Lille is the capital of “the North region” and France 4th biggest city behind Paris, Marseille and Lyon. But surprisingly for a metropolis of 1 million inhabitants, Lille isn’t really on the tourism map. Here is everything you need to know about Lille so you have everything you need to plan your next weekend get-away.
Lille’s old town is quite small so you can explore on foot. Here are my top 10 things to do in Lille.
First thing you should know about Lille is that the city is PRETTY. Pretty close to London, it will only take you 1h15 to be in London’s Pancras. It is also very close to Paris, it only takes 45 minutes by TGV to be in Gare du Nord and 40mins away from Brussels by Thalys. But most of all it is pretty beautiful. Lille’s old town is full of beautifully restored brick houses, windy cobbled stones streets full of very quaint shops and plethora of restaurants. Being a large university Lille is also famous for its bustling nightlife so if you feel like partying you won’t be disappointed in Lille bars and nightclubs. Lille’s old town is quite small so you can explore on foot. Here are my top 10 things to do in Lille.
Roam the Old Exchange “La vieille Bourse”
The Vieille Bourse, built between 1652 and 1653, is without a doubt the city’s most beautiful monument. It is made up of 24 identical houses around a beautiful cloister home to a book market where you can find old magazines and posters, vinyls and old toys. During the summer you will find retired people playing chess or a game called Go. In winter the square smells of roasted chestnuts and the atmosphere is quite magical.
Visit the “cathédrale Notre Dame de la Treille”
Located in the old town, the cathedral is a new building designed in the neo-Gothic style. It is an “horrible yet beautiful” piece of architecture. Horrible because completely out of place but beautiful in its realisation. The main entrance was sculpted by Georges Jeanclos and the rose window was designed by Ladislas Kijno. Even if it isn’t my cup of tea I have to admit that the very modern façade is impressive. The heavy iron doors are a work of Art of their own and the lights shining through the marble at night puts on quite a show.
Learn more about the Général de Gaulle by visiting his Birthplace
We’ve all heard of Charles de Gaulle, France most famous war hero, politician, president and writer. But few people know that he was actually born in Lille. The museum is divided in 2 parts. The first one is the house of the De Gaulle family. You will get to see the typical household of the French bourgeoisie in the 1890s, his crib is still there. The second part is about the military man De Gaulle was and his role in the French resistance during WW2. The exhibition is quite amazing! Full of old maps, photographs and videos. If you like history and learning about WW2 this museum is a must! More info Here
Admire the work of the old masters at the Palais des Beaux-Arts
The Palais des Beaux-Arts museum is the France third best museum behind the Louvre and Orsay. The collection hosts an amazing amount of paintings by Masters like Goya, Bosch or Bruegel. They also host great temporary exhibitions. At the moment there is a great retrospective on Millet. More infos HERE
Go to “the pool”
It doesn’t involve wearing a bathing suit.This old swimming pool has changed the image of people had of Roubaix, now one of the poorest cities in France after a century of industrial glory. The museum is an art and industry opened in 2000. The goal was to commemorate the textile past of the city of Roubaix. The main attraction of the museum is the building itself the Old swimming pool is home to the museum and it is the most beautiful and unusual setting for an art museum.
Go shopping at the Maisons de Mode
Maisons de Mode are something not to be missed if you like fashion. Lille used to be an industrial hub, heart of clothes making. It was abandoned after WW2 but for the past 15 years many efforts have been made to revive Lille’s creative spirit.The city is a designer hub once more and their work remain affordable! Shopping in Maison de Mode is the occasion to buy some real French fashion and help young designers make a name for themselves!
Go see a show at one of the theaters
Lille is a cultural city. The Lillois love their theaters and concert halls. It has an opera house with a very modern program, the director is trying to shake the dusty image that comes to mind when you say opera to someone who has never been. She is bringing very modern operas, ballets and concerts to this beautiful institution. Lille is home to 2 theatres called “the Theatre du Nord” and the “Théatres Sébastopol”. They both show plays and concerts. The city also have local cultural hubs called “Maisons folies” home to many photos exhibitions. My favorite one is the Maison Folie de Wazemmes.
Eat your way through the markets.
There is nothing like a French market. The cheese stands, the bread, the amazing choice of fruits and veg, local beers, the colours and the noise make it a truly unique experience. Here are a few of my favorite markets:· Marché de Wazemmes: every Sunday· Marché Place du Concert (old Town) : Wednesday, Friday, Sunday· Marché Saint Sauveur : Tuesday· Marché Sebastopol : Tuesday and saturday
Climb the Belfry or City hall Bell Tower
North of France is famous for its belfries. During the Middle Ages they were the symbol of the merchants power as the Church was until then the Time keeper.
With the development of market towns, belfries became more and more popular and eventualy days were no longer punctuated by the churches bells but by the Belfries ringing important event in the inhabitants daily life like the opening of the city gates, the beginning of the trade, noon, the end of work and curfew. Lille’s belfry is 104meters high and was built after WW1 (1924-1932) by Emile Dubuisson. At the time it was an architectural wonder to build something so high with concrete only. The building is now listed as a Unesco World heritage site! The Bell tower offer amazing view over the city. On a clear day if you look south you can see all the way to Lens, France old mining hub where you can still see the coal waste pyramids. To the north you can see the plain of Flanders all the way to Brussels.
Admire the city Gates
Porte de Paris is a triumphal arch built in 1667 following Simon Vollant’s drawing in honour of King Louis XIVth who had just conquered the city of Lille and brought it to the fold of the French crown at the inhabitants displeasure.
Porte de Gand is another beautiful gate built under the Spanish period in the 1620s.
Hope this will help you make the most of Lille.