. Visitors usually experience love at first site when arriving at the beautifully landscaped park. Buttes Chaumont has it all – two bridges and a great ascent up to a temple (from which you can see the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the horizon, and a bevy of lovely buildings), a moat, sweeping hills and staircases, a cave, a waterfall, and stepping stones.
10. Bateaux Mouches
As your semester in Paris comes to a close, you should engage in one more necessary tourist attraction. Get in line for the Bateaux Mouches which are boats that travel up and down the Seine River passing under bridges, as the sun begins to sink in the sky. Then take in the Eiffel Tower, framed in the sunset and looming over the Seine.