When you think about the most popular spots to visit in Lille, France, might not be in your top-5. Nevertheless, it’s a very pretty city with fabulous architecture and rich history, and moreover, you can get there easily from London by Eurostar! And as per Lille Flandres vibes bloom here in full.
Lille is the main city of the Hauts-de-France region on the north of France, and everything there cries that it’s not a typical French city: actually it’s been a part of Flanders for centuries up until 1667 when French invaded it. The best way to explore the city is to start with its old historical centre: it’s really small but those cobblestone streets, many restaurants with terraces and breathtaking architecture will conquer your heart. By the way, did you know that Charles de Gaulle, one of the main French figures of the XX century, was born in Lille in 1890 on Rue Princesse?
1. La Vieille Bourse
La Vieille Bourse, or the old stock exchange, in bright red and yellow colours is one of the most notable architectural gems of the city. It dates back to the 17th century when the construction was authorised by Philip IV of Spain. It consists of 24 small Flemish houses forming a courtyard well presenting Flemish Renaissance. It hasn’t served its initial purpose since 1921 when a New stock exchange was opened, with lots of social activities going on like a market or flower stalls.
2. Chambre de commerce and its belfry
The Chamber of Commerce, which is also called New Stock Exchange, is one of the most impressive buildings in Lille. If you’re coming from the train station to the city centre, you won’t miss it. It dates to the first part of the 21st century. Its 76 m high belfry built in neo-Flemish style is often confused the Beffroi de l’Hôtel de Ville, the belfry of the Town Hall (read about it below)
3. Grand Place
Grand Place, or Général de Gaulle Square, is the main square of the city, and it’s a must see for any visitor! Lots of important buildings both with the historical and modern background are located there, such as Théâtre du Nord, La Vieille Bourse (see above) and Colonne de la Déesse, the Column of the Goddess, in the middle commemorating 1792 when Lille stood up to the Austrian siege. You can enjoy them all sitting on a terrace of multiple restaurants over there.
4. Palais des Beaux Arts
Are you a museum goer and art lover? Then Palais des Beaux Arts is a must for you! It’s a large 19th century Belle Epoque building functioning as a museum that hosts a huge collection of art from 14th century to modern artists, a restaurant and a gift shop. The idea behind the museum collection was born after the French Revolution and the collection itself started assembling at the beginning of the 19th century.
This museum is so big that it’s said to be the second largest fine art museum after the Louvre in Paris! I really recommend it because you can find everything there to your liking, from Raphael and Donatello to Picasso and Rodin.
5. Lille Cathedral
Notre Dame de la Treille, or Lille Cathedral, is one of the most important religious buildings in Lille. Originally its design was supposed to imitate the Gothics, and the construction began in mid-19t century. The name of the cathedral refers to the statue of the Virgin Mary which has been called Notre Dame de la Treille, or Our Lady of the Treille. One of the most beautiful parts of it is the chapel of St Joseph.
6. Parc Zoologique
If you have time, pop into the Lille Zoo, or the Parc Zoologique de Lille, in Esquermes quarter not far away from the city centre. It’s not too big but you will surely enjoy walking through different zones observing the animals. Moreover, the entrance is free!
Another landmark very close to the Lille Zoo is the Citadelle of Lille. As I’ve already mentioned, the French conquered Lille in 1667, and Louis XIV needed a military base to be established in the city. After a project of Vauban and Simon Vollant, this citadel was constructed just in a few years time and is now known as the Queen of the Citadels. It’s still used as a military base closed to the general public – Headquarters Rapid Reaction Corps-France, a corps headquarters of the French Army, reside there – but you can observe its massive sandstone construction and the gates from the outside.
8. Porte de Paris
The Triumphal arch called Porte de Paris (the Gates of Paris) on the other side of the city is another building marking the French victory in the 17th century. The sculptures of Hercules and Mars were supposed to project the power and strength of Louis XIV the Sun King! The arch is located on the site of a small Sick-Quarter Gate that stood there in the Middle ages (that’s why it’s sometimes still called porte des malades) in a small park on a roundabout and has some Paris vibes indeed!
9. Beffroi de l’Hôtel de Ville
The next Lille landmark on my list is situated not far away from Porte de Paris. It is the art-deco Town Hall and its Belfry (Beffroi de l’Hôtel de Ville) that stays up to 104 metres and has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site. It was built about a century ago, between 1924-1932, after a project of Emile Dubuisson. You can climb it up to see the views from the highest viewpoint of Lille or just admire its architecture from the ground.
10. Eglise Saint Maurice
The Église Saint-Maurice is a historical church in Gothic style whose construction began in the 11th century and lasted for well over 400 years (with a pause for the French revolution when it was renamed as Temple of Reason)! On this site initially stood a Roman temple to Mars and since the 11th century the christian religious building occupied this space. Eglise Saint Maurice is considered a fine example of Hallekerque, traditional Flemish churches.
Other things to do? Visit Hospice Comtesse Museum (Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse) housing flemish art, Meert, the oldest pastry shop, Wazemmes Market – and of course, just have a stroll along the city!
Where to stay in Lille?
We stayed in the Carlton hotel (Hilton) Lille located in the very heart of old city centre, and the best part of our stay were the window views!
Check my other blogs about France:
- Laurent-Perrier Domain
- 15 facts about champagne
- Photoshoot in Paris: the basics
- Remembering Notre-Dame de Paris
- Paris: festive edition 2021/2022
- Christmas in Nice
- Loire Valley
- Trip to Champagne region
Hope you liked my blog!