While planning another weekend trip with my friends, we came up with Lille as our destination since this city is close to the Belgium border and even from the south of the Netherlands it’s only a 2 hours drive. As usual on my weekend breaks, or day trips, I try to prepare and plan as much as possible in advance so that I’ve got our bases covered and we get to experience the city and all that it offers.
Of course, the weather plays a key role in whether or not the weekend break will be a success but that’s why shopping was invented as an (almost) inside alternative 😉
So join me, and let’s see what Lille has to offer for visitors!
What to See / Do::
Grand Place or Place de Charles de Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle is best known as being the former French President who was actually born in the city of Lille. The nearby airport of Paris is actually called Charles de Gaulle as well. The central square is also known as Grand Place and it’s located in Old Town Lille. The square is always full of people, and you can easily do some people-watching from the numerous bars and restaurants with views on the square. This is an excellent location to start your discovery of Lille.
Opera House / Old Stock Exchange of Lille
The square that is almost immediately next to the Grand Place is called the Place du Theatre and it houses the Opera House as well as the Old Stock Exchange (Vieille Bourse). The Opera House is beautiful from the outside, and already for this feature, it’s listed as places to see in Lille. We didn’t have time to actually watch a performance but that’s OK. The exterior is already worth wile. If you’ve traveled around Europe before, you’ll notice that these Opera Houses usually look quite similar, but that doesn’t make them less interesting to visit.
Opposite the Opera House, you can see another beautiful building, and that’s the Old Stock Exchange. Here, you’ll have to enter the square which is formed by houses built in connection creating a square in the middle. This is also one of the must see attractions in Lille especially in the afternoon when there is a secondhand market on the square which mostly consists of books. It’s also worth looking up when you’re on the inner square as in our case, there were mirrors in the shape of stars and sun hanging which reflected the tiny sun beams that came out that day…
There are many places to shop in Lille, and starting from the Place du Theatre, you can make your way either to the small side streets that house luxury brands and independent boutiques or you go towards the main shopping streets where you will find a combination of mainstream brands such as Zara, H&M, … and independent boutiques offering a wide variety of products (from clothing to home decor). We opted to start with the main shopping streets as we’re in the mood to do some shopping 🙂
Place Rihour is actually a small square on the other side of the Grand Place and is reached by walking along some bars and restaurants. This place is interesting to visit when you want to visit the Tourist Information Office to obtain tickets or join some guided tours.
Notre Dame de la Treille
Yes, you read it correctly, Lille also has its own Notre Dame but don’t expect the same type or structure of the building. This Notre Dame is also a must visit attraction and not just because it’s a cathedral, but to see the strange architecture that was applied when building it. To me personally, I didn’t like the exterior as it’s just so dark and to fabricated. We went in just to see how the interior looks like, and we were quite surprised that it looks quite modern especially for a cathedral as it has colors and even colored lighting.
The location of this cathedral is in the food area of Old Town Lille as I like to refer to it, because it has quite some restaurants in the proximity so if you’re hungry afterwards, you can easily go to one of the bars or restaurants.
Porte de Paris / Belfry
Arc de Triomphe is something very known as being part of Paris, but Lille and some other major European cities also have their own Arc de Triomphe even though they might not look 100% the same. The one in Lille is called Porte de Paris (Gate of Paris) and is quite beautiful and special since it’s not located on one of the busiest roundabouts in the world (like Paris) but it’s easy to walk around.
If you’re at the Porte de Paris, you can walk over to the City Hall of Lille where you’ll also find a Belfry. Belfries are not known to the rest of the world unless you’re into UNESCO world heritage sites, but in Belgium and the north of France they are quite well-known. The Belfry in Lille can be visited and climbed for about 7 EUR. The climb is about 104 m high which means a lot of steps. I do recommend the effort on a beautiful and sunny day. Unfortunately we weren’t that lucky with the weather so we didn’t climb up.
Citadelle de Lille
The Citadelle is located a bit outside the main city center, but still easy to reach on foot. It’s in the center of a park, next to the Zoo and Amusement park. The Citadelle itself cannot be visited as it’s private property (military zone) but you can see the building through the gate and walk around the high walls. You’ll see a lot of joggers using this path around the Citadelle as it’s perfect for a morning run.
Leaving the Citadelle, you can walk through Jardin Vauban which is another park in which we discovered a small cave that is perfect for taking pictures 🙂 There were quite some people in this small park at the time we visited it as it looked like some student activities were taking place, but overall there were quite some locals just enjoying a stroll or having a picnic.
Where to Eat::
If you’re loving chocolate or sweets then Meert is your number 1 destination in Lille. This shop has it all, from sweets and pastries to a full blown tea parlor. The inside of the shop is quite small so best is to know what you want before entering the pastry shop. If you want to enjoy a nice cup of tea and sit down at the tea parlor, it’s best to either make reservations or come on time. We went around lunch time and the place was packed so we didn’t want to waste our time waiting in the queue. So we opted for a nice piece of cake from the pastry shop and bought some Kusmi Tea instead (shop located almost next door).
Instead of going to a French restaurant (since we’re in France), we actually preferred an Italian restaurant that was recommended by friends of ours that went there a couple of times already. La Bellezza is a really Italian restaurant with the interior coming straight out of Italy and the staff are all coming from Naples or at least the ones that were on shift the evening we went. The restaurant opens at 7 PM and you have to have made a reservation in advance otherwise there is no way you’re getting a table. We passed by around 6.30 PM and there was a lady at the front door taking reservations for the few spots left. We got the last table for 3 of the evening, and we’re so happy we could experience the food. The food is all typical Italian but with their own twist. As a starter, I took the bruschetta with asparagus (Bruschetta Asparagi) as it was just a strange combination but it was so delicious. For the main course (it’s an official starter but knowing Italian portions this was more than enough for me) I took the Girella di Lello which is basically ravioli filled with cream and asparagus and nuts. For dessert, what other option than tiramisu 🙂 To be honest, this was the best tiramisu I’ve ever had and believe me when I say that I’ve had plenty! The atmosphere in this place is also pretty vibrant and guests are welcomed in Italian which immediately sets the tone.
Bars/Restaurants at the Grand Place
If you’re up for a quick bite or something to drink while relaxing, then these bars and restaurants at the Grand Place are it. We went for a small bar along the square for a drink in between the walking around and shopping. The wines are really good but what else did you expect when you’re in France 🙂
Where to Stay::
We stayed in the B&B Hotel Lille Centre Grand Palais which is not immediately in the city center, but still at walking distance from all major attractions. Reason for choosing this hotel, was that it had on site parking at a very decent price (6 EUR per day) and included breakfast. We didn’t want to spend 100s of EUR on a one night stay as we don’t really care about the luxury when doing a quick weekend break. If we would have stayed longer, or went for a more relaxing break then we would have chosen a different hotel located closer to the city center, but for a room which we only needed for sleeping, we weren’t that picky. Not to say that the hotel wasn’t good, it really was and the staff was quite friendly as well. There were also a lot of other day/ weekend tourists that use this hotel as their basis for discovering Lille, so it’s a good place to stay.
My overall recommendation for choosing a hotel for a weekend break is to identify what you need of your hotel, i.e. wellness, breakfast, close proximity to the city center, etc. and have a look at booking.com as this is my go-to forum for making hotel reservations.
How to get There::
Driving to Lille is easy especially coming from Belgium since it’s close to the border and right next to major highways. Even from within France, it’s all connected to major highways even though the hours you drive can be more lengthy
Lille has a connection to the Eurostar, so it can be reached when travelling from Belgium to the UK or visa versa. The station is called Lille Europe and is literally walking distance from the city center. Lille also has other railway stations, so can be reached by domestic French trains as well.
Flying into Lille will require you to fly into Charles de Gaulle and then taking either car or train to Lille itself. Most airline companies fly to Charles de Gaulle so finding a carrier is dependent on where you’re flying from.
In terms of how long your stay should be, it basically all depends on what your plans are. If you’re looking for a quick weekend break like we did, then 2 days are sufficient. If you want to experience the museums and do some more sightseeing and shopping then you probably need 1 or 2 extra days. If you’re planning on visiting the city more often, then one day trips can be an option as well.
Hope you enjoyed reading about places to discover in Lille and that is made you interested to visit this wonderful place in the North of France. If you have been to Lille before, and have other recommendations please let me know as I’m pretty sure there is a lot more to discover!