Since moving to France more than six years ago, I’ve been on a mission to uncover this country’s hidden gems. From Alsatian towns like Eguisheim to the stunning beaches of Dunkirk, I’ve been to some amazing places.
One city that captured my heart was Lille.
This northern French city often gets overlooked in favor of its more famous neighbors like Paris and Brussels. So, you might be asking, “Is Lille worth visiting?”
The short answer is yes!
It’s known for its gorgeous Grand Place, delicious Merveilleux pastry, and vibrant Marché de Wazemmes.
In this post, I’ll share with you 17 reasons to add Lille to your list of must-visit destinations in France.
Is Lille Worth Visiting?
Yes, Lille is worth visiting!
Located in the Hauts-de-France region, Lille is perfect for anyone who wants to explore beyond Paris.
But, for me, I was interested in its history and architecture.
Lille’s history dates to the 11th century when it was first founded as a fortification. Since then, it has been under Flemish, Burgundian, Spanish, and French rule.
And you can learn its complex history at one of its many museums.
My two favorites were the Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse, a former hospital that now houses regional artwork, and the Maison Natale de Charles de Gaulle, the birthplace of Charles de Gaulle.
Then, there’s Lille’s architecture. It’s a fascinating blend of styles from its different rulers.
You’ll find tons of beautiful buildings like La Vieille Bourse, the Palais Rihour, and the Notre-Dame-de-la-Treille Cathedral.
But the small side streets lined in the Old Town, or Vielle Ville, were the most spectacular.
Some of my favorite streets were Place Gilleson (behind the Notre-Dame-de-la-Treille Cathedral) and Rue de Weppes. Here the buildings were so colorful and vibrant.
It reminded me of Colmar’s half-timbered houses along Quai de la Poissonnerie.
Then, if you love French food like me, Lille doesn’t disappoint.
Some must-try local specialties include potjevleesch, a jellied meat dish, or carbonnade flamande, a beef stew made with beer.
Lille is also known for its cultural scene. It hosts several festivals and events throughout the year, including the famous Braderie de Lille, Europe’s largest flea market.
Finally, Lille is conveniently located, despite being so far north. It has two major train stations and serves popular destinations like Paris, London, and Brussels.
And when I took a high-speed TGV train from Paris for a day trip, it only took an hour!
So, if you’re looking to get off the beaten path and explore the north of France, Lille is for you!
17 Reasons to Visit Lille
There are so many reasons why you should visit Lille. Below I’ll cover the top 17 reasons why Lille should be on your travel bucket list.
1. Beautiful Architecture
Lille is home to an architectural landscape that blends traditional and contemporary designs.
I loved walking around the Old Town. It was full of narrow cobblestone streets lined with 17th-century brick townhouses painted in soft pastel hues.
Some of the most colorful streets were Rue de Weppes, Place Gilleson, and Rue de la Monnaie.
Lille’s modern side shines in the Euralille district. Here you’ll find futuristic skyscrapers and its two railway stations.
And, if you’re willing to explore the non-touristy areas, Rue Gay Lussac has a gorgeous row of brick houses. They, actually, reminded me of the ones I saw in Dunkirk.
2. Fantastic Museums
One thing I loved about Lille was the variety of museums.
At the heart of the city’s cultural scene is the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille, one of the largest art museums in France.
It has a diverse collection of sculptures and paintings from some of the most renowned artists.
But my favorite piece was the Feast of Herod by Donatello (photo above).
The Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse is another incredible museum. It’s housed in a historic hospital founded in 1236 by Countess Jeanne de Flandre.
Inside, you’ll find glazed earthenware pieces, decorative items, beautiful ceramics, and religious-themed art.
Then, if you’re like me and love a mixture of history and science, the Musée d’Histoire Naturelle de Lille is for you.
Here you can learn about dinosaurs, gawk at weird insects, and brush up on your geology. When I went it was packed, but I still had fun wandering around.
3. Enchanting Old Town
Walking around Lille’s Old Town was my favorite thing to do.
Here you’ll find narrow cobbled streets, stunning architecture, and charming shops.
One of the main attractions is the Grand Place.
This bustling square is surrounded by ornate buildings like the Vieille Bourse, a former stock exchange built in the 17th century.
It has a beautifully decorated courtyard that hosts a daily book market.
For the best view over Grand Place, head up to the Théâtre du Nord.
There is a set of stairs with a balcony that overlooks the square. That’s where I took the photo above.
4. Hidden Alleyways and Courtyards
Apart from the main attractions, Lille is also a city full of hidden gems. And there are secret alleyways and courtyards around every corner.
One of my favorites was the Abbaye de Loos Garden. The entrance was hidden on Rue des trois Mollettes, so you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled.
Inside, there’s a beautiful quiet garden surrounded by colorful buildings. When I went, I had the whole place to myself.
Below is a list of other alleyways and courtyards that are equally as beautiful:
- Place aux Oignons
- Passage des Trois Anguilles
- Rue des Vieux Murs
5. Lille City Pass
The Lille City Pass is one of the best passes I’ve tried in France.
There are three options: the 24, 48, or 72-hour pass.
All three passes offer free access to 29 sites and attractions across the Lille Metropole. It also provides free rides on local transport, which is perfect if you’re short on time.
The 48 and 72-hour passes have extra advantages. For example, with the 72-hour pass, you could also visit the Beffroi Saint-Éloi and the Musée de Portuaire in Dunkirk.
But my favorite activity on the list was the walking tour. I learned so much about Lille’s history and architecture that I wouldn’t have known otherwise.
6. Easy to Get In and Around
Lille might be in the north of France, but it’s incredibly accessible.
The city’s two main train stations, Lille Europe and Lille Flandres, are only 500 meters (0.3 miles) apart, making transfers between them a breeze.
Both stations offer connections to major French cities like Lyon, Marseille, and Paris, as well as international destinations.
Then, there’s Lille’s public transport. It consists of metros, trams, and buses. And they are all easy to use.
But I preferred to walk. It’s very pedestrian friendly and there are so many hidden gems that you would miss if you only used public transport.
For example, I walked from Grand Place to the Musée d’Histoire Naturelle de Lille and stumbled upon tons of street art.
7. Wazemmes Market
If there’s one reason to fall in love with France, it’s their markets. And Wazemmes Market in Lille is no exception.
Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday morning, the market takes over Place de la Nouvelle Aventure.
It’s a bustling scene with rows of stalls selling fresh produce, flowers, meats, cheeses, and more. You can also find clothing and household items at bargain prices.
But the real highlight is the food section. There are tons of delicious French dishes like crepes, baguettes, and pastries.
It’s a great place to grab breakfast or lunch before continuing your visit.
Helpful Tip: If you can’t make it to the outdoor market, there’s also a covered market every day except Monday.
8. Outstanding Food Scene
Lille is known for its delicious food, so you won’t be disappointed with what you find here.
From casual bistros to high-end restaurants, there’s something for every taste and budget.
For local cuisine, my favorite restaurant was the Estaminet Au Vieux De La Vieille.
I took the Assiette Régionale so I could sample the region’s most popular dishes. My favorite was the potjevleesch.
Overall, it rivaled the local bouchons I ate at in Lyon.
Then, for dessert, I went to Aux Merveilleux de Fred to try their infamous Merveilleux pastry.
9. Beffroi de Lille
The Beffroi de Lille is a must-see attraction in the city, especially if you’re spending two days here. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It was built in the early 20th century in an Art Deco style. And it stands at an impressive 104 meters (341 feet).
But the main reason to visit is for the views.
You’ll have to climb the first 100 steps, so make sure to wear a comfortable pair of walking shoes. Then, you can choose between taking the elevator or walking to the top.
Since this one was much higher than the belfry I climbed in Amiens, I decided to take the elevator.
My vertigo kicked in after the first set of stairs, and I didn’t want to miss out on the views.
When I got to the top and I saw that the area was enclosed, my vertigo disappeared, and I took my time looking around.
10. Off the Beaten Path
Unlike Paris or Nice, Lille offers a unique experience without the crowds.
There are tons of things to do and ways to immerse yourself in an authentic French experience.
I felt that I could enjoy the best of French culture, history, and gastronomy without having to navigate tourist traps.
I was constantly stumbling on hidden streets, restaurants, and shops that weren’t in any guidebooks, like Rue Gay Lussac.
It was a unique, crowd-free travel experience that I highly recommend.
11. Amazing Street Art
I added Lille to my northern France itinerary because I was interested in its architecture and history. But I realized there is so much more to this incredible city.
And I was pleasantly surprised to find that Lille is also a mecca for street art.
There are tons of murals all over the city.
I spent hours walking around and looking for new pieces.
The addresses of my two favorites are listed below:
- Corner of Rue Jean Bart and Rue de Bruxelles
- 33 Avenue du Président John F. Kennedy
12. Notre-Dame-de-la-Treille Cathedral
The Notre-Dame-de-la-Treille Cathedral is a rare example that combines very different architectural styles.
Construction began in 1854, but financial limitations and two world wars delayed its completion until 1999.
The exterior has a Neo-gothic style, while the interior is more modern and minimalist.
One of the most impressive features is its western face which was made entirely from white marble.
Compared to the other cathedrals I’ve been to in France, it wasn’t the most awe-inspiring. But it is worth a visit, especially for the unique design and history behind its construction.
13. Tons of History
Lille is thought to have been around since 640, but it first appeared in written records in 1066.
Since then, it has been under Flemish rule and a part of the Spanish Netherlands. And, in the 17th century, it joined France.
During World War I and II, Lille suffered a lot. It was occupied by German forces and was heavily damaged by bombings and fighting.
Further economic struggles in the 1960s pushed the city into a decline.
Then, from the 1980s to the 1990s, Lille underwent a massive transformation. A new business district, Euralille, was built and the city saw the arrival of high-speed TGV trains and the Eurostar.
Today, Lille has preserved its heritage while evolving into a bustling and vibrant city with tons of things to see and do.
14. Lots of Green Space
Even though Lille has a big city feel, there are tons of parks and gardens where you can escape the hustle and bustle.
The Parc de la Citadelle, Lille’s largest park, spans over 60 hectares (123 acres). And it’s full of beautiful gardens, lakes, and walking paths.
Then, there’s the Jardin Vauban. It was designed by Barillet Deschamps in the late 19th century and resembles a typical English garden.
If you’re looking for a quiet intimate setting for a picnic, this is the place to go.
But my favorite was the Jardin des Géants. It’s a whimsical sculpture garden with larger-than-life statues of animals and characters.
I loved wandering around, trying to guess what each statue represented.
15. Maison Natale Charles de Gaulle
The Maison Natale Charles de Gaulle is a must-visit for history buffs.
It’s the birthplace of Charles de Gaulle, a French general and statesman who played a major role in World War II.
The house has been preserved and turned into a museum.
It features a rich collection of artifacts that belong to him and his family. They even have his cradle (photo above) and his baptismal dress.
I, personally, love learning about the lives of important figures in French history.
And walking around his house helped me imagine what it was like growing up in Lille during his time.
16. Citadelle de Lille
The Citadelle de Lille was built between 1667 and 1670 and served to defend the border of Flanders.
To date, it’s one of the most impressive citadels built by Vauban, so much so that it’s often referred to as the Queen of Citadels. I’d say it even rivals the Citadel of Besançon.
The fortress is still used by the French military so you can’t tour the inside, but you can explore the outer wall.
There’s a beautiful walking path, Tour des Remparts de la Citadelle, that circles the entire Citadelle.
I went early in the morning and had the place to myself. Then, I explored the beautiful Parc de la Citadelle that surrounds the fortress.
17. European Capital of Culture
In 2004, after a turbulent history, Lille proudly claimed the title – European Capital of Culture.
This prestigious designation catalyzed the city’s cultural evolution.
The year started with the reopening of the Lille Opera and was followed by more than 2,500 events.
It was such a success that it started an era of creativity and innovation.
And Lille continues to build on its cultural capital with initiatives like Lille3000.
Conclusion: Is Lille France Worth Visiting?
Lille surprised me in more ways than I had imagined it would.
From its architecture to its rich history, it’s perfect for anyone who wants to get off the typical tourist path. It’s also a great jumping-off point for exploring northern France.
Whether you’re a fan of art, food, or exploring new cities, Lille has it all. And it’s so easy to get to, there’s no reason not to visit.
So, now all that’s left to do is plan your vacation. Why not start by booking your trip with the websites that I use?
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I hope you enjoyed my post and found it helpful. Here are some other articles that I think you might find interesting.
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- The Perfect Paris to Amiens Day Trip Itinerary