“Le Welsh”, chips, beer, the “Ch’ti” accent, rain… These are the things you generally associate with Northern France. But have you ever visited Lille, the Capital of Flanders? It might not be a destination you’d find at the top of many bucket lists, but it’s definitely worth a visit!
This beautiful, vibrant and friendly city is full of places to discover. With its ideal geographical location and easy access by train or plane, getting to Lille for a weekend visit is quite simple.
Delve into this article to find out the 6 must-sees for any first-time visitor to Lille.
1. TAKE A STROLL THROUGH THE MAIN SQUARE
If there’s one place not to be missed in Lille, it’s this! The “Place du Général de Gaulle”, which everyone calls “Grand’Place”, is one of the most important sites in the city. As lively by night as it is by day, this is the place where Lille’s locals meet.
Located in the city centre, just 5 minutes’ walk from the Lille-Flandres train station, “Grand’Place” is the ideal starting point for any visit to Lille!
This emblematic square is situated in the historic heart of Lille and is surrounded by buildings showcasing typical Northern French architecture. In its centre is the fountain, with its famous statue the “Colonne de la déesse” or Column of the Goddess. With its array of terraces, shop signs and mythical monuments, you can really feel the warm ambience that is so characteristic of Lille.
You should also consider visiting at night, as the lighting of the buildings makes them appear even more resplendent.
My top tip: go at Christmas time to wonder at the big wheel and all the illuminations. The main square becomes a magical place at that time of year! The Place Rihour Christmas market, just a few meters away, is not to be missed either.
2. ADMIRE THE THEATRE SQUARE
A few steps from “Grand’Place” is another, smaller but equally charming square: “Place du Théâtre”. It includes two important buildings: the “Opéra de Lille” and the belfry of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The Chamber of Commerce isn’t open to visitors, but you can take in any number of concerts and performances at the opera house.
My favourite moment: when the sweet melody from the belfry begins to echo throughout the city centre!
Between “Grand’Place” and “Place du Théâtre” is one of my favourite places in Lille: the old stock exchange. This is a group of 24 small, identical houses set around a courtyard, and it’s a historical building that dates back to 1653.
The outer façade is beautiful and the interior courtyard is equally charming. You’ll find book stalls, chess players and even tango dancers in the summer. It’s the ideal place to hunt for books and posters! I love the authentic, peaceful atmosphere that you always find there. It’s like a timeless respite right next to the bustling city centre.
3. STROLL THROUGH THE OLD TOWN
My favourite thing to do in the city is taking a walk through the narrow streets of Old Lille. This is my favourite place of all, with its red brick façades, cobblestones, shops, and much more besides.
This district is so authentic and full of charm, the perfect place to lose yourself, stroll around, stop in an estaminet or do some shopping.
I highly recommend heading along:
- The “passage des Weppes” walkway and its colourful houses
- Rue des Vieux Murs and its little square, “Place aux Oignons”
- Rue de la Monnaie and the “Hospice Comtesse”
- The splendid “Place Louise de Bettignies”
If gastronomy is your thing, you can drop in to one of Lille’s numerous estaminets to try a “Welsh” or a “Carbonnade Flamande”. And for those with a sweet tooth, don’t miss the Merveilleux de Fred (meringues that are both crisp and soft at the same time, not to mention coated with chocolate shavings) and the delicious waffles with vanilla filling from Meert. Two great Lille institutions!
4. VISIT THE PALAIS DES BEAUX ARTS
Lille is also a fascinating city culturally. It boasts a host of museums, the primary one being the Palais des Beaux-Arts. In fact, it’s one of the largest museums in France!
You’ll find it in “Place de la République”, just opposite the “Préfecture du Nord”, the two buildings displaying some impressive architecture. The outside of the Palais is very pretty and has a large fountain in front. The Museum, meanwhile, has numerous works by great European painters such as Rubens, Delacroix, Monet etc., as well as offering several temporary exhibitions throughout the year. This fantastic museum is always worth a visit, not only for the works on display, but also for the building’s magnificent interior.
Admission to the Palais des Beaux Arts costs €7. It’s one of Lille’s must-see cultural sites!
5. GET SOME FRESH AIR IN “PARC DE LA CITADELLE”
The city’s green lung! This 110-hectare park is the largest green space in Lille. It’s extremely popular with fitness fanatics, families and nature lovers alike. It’s an immense park that offers an array of walks: around the foot of the citadel’s ramparts, along the Deûle river or though the wooded areas.
There are a number of fitness trails, a zoo, playgrounds, children’s rides, a treetop high ropes course and restaurant bars. In the middle is the Lille Citadel, built in the 17th century by Vauban, and still an active military building today. This park is the ideal place to exercise, recharge your batteries, go for a walk or maybe have a picnic with friends.
My top tip: Be sure to rent a V’Lille (self-service bicycle) and enjoy a nice bike ride around the park.
6. ENJOY A SUBLIME SYMPHONY CONCERT BY THE LILLE NATIONAL ORCHESTRA
Founded in 1976, the Lille National Orchestra performs every year with international artists and emerging talents. Eager to share this musical passion with as many people as possible, it offers symphonic, educational and cultural events that are original, varied and open to all. You can even go with your family, as there are workshops for introducing children to music!
See the season’s programme at: https://www.onlille.com/saison_22-23/?lang=en.
And now you know the 6 must-sees during your trip to the Capital of Flanders! I hope this article will make you want to visit Lille with Volotea. Coming to Lille can also be an opportunity to explore the surrounding area a little more. The Hauts-De-France region has other great surprises in store!