The northern city of Lille was once an industrial hub but urban renewal programmes have transformed it into an exceptionally modern metropolis with plenty of interesting monuments, cutting-edge culture and fascinating museums. Lille makes the most of its heritage on the border with Flanders, and it can almost feel like a Belgian city at times, especially in the Vieux Lille old town. The regeneration schemes have brought with them a thriving, multicultural vibrancy with plenty of outdoor markets, festivals and music.
Areas & Neighbourhoods in Lille
Vieux Lille — The old town’s narrow streets and cobbled squares are filled with atmosphere and traces of Flemish culture. The Grand Place square is home to the old Stock Exchange the Vieille Bourse, and the Opera House and Cathedral are nearby, along with the Museum of Fine Arts which is among the best galleries in France.
Wazemmes — If you fancy something more boho and up-to-date, Wazemmes is the place to come. This mixture of recent arrivals, students and trend-setting artists gathers at the Sunday market for a lively and entertaining glimpse of Lille’s grassroots. You can find Tunisian pastries and Moroccan cuisine here as well as some great shops and boutiques.
Esquermes — Several famous Lille institutions can be found in the Vauban-Esquermes area on the banks of the Deûle river. The Citadelle fortress, Vauban garden, the Bois de Boulogne, Lille Zoo and the Rameau Palace are all here, making an easy walking tour for any visitor who fancies a tour of Lille history.
Things to See in Lille
The old town’s fantastic Flemish architecture has been cleaned up and sparkles in the sunshine. The Grand Place is a 17th century marvel, with pride of place taken by the Vieille Bourse where the city merchants worked and lived. Now you can wander through the courtyard and pick up a game of chess or a second-hand book. The Opera house is on the other side of the square, alongside the more modern Chamber of Commerce. Over on the south you’ll find the Palais des Beaux Art gallery, home to works by Rubens, Van Dijck and Manet. Don’t forget the Citadelle, an amazing 17th century star-shaped fortress, or the Vauban garden next door.
Things to Do in Lille
To really get a sense of Lille’s scale and scope, there’s nothing better than climbing the belfry of the Hotel de Ville, 304 feet above street level. A walking tour of the Citadelle is very rewarding, as is the old town. Catch one of the many street festivals that take place around the year in Wazemmes and don’t forget to visit one of the many museums. With the battlefields of Flanders not far from the city, you can make a poignant memorial visit to honour the fallen of the Great War, and even experience a tour of the front line to see where Australian sappers fought.