From the traditional Flemish architecture of the main square to the peaceful paved alleys of the old town, enjoy wandering around the safe haven that is the underrated city of Lille, France.
Nicknamed the ‘little Paris’, the capital of the Flanders slowly bloomed from an industrial town to an up-and-coming second city with a range of both unique and diverse cultures. Located right between the three major international hubs that are London, Paris and Brussels, Lille charms with its authentic feel, chill out atmosphere and vibrant cultural scene. Here’s how to make the most of your next getaway to the 2004’s European capital of culture:
Lille is a showcase for cultural and architectural Flemish roots. A short walk from the train station will take you to the main square, its picturesque gabled houses and many reminders of the Mosan Renaissance architecture such as the ‘Vieille bourse’ (former stock exchange – whose courtyard today serves as a meeting point for locals to shop at the second-hand books market), the belfry or the Chamber of Commerce. Stop by the ‘Palais des Beaux Arts’, home to France’s second-largest art collection, before getting lost in the old quarter and its narrow streets paved with stone stuck between with brick and golden sandstone 17th and 18th-century houses. If you are in need of fresh air, head to the Citadelle, a luxuriant park just a short walk from the main square where the centuries-old star-shaped fortress is still standing.
Largely influenced by the nearby Belgium, Lille is renowned for its Flemish dishes mainly composed of saucy meats like the ‘carbonade flamande’ or the ‘potjevleesch’ (only for the bravest) yet with a strong French touch: an abundance of smelly cheeses on the menu. If you have more of a sweet tooth, the brown sugar waffles made famous by the beautiful ‘Meert’ patisserie or the finger-licking meringue creations by the ‘Au Merveilleux’ alone are worth a trip to Lille.
Social drinking is a strong part of the local culture and can be enjoyed in the multitude of traditional outdoor cafes or bars specialising in trendy cocktails and locally brewed beers. While the ‘Solferino’ neighbourhood has been taken over by students, the old town lights up for the older generation for after-work gatherings or all-night-long parties. The chatty and welcoming Lillois always enjoy a local beer or glass of grapefruit rosé on terraced cafés at sunset.
The few pedestrian streets just past the main square offer an afternoon worth of shopping from popular chain stores such as H&M or Zara to the fancier ‘Le Printemps’, appreciated for its collection of luxurious clothing, shoes and accessories. If what you’re after is a bit more of a French touch, the old quarter overflows with trendier and more upscale boutiques in which you can go on a shopping spree before rushing to Sunday’s market in Wazemmes where everything from fresh food and flowers to shoes and undergarments can be found.