Lille is very colourful, welcoming and dynamic. It’s a far cry from the grey and rainy clichés of the Nord Pas de Calais region. The city is nestled close to the Belgium border and is the main city in France’s Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, which like Lille does not really have a reputation for pulling in the tourists, despite being home to two Unesco World Heritage sites.
The only experience visitors from the UK might have of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais is stopping off at one its motorway service stations as they head down to the sunny south. So let’s take a closer look at what makes Lille so special.
Place De Charles De Gaulle
The Place Charles de Gaulle, named after the French general and later president De Gaulle who was born in the city, is the central square in Lille Old Town. Bars and restaurants surround the square, making it a great place to do some people-watching. It’s a great place to start because – as with many central squares – you can explore the entire center from here.
Book Market On Vieille Bourse
The Vieille Bourse or “Old Stock Exchange” is one of the places to visit in Lille. The building dates back to the 17th century and consists of 24 identical houses built around an inner square.
If you go in the morning, it’ll be rather calm and you’ll be able to admire the architecture, but in the afternoon, secondhand booksellers open their stands and people come to play chess here.
Opéra De Lille
You can find the Opera of Lille on the Place du Théâtre. Even if you don’t go in for a performance, the building’s facade is pretty impressive and when the weather’s nice, you can see people sitting on the steps leading up to the entry doors. Like opera houses all around the world, it’s one of those typical landmarks listed as one of the things to see in Lille in guidebooks.
Go Shopping In Lille
Old Town Lille is great for shopping. Yes, you can find some of the big retailers here, but we recommend diving into streets like the rue de la Grande Chaussée (for luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Hermès), the rue de la Clef and the Rue Masurel (for independent boutiques and trendy stores), the rue Basse (for antiques), the rue Nationale, the rue de la Vieille Comédie and the Place Rihour.
Have Lunch At Tous Les Jours Dimanche
Tous les Jours Dimanche – translated as “Every day Sunday” – is a fun bistro at 13 rue Masurel. Tous les Jours Dimanche is much bigger than it looks from the outside, but it’s compartmentalized in such a way that no matter what table you’re sitting at, it always feels cozy and you get the impression of having food in someone’s living room. The restaurant has an open kitchen, personnel is friendly and the food is good.
Have A Merveilleux At Aux Merveillieux, 67 Rue De La Monnaie
What to do in Lille when you’re craving something sweet? Have a “merveilleux”! Apparently, having a merveillieux (pastries with merengue, lots of whipped cream and chocolate) is one of the typical Lille things to do and Aux Merveillieux (67 Rue de la Monnaie) is the place to get them!
Walk Over The Place Aux Oignons
The Place aux Oignons is one of those cute little squares that’s just pretty. There’s nothing special to see here, but it’s a lovely spot and it’s close to all the fun streets of the Old Town, so you might as well go and have a look.
Check Out The Citadelle De Lille From Afar And Feel Like A Child Again At The Amusement Park
The Lille Citadel is located in the center of a big park, but can’t be visited. You can see the building from afar and walk around its high walls from a bit of distance, but it’s still military domain and so a no-go zone for tourists and locals alike. Lille Zoo is located in the same park and so is a fairground for children. Just outside the park, you can walk through the Jardin Vauban.
Check Out The Palais Des Beaux Arts
The Palais des Beaux Arts or Fine Arts Museum of Lille is quite an impressive building, but when we were there, the facade wasn’t visible due to an event taking place on the square in front of the museum. The permanent collection, taking in 22,000m², consists mostly out of works from the 17th until the 19th century. Because of its size, the museum is often called the Second Museum of France, with the Louvre being the first. If you’re an art lover wondering what to see in Lille, France this is the answer.