Once known for its strong industrial base, the city of Lille in northern France today is recognised as a diverse and active cultural centre. Literature places the date of the city’s founding at 640 B.C.E., but it was not until the 12th century that Lille’s popularity soared as a result of its renowned cloth fair.
Today, the city is part of the fourth largest metropolitan area in France, and home to a major railway hub that services both Eurostar and TGV trains, making the city an ideal spot for a weekend getaway.
The centre of Lille boasts beautiful architecture, and makes an ideal walking tour. Begin with the Place Rihour, home to the Palais Rihour, which houses the city’s tourist information centre. Surrounded by restaurants, shops, and homes, the Place Rihour is at the very heart of the city. From here, a short walk will take you to La Vieele Bourse, a 17th-century market that still hosts vendors pf flowers, books, and other wares.
The city’s main square, Place du Général-de-Gaulle, or “Grand’place”, is surrounded by historic homes and has, at its centre, an ornate 19th-century fountain. Le Furet du Nord, Europe’s largest bookstore, attracts locals and tourists interested in the store’s eight floors with nearly a half million titles.
Lille is also home to numerous museums, including the Musee Beaux-Arts, which houses a renowned collection of European artworks spanning the time period from the 16th to the 20th centuries. The Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse and the Musée d’Art et d’ Industrie de Roubaix : La Piscine offer unique settings for their collections: the former, once serving as a hospital and the latter, a former swimming pool. For those interested in science and nature, a visit to Lille’s Museum of Natural History is ideal, offering a widely varied collection of mammals, fossils, and other natural objects from notable periods in the world’s development.
Lille also hosts a world-famous Christmas market every year, and a well-regarded street fair every September that attracts millions of visitors and offers a wide range of entertainment. The city’s main open market, Marché de Wazemmes, is open most days, and vendors sell locally grown fruits and vegetables, books, clothing, jewelry, crafts, and other goods. The market is surrounded by pubs, making it an ideal way to spend the better part of a day. Or head back to the Place du General-de-Gaulle, for a taste of Lille’s famous stuffed waffles at the Meert patisseries.