By Rachel Moss
The compact French city of Lille is perfect for a short break, with most of the key attractions within walking distance to one another.
The city is in northern France on the border of Belgium, meaning you’ll spot many Flemish influences throughout your stay, from the food to the architecture.
For those planning a trip, I asked Chris Blume from TripExpert.com for his top tips, plus threw in some of my own from my holiday to Lille last summer.
1. Potter around the old town (Vieux Lille)
A slow-paced walk on the cobbled streets of Lille’s old town is the best place to start your trip, says Blume, and I couldn’t agree more – for hidden boutiques and independent cafés, this is the area you want to explore.
“Try to identify elements from different phases in this city’s multilayered history,” Blume suggests. “It was successively Flemish, Burgundian, Spanish, Dutch, and French, before switching hands between France and Germany a couple times more.”
Address: Rue Saint-Jacques, 59000 Lille
2. Stop by the main square (La Grand Place)
A short walk from the old town is the main square. During my trip in the height of the summer, it was pretty busy 24/7. After you’ve taken the obligatory tourist photos, order a coffee at one of the restaurants surrounding the square and simply watch the world go by.
Address: Place Charles de Gaulle, 59800 Lille
3. Dance the night away (or watch from a safe distance)
Every Sunday evening during the summer (July to September) you’ll hear music emitting from La Vieille Bourse – the old stock exchange. The space quickly fills with dancers from across the city, ready to tango the night away. You can join in with the other amateurs or enjoy watching some real pros from the sidelines. The action kicks off around 19.30.
Address: Place Charles de Gaulle, 59000 Lille
4. Visit Palais des Beaux Arts
Arty types won’t want to miss Palais des Beaux Arts, which hosts the second-largest art collection in France after the Louvre, according to Blume. “Especially notable is the collection of works by Impressionists and Dutch masters,” he says.
Address: Place de la République, 59000 Lille
5. Order Le Welsh (then experience a food coma)
You’ll see ‘Le Welsh’ on menus throughout the city and you can’t leave Lille without ordering one. The dish is essentially an extra-indulgent version of Welsh rarebit.
It consists of chunky bread soaked in beer, then toasted with ham (although veggie versions are available). It’s then baked with glorious amount of cheese, topped with an egg and served with chips and sometimes, extra mopping up bread. I have never been so full in my life.
6. Wander around The Citadel of Lille
The Citadelle, an elaborate fortress that Blume describes as a “city within a city”, is impressive, but the surrounding park is what makes this area worth a visit.
The building itself is still used by the French Army and NATO, so you’ll need to book a guided tour in advance to get access, says Blume. Alternatively take a peek from a distance and chill out with a picnic on the grass by the calm water. There’s also a small zoo nearby, perfect for kids (and big kids) alike.
Address: Avenue du 43e régiment d’infanterie, 59800 Lille
7. Have a waffle at Meert
The historic tea room, Meert, is a stone’s throw from the main square and was famously frequented by Charles de Gaulle, the former president of France.
“Their most famous item is the ‘gaufre’, a waffle made with copious amounts of butter and sugar, which caramelises and gives it a distinctive chewiness,” says Blume. “This may be the best waffle you’ll ever taste.”
Address: 25-27 Rue Esquermoise, 59000 Lille
8. Cool off with a Belgian beer
Sorry wine lovers, you may be in France, but Lille is just miles from Belgium and this is definitely beer country.
“At the end of a day of sightseeing stop by La Capsule, the city’s best craft beer bar,” Blume recommends. “The staff are unfailingly helpful and friendly even as the bar gets busier and busier as the evening progresses.”
Address: 25 Rue des trois Mollettes, 59800 Lille
9. Stroll around one of Lille’s markets
Lille is famous for its markets. Many are seasonal or take place only one weekend a year, such as the Braderie on the first weekend in September, so check your trip dates against a calendar of events. Blume recommends the Wazemmes market on Sunday morning as a regular alternative and describes it as offering “a dizzying selection of food, fabrics and antiques, much of it with an international theme”.
I made the pilgrimage across the city and was a little underwhelmed thanks to the heaving crowds and stalls of tat, but you can find the odd gem, so go for some people-watching and your expectations in check.
Address: Place Nouvelle Aventure, 59000 Lille
10. See the Musée d’Art et d’Industrie (Roubaix)
There are several world class museums in Lille, but Blume recommends visiting the Musée d’Art et d’Industrie, which is a short Metro trip away in neighbouring Roubaix.
The museum is housed in a former art déco swimming bath and features sculptures surrounding the water, plus narrow corridors that lead to an eclectic collection of paintings and ceramics.
Address: 23 Rue de l’Espérance, 59100 Roubaix