Located in the north of France on the Deûle River, and capital of the Nord-Pas de Calais region, Lille is the perfect spot for a city break if you want to avoid the frantic crowds in Paris.

French legend tells of the city’s foundation in 640 AD as L’isle but there is evidence of activity on the settlement as early as 2000 BC, with some of the first inhabitants being the Celts. In the aftermath of Rome’s collapse, Germanic tribes briefly dominated the site before the Viking takeover, but it was only in the late Middle Ages that Lille established itself.

Central to the intrigues between France and the Holy Roman Empire in the 14th and 15th centuries, the city itself would eventually fall under Spanish rule. Regained by France in the late 17th century, the city benefited from the relative lack of upheaval in the aftermath of the Revolution, instead enjoying significant economic growth.

Still a major commercial centre despite devastation during World War I and II, Lille has also grown into a cultural heavyweight, reflected in its status as European Capital of Culture in 2004. Coupled with fantastic cuisine and shopping, it’s an attractive and vastly underrated part of France.


Lille may lack some of the world-renowned Parisian architecture, but still houses a number of impressive buildings like La Vieille Bourse. Built in the mid-17th century along with an adjoining bell tower, it was once the city’s commercial exchange and remains the finest building in the city.

Elsewhere, both the Grand Place and the Place du Général-de-Gaulle squares contain many historic buildings. The latter, in particular, is famous for La Grand Déesse fountain and statue, completed in 1843.

The main religious building in Lille is the Cathedral Notre-Dame-de-la-Treille. Only recently completed after the original building was destroyed in 1793, it is remarkable for its relatively modern façade as well as housing the sacred statue from whence the Cathedral takes its name.

One further point of interest is the 17th century Lille Citadelle, part of the city’s historic fortifications and now open for the public to stroll through. However, if a promenade is what you want, be sure to check out Vauban’s Garden, an English-style garden and chalet completed in 1865.

Lille has some of the best museums and galleries found in France. The most popular of these is the Musée des Beaux-Arts in the Place de la République, containing some 2,000 paintings covering European and French art from the Middle Ages onwards and including pieces by Donatello, Goya and David. Also notable is La Musée d’Art Moderne in the allee du Musée, which naturally specialises in 20th century art and contains works by Picasso and Modigliani. This theme is also covered in the Musée d’Art et d’Industrie de Roubaix, located in an Art Deco-styled swimming baths.

However, you can find many other remarkable places to visit like the Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse, a former 13th century hospital now specialising in European decorative arts, as well as the Museum of Natural History in the rue de Bruxelles and the Musée Charles de Gaulle in the rue Princesse, commemorating the life of Lille’s most famous son.

If you happen to visit in September, you won’t be able to miss La Braderie Street Fair. Held annually, the fair is hugely popular across the region due to its mix of music, amusements and good food and drink.

Football is the dominant sport in Lille and Lille Olympique Sporting Club represents the city. One of the most successful clubs in France, they play their games in Ligue 1 at the Stadium Lille-Metropole.


Lille is a great area for shoppers, with high-street fashion and department stores found down the Vieux Lille, the rue de la Monnaie and the rue de la Grande Chaussée. Of particular interest is Le Furet du Nord in the Place Général de Gaulle, renowned as the largest bookstore in Europe.

If you’re looking to indulge your sweet tooth, pop into one of the many local chocolate shops like Guillaume Vincent in the rue du Cure Saint Etienne.

Extremely popular across the region, the outdoor market in Wazemmes on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday mornings is the place for local arts and crafts.

Nightlife and Eating Out

As one of France’s major cities, you’ll never be short of somewhere to eat in Lille. The Place Rihour and the Vieux Lille are just two locations with a great selection. However, particularly recommended are L’Omnia on the rue Esquermoise and A L’Huitriere on the rue des Chats Bossus (acclaimed for its brilliant seafood).

You can find international alternatives too like Flemish at The Barbue d’Anvers in the rue St. Etienne and, more uniquely, the Asian-African fusion cuisine at Restaurant 1492 in Place Louis de Bettignies.

Due in part to its large university, Lille has a vibrant nightlife. Great nightclubs like Etoile Rouge can be found on the rue Masséna, the rue de Gand and rue Royale. Lille also has a wide range of bars and pubs such as Le Carnot on the boulevard Carnot and Le Moulin d’Or in the Place du Theatre.

Concerts and performances can be seen at both the Zénith Grand Palais and L’Aéronef in Eurolille, the latter being rather avant-garde.

Tourist Information

Lille Tourist OfficePalais RihourB.P. 205LilleTel: +33 (0)320 219


Lille is served by Lille Airport, some 15 minutes from the city centre. Buses and taxis can be used to reach the centre.

International and domestic connecting flights are available to limited destinations within the continent. However, if you want a better choice, you can fly to Paris Airport instead and use the train services to reach Lille.

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