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A CITY GUIDE TO LILLE
Lille is the fourth largest city in France and a popular destination for city breaks. Today there's a large student population, but the city was founded on a long and successful industrial past. Lille lies close to the Belgian border, around 100 miles from Brussels, and takes on some Flemish influence, both in its architecture and in the general demeanour of the locals. The restored 'Old Town' has some of the finest examples of Flemish architecture in the region, while the new part of the city (Euralille) was developed in the early 1990s around the 'Lille Europe' HGV rail station. The city has many festivals including the NAME (Nord Art Musiques Electroniques) in September, the Lille Piano Festival in June, and the International Soup Festival in May. If you’re planning on visiting during the festive season then the Lille Christmas Market is one of Europe's best and shouldn’t be missed. Lovers of art, both classical and modern will enjoy the Palais des Beaux-Arts and the LaM - a museum of modern, contemporary and outsider art.
There is archaeological evidence of people living in the area going back thousands of years. Around the tenth century a more permanent settlement took shape on an island in a marshy area of the Deûle River. It was this that gave the city its name - the French word l'Isla means 'the island'. Over the centuries that followed, a textile industry flourished and brought in much of the wealth. In the early 1700s, the city was held by the Dutch during the Spanish Succession War. Towards the end of the 1700s the Austrians unsuccessfully attacked the city, while in the twentieth century the Germans occupied the city, during both the first and the second World Wars. Lille was also European capital of culture in 2004.
- The Old Stock Exchange in Grand Place, also known as Place du General de Gaulle, was built in the mid seventeenth century and is one of the most iconic buildings in Lille.
- The tourist office is located on the ground floor of the Palais Rihour, constructed by the Duke of Burgundy in the mid fifteenth century.
- The Palais des Beaux-Arts (Fine Arts Museum) has art ranging from classical times through to the nineteenth century, and is second only to the Louvre in Paris for the scope and quality of its collection.
- The Charles de Gaulle museum, located in the house where the former general and French president was born in 1890, is also a must-see for aficionados of French politics and history.
On the first Sunday in September, Lille hosts the biggest flea market in Europe, the Braderie de Lille. The city all but closes down to traffic, and the streets are lined with all manner of stalls. The Old Town typically features high-end shops selling antiques and luxury goods. For department stores, head to EuraLille - the central district around the main train station. The Wazemmes district is the place to go for a more varied shopping experience. The Marché de Wazemmes, open each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday morning, sells everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to perfume and clothing. Lille also has one of Europe’s largest bookshops, the Furet de Nord, so if you are a bit of a book worm you should definitely check it out!
You can sample locally brewed beers at the Abbaye des Saveur and La Capsule. The Meert Tearoom is famous for its traditional flat waffles filled with butter, sugar and Madagascar vanilla. For a more modern twist try an EpheMeert waffle, with flavours like blackcurrant and violet or raspberry and Szechuan pepper. If cocktails are more your thing then Little Havana is the place to go for mojitos and rum based cocktails. For dining, try out the set price three course 'Menu du Jour' (Daily Specials) offers that are usually found in most French restaurants. Or if you don’t get hungry until later, the La Chicoree restaurant serves food until after midnight. Rue Solferino is one of the most happening streets in central Lille and here you’ll find restaurants from around the world, a great selection of bars and cafés, as well as a few nightclubs. For those seeking a more classical experience, the city has a spectacular opera house. There's a varied programme of live music at Le Splendid featuring local acts such as Hollysiz and Louis Delort, runner up in the French version of 'The Voice' in 2012.
A city tour on an open topped bus provides the perfect introduction to the highlights of Lille’s historical and cultural landmarks. You can go to the beach at 'Lille Plage', complete with three swimming pools and beach huts, from early July to mid-August. Buy a City Pass, priced at 25 Euro for 24 hours and 35 Euro for 48 hours, which includes public transport and entry to 25 attractions. If you're feeling energetic, you could take part in the Lille Half Marathon during early September!
- Taste juniper gin at the Claeyssens Distillery.
- Hire a V'Lille bicyle to explore the city.
- Visit a museum in a former Art Deco swimming pool - the Roubais La Piscine is an art and industrial museum.
- Get on your dancing shoes for the Wazwmmes International Accordion Festival.
- Tuck into a meringue coated with cream and grated chocolate at Les Merveilleux de Fred.
Off the Beaten Track
Enjoy some peace and quiet at the 'Jardin des Plantes', created in 1596. There's a large greenhouse with many tropical plants, while the Orangerie restaurant houses plants from the Mediterranean. One of the most spectacular but least visited fortifications in the city is the Lille Citadel. This ‘Queen of Citadels’ is one of 28 fortified villages to have been built on the Flanders frontier. The well-preserved pentagonal citadel was constructed on the orders of Louis XIV following his capture of the city from the Spanish in 1667, and was designed to be a self-sufficient fortified town. You can't wander freely around the Lille Citadel as it’s the French Headquarters of the Rapid Reaction Corps but guided tours are available. There's also 'Parc zoologique' for all animal lovers.
Julie Falconer is a London-based travel writer and consultant. She writes an award-winning travel and lifestyle blog, A Lady in London, for which she has travelled to 97 countries. She is also an online strategy and social media consultant, public speaker, and freelance writer and photographer. Originally from San Francisco, Julie attended Brown University and came to the UK in 2007 after leaving a career in finance, during which time she worked for Goldman Sachs and a hedge fund.