Lille is the fourth largest city in France after Paris, Lyon and Marseille, and has a population of about a quarter of a million. If you include the surrounding towns of Tourcoing, Roubaix and a number of other outlying suburbs, this number increases to well over a million. The name comes from L’Isle, because when the Vikings invaded it was then an island in the middle of marshes.
You can reach Lille in just over an hour from London by Eurostar with fares as low as £65 return. This makes travelling to Lille often cheaper than taking the train to Bristol on the weekend. Lille is about an hour from Calais, so if you want to drive it’s close enough to make it worthwhile, although the parking may be an issue if you don’t book it at your hotel, and not many hotels in Lille offer parking spaces. There are however a number of good underground car parks, but expect a good walk to the hotel.
You need to be located centrally to enjoy Lille, particularly as it’s generally quieter on the weekends than during the week. The Grand Place and its surrounding cafes and bars are a great place to hang out, but you can take in the Flemish influence of the buildings in the old town not far away with its attractive boutiques. If the weather’s not up to expectations you will always have the enormous Euralille shopping complex which is just a few hundred metres from the Lille Europe train station. There are plenty of things to do in Lille so you’ll have no problems filling the time.
Make sure you check what’s on at the Opera in Lille before you leave. The Opera house is right opposite the Hotel Carlton in the centre of town and often has performances on the weekends.
Most of the hotels in Lille are within walking distance of Lille Europe Station, so it’s unlikely you’ll need a taxi unless you have loads of luggage.
Things to do in Lille
The centre of Lille is actually easy to get around by foot, and most of the sites are within easy reach, with the exception of the Piscine which is in Roubaix, some 12km out of the city and the Citadelle. You may even get a good impression of the city on your walk from Lille Europe Train Station to your hotel. Nevertheless, it’s very much worth taking time to see some of the sights in Lille as they are very much overlooked by many tourists. If you have to see one thing in Lille we would recommend the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille (Museum).
Old Lille. The old part of Lille, with its cobbled streets, Flemish-style houses and pretty boutiques will be enough to eat up a few hours at least. Try out some of the cafes an restaurants while you’re there.
The birthplace of Charles de Gaulle. On 22nd November 1890, Charles de Gaulle was born in the house of Jules-Emile and Julia Maillot, his grandparents, at 9, rue Princesse in Lille. His Birthplace was the venue for family gatherings and the young Charles de Gaulle spent holidays there. The house remained in the de Gaulle family until 1948, and was turned into a museum in the 1960’s. The house is in the Old town of Lille.
Musee l’Hospice Comtesse. The former hospital in old Lille is now a museum depicting life in the middle ages. Its quite discreetly located, so keep your eyes peeled.
Citadelle. Built in 1668, the Citadelle is a pentagon (or star shaped) fortress designed to protect the Lords of Flanders from the French. You’ll find another good example in Gravelines, also designed by Vauban.
Palais des Beaux Arts. The Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille (Lille Palace of Fine Arts) is one of the largest museums in France, and the largest French museum outside of Paris. It was one of the first museums built in France, established under the instructions of Napoleon I at the beginning of the 19th century as part of the popularisation of art.
Opera de Lille. Located right in the centre of the city next to the Grand Place, it’s worth visiting just to look at but make sure you check what’s happening before you arrive in Lille.
La Piscine de Roubaix. A magnificent art-deco swimming pool, turned into an art gallery and museum. Based in the suburb of Roubaix.
Old Bourse. Built in 1652 the Old Bourse stands proudly in the Grand Place adorned with it’s Flemish Renaissance architecture so typicl of the 17th century. The Bourse was in competition with other Flemish towns of Antwerp, Bruges and Ghent in its time but has been an historical monument since 1921.
Belfry and Town Hall. The Belfry is typical of northern France and Flanders with similar structures in Bruges and Bergues. It is used as the municipal town hall these days but it is still listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Grand Place. You’ll come across the Grand Place without even trying as it’s in the centre and close to all the hotels. It is the centre of life in Lille, but as a tourist you can sit back and watch the world go by from one of its cafes. Great photo opportunities here.
Euralille. The place to go if the weather is bad. The enormous Euralille shopping complex has all the big brands, and is located conveniently close to the Lille Europe Rail Station. You can even go there for the day from London if you’re that way inclined.
Flea Markets. Lille’s Braderie flea market has been voted amongst the best in Europe, so go along and bag a bargain on the first weekend in September when the whole town becomes a flea market. The Wazemmes Flea Market is open on all Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday mornings.
Sacre Coeur. Join a guided tour of the Gothic Roman Catholic church built in the late 19th century.
Where to stay in Lille
Used in the middle ages as a hospital, the Hermitage Gantois has been totally renovated into a very fine, unique hotel development unlike any other in Lille. The 67 rooms combine the refinement of an historical environment and the irreproachable comfort of a 4 stars modern hotel. The hotel has a superb gastronomic restaurant critically acclaimed and written about. This hotel has enjoyed fine reviews in many UK newspapers, and really is worth trying out. The hotel has four courtyards and since it is also takes about 7 minutes walk from the Grand Place, it guarantees a good nights sleep.
Crowne Plaza EuraLille. The hotel’s impressively designed building is a striking new feature in the business area of Lille. Ideally located next to the International Train Station so particularly useful for late arrivals and fo sort stay in Lille. The Crowne Plaza has a great restaurant too.