Top 17 Free Things to Do in Lille, France (2024)

Lille is a charming city in the beautiful region of Hauts-de-France. It’s known for its rich history, stunning architecture, tasty food, and lively cultural scene.

I moved to France more than six years ago, and, since then, I’ve been to Lille several times.

From wandering around Grand Place to browsing the Marché de Wazemmes, I’ve explored every corner of this magnificent city.

And the best part? Most of my favorite attractions didn’t cost me a penny.

In this post, I’ll share with you the top free things to do in Lille so you can plan a budget-friendly trip.

Here are the top free things to do in Lille, France. It has everything you need to plan an amazing trip.
Free Activities in Lille

17 Free Things to Do in Lille

There are so many amazing sites to explore in Lille that won’t cost you a dime.

From gorgeous parks to historical landmarks, here’s a look at the attractions and things I recommend you do while you’re here.

1. Explore Vieux-Lille

This is Place Gilleson in Lille's Old Town, Vieux-Lille. It's a row of six buildings stacked side-by-side. Each has at least two windows and they are all painted a different color. In the foreground there are bushes.
Place Gilleson

Vieux-Lille is the oldest district in town.

This area holds a rich history dating back to medieval times. It’s characterized by its picturesque cobblestone streets and well-preserved architecture.

Here you’ll find notable attractions like Grand Place, Porte de Gand, and the Vieille Bourse. But what I loved the most was the colorful buildings.

Place Gilleson, Rue de la Monnie, and Rue des Vieux Murs were the most spectacular, in my opinion. I visited each several times and couldn’t take enough photos.

It reminded me of Amiens’ St. Leu district.

2. Hang Out in Grand Place

This is a Panorama of Lille's Grand Place. I took this photo from a balcony in front of the Théâtre du Nord. You can see the Old Stock Exchange and several other buildings. In front of the Old Stock Exchange there are tables with umbrellas and people are walking around.
Grand Place

Grand Place sits in the heart of Vieux-Lille, but it’s so beautiful I thought it needed a separate section.

Originally serving as the old market square during the Middle Ages, this plaza is where all of Lille’s districts meet, so it’s always busy.

Helpful Tip: This area is known for pickpockets. It’s safe, but keep your eyes peeled.

It features a mix of architectural styles surrounding a central fountain that holds the Colonne de la Déesse statue.

When I visited Lille, I woke up early and watched the city unfold from a small balcony in front of the Théâtre du Nord.

That’s where I took the photo above and it’s the best place to capture a glimpse of daily life.

Helpful Tip: Grand Place is also called Place du Général-de-Gaulle.

3. Browse the Marché de Wazemmes

This is a fruit and vegetable stand at the Marché de Wazemmes in Lille. There are baskets and baskets of fruits and vegetables.
Marché de Wazemmes

While most people visit the Marché de Wazemmes to shop, I went to browse and experience the local culture. It’s something I do in every city I visit in France.

Located in the bustling Wazemmes district, this open-air market is filled with vendors selling all kinds of goodies.

From fresh produce to specialty cheeses, you’ll find everything here.

I recommend going on a Sunday morning when it’s the busiest. But, if you can’t, there’s a covered market open every day except Monday.

Helpful Tip: The open-air market is open Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday mornings.

4. Visit a Museum

This is a painting at the Musée de l'Hospice Comtesse. It shows what Lille's Grand Place looked like before the French Revolution.
Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse

No weekend trip to Lille (or any trip, for that matter) would be complete without visiting at least one of its museums.

This underrated city is known for its rich history and culture, so there’s no shortage of fascinating exhibits to explore.

Plus, most are free to visit on the first Sunday of every month.

Some popular options include the Palais des Beaux-Arts, which houses an impressive collection of fine art, and the Musée d’Histoire Naturelle de Lille, which showcases natural history exhibits.

But my favorite was the Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse. It offers a glimpse into Lille’s medieval past through historical objects.

I really loved the paintings on the top floor. They showed what Lille looked like before the French Revolution. It was very different from the city today.

5. Relax in a Park

This is a sculpture in Jardin des Géants. It's a human with their eyes closed. You can see the nose and the mouth. It's surrounded by white flowers.
Jardin des Géants

One thing that surprised me about Lille was the number of beautiful parks.

It’s a very cosmopolitan city, but surrounding the busy streets are lots of green space.

There’s the Parc de la Citadelle, the largest park in town. It’s full of walking paths, mowed lawns, and gardens.

I, personally, loved the Tour des Remparts de la Citadelle circuit. It circles the citadel and is far from the busy streets.

Then, not far from Parc de la Citadelle is the Jardin Vauban. It’s a peaceful oasis with plenty of green space, wooden benches, and English-style gardens.

But, if you’re looking for something more unique, head to Jardin des Géants.

It’s a quirky sculpture park featuring oversized plants, animals, and other objects. I visited on a Saturday and still had most of the place to myself.

6. Discover Notre-Dame-de-la-Treille Cathedral

This is the interior of the Notre-Dame-de-la-Treille Cathedral. There is an aisle surrounded by rows of wooden chairs. In this distance you can see the altar and there is a chandelier hanging from the top.
Notre-Dame-de-la-Treille Cathedral

The Notre-Dame-de-la-Treille Cathedral is one of the most architecturally unique churches I visited in Lille.

It took 145 years to complete, so you’ll see a mix of different styles. It incorporates both traditional Gothic and contemporary aesthetics.

I first saw Notre-Dame-de-la-Treille Cathedral from the street Cour de l’Eau, which features its Gothic façade.

When I walked to the front, I saw its modern face. It was a stark contrast of styles, but it somehow worked beautifully.

And the interior is as impressive with intricate stained-glass windows and soaring ceilings.

7. Check Out La Vieille Bourse

This is a photo of the used book market at La Vieille Bourse. There are several tables lined up with crates of used books.
Used Book Market at La Vieille Bourse

La Vieille Bourse is Lille’s Old Stock Exchange.

It was built in the 17th century and served as the Lille Stock Exchange until 1921 when it was moved to the Chamber of Commerce.

Its name changed to the Old Stock Exchange and it was listed as a historical monument.

There are 24 houses surrounding an ornamented inner courtyard that hosts a used-book market every afternoon.

La Vieille Bourse easily had the most impressive architecture of the buildings I saw in Lille.

And the used-book market had more than books. There were magazines, records, and comics.

I loved wandering around and chatting with the local vendors. It’s the perfect place to work on your French. And it’s free!

8. Visit Église Saint-Maurice

This is the interior of the Église Saint-Maurice. There is a single aisle leading the altar. It's covered in red carpet and there are several rows in wooden chairs on either side. In the back there is the altar surrounded by stained-glass windows.
Église Saint-Maurice

Église Saint-Maurice dates to the 14th century but took almost 500 years to build. That’s nearly double the time it took to build the infamous Strasbourg Cathedral.

The intricate design and ornate details reminded me of the Amiens Cathedral, especially the back of the church.

Inside you’ll find paintings, sculptures, and beautiful stained-glass windows. There’s also a small chapel that I thought was as impressive as the rest of the church.

When I visited, it was mostly empty, except for a few locals who were there for a quiet moment of prayer. I made sure to be respectful and limit the number of photos I took.

9. Walk down Rue de Weppes

This is Rue de Weppes. There is a wooden walkway leading to a enclosed areas surrounded by colorful houses. On either side of the walkway there are several bushes.
Rue de Weppes

Rue de Weppes is a charming walkway lined with quaint, colorful houses.

It connects Place Gilleson with Rue Esquermoise, and I came across it while walking to Parc de la Citadelle.

I didn’t want to go out of my way and Rue de Weppes was like a shortcut.

It’s also a perfect spot for taking photos and admiring the architecture.

Helpful Tip: If you visit via Place Gilleson, the beginning is a paved street. Walk until you see a wooden pathway. That’s where I took the photo above.

10. Search for a Hidden Courtyard

This is Jardin de l'Abbaye de Loos. There is a walkway. There are bushes, gardens, and mowed lawns. In the distance there are some buildings but they are blocked by lush green trees.
Jardin de l’Abbaye de Loos

Lille is filled with hidden courtyards. They are usually tucked away off the main street and easy to miss.

I stumbled upon several, but my favorite was the Jardin de l’Abbaye de Loos. The buildings surrounding it once belonged to the Notre-Dame de Loos Abbey.

Today, the area in the back of the former abbey is open to the public and offers a peaceful escape from the busy city streets.

There are benches, gardens, and mowed lawns where you can sit and enjoy the scenery.

I went early in the morning and had the entire place to myself. But it’s so hidden you’ll find it empty most of the day.

Helpful Tip: The entrance is at the corner of Rue des Trois Mollettes and Rue des Vieux Murs.

11. Take a Photo of the Ilôt Comtesse

This is Ilôt Comtesse. There is a mowed lawn in front of a row of red brick buildings stacked side-by-side.
Ilôt Comtesse

The Ilôt Comtesse is a small area behind the Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse that was once part of the 17th-century hospice.

Today, it’s a public garden surrounded by beautiful brick buildings.

And, depending on when you visit, there are often free art exhibitions on display.

I, personally, loved the contrast between the red brick walls and the green grass.

It’s a popular hang-out spot for locals, so, if you want a photo without any people, I recommend going early in the morning.

12. Marvel at the Porte de Paris

This is the Porte de Paris. It's a large stone structure covered in intricately carved statues. Then, there's a small passage through the gate.
Porte de Paris

Until the 19th century, Lille was a fortified city, and doors were placed at the entrances.

The Porte de Paris is one of the remaining doors that still stands. It was built in the 17th century and classified as a historical monument in 1875.

It features a small drawbridge connecting Rue Pierre Mauroy and Boulevard Denis Papin and intricate stone carvings.

I stopped by for a few photos and was impressed by the detailing of the upper half.

It’s in a busy traffic circle, so, if you want to visit without any commotion, I recommend going early or late in the evening.

Helpful Tip: If you want to see what Lille looked like as a fortified city check out the relief map exhibit at the Palais des Beaux-Arts.

13. Admire Palais Rihour

This is the Palais Rihour. It's a large stone building. The back of it has a square shape. Then in from there are two rounded towers with pointed tops.
Palais Rihour

Palais Rihour is a stunning example of Renaissance architecture.

It was built in the 15th century under the supervision of the Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good.

Today, it houses the tourism office and serves as a venue for special events.

You can admire its beauty outside, and then, check out the exhibitions inside.

When I went, there was a free exhibit on Michel Serrault, a French actor who starred in over a hundred films.

Helpful Tip: The exhibits here are not announced in advance so I recommend stopping by early in your itinerary. They are, usually, on the top floor next to the bathrooms.

14. Look for Hanging Shoes

This is a photo of a power line with Converse shoes hanging from the middle. In the distance you can see the top of the buildings.

Have you ever heard of the tradition of throwing shoes on a power line?

In Lille, there is a similar but more artistic version called shoefiti.

Local artists toss colorful Converse shoes over electric wires. And, unless you know to look for them, it’s easy to miss.

I found several in Vieux-Lille with the most easy-to-spot shoes along Rue de la Monnie. That’s where I took the photo above.

Helpful Tip: The locations change regularly, so keep your eyes peeled.

15. Appreciate the Street Art of Lille

This is a mural in Lille that's at corner of Rue Jean Bart and Rue de Bruxelles. It shows tow people dressed in robes. One is a man and the other is a woman grabbing the garment of the man.
Mural at the Corner of Rue Jean Bart and Rue de Bruxelles

Lille is home to a thriving street art scene.

From colorful murals to creative installations, you’ll find them scattered throughout the city.

And the best way to discover these hidden gems is by wandering around. At least, that’s what I did.

I stumbled on quite a few murals but two stood out to me.

The first was at 33 Avenue du Président John F. Kennedy. I was walking to the Palais des Beaux-Arts and happened to look up.

The second was at the corner of Rue Jean Bart and Rue de Bruxelles. I was, again, on my way to the Musée d’Histoire Naturelle de Lille. That’s where I took the photo above.

16. Walk through the Passage des Trois Anguilles

This is the Entrance to the Passage des Trois Anguilles. It's small doorway in between two buildings.
Passage des Trois Anguilles

I love secret passages and there are so many around France. The most famous are the ones in Lyon, but Lille also has a few.

The most popular is the Passage des Trois Anguilles.

It’s not particularly grand or fancy but it does have a charm to it. Plus, it only takes five minutes to visit, so why not?

The entrances are not obvious (22 Rue Négrier and 29 Rue Voltaire), so I recommend marking both addresses on your phone.

As you can see in the photo above, it looks like it’s a part of someone’s house.

17. Take in the Views from Pont Napoléon

This is the view from the Pont Napoléon. There is the canal in the middle. On either side there are tree-lined walkways.
View from the Pont Napoléon

Pont Napoléon is a beautiful bridge that crosses over the Moyenne-Deûle canal.

The first version was built in 1809 to highlight Napoléon’s accomplishments.

Unfortunately, it was destroyed during World War I.

Efforts were made to rebuild it, but it was again demolished during World War II.

The bridge you see today was built in 2014 and is a fantastic spot to take in the views of the canal.

I went early in the morning before the picnickers arrived. I had the place to myself and spent about 15 minutes taking in the gorgeous natural surroundings.

Conclusion: Free Things to Do in Lille

Lille is a city full of charm, history, and culture.

While there are plenty of paid attractions to enjoy, there are also many free things to do that will give you a taste of the city without breaking the bank.

Of the things listed above, my favorite was exploring Vieux-Lille on foot. It was a great way to get a feel for the local culture.

Now that you know that Lille has a lot of budget-friendly activities, it’s time to plan your itinerary.

Why not start with a day trip from the capital of France?

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Jen Ciesielski
Jen Ciesielski

Jen Ciesielski is the creator of Dabbling in Jet Lag. She has lived abroad for over ten years, traveled to more than 50 countries, and speaks French and English fluently. Her areas of expertise include moving abroad, learning languages, and travel planning. Originally from the United States, she now lives in France, where she has been for more than six years. She has also traveled extensively around the country. She shares her experiences as an expat living in France and helps thousands of people plan their trips every month.

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