According to Lonely Planet, Lille may be France’s most underrated city, and I’m inclined to
agree. This Flemish-influenced city is located in Northern France – not far from the Belgium border. While some may think it’s a sleepy town, there are quite a few things to see and do. But what exactly should you do on a short-trip to Lille? Here are some of the highlights:
The first stop for anyone visiting Lille should be to head to the old town, Le Vieux Lille. It’s an
absolute must and the real heart and soul of the town. Visitors will find an abundance of red brick buildings and beautiful cobbled streets. In addition, there are a number of impressive buildings all within easy reach of the best shops, restaurants, cafes, and hotels.
Be sure to take in the Place du Général de Gaulle, or the “Grand Place,” as it is more commonly known, which is the scene of the Braderie de Lille flea market every September. Apparently, this is one of the largest events in Europe, attracting over 10,000 stalls and millions of happy shoppers.
If shopping is not your thing, then lap up the architecture, particularly the Vieille Bourse (the old stock exchange). It was built back in the 1650s and is described by Lille Tourism as “undoubtedly the town’s finest building.” Who am I to disagree?
The Beffroi de Lille is another of those places you just can’t miss, and it is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It offers spectacular 360-degree views of the city, but because there is no lift, you’ll still need to climb quite a few steps to take it in. It’s worth it, however, and although it’s not exactly cheap, you can get a ticket at a reduced priced if you book online (although you need to do that the day before).
Lille also has several museums that are worth looking at, including, most notably the Palais Beaux-Arts Lille, which is the second largest general-interest museum in France and second only to the Louvre in terms of fine art.
You can also visit the birthplace of former French president Charles de Gaulle (it’s just a short walk from the center) and the 13th-century Musée de l’Hospice, which, as the name suggests, is in the old hospital and gives you a glimpse of cities past.
If you want to get away from the crowds and relax, head to Parc de Loisirs de la Citadelle, Lille’s largest park, spanning 70+ hectares and also home to the city zoo (entrance to the latter is free). Parc Jean-Baptiste Lebas is nice as well, despite being a lot smaller. Either one gives access to some nice, green space.
Now, if you’re staying over, head to your hotel to freshen up and then saunter back to the old town and take in a restaurant or bar that takes your fancy. The stunning Casino Barriere is well worth seeing, too, if you want to make a night of it. It hosted the PokerStars Festival for the first time this month, and also has a spa facility and an entertainment theater, so it’s a great place to play a few games. It is also easily found since it is right next to the Euralille shopping mall.
Whatever you do in Lille, I’m sure you’ll think it deserves to be considered a “must see.” It’s a bit of a hidden gem – although I don’t think that will be the case for much longer.