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For many centuries, Lille—the capital of the Hauts-de-France region in northern France—has been overlooked as one of the country’s major cities. However, Lille has undergone a renaissance in recent years, and the once-gritty industrial destination now shines with a mix of 17th-century architecture, world-renowned museums, incredible culinary offerings, and a vibrant nightlife scene driven by a large student population. The historic center of the city is marked by elegant palaces, cobblestone squares, and flamboyant Flemish townhouses. Across the city’s plazas and luxurious parks, events take place throughout the year, including the Lille Christmas Market, the Lille Piano Festival, and the Grande Braderie flea market, which attracts millions of visitors each September with more than 10,000 vendors covering 62 miles (100 km) of road. Thanks to transportation options including the Eurostar and the TGV train, Lille has become a popular destination for weekend getaways from Paris, Brussels, and London.
Divided into 10 primary neighborhoods, the majority of Lille’s attractions can be found in the north and central parts of the city.
Vieux-Lille — Sitting in the north end of town, Vieux-Lille—or Old Lille—is made up of the oldest streets in the city. Brick townhomes and colorful hotels reveal the Flemish soul of the city, and you may feel as if you’re wandering through a Belgian neighborhood rather than a French one. Here, find landmarks including the childhood home of Charles de Gaulle, the eye-catching Notre Dame de la Treille, and the Hospice Comtesse Museum, housing furniture and art from the 17th and 18th centuries. In the south end of the district, quaint restaurants and quirky cafes line the streets of Gand, Monnaie, and Basse, while the north end boasts trendy bars on and around Rue Saint-André. Place du Général de Gaulle, known locally as Place Grand, connects the border of Vieux-Lille to Lille-Centre, and features the Renaissance Old Stock exchange and Théâtre du Nord.
Lille-Centre — To the south of Vieux-Lille, Lille-Centre is the commercial and cultural hub of the city, boasting the largest number of Lille’s hotels, a large cluster of boutiques and shopping malls, and both the Fine Arts Museum and the Natural History Museum of Lille. Gare Saint Sauveur, an old cargo station, is a cultural center hosting art exhibits, concerts, movies, and family-friendly events, many that are free to the public. At night, the area around Rue Masséna and Rue Solférino thrives with restaurants and bars ranging from upscale French to inexpensive international eats.
Esquermes — To the west of Vieux-Lille sits Esquermes, a district in which you’ll find Citadel Park, a sprawling green space surrounded by water and the largest park in the city. Spanning over 170 acres (70 ha), the site features a star-shaped fortress, an amusement park for kids, and a free-to-the-public zoo that houses around 500 mammals, reptiles, and birds. Just south of the park across the river, 19th-century Vauban Garden has English-style lawns, a grotto with a waterfall, and trails for walking and biking.
Wazemmes — To the southwest of Lille-Centre, Wazemmes is an eclectic neighborhood with an ethnically diverse population—an area where students, artists, and immigrants from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East live harmoniously side by side. Jules Guesde and Sarrazins streets are lined with restaurants, bakeries, and shops, many of which are owned by and cater to these different groups. Of the neighborhood’s draws, the most popular is undoubtedly the covered market and adjacent outdoor market, where locals flock on Sunday mornings to buy fresh pastries, produce, and flowers.
Once you’ve explored the streets of Lille, you can see the city from a new perspective from the top of City Hall. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005, the historic monument soars to the height of 340 feet (104 m) above the city. With an audio-guide to provide commentary along the way, begin an ascent up 100 steps inside the tower. Once you’ve conquered the stairs, you can choose to take an elevator the rest of the way or finish the climb on foot. Upon arrival at the top, you’re met with unencumbered views of Lille that stretch in all directions. Gaze down at the old Flemish architecture, the contemporary concert hall, and, on a clear day, all the way to the misty mountains of Flanders.
Visit all of Lille’s must-see landmarks and cultural institutions with the Lille City Pass. Taking advantage of unlimited use of public transportation, gain admission to sites across the city such as the Fine Arts Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the Birthplace of Charles de Gaulle. Explore at your own pace while enjoying discounts at restaurants, shops, and additional attractions.
If you prefer to see the city with an expert, cruise around town with a private chauffeur. In a vintage Citroen 2CV, sit back and relax as your driver leads you through the streets to the most significant sites in the historic center. After your tour, make a stop at a shop to sample authentic food from the region, including beer, liqueur, candy, waffles, and other locally made creations.
To immerse yourself even further in the culinary delights of northern France, embark on a tasting tour of Vieux-Lille. With a menu of delicacies designed to introduce you to the traditions of the region, pop into eateries ranging from classic cafes and shops to modern bakeries and bars. Tuck into an age-old favorite known as potjevleesch, learn about the various cheeses that are made nearby, and sink your teeth into chocolate and pastries at an 18th-century candy shop.