LilleOver a decade ago, Lille was awarded the European Capital of Culture title, marking not its pinnacle but rather the start of its journey. In the years since, it has established itself as a premier cultural destination, rivalling any other in northern France and, according to some, beyond. Once a thriving commercial hub in French Flanders, Lille still exudes a strong Flemish character, both in its cuisine and the ornate buildings of its charming Old Town.
The CityAlthough Lille has a reputation for being a sprawling city – and it is indeed the largest one in northern France – its charming old town is entirely walkable, and contains all the attractions, restaurants, and nightlife establishments a weekend city-breaker could wish to explore in a couple of days. The vibrant, multicultural neighbourhood of Wazemmes, known for its popular market, lies just south of the old town, and is within equally easy reach. The significant student population accounts for Lille's youthful, jovial spirit, which co-exists with refinement and cultural heritage that spans many centuries. Once an important trading post, Lille later grew into an industrial powerhouse and even became known for being a working class stronghold, a status that has now given way to one of a cultural hub. Beyond the old town, museums worth making the trip to the suburbs for are the curious La Piscine (museum set up inside a 20th century swimming pool building, the pool still technically functional) of Roubaix and Lille Métropole Museum of Modern, Contemporary and Outsider Art in Villeneuve-d'Ascq.
Do & See
Wandering the old town streets and admiring the Flemish renaissance architecture might be one of the greatest pleasures the city has to offer, but together with a handful of solid art museums, excellent shopping and hearty, scrumptious cuisine, Lille is northern France's biggest city in not only terms of size, but also cultural offerings.
Those looking to savour Lillois specialities should cast their glance at carbonade flamande, waterzooi, and potjevleesch. The latter one might be the most exotic: four different types of meat held together with gelatin, served cold. Carbonade flamande is, perhaps, the safest bet, as little can go wrong with beef stewed to utmost tenderness in beer. As for waterzooi, it is a Flemish creamy stew of fish or chicken with egg yolk and various vegetables.
When in Lille, do not skip on the city's most sought-after dessert: vanilla waffles served at Méert, Lille's historic and most reputable cafe. There are plenty of places to tuck into a savoury galette, a syrup-drenched crêpe, or even just grab a cup of coffee (some particularly good finds are concentrated around old town's Grand Place). A dessert you will be seeing nearly anywhere you go is "merveilleux", a small, meringue-based cake sprinkled with chocolate shavings. And if you are into cheese, try the city's own "Le Vieux Lille", a gourmet variety with a distinctive smell.
Bars & Nightlife
The Lillois drink of choice is beer, with some of the coolest beer bars concentrated around Place de la Gare. There are dozens of varieties, each served in its own designated glass. The Lillois know how to let loose, and a typical evening would consist of pre-drinks somewhere along Rue de Gand, followed by a night out at one of the livelier nightlife venues.
Rue de Bethune is Lille's main shopping thoroughfare, while Rue de la Grande Chausseé is the place to go for upscale luxury brands. There are plenty of individual boutiques selling deli (try the local Le Vieux Lille cheese) and drinks, with plenty of ethnic shops scattered around the Wazemmes area. Lille's modern shopping centre, Euralille, contains stores of internationally known brands, as well as all the facilities one would expect from a commercial complex of the kind.