Much has been done to scrub up once-industrial Lille’s grimy reputation, and to say it has succeeded would be a bigger understatement than saying the French are fond of pastries and small dogs! Lille is now a fully fashionable weekend getaway, with its large population of artsy students becoming flooded with tourists hungry for a taste of its flavourful cultural life.
Lille is known for its serious attitude to culture and its handsome architecture – particularly around the tastefully restored Vieux Lille. The inhabitants are equally fascinating; from the bourgeois diners crowding the mini-terraces of Rue de la Monnaie to the stone cherubs hovering about Lille’s best pastry shop on Rue Esquermoiseto some of the world’s best-dressed hawkers at the Place du Concert market. Lille is home to cultural elitism at its most endearing.
Lille’s Top 10
10. Marché de Wazemmes Selling everything from flowers to puppies, this market is livelier than you thought was possible on a Sunday morning.
5. Opéra de Lille After Germany stole all the furniture in 1914, the Opéra is once again a work of neo-Classical magnificence.
9. Musée des Beaux-Arts The elegance of the interior is almost as impressive as the works of Donatello and Rembrandt it houses.
4. Porte de Paris One of the gates of the old Lille. Used to be known as the ‘Door of the Sick’, until the medieval marketers realised it wasn’t a great selling point…
8. La Citadelle Pentagon-shaped and open for tours from May to August. Don’t try to enter at any other time – it’s still home to the French military.
3. The Palais Rihour The most palatial tourist information centre in the world!
7. Cathédrale Notre Dame de la Treille Blame a 12th century statue of the Virgin Mary for the awkwardly protracted name.
2. Place du Générale-de-Gaulle Lille’s main square, with a heap of historic houses. Known locally as the ‘Grand Palace’.
6. The Chamber of Commerce The economic symbol of Lille is one of the sweetest fruits of the city’s industrial background, and really flaunts its beauty after dark.
1. La Vieille Bourse A prime example of Flemish architecture, the inner courtyard’s second-hand bookstalls is a bookworm’s paradise.
- La Vieille Bourse - Located between two picturesque squares and a central part of the city life in Lille.
- Place du General-de-Gaulle - Lille’s main square, home to many historic houses and a beautiful fountain.
- The Chamber of Commerce - Built in 1921, this magnificent building is best seen lit up at night.
- La Citadelle - A fine example of defensive military architecture.
- Museum of Natural History - This museum houses a large collection of stuffed mammals, insects and fossils.
Lille Art & Culture
- Musee des Beaux-Arts - A renowned museum exhibiting European art from the 15th to the 20th centuries.
- Musee de l’Hospice Comtesse - This former hospital is now a popular art gallery.
- Musee d’Art et d’ Industrie de Roubaix: La Piscine - A museum exhibiting 20th-century art in a former swimming pool.
- LAM - Lille Art Modern Museum - A museum of modern art in Lille.
- Lille Opera - Located in the Place du Theatre, Lille Opera offers an extensive programme of top opera concerts.
- Rue de Bethune - This Lille street is where popular clothing chain stores can commonly be found.
- Euralille - Lille’s greatest shopping centre offers popular clothing chains and a Carrefour hypermarket.
- Le Furet du Nord – Europe’s largest bookstore and a hangout for Lille’s many tourists, with eight floors and more 420,000 titles.
- Vieux Little - Dozens of upscale boutiques and trendy independent stores.
- Marche de Wazemmes – Lille’s bustling and highly varied open shopping market with everything from fresh vegetables and electronics to suitcases and undergarments.
Gay & Lesbian Lille
- Mumâ’s Bar - The ideal place to enjoy pre-club drinks and a popular Lille meeting spot.
- Vice-Versa - A much-loved venue with the local gay community and great party destination.
- Yo - A stylish gay bar located in the centre of town.
- Le Petit Marais - A lesbian bar that serves up some of the most refreshing drinks.
- Tchouka Club - One of the most prominent late-night rave venues in Lille, great for those with an abundance of energy for lively dancing.
- Lille Zoo - This zoo is home to around 70 species, including monkeys, zebras and rare birds.
- Vauban Garden - Created in 1863, this English-style country garden features a spectacular waterfall and century-old trees.
- Henri Matisse Park - This 8-hectare park was designed to be in constant evolution.
- Jean-Baptise Lebas Park - Created in 2006, this urban park is home to play areas for young children.
- Garden of Giants - Located in the centre of an urban environment, this garden is an idyllic spot for relaxing in Lille.
- Catch the Lille OSC football club play at the Stade Lille-Metropole ground.
- Support the runners in the Lille Half Marathon that takes place in early September.
- Watch Pro A, Lille’s volleyball team.
- Visit Lille’s Christmas market if visiting during the winter and watch ice skating on Europe’s largest outdoor ice rink.
- Take a trip to Golf Lille Metropole and see the golfers tee off.
Anyone can grab a corner of pavement and play hawker at the huge Grande Braderie Flea Market. Or simply enjoy haggling for a bunch of stuff you don’t really need.
Chalice Sound System hosts monthly reggae events that are well worth checking out even if you’re not a fan of the purple haze.
Nurture your inner voyeur and peek inside the homes of politicians during Lille’s Heritage Days in September. Buildings usually closed to the public open their doors for free.
The Foire aux Manèges Funfair comes to town in August and September.
Nobody leaves hungry from November’s Envies Culinaires. Barely anyone leaves sober, either.
When To Go
- Lille has a temperate climate, with warm summers and mild winters.
- Rainfall is above average, so pack something with a hood if you don’t mesh well with moisture.
- Summer is the most pleasant time to visit, with temperatures hovering around 23ºC (73ºF).
It only takes about 15 minutes to walk across Lille, but because the streets are so small you can spend days walking around without seeing the same one twice.
The VAL automated subway is an impressive ride. Buy a €1 ticket just to say you’ve done it.
This is one of the few places in Europe where taxis aren’t as prevalent as people. Take the hint and use your feet.
A vibrant city full of architectural eye candy and energetic street life, Lille sits only behind Paris, Lyon and Marseille in size and population terms in France. Close to the border of Belgium and indeed, not so far away from Great Britain either, the city exudes an entirely different sensibility from the sexy Mediterranean communes that dot the Côte d'Azur. Lille is a northern French city first and foremost, with a vibe that reflects a geography that once put in under the domain of the Netherlands.
Home to over 225,000 people, most of the tourist action in Lille centers around the beautiful historical district of the city. Principal attractions include the imressive and grand Lille Cathedral and the fabulous Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille. A mere stroll around old Lille is enough to check most of the major landmarks in the city off your list. Although summer is the most popular time to see Lille, the city's Christmas markets are some of the best in Europe.
Attractions & Activities
Restaurant & Nightlife
Lille has a temperate oceanic climate, with mild weather from one season to the next.
- Winter (November to March) 1-10°C
- Spring (April to May) 5-17°C
- Summer (June to August) 11-22°C
- Fall (September to October) 8-19°C
Lille on Wikipedia
Lille Official Guide
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