Visiting Lille wasn’t my first priority on my list of places to visit. I’m actually wondering why. Lille is only one hour away by train from Paris (where I live) and less than three hours away by car. Moreover, Lille is located between Paris, Brussels, London, and Amsterdam so it’s easy to get there. You have to visit Lille, I was pleasantly surprised by this city. What to do in Lille? Where to eat? What does Lille look like? Follow the guide!
Description of Lille
Lille is a welcoming and convivial city. I spent a few days there and I found people there a lot nicer and approachable than in Paris (it’s not hard!). Lille is lively, the city center is full of live and it’s enjoyable to wander in the pedestrianized streets. Moreover there are numerous cultural activities. In some areas, the architecture is Flemish, which is not surprising knowing we’re in the north of France. What are the places to visit in Lille? The Lille attractions. Here’s what to do if you plan to spend a few days there!
What to do in Lille
Visit the Vieux Lille (Old Town)
Your visit to Lille has to start by the Vieux Lille (the Old Town), you can’t miss it! You’ll wander the cobblestone pedestrian streets, you’ll admire the Flemish architecture and have a drink at a café. There are also numerous bakeries, breweries and restaurants. Locals just like visitors love the Vieux Lille, a great area to have a walk or go shopping. The Vieux Lille hasn’t changed since the 18th century, it survived the wars. Don’t miss the charming place aux oignons, a beautiful square!
The belfry of the town hall
A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Lille belfry is the largest one in Europe! Inaugurated in 1932 and 104 meters (341 ft.) high, it allows you to enjoy a 360 degrees view of Lille. To admire the view, you’ll have to climb 109 stairs first, and then take an elevator. Or you can keep going up by foot, you’ll have 300 more stairs to climb. It’s 7.50 euros to get in, but it’s free every first Wednesday of the month. You can take an audioguide for an extra two euros. It will explain the history of the belfry.
Cathedral Notre Dame de la Treille
The cathedral Notre Dame de la Treille offers an interesting mix between gothic style and modernity. Indeed, its building started in 1854 and was completed in 1999! Not everyone will appreciate its appearance from the outside, we can really talk about an atypical cathedral, but you have to get in. There’s a holy art center where more than 100 works of contemporary art are exhibited.
An impressive square in the heart of Lille! It’s officially called place Charles de Gaulle but everyone calls it the Grand Place (big square). This is the place where people meet up, the grand place is always crowded. It’s normal, there are many cafés and restaurants! Make the most of your time there to admire the architecture of the buildings and the statue of the goddess in the center of the square, built in 1842! During Christmas, there’s a Ferris wheel on the grand place!
The Vieille Bourse (Old Stock Exchange)
Located between the Grand Place and the Place du Théâtre, the vieille bourse is actually an ensemble of 24 identical small houses forming a square-shaped courtyard. In the courtyard, you’ll find many second-hand book sellers but also chess players. FYI, the vieille bourse dates back to 1652.
The Citadelle park
Lille is also a city with green spaces! With a total area of 110 hectares, the Citadelle park is a popular place among locals. Actually in the 17th century king Louis XIV asked Vauban to build the citadel to protect Lille. The park stretches all around the citadel. You’ll also find there a canal, a zoo, a merry-go-round and you can go on a treetop adventure course.
The palace of fine arts
The palace of fine arts (palais des beaux arts)! Those into art will love this place! Regular readers of this blog know I’m not really into museum so I won’t linger over it, but this renowned museum is dedicated to European art in general. You’ll find work of art from Picasso, Monet, Rodin… It’s 7 euros to get in.
The Wazemmes market
Open on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday mornings from 7am to 2pm! Like any self-respecting market, you’ll find everything you’re looking for there: fruits and vegetables, beers, waffles, cheese, flowers, jewelry, books, clothes… Very popular and convivial, don’t miss it!
Charles de Gaulle native house
I didn’t go there but if you have some time, head to the Charles de Gaulle native house. He’s a former French president. This is really where he was born on November 22nd, 1890, in his maternal grandparents’ house. The house was turned into a museum and allows to see what the middle-class houses looked like at the time. Of course you’ll find souvenirs of the family, items of the late 19th century, etc. It’s six euros to get in.
The piscine museum
It’s not in Lille but in Roubaix which is not far! The Piscine museum! Piscine means swimming pool but you’re not going to a swimming pool, it’s an art and industry museum. It’s called Piscine museum because it used to be a swimming pool in the past… You’ll find there paintings, sculptures but also fabrics, graphic art or photography. It’s 9 euros to get in. I wrote a whole post about my visit to la piscine museum.
Other things to do in Lille
There are so many things to do in Lille. You can visit its museums like the hospice comtesse, the manufacture of the doll and old toy museum. You can wander rue de Béthune to go shopping, admire the opéra de Lille or head to place Rihour. If you go to Lille early September, don’t miss the Braderie de Lille (flea market). It takes place on the first weekend in September. It’s the largest flea market in Europe, and it attracts more than two million people!
Where to eat in Lille
First off, you have to go to la Maison Meert to taste their waffles filled with vanilla from Madagascar! Sooo good! Meert is an institution in Lille, it first opened in 1849! Since we’re talking about desserts, head to aux merveilleux de Fred. For those who don’t know, a merveilleux is a delicous meringue covered with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Succulent!
Looking for a “real” meal? I suggest you to go to Tous les jours Dimanche. It’s a bistro which is much bigger than it looks from the outside, and the food is great. There’s also le Basilic café for a brunch, le broc for cheese-based dishes, Il Ristorante if you’re looking for an Italian restaurant or l’auberge du temps jadis for local dishes!
By the way what are local dishes? What do they eat in Lille? La carbonnade is a Flemish beef and onion stew with beer, thyme, juniper berries, mustard and spiced bread. Le potjevleesch which is a meat-based dish with gelatin. Le welsh is a hot cheese-based sauce served over slices of toasted bread. Let’s not forget all the beer, the waffles, the moules-frites (mussels and French fries), etc.
I really enjoyed my visit to Lille. I don’t regret going there. If you have the opportunity, do no hesitate, you’ll be pleasantly surprised like I was!
How to get to Lille
There are many options! If you’re getting there by car, Lille is one hour and a half away from Brussels, two hours and a half away from Paris and three hours away from Amsterdam. It’s more or less the same by bus. FYI, I paid one euro the one-way ride from Paris with Flixbus! Click here to check the prices! Otherwise you can get there by plane. Click here to check the latest flight prices!
The City Pass Lille
I strongly suggest you to get it. If you visit Lille for one or two days, the City Pass Lille will allow you to enjoy dozens of tourist attractions in the city. Entrance fees are included in the pass, among others the Charles de Gaulle natal house, the Piscine museum, the palace of fine arts, etc. Click here to buy it!
How to get around in Lille
Honestly you don’t need a car in Lille. It’s super easy to visit the city center by food. Otherwise public transportation serves the whole city, and you have multiple options: subway, tramway, bus, bikes for rent…
Best time to visit Lille
The temperatures are not really high in the north of France… I suggest you to get there between April and September. For your information, Lille is quite empty betwen mid-July and mid-August. It’s perfect if you want to visit Lille with less people. However, many bars, restaurants, stores… are closed.
Where to stay in Lille
If you plan to visit Lille on a tight budget, Eklo Hotels is a nice hostel. The staff is friendly and their breakfast is really good. Click here to book your stay. If you prefer mid-range hotels, the Hotel Kanai is perfectly located, the staff is attentive and the beds are comfortable. Click here to book your stay. If you’re into luxury hotels, you have to go to hotel Barriere. Click here to book your stay. Otherwise click here to check what are the hotels available in Lille.
Lille travel tips
- Traveling soon? Check out my travel resources page! This list of travel accessories can also be useful!
- Never ever travel without a travel insurance! Here’s why get travel insurance!
- Want a tailor-made trip in Lille? Get a free quote here!
- Always use a VPN when traveling. I use ExpressVPN and I love it. Here’s why use a VPN when traveling.