Lille is one of those cities that lures you in and embraces you with its charm.
Head for the Grand Place, the large square in the centre of Vieux Lille (the old town) any time you go, it’s the perfect starting point as it’s also where you’ll find the Tourist Office (just off the square) where you can pick up a free map. You’ll need it, this city has a labyrinth of winding streets.
There are several places you really mustn’t miss in Lille, so grab that map and head for:
1. Place des Oignons
Take a wander in this lovely square. It’s lined with quirky shops and places to eat and drink. It has a villagey vibe in the centre of the city and is great to relax.
2. Vielle Bourse
Go in the afternoons when the second hand book market is on. The inner courtyard of Lille’s old stock Exchange with its Renaissance frescoes is stunning.
Go on a Sunday night in the summer and join in the tango dancing under the stars.
More on the second hand book market in Lille.
3. Palais des Beaux Arts
This museum ought to be much better known than it is. Full of incredible paintings and artefacts it’s also very innovative with contemporary exhibitions and a willingness to present things in a different way. Normally I’m not that keen on that sort of thing but here it just works – brilliantly.
4. Take a break
There are hundreds of options in Lille from haute cuisine to mussels and chips, the local’s favourite.
Try Au Moulin d’Or Chez Morel – opposite Lille’s Renaissance opera house, this restaurant is friendly, traditional brasserie style with a modern vibe and has a great menu. Upstairs or downstairs, you’ll be made to feel welcome and find yourself falling under its spell, happy to sit and enjoy the vibe. Ten brilliant places to eat and drink in Lille
5. Artistic license
Lille was European city of culture in 2004 and it’s never looked back. Once the owner of a reputation as a rather drab place, Lille is dynamic, colourful, vibrant and funky. There are more than a dozen museums and art galleries and even the most prolific art lover will be impressed by the quality. Every three years the city hosts Lille 3000, a months long art festival that takes place in hundreds of venues and commences with a fabulous parade.
6. Ride baby ride
Get off the beaten track, hire a bike and see the city on 2 wheels. This is a cycle friendly town with lots of cycle paths and even if you ride round the centre you’ll find cars are courteous and aware.
7. Take another break!
There are hundreds and hundreds of bars and cafes, and this is of course beer country being just a few miles from Belgium. For beer head to Vivat Factory where they’ll explain how and where beers are made and have a great beer tasting menu. It’s next to the magnificent Cathedral Notre Dame de la Treille and while you’re there pop in and admire the incredible marble facade – it has to be seen from inside to appreciate its beauty. Or for a touch of luxury, head to Couvent des minimes, the only dedicated Champagne bar in town – or a thousand other bars for your favourite tipple.
8. Park Life
There are several city parks where you can enjoy a picnic, Parc Vauban is a romantic, English style garden, great for wandering and relaxing. The Jardin des Geants is great for relaxing and has beautiful plant schemes. Head to the 123 acre Parc de la Citadelle to visit Lille Zoo, which costs just a few Euros to enter, wander in the woods and enjoy the cool views of the canal that encircles the park.
9. Shop til you drop
From fashion to kitchenalia and interior design to gourmet food products, Lille is a fabulous place for shopping. It’s like a mini Paris with an Hermès and Louis Vuitton store if you’ve won the lottery, though sadly the Galleries Lafayette store has closed now. What really makes this a superb shopping centre is that though there are all the usual high street stores, there are also loads of boutiques with clothes that won’t break the bank but will make you stand out because no one else will be wearing what you are – and that French style we all love is very evident.
You can’t go here and not visit Meert the chocolate shop, people have been flocking here for the sweets and pastries since 1761. And there’s a reason for that – their desserts and chocolates are sublime.
Lille is doable in one day but think how much more fun it is for a weekend!