Lille was a sort of second home to me for 3-4 years , when I was working for a french company based there. I went often monthly and never enjoyed it fully. Now I remember and I have a regret because it is, in comparison to other cities, a gem of architecture and civilization. Go visit or stop for a city walk if in your way to Calais, or Brussels.
I went there always by car from Paris or Brussels (this is easier) and by TGV from Paris – maybe the best way to reach.
This is a small town compared to Paris, but it is the 4th metropolitan area in France. Why a 4 stars destination considering one star for deceptive and over rated and 5 for exceeding expectations, because of the value for money, and especially the architecture. The minus is for a lack of things to do if there for more than one or two nights. Similar to Bruge or Ghent in Belgium. But there are a lot of museums so take your time if a fan of arts, all kind of arts. It is also a center for students so some of the neighborhoods are lively and loud.
Let’s get started with my don’ts and some dos as I experienced :
- if want to see Lille and the metropolitan area don’t rely on public transport. Absolutely you need to rent a car. There are a lot of things to see in the satellites of Lille, like Villeneuve d’Ascq where is the museum of contemporary art and the new stadium of Lille.
- cheap shopping is out of the city, in big commercial centers like Auchan so another reason to rent a car. I’ve found in Roubaix a great outlet, a real one L’UsineRoubaix 228 Avenue Alfred Motte, 59100 Roubaix, France.
- this is a big metropolitan area so it’s a must to have a GPS otherwise you miss the exits so easily, like me so many times at the beginning.
- Lille in fact is a small city with an amazing old town and citadel. The architecture is specific, more similar to Belgium Ghent than to glamorous Paris. Check the old stock exchange building but also the flamboyant opera house. and the old town square.
- so look for accommodation near the city center as the city is to see by foot. Book in advance as it can be very expensive sometimes. It is a very industrial city with a lot of multinational companies so a lot of business travelers.
- avoid students area like Solferino if want to sleep, and some Muslim areas as you might feel awkward ( Roubaix for example or near Flandre Train Station or Euralille Train Station ) .
- weather is always bad, always – except few days during the summer. So pack accordingly and absolutely have an umbrella. Drive safely as it is often fog.
- it is always clouded, no extremes winters with snow, so don’t go if weather sensitive, as in depressed. I rather have a hard winter than a grey sky all the time.
- that is why the traditional food is very heavy, not so sophisticated like in Paris. Best is Carbonnade Flamande. In the old square there are a lot of great little restaurants like brasserielahoublonniere.fr 42 Place Charles de Gaulle, 59800 Lille, France.
- if you wanna eat like crazy go to “Le Crocodile” 20bis Rue de la Cousinerie, 59650 Villeneuve-d’Ascq, France.
- street food is not great, except perhaps for the hot-dog with bechamel sauce, and late at night the Shawerma from the Arab fast-foods.
- go for winter holidays, as the city is so brightly illuminated. Maybe one of the best Xmas decorations I have ever seen. Shop in the Xmas fair in the old town square, in the streets of the old town. Great experience at Le Printemps. 39-45 Rue Nationale, 59000 Lille, France printemps.com
- check for events as Lille has a lively scene for opera or concerts. I do recommend it.
- remember this is not Paris, this is the North….yes, exactly like in Game of Thrones, and the northern people are different. Better in my personal view than the Parisians with their fashion sense of living and wonderful hypocrisy . They are not friendly but they try to help you if in need, they speak better English than the Parisians.
- go to Wazemmes Market (Marche de Wazemmes), Place de la Nouvelle Aventure, Lille, France. This is real Lille.
- visit any church that you find as they are keepers of real gems and it’s the best way to have a break and a dive in the spirituality.
Enjoy Lille, it is a real gem.