Lille is an excellent stopover on the way to London or Brussels. It definitely does not get the attention it deserves, even though it is known as the friendliest city in France. I visited this lovely city in January. It was still fully decorated for Christmas, and I must say that it left a better impression on me than the overburdened, hectic capital. In this trip-list, I will share with you what I visited in Lille and what I would recommend to everyone looking for a relaxing and cozy weekend getaway.
The Palais Rihour is the perfect starting point for exploring Lille. This 15th-century Gothic-style building houses the tourist office, where you can get a City Pass for 1, 2, or 3 days in Lille. The pass covers public transportation and entrance to key museums and attractions - so you'll be all set! On the square, you will witness the rich Christmas market, consisting of more than 80 stalls offering biscuits, warm spiced wine, and endless present ideas.
Grand'Place, the city’s main square, is only a short walk away. It was my favorite place in Lille because it is the center of the winter-wonderland that is set up in Lille each year. The main attractions are the enormous Christmas tree and the sparkly 50 meters high Ferris wheel that offers some of the most breathtaking city views. Do not miss taking a ride!
Continue strolling the nearby streets for an up-close view of the impressive Flemish architecture of Lille. Every corner has some admirable sight to offer. One of them is certainly the old stock exchange building, The Vieille Bourse. It is made of 24 identical houses enclosing an inner courtyard, where on Tuesdays and Sundays, you can encounter the most Instagrammable spot in Lille - an open-air, second-hand market selling books, vinyl, and posters.
Exiting on its eastern side brings you out on place du Théâtre, graced by the early 20th-century neo-Flemish Chambre de Commerce, topped by Lille's signature 76m-high gilded clock tower; and, from the same era, the adjacent Opéra.
According to the gastronomic rankings, Lille is always closely racing for first place with Paris, Bordeaux, and Lyon. Trying hearty traditional dishes (such as potjevleesch or carbonnade) in an original estaminet is a must when in Lille. Also, you have to try delicious local cheeses and beer. I have listed some of the places that I recommend, both, with cozy atmosphere and great service.
For dessert, enjoy the gaufre fourrée - a traditional waffle dish. The best place to try them is Méert, a chic pastry shop founded in 1677!
Lille has a rich offer of museums, art galleries, and exhibitions. Palais des Beaux-Arts or The Fine Arts Museum of Lille is the second biggest French museum (the first one being The Louvre). It is home to works of Monet, Rodin, Delacroix, and Picasso.
Pay a visit to the Citadelle, a military fortress from the time of Louis XIV. If you want a nice escape from the city hustle and bustle, take a walk in the surrounding park.
Get your cameras out and head to the Old Town of Lille, that will take your breath away with its narrow, cobblestoned streets, red-brick buildings, and bright facades. This part of the city also offers the best shopping experience and has a mixture of luxury boutiques and antique shops.