As the capital of the Haute France region in the north, Lille is known as a hardworking industrial city and has a fabulous historic center. Lille was actually Flemish before being invaded by Louis XIV in 1667, and this legacy is evident in the city’s architecture.
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Old Lille has a wealth of Baroque architecture, exquisite gabled roofs and luxurious late 19th century homes on charming streets. If you’re looking for culture, you’ll be happy with what you found: the Palais des Beaux-Arts is second only to the Louvre, and there are a few smaller attractions worth your attention.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Lille:
1. Old Lille
Lille’s historic district is delightful, with restored bourgeois houses on cobblestone streets.
You can feel the Flemish influence of the city when you see Baroque architecture dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries.
Place Louise de Bettignies and Rue de la Monnaie are the best places to start your walk, you’ll spend most of your time looking up at the decorative facades and gables, so be careful not to bump into anyone! Old Lille is also a vibrant area with more than its fair share of bars and decent nightclubs.
2. Palace of Fine Arts
A huge museum, the Palais des BeauxArts is second only to the Louvre in size.
Located in the beautiful Belle Époque summer palace of the late 19th century, you may need half a day to take full advantage of the museum and its artwork from the 1400s to 1900s.
There are works by Monet, Raphael, Gustave Courbet, Rubens, Van Gogh, Donatello, Jacob Jordans and Picasso, but that’s just the quickest breeze in the show .
Make time for a program of reliefs, which are high-detail scale models of 17th and 18th century modern Belgian and northern French cities, including Lille.
3. La Vieille Bourse
Most people consider Lille’s Old Stock Exchange to be the best building in the city.
Dating back to the mid-17th century, it consists of 24 Flemish Renaissance houses around a central arcade courtyard.
If you’re wondering why the façades are so ornate, the main architect Julien Destrée, a former decorative furniture designer, was free to express himself in this project.
More than 350 years later, La Vieille Bourse is still part of everyday life in Lille. People come to play chess in the courtyard, and below the arcade is the daily flower book market.
If you like it in summer, you can watch dance performances in this fantastic space.
4. Grand Place
Lille’s sprawling main square is where locals and tourists meet or go sightseeing.
On all sides are wonderful old gabled buildings.
Stop to see the North Theater, a former Lille guardhouse built in 1717. This classic Flemish style has also been adopted by more modern buildings, such as the Art Deco Voix du Nord building next door, which was built in 1936 and has a soaring gable.
At the center of the square is the Colonne de la Déesse, built in the 19th century to commemorate the city’s contribution to defeating the Habsburg Empire at the Siege of Lille in 1792.
5. Animal Park
Located in the upscale Esquermes district, the Lille Zoo is free to enter and is one of the most visited zoos in all of France.
The zoo is very compact, but has 450 animals from more than 70 species and participates in the International Endangered Species Conservation Program.
The paddocks are all large and natural looking, so you won’t feel guilty about spending a family day here.
There are seven zones in total, the most organised geographically, so that in Les Terres d’Afrique there are zebras and rhinos, and the Americas zone has alpacas and tapirs.
Lille’s Museum of Modern Art is a premier contemporary cultural attraction with a collection of more than 6,700 works from the 20th and 21st centuries.
It really took off in 1999, when it received a donation from L’Aracine, the Art Brut collectors association, and now it has the largest collection of Art Brut works in France.
Outsider artists like Augustin Lesage, Henry Darger and the famous schizophrenic Carlo Zinelli are featured.
You can also see works by great masters such as Picasso, Georges Braque, Paul Klee, Joan Miro, Amedeo Modigliani and Alexander Calder.
The verdant sculpture park is also great for strolling, with contributions from Jacques Lipchitz, Eugène Dodgne, Picasso and Calder.
7. Lille Castle
After the conquest of Lille in 1667, Louis XIV wasted little time in fortifying the city’s fortifications.
The star-shaped castle was built in just three years and was designed by Vauban, the famous military engineer who left his mark all over France during this time.
The speed of the project is even more astonishing when you look at the amount of materials needed to build it: 3 million stone blocks, 70,000 sandstone blocks, and 60 million bricks.
The château is still a French military base today, so you can’t enter, but you can stroll through the park by the canal, admiring the various gates and facades, and in Esquermes, the same luxurious part of the city as the zoo.
8. Pierre Morroy Stadium
Local football team Lille OSC has been a mainstay of Ligue 1 for many years and managed to win the league title in 2011. Things have had their ups and downs since then, but if you are, the club has a swish new stadium ready for some live football.
With a capacity of 50,000 people, Stade Pierre-Mauroy was built for Euro 2016 and hosted six matches during the tournament, including the quarter-final between Wales and Belgium.
In the summer, the stadium doubles as a concert venue for major artists such as Rihanna.
9. Maison Natale Charles de Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle was born on November 22, 1890 in a tree-lined street north of the old town of Lille, it belonged to his maternal grandparents, and his family was wealthy, although it lost Revolution of the century.
The house, now a museum, does a great job of recreating a 19th century bourgeois residence with the help of family memorabilia and contemporary memorabilia.
There are some artifacts that will stand out, such as the general’s cradle, and the officer’s sword he received at the end of his first year at the Saint-Cyr Military Academy.
10. City Hall and Clock Tower
The Art Deco Hôtel de Ville emerged in the 1920s and took its inspiration from Lille’s famous gables.
Lille, which has belonged to Flanders for centuries, is an area famous for its bell tower, and the town hall has the newest and tallest bell tower: it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its own right, reaching a height of 104 meters.
In a low-rise city like Lille, this concrete landmark is a useful sign wherever you are.
There are 400 steps to the top, but the most sensible person will choose the elevator!
Tickets available online: City Hall Clock Tower Tickets
11. Maison Folie Wazemmes
One of Lille’s large textile mills has been transformed into a modern cultural center.
A red brick factory built in 1855, the two buildings were re-evaluated in 2004 by Dutch architectural agency NOX to create a new landmark for the city.
Contemporary design complements the 19th-century architecture here: more than 5,000 square meters of exhibition space, and auditoriums for 250 and over 700. When you’re in town, take a look at the meandering sheet metal exterior and walk in to see what’s going on.
12. Villa Kavlui
Less than 10km from the centre of Lille is the suburb of Croix, where lovers of modern architecture will love to visit this mansion designed by Robert Mallet-Stevens.
Villa Cavrois was built in the early 1930s for wealthy textile industrialist Paul Cavrois.
Mallet-Stevens was a proponent of the Modernist school, and the building was a physical manifesto whose guidelines called for “air, light, work, movement, hygiene, comfort and efficiency”. The villas were equipped with amenities that were almost unheard of at the time, such as air conditioning, electric lights in all rooms, and telephones for people to talk to each other in different rooms.
13. Fish Museum
Next door to Croix is Roubaix, where the former indoor swimming pool features an imaginative cultural attraction.
Completed in 1932, the swimming pool is designed in a fine Art Deco style.
It was closed in the 80’s but reopened as a wonderful space to display an extensive archive of textile samples collected from the many textile factories in Lille.
The collection dates back to 1835, so the museum will help you connect with Lille’s industrial history in an elegant venue
14. Palais Rieul, Paris
Lille doesn’t have many ornate Gothic buildings, but this mansion built for the Duke of Burgundy in 1453 is a good example.
It now contains the tourist center of Lille on the ground floor of the Salle des Gardes.
The sacristy upstairs has lovely stained glass windows, while the conference hall is a venue for exhibitions and public events.
The square in front is also the location of Lille’s first-class Christmas market in December, where you can come and taste Lille’s delicacies.
Just between Place Rihour and Grand Place are typical restaurants serving Flemish dishes such as Carbonnade Flamande, a beef stew made with beer and served with French fries.
15. Marché de Wazemmes
One of the most popular and largest outdoor markets in the north of France takes place on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday mornings at Place d’Aventur.
Of the three, Sunday is the most vibrant and colorful, with hundreds of stalls and thousands of people coming to browse and buy.
You’ll notice the Maghreb accents of Wazemmes, spices and exotic fruits and vegetables used in North African and Middle Eastern cuisine.
But really, you can find anything you want, from roast chicken to antiques, fresh fruit and vegetables, and even clothing.
Finish your visit with a beer at one of the bars around the square.
Where to stay: The best hotels in Lille, France
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