FWith such easy access from the UK by road or Eurostar, Lille (59 Nord, Hauts de France) is a must to visit all year, and remains one of my favourite winter weekends. The combination of modern shopping malls and the nearby Vieux Lille (old town) offer something for everyone.
Key annual events:
Where to stay?
Lille has many hotels at all levels of price and luxury.Hotel des Tours in the middle of the attractive Old Town or Le Brueghel very French and centrally situated in a quiet, pedestrian area near the station.
In the heart of the Old Town (Vieux Lille) is the comfortable Hotel Mercure Lille Centre Vieux Lille.
For more info and to check availabilty at this Vieux Lille hotel see Mercure Lille Centre
Hotel L’Arbre Voyageur – 4star hotel in what used to be the Polish Embassy!
Where to eat – recommended Again there is no shortage of eateries in Lille offering cuisines both local and international.
Two favourites, one for meat, the other for fish are l’Assiette du Marché (market plate) in rue de la Monnaie in Vieux Lille and L’Écume des Mers (sea spume) in rue des Pas close to the Grand Place. Both offer high quality dishes with excellent service.
Where to eat – gourmet
Without doubt the finest dining experience in Lille must be l’Huitrière (oystery) on the edge of Vieux Lille (3 rue des Chats Bossus) – superb art deco setting and top notch fish (oysters, lobsters, turbot etc) – certainly not cheap but a gastronomic delight! 4 Michelin knives and forks. You can also window shop (and buy) fresh fish and other delicacies in the front of the building.
Where to eat – value for money
Le Pot Beaujolais in Rue Pierre Mauroy, a typical Bistro with authentic French dishes.
There are plenty of more modest restaurants in Lille to suit all pockets
Local wine/drink –
The proximity of Belgium ensures that Beer is a local favourite. Many bars offer a wide range of interesting beers from Northern France, Belgium and beyond – and there are numerous micro-breweries in the centre of Lille such as Les 3 Brasseurs (3 brewers) in place de la Gare opposite Lille Flandres railway station.
Fish features strongly in this Flemish part of France – Moules Frites (Mussels and Chips) is probably the most familiar local specialty – others not so recognisable – Carbonnade flamande (small chunks of beef stewed in beer), waterzoï (poultry or fish in a creamy sauce, served with baby vegetables) and potjevleesch (literally “small potted meat”, a white meat terrine in aspic).
The Wazemmes Market in place de la Nouvelle Aventure takes place on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday mornings with food, flowers, fabrics and exotic products. One of the largest markets in France, it can also be one of the liveliest (up to 50,000 visitors some Sundays). Colourful, with a “Soho” atmosphere, you’ll often hear an accordion being played.
No shortage of shopping opportunies in the City Centre – with several malls – e.g. the Euralille mall near the stations and may interesting small shops in the old town. For fine food shopping the Meert Café and Patisserie on rue Esquermoise home of the Meert Waffle, and Philippe Olivier in rue du Cure St Etienne) for an excellent selection of bread and pastries.
Vieux Lille, the Grand Place. the Chambre de Commece, the Hotel de Ville and the fine flemish buildings around the Place du Theatre.
A bit of culture: The Palais des Beaux Arts in place de la Republique houses prestigious collections of European painting (Rubens, Van Dyck, Goya, Delacroix…) and offers some peace away from the bustle and rumble of the city centre.
For a walk: For all that it is big modern city, it is worth a stroll around Vauban Citadelle, just a short walk beyond the city centre. This impressive star-shaped castle on rue Vauban was built by Napoleon’s military archictect in the 17th century. As it is still used as a military barracks, you need to check with the local tourist office for those dates when it is open to the public. But there is the Vauban garden which the public can access at all times for a stroll.
For the children: Bring the children for the annual Christmas market when the Grand Place is transformed into a snowy Cavern with twinking lights and a Carousel – plus a busy Christmas market in nearby Place Rihour -full of seasonal cheer. (mid November – 31 December)
Or take the Eurostar to Lille with Rail Europe
Transpole offers a comprehensive public transport network with a modern Metro system and 2 tram lines which cross the city centre and serve both railway stations. However most of the main points of interest are within walking distance of the city centre.
Staying longer?:The city is close to many of the First World War battlegrounds – e.g. Ypres and Paschendaele just over the border. Brussels and Waterloo are a bit further – and a favourite of mine is the art deco swimming pool at Tourcoing (part of the Lille conurbation) La Piscine – converted into an impressive Museum of Art and Industry – and it is on the Metro line about 40 minutes from Lille City Centre.
When to go?
Lively throughout the year, but you might consider:
every year in early September – the biggest flea market in Europe which runs across a weekend in early September each year with 100 km of stands, 10,000 vendors and 1 to 2 million visitors! – but beware that the City gets very busy and the traffic is impossible on the Braderie weekend.
of the independent winegrowers (Vignerons Independents) which is held mid-November with the opportunity to taste and buy from winemakers from all across France – dates
Tourcoing Jazz Festival October – see tourcoing-jazz-festival.com
Circus Festival (La Grande Fête Lilloise du Cirque) – see www.cirque-lille.fr/