Lille is a perfect day-trip city. It’s quick and easy to get to - around 80 minutes by Eurostar from London and 60 minutes by car from Calais - and small enough to get to grips with in a day.
It has some of the best museums and galleries outside of Paris - including a converted art deco swimming pool, which is worth visiting just for the building - and two of the closest Michelin-starred restaurants outside of the UK.
Add in the old city, Vieux Lille, with its gorgeous, multi- coloured Flemish buildings, and picture-perfect cobbled streets and squares, and you have to ask yourself why you haven’t already visited the place.
The two easiest ways to get there are by car or Eurostar. Eurostar takes as little as 1 hour 20 minutes from London St. Pancras and 1hr 10 minutes from Ebbsfleet International in Kent. The city centre is just a few minutes walk from Gare Lille-Europe station.
The first St. Pancras train leaves at 7:00am and arrives in Lille before 9:30am; and the last train back is about 21:40 and pulls into St. Pancras at approximately 22:00.
The first Ebbsfleet train leaves at 7:15am and arrives before 9:30am. The last train back departs at about 21:40 and gets to Ebbsfleet for around 21:50. The Eurostar car park costs £11.50/24 hours.
If you fancy going by car, Lille is just over an hour, and 68 miles, from Calais via the A16 and A25 motorways.
Folkestone to Calais is 35 minutes by Eurotunnel; there are trains roughly every 30 minutes from 7:00am, and the last one back from Calais is around midnight.
Dover to Calais is 75 to 90 minutes by ferry. There are regular crossings from about 6:30am and last one back is around 23:40.
There are several free car parks on the city outskirts, and plenty of pay ones in the centre, including the underground Grand’ Place - around €14/24hrs. If you'd like more information on getting to Lille, check out our booking and travel planning section.
Most of the highlights are in an easily walkable area, but if you need to rest your legs the city has an excellent bus, tram and driverless metro network. A one-day travel pass for unlimited travel on all three is just €3.50.
€25 buys a 24 hour City Pass, which includes free bus, tram and metro travel, free entry to 19 tourist sights and a selection of discounts and special offers.
For guided tours of the city, head for the tourist office, which organises one and two hour trips for €11. You can also do a guided tour on a Segway - those weird two-wheeled electric platform scooter things.
What to See
Grand’ Place - built on the site of the original medieval market square, this is the heart of the city. Map
Officially called place du Général de Gaulle in honour of Lille’s most famous son, it’s a focal point for celebrations and a popular meeting place - especially around the Déesse column, which commemorates the 1792 Austrian siege.
Vieille Bourse - the most beautiful building in the square, and probably Lille, is a lavish mid-17th century Flemish masterpiece. Originally built as a stock exchange, it now houses a flower and second-hand book market.
Grand’ Place is also a good place to begin exploring Vieux Lille and its wonderfully preserved streets and houses.
Palais Rihour is just a few hundred yards from the main square in place Rihour. It is all that remains of a dukes of Burgandy grand palace that once filled the entire square. It’s now home to the tourist office. Map
Palais des Beaux-Arts – apart from the Louvre, France’s fine art collections don’t get any better than this. It has an incredible collection of work by artists such as Goya, Rubens, Picasso, Van Gogh, Delacroix, Renoir and Van Dyck. Much of it is there courtesy of Napoleon’s European looting tour after the Revolution. Map
Eglise St-Maurice - although construction began on the city’s finest church in the 14th century, it has taken a series of alterations and enlargements (the last in the 19th century) to create this magnificent Gothic building. Its tower and five equal-height naves are typical of the hallekerque style of Flanders and the Netherlands. Map
Porte de Paris is the most impressive of the city's three gates. It was built by Simon Vollant between 1685 and 1692 as an arc de triomphe to celebrate Louis XIV’s capture of Lille for the French. Originally part of the town’s defences, the adjoining ramparts were pulled down in 1858. Map
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de la Treille - work began on this neo-Gothic cathedral in 1854 but due to financial hiccups it wasn’t finished until 1999. The exterior is austere but inside it’s more inviting, partly due to the rose window by the artist Kijno. You can still see traces of the moat from the medieval motte-and-bailey castle that originally occupied the site. Map
La Piscine, Musée d’Art et d’Industrie - a 20 to 30 minute metro or tram ride takes you to the Roubaix and a museum in a converted art deco swimming pool.
It’s worth the journey just to marvel at this eye-poppingly stunning building. The museum also has an impressive and wide-ranging art collection including ceramics by Picasso. Map
Hotel de Ville was built between 1924 and 1928 to replace the town hall that was virtually destroyed during World War One. It was inspired by Flemish gabled houses and is crowned by a 340ft belfry. Map
It captures a Lille of the past, and exhibits include furniture, woodcarvings, earthenware, and paintings by French and Flemish masters.
La Citadelle - the architect of this gigantic fortification, Vauban, called it France’s Queen of Citadelles. This town within a town is the largest fortress in France and undoubtedly the crowning military building of Louis XIV’s reign. Map
Although it’s still in use as a military base, the public can visit via tourist office pre-arranged guided tours every Sunday from May to August between 3.00 and 5.00pm. It's also open to the public for one week in May (9am-6pm) as part of a general open day for fortifications in northern France.
If you want to find an address that’s not listed on this page click here.
Lille, like everywhere in France, takes it food very seriously and there are over 2,500 bars and restaurants catering to all tastes and budgets. The blend of French and Flemish that is so evident throughout the city can also be seen in the food and drink.
The most obvious giveaways are the importance of beer and chicory as ingredients, and the popularity of mussels and chips (moules-frites) and beer. Lille is probably the beer capital of France and there are several good locally brewed varieties to choose from.
Regional speciality dishes include Potjevleesch, a three-meat terrine - traditionally chicken, rabbit and veal; Waterzoi, a creamy freshwater fish stew; and Carbonade Flamande, a beef stew made with beer.
Click the the links for information on French wines and cheeses. If you want to book a restaurant, the dialling code is 00 33.
Le Sebastopol is the city’s second Michelin-starred restaurant. It offers perfectly cooked food, good value wines and a relaxed and unpretentious atmosphere. Fixed price meals range from €55 - including two glasses of wine - to a gourmet seven-course treat for €70. Tel: 0320570505. Map
Clément Marot - this gastronomic gem is one of Lille’s best kept secrets. The food is beautifully cooked and presented, and excellent value for money.
Set meals start at €30 but when you see the rest of the menu, and how the other diners are enjoying their food, you might be tempted to spend a lot more. Map
Le Square Aramis - if you find yourself in Vieux Lille around midday, this trendy bistro is a great lunch stop. If you don’t fancy the bustle of the main café, there’s a more intimate dining room behind it and a cosy mezzanine level - 52 Rue Basse. Fixed-price meals from €22. Map
Le Barbue d’Anvers - this charming estaminet is not a place you’ll find during a casual wander around town but it’s definitely worth seeking out. It’s tucked down a cobblestone alleyway a minute or so from Grand’ Place in a lovely sixteen-century brick building. The restaurant is arranged over three levels, and serves tasty and good-value local dishes. Set menus start at €24. Map
La Chicorée - this large three-floor brasserie is open from 10.00 in the morning until dawn, seven days a week. It serves good value food in pleasant surroundings and has outside seating. Fixed-price menus from €12 and plats du jour from €8. Map
La Terrasse des Remparts - there probably isn’t another restaurant in Lille with a setting as stunning as this. It’s part of the 1620 Porte de Gand gatehouse in the old city and has a wonderful terrace and glazed veranda. Set meals start at around €25. Map
L’Assiette du Marche - once the royal mint for Louis XIV, this 18th century townhouse is now home to a stylish and contemporary restaurant run by the son of the owner of A l’Huîtrière. Terrace dining, and fixed-price menus from €18. Map
L'Ecume des Mers - the sister restaurant to A l’Huîtrière but far more wallet friendly. The emphasis on freshly caught seafood makes this a favourite with fish fans. Ask for a gallery table. Set menus from 18 euros. Map
If you just want a glass of beer or wine, or a coffee and a slice of cake, Lille’s many bars, cafés, tea rooms and patisseries are your best bet. Here are some worth a visit.
Envies de Saison is a great snack stop, which breathes new life into the humble sandwich and much else besides - 63 rue Nationale. Map
La Maison du Moulin d’Or - originally purveyors of lace and women’s undergarments, this shop has since been converted into a rather elegant café and a great pit-stop - 31 to 33 place de Théâtre. Map
Le Carnot - bars probably don’t get any prettier than this one just a few minutes walk from Grand’ Place and the Opéra de Lille. It also has outside seating - 7 boulevard Carnot. Map
Méert - any business that’s been trading since the 18th century is clearly doing something right. As soon as you walk through the door of this waffle specialist and patisserie, you’ll know exactly what that is. It's a local landmark and worth a visit just to drink in the décor - 27 rue Esquermoise. Map
Paul - this bakery started life in Lille in 1889 and has since sprouted hundreds of branches throughout France. It’s perfect for a light snack or a cup of coffee, and if you arrive in the city early enough, one of the best places to go for breakfast - 8-12 rue de Paris. Map
If you’ve travelled by Eurostar and want a convenient place for a drink before you catch the train home, there are several good bars opposite the station in place du Gare. These include La Taverne Flamande, Le Palais de la Bierre, and Les Trois Brasseurs. Map
The arrival of Eurostar and being voted European City of Culture in 2004 has deservedly brought Lille to a much wider audience and helped to reinvigorated the city’s programme of special events. Here are some highlights.
February - Tourissima - over 800 holiday companies pitch up for this vast holiday exhibition at the Grand Palais.
March - Wine and Gastronomy Fair - a showcase for French wine and gourmet treats also held at the Grand Palais.
March/April - Short Film Festival - one of France’s top events for animation, cinema and video.
May - La Louche d’Or (the golden ladle) - a soup festival in Wazemmes. I promise I’m not making this up.
May to July - Fête des 10 Vagues - a huge music festival with many free events.
June - Giants of Lille - all day celebrations lead up to a street parade of giants in honour of the two giants said to have founded the city. This is followed by a big feast in place de l’Opera.
September - Grande Braderie - a must for flea market fans. The two-day event dates back to the 12th century and is held on the first weekend of September. Reputedly Europe’s largest flea market, almost two million visitors flock to the thousands of stalls.
Mussels are consumed in vast quantities and restaurants compete to see who’s sold the most by building massive piles of empty shells outside the restaurant.
Sadly, this kind of competition is unlikely to catch on in the UK due to the health and safety risks of mussel-avalanche related injuries.
November - Envies Culinaries - another excellent food exhibition at the Grand Palais.
Late November to late December - Lille’s annual Christmas market is held in place Rihour from 11am until 8.00pm. Santa makes an appearance and there's a big wheel in Grand’ Place. For information on what’s going on and when, click here.
Like all cities Lille has its share of high-street chains, but if you want something a little different, head for Vieux Lille. Along with the stunning architecture of the old town, you’ll find most of the city’s best shops - and the most expensive.
The roads south of Grand’ Place are also fertile ground for retail therapy enthusiasts. Map
(However, serious bargain hunters might want to hop on a tram or metro to nearby Roubiax and factory outlets such as Espace Grand'Rue at 21 bis Grand'Rue; L’Usine at 228 avenue Alfred Motte; and McArthur Glen at 44 mail de Lannoy).
If markets are more your thing, there are plenty to browse, in addition to the big annual attractions of Grande Braderie and the Christmas market.
The biggest is the Sunday morning food, flowers, and general bric-a-brac Marché du Wazemmes in place du Nouvelle Adventure and the surrounding streets. The same area hosts a smaller market on Tuesday and Thursday. Map
Lille has a certain amount of petty crime, but provided you take sensible precautions - be vigilant in crowded places and don’t flash money around in public or leave valuables unattended or exposed - you shouldn’t have any problems.
Credit cards are widely accepted throughout the city and there are plenty of ATM machines; the currency is the Euro.
Tips and service charges - a service charge of up to 15% is standard in most restaurants and its inclusion is normally indicated somewhere on the bill - service compris - but it’s customary to leave a small tip for the waiter if the service has been good.
If service is not included, and depending on how you rated your experience, anywhere between 10 and 15% is reasonable. Most people also leave some small change in cafés. You don’t have to tip taxi drivers, but it’s customary to give them around 10%.
Local time and other useful information.
Learning the language - if you'd like to brush up on your French, or you'd just like to learn some basic phrases, you might find these sites useful.
BBC Languages - multimedia courses for beginners and the more advanced.
Fodors - a range of useful phrases with audio and written pronunciation guides.
Ielanguages - basic to more advanced French with pronunciation guides.
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