A weekend in Lille is an experience. Lille is called the Paris of the North. But Flemish influence is also great. You’ll find a lot of chocolateries with delicious chocolates. And chip shops (friteries) are always nearby. In a few hours’ drive, you can enjoy a city that is yet to be discovered by many. Lille was the cultural capital of Europe in 2004 but there are still many cultural events taking place in the city. A long weekend in Lille, the birthplace of Charles de Gaulle, is therefore definitely worth it!
Flemish and French influences
The beautiful city of Lille is situated on the river Deule. In the eleventh century a Belgian count of Flanders founded the city. In 1297, the French conquered Lille for the first time. Throughout the centuries, Lille was Belgian and French property. This explains the Belgian and French influences that you will certainly encounter in the city. The inhabitants prefer to drink special beers when they have a drink on one of the many terraces. Wine is much less popular in Lille. Maybe it’s also because Lille is a real student city. On a population of 250,000 in the city itself, there are no less than 100,000 students in Lille. That gives a special atmosphere to the city. When we were there during the sunny Easter weekend, thousands of students populated the parks relaxing and having a drink.
A weekend in Lille: the highlights
Lille is a compact city in which the sights are all fairly close together. So, you can easily visit them on foot. If you don’t feel like walking, you can take the underground to get around quickly. The two lines cross the city and also call at the surroundings of Lille. We did everything on foot to get the most of the atmosphere. Moreover, the weather during our visit was great, making it a delight to walk through the city. We only used the underground to visit a beautiful museum outside the city: La Piscine in Roubaix. You can read more about it in this blog.
As far as we are concerned, these were the most important highlights of the city of Lille:
Grande Place/Place du Général-de-Gaulle
This is the central meeting place for the inhabitants of Lille that dates from the Middle Ages. It is where the big fairs take place and is the beating heart of the city with terraces that are always full of people. In the middle of the square stands the “La Déesse” statue on a column, as a reference to the city’s resistance to the Austrian occupiers. On top of the building that now houses the “La Voix du Nord” newspaper, there are statues of three women dressed in gold. They embody the three areas of the region: Artois, Flanders and Hainaut.
La Vieille Bourse
The connection between Grande Place and the Place du Théâtre is the beautiful building la Vieille Bourse. The baroque building from 1653 was the commercial heart of the city in earlier times. Many small trading houses did their business here and you can visit a beautiful courtyard from four gates. Under the watchful eye of the god of trade, Mercury, bookshops are now doing their best to sell old books, records and prints. Chess players are plentiful in the middle of the square. It is a pleasure to spend some time here and watch how everyone at all the stalls is looking for something special. In the summer months, tango dance performances take place in the courtyard.
Town hall and Belfort
After the First World War, Lille built a new town hall with a 104-metre-high Belfry. This tower, with its height of 104 metres, stands proudly over the city. The tower can be visited every day between 10:00am – 1:00pm and 2:00pm – 5:30pm. As such, it is an ideal way to see Lille and its surroundings. From the top you have a beautiful view, especially in clear weather, over the city and the region. Visitors are allowed to enter in order of arrival, with a maximum of about 20 people at a time. We were there around 10 o’clock in the morning and could go straight up the tower. The first four floors you do have to walk the stairs yourself. Then an old-fashioned lift takes you higher. A ticket costs €7.50.
Museum Palais des Beaux-Arts
After the world-famous Louvre in Paris, this is the museum with the largest art collection in France. More than 100 masterpieces by painters from various centuries can be found in this museum. You can also admire a large collection of sculptures and ceramics. Depending on your interests, you can choose from various themed routes in the museum. The beautiful 19th century building is a pleasure to walk through too. A little tip: on the first Sunday of each month, the museum has free entry. The normal entrance fee is €7. This museum is located on the Place de la République.
This new district is located between the stations of Lille Flandres and Lille Europe. The business centre was designed by numerous world-famous architects, including Dutchman Remco Koolhaas. From the Le Corbusier viaduct you get a good overview of the entire area and the special office buildings. Euralille is home to a huge shopping centre with approximately 125 shops.
In the immediate vicinity of Lille: Museum La Piscine in Roubaix
With the world’s first unmanned underground, it takes 15 minutes from Lille Flandres station to get to the city that cycling enthusiasts are sure to know: Roubaix. A week before we visited the La Piscine museum, cyclists drove to the Velodrome during the classic Paris-Roubaix but at this point the streets were deserted and there was great peacefulness.
La Piscine used to be the municipal swimming pool of Roubaix. Most of the city’s inhabitants learned to swim In the beautiful Art Deco building. After its closure in 1985, the swimming pool was reused as a museum years later. The former shower cabins and changing rooms have been transformed into showcases. However, the best part is the view of the pool, in which the beautiful art decors provide a magnificent reflection in the water. The pool is surrounded by many splendid statues. Admission to the museum is €9 and it is definitely worth a visit.
Walks through Lille
Walking through Lille, you’ll get the most of the city’s atmosphere. It’s also the best way to see the beautiful buildings and the charming shops. At the Office du Tourisme, located at Place Rihour, you can buy a Dutch booklet with the title “Walks in Lille” for €5. In this booklet, five walks are described, including a route map. You will also find a lot of background information about the various sights. The booklet describes the following walks, which can all be walked in about two hours:
- 19th-century Lille
- The St. Sauveur district
- From the Jesuit College to St. Catherine’s Church
It is guaranteed to show you all the highlights of Lille (much more than we describe here) and to provide you with a lot of information about the sights in this city.
A weekend in Lille: practical information
Below you will find all the tips to make sure you have a wonderful weekend in Lille:
Accommodation in Lille
Because we decided to spend the Easter weekend in Lille at the last minute, the choice for hotels was not that great. We were lucky enough to book the hotel Balladins Lille, which is located opposite the train station of Lille Flandres. Ideal if you are travelling by train. The room was not big, but okay. Despite the close proximity of the station it was very quiet. At the extensive breakfast buffet on the roof terrace we noticed on both days that the station square was almost empty. An excellent accommodation for isn’t expensive at all! Other hotels in Lille.
Food and drinks in Lille
Due to the presence of many students, Lille has many cosy restaurants and cafés. The terraces were overcrowded during our visit due to the beautiful weather. We had two very special meals and we certainly wouldn’t want to keep those tips from you.
A very small restaurant at the St. Catherine Square. The woman stands behind the stove and makes delicious, local dishes. Her husband serves them and explains the limited menu. In a school notebook some specialties of the house are handwritten, very special! Because of the nice weather we could eat outside on the quiet terrace of the square. Everything was delicious and prepared with class. The wines are good and not expensive. Definitely a must.
Restaurant La Bellezza
This Italian restaurant La Bellezza is very popular. You can’t make a reservation, but you do have to queue up at 7:00pm. When we arrived just before that, the queue was already very long. However, it turns out that there is a large restaurant behind the entrance, which has a very cosy atmosphere. The decoration is luxuriant, the food perfect and the waiters make it a delight. Delicious food and great atmosphere in this funny restaurant.
Tea with cake at Méert
Chocolaterie and pâtisserie Méert is a household name in Lille. We’ve never seen long queues in front of a shop to buy chocolate. A cup of tea with a cake at Meert’s is an experience. The choice of cakes is huge. And they are actually too good looking to eat. Still, we advise you to do so and enjoy the delicious flavours. To not would be a shame, especially considering the price tag that comes with it.