Lille is known for its cultural allure – it was European City of Culture in 2004 and has never looked back. Old Lille’s architecture is stunning, a bit like a miniature Paris but with a dash of Flemish influence. Janine Marsh explores Lille’s delights…
Lille at a Glance
Vieux Lille, the old town, is vibrant, exuberant and flamboyant. 17th century buildings, cobble stone streets, intimate courtyards, elegant squares and a thriving café culture. It’s a bit like a miniature Paris but easier to discover and has a great vibe thanks to a young population.
Lille is one of the top gastronomic cities in France with a plethora of restaurants. It’s also one of the most cultural and artistic cities in the country after being elected European Capital of Culture in 2004, which has led to it becoming the arty party capital of France. It’s a friendly city, ask directions and you’re likely to be personally led to your destination!
Lille for Culture Vultures
There are more than a dozen museums in Lille. Don’t miss the Palais des Beaux Arts which is said to hold the second richest collection of art in France after the Louvre in Paris, much of it acquired during Napoleon’s looting sprees during battle.
Browse the second hand book market (Tuesday to Sunday 13.00-19.00) in the 17th century Vieille Bourse (former stock exchange), a Flemish Renaissance marvel of gargoyles and garlands.
Modern art lovers will fall head over heels for TriPostal, an art venue in a former post office and Gare St Sauveur, a cultural centre in a former frieght station,
Getting around and about in Lille
Walking: Old Lille is a compact city and the best way to discover it is on foot! Be aware there are lots of cobble stone rues.
Public transport: Bus, tram and metro, in fact the world’s first driverless trains were introduced here in 1983. Buy a book of tickets, 24 hour or evening pass for just a few Euros to use on all three modes of transport.
There are two rail stations: Lille Flandres for Paris and local services and Lille Europe for international and fast trains round France. Lille Flandres station used to be the old Gare du Nord Paris. It was dismantled to make way for a new, bigger station and re-erected stone by stone in Lille.
Bike: Lille is a cycle friendly city where motorists are used to wobbly wheeled tourists. Hire a public bike from V’Lille
Shopping in Lille
Shops are closed on Sundays, and many on Monday morning. Rue de Bethune is good for high street style, Vieux Lille for luxury and high end goods (including Louis Vuitton and Hermès), Rue Royale for jewellery, bags, and accessories.
Inside Track – what you shouldn’t miss in Lille northern France
Hop on the tram or metro to nearby Roubaix and visit the art deco La Piscine museum in a converted public swimming pool – it has real wow factor (read more la Piscine here).
Everyone loves a French street market and Lille has several. Try Wazemmes Sunday market, one of the largest in France. A colourful, lively affair where you can furnish your house, wardrobe or pantry. You’re likely to hear accordion music here and witness spontaneous outbreaks of dancing – the Lillois (people of Lille) love to dance!
Where to Eat out in Lille
There are loads of restaurants in Lille from haute cuisine to local specialities…
Fancy a snack: The best chips (a local speciality) in town can be found at: l’Express – eat in or take away. (50 Place de la Gare)
Locals love: The bars and cafés of Place des Oignons such as Estaminet Au Vieux de la Vieille, with handwritten menus in children’s’ exercise books. (2-4 Rue des Vieux Murs)
Wine and dine: Barbue d’Anvers, candles on book shelves, vintage décor in a gorgeous old building. A place to linger and enjoy delectable dishes of the region like carbonnade flamande (stew with beer and brown sugar), mussels cooked in white wine and a cheese platter that includes the local stinky, delicious Maroilles cheese. (1 bis rue Ste Etienne)
Best Bars in Lille
There are hundreds of bars in Lille…
Quirky: Peekaboo (92 rue de l’Hôpital Militaire) is fun and friendly. Food is served lunchtimes, Tuesday to Saturday. Great ambience, décor, beers and cocktails.
Splash out: The only Champagne Bar in Lille, located in a converted 18th Century Convent that’s now the Couvent des Minimes Hotel and bar. (17 Quai du Wault)
Popular with the locals: La Capsule: great selection of beers and friendly staff who are happy to advise on what beer to try, one of the best bars in town (25 Rue Trois Mollettes).
Learn about beer: At Vivat Factory they’ll explain how and where beers are made and have a great beer tasting menu. appreciate its beauty. (Place Gilleson)
Mussel power in Lille
At the annual Lille Braderie, a giant flea market, it’s traditional for restaurants to pile up empty mussel shells – the biggest pile is judged at the end of the 33 hour flea market marathon and the restaurant with the biggest pile claims the win!
Take home a taste of Lille
Best chocolate and sweets: Meert has been delighting customers since 1761. Pop in to buy cakes, chocolate and the famous, sweet, flat waffles of the north – loved by the locals, royalty, General De Gaulle and Buffalo Bill! There’s also a charming tea room where the hot chocolate wows. (27 Rue Esquermoise)
Best cheese: Philippe Olivier is a legendary affineur (someone who matures cheese to perfection) in France; this is THE place to go for the best fromage ever. (3 Rue du Cure Saint-Etienne)
Best boulangerie: Baker Alex Croquet admits he is “fou de pain” – crazy about bread. His yeast mix is so important to him, he not only talks to it, he takes it on holiday with him! The bread is amazing – take a loaf home and savour the memory of your trip. (66, rue Esquermoise).
More on Lille
Lille and more beautiful sites in the region: