France’s northernmost city and its fourth largest, Lille combines French and Flemish influences making it the cultural heart of French Flanders. Its proximity to the Belgian border gives the city a distinctive character most noticeable in its architecture and cuisine. An underrated destination the city boasts many delights be it its decidedly French stylish shops and boutiques or the elegant street and its many bars, restaurants and cafes offering an array of regional delicacies and locally brewed beers. Originally a market town Lille seamlessly combines its beautifully preserved 17th century historic quarter with a modern shopping and commercial district based around the University and Eurostar station. Lastly, Lille is a perfect base from which to explore some of the other Northeastern cities in France such as Calais, Boulogne and Arras.
Without a doubt the best place to start, and in fact where you are likely to spend most of your time in Lille, is the historic old town; Vieux Lille. Small enough to explore on foot with many charming features including its narrow cobbled streets and many beautifully preserved historic buildings. Arguably the heart of Lille is in fact the Place du General du Gaulle (locally referred to as simply ‘Grand Place’) the square is a locally popular meeting place and home to many shops and cafes. It also connects the old town with the more modern and commercial Esquermoise district. Taking up one side of the square is the former stock exchange La Vieille Bourse, just one of many grandiose buildings residing on the square. From here you can explore the Palais des Beaux-Arts, without a doubt one of the top art galleries in France, this Fine Arts Museum boasts a magnificent collection of European masterpieces as well as some stunning sculptures, ceramics and drawings.
One of the oldest buildings in Lille, the Musee de l’Hospice Comtesse is a 15th century hospital carefully restored and housing a collection of paintings and other art objects, the building itself is a beautiful example of Lille’s traditional architecture with strong Flemish influences.
A great place for browsing is the Marche de Wazemmes, this outdoor market is a colourful array of clothing, furniture and bric-a-brac with an adjacent indoor food market. As you would expect from any French city, eating is serious business and with its close proximity to the Belgian border you can expect the best from both France and Belgium. Lille’s streets and squares are crammed with many restaurants and cafes where you can sample some of the local and regional cuisine.
Lille has a reliable and efficient public transport network comprising buses as well as trams and most impressively one of the world’s first driverless Metro systems. However most places of interest to visitors are located within the city centre making walking the best and most enjoyable means of getting about.