Since moving to Lille a year-and-a-half ago, I’ve been blessed with my fair share of visitors! Lille is extremely centrally located in Europe, making it a perfect stop-off point between London, Paris, Amsterdam, and most of Belgium.
There was Abby (June 2015), Mom & Dad (July-August 2015), Shelly & Stacy & Jess & Mayumi (August 2015), J0 (September AND December 2015), Laura (October 2015), Claire (October 2015), Laith (October 2015), Kelly (February 2016), my cousin Rita (May 2016), Sandra (June 2016), and Michelle & Soudavone (June 2o16).
The majority of the time, I love playing tour guide. I’ve really grown to like Lille, so I enjoy showing my friends and family the best parts of the city and of French culture: my favorite bars and restaurants, the best places to go shopping, and a great park at which to spend an afternoon. Sometimes however, it’s exhausting: going to the same places and taking photographs of the same monuments, and being just as enthusiastic the 100th time as you were the 1st.
Luckily, after almost three years in the north, I’ve come up with a solid three-day itinerary (or as my roommates call it, “The Dana Tour”.) Below, I’ve given you the best of Lille (et ces environs, over the course of a three-day weekend).
Enjoy a walking tour of Vieux Lille (Old Lille) in the city center. Start with La Place Charles de Gaulle; climb up to the top of the Théâtre du Nord staircase for a great view of the square, check out the Vieille Bourse (Old Stock Market) which sells old books and antiques, and admire the beautiful Flemish architecture and narrow cobblestone streets. Walk through Rue de Béthune, Lille’s most well-known shopping street, or do some window shopping deep in Vieux Lille. Indulge in a regional Belgian beer and apéro at a local pub near the famous cathedral, Notre Dame de la Treille and have dinner out. My personal recommendations include La Belle Rose for its unique beer and amazing burgers, Bistrot Lillois for its regional dishes (Welsh, Carbonade Flamande, Moules Frites), or Vieux Basque for its fabulous cheese and sausage planches. Other bars in the area to check out include La Capsule, Imaginaire, Australian Bar, Le Lobby, Bar Braz and After Hours. You need to try at least one Belgian beer (Chouffe, Rince Cochon, and Karmelite are my favorites).
I have a couple of options for Saturday.
If you want to, take a trip to Belgium. Lille is only a few miles from the border and it’s easy to hop over on the weekend, where beer and chocolate are much cheaper than in France. During the weekends, there are a ton of BlaBla Cars. Additionally, Lille has a Trampoline Weekend Deal with SNCF and SNCB. When traveling between Lille and any train station in Belgium, round-trip, on the weekend, train tickets are 40% off. If you’ve never been to Belgium, stick to one of the highlights: Brussels, Bruges, or Ghent.
If you decide to stick around Lille, have an easy morning with a real French breakfast. Be sure to indulge in a fresh baguette from Northern France’s number one boulangerie, Maison Doucet (seriously, it won the regional competition for Meilleure Boulangerie de France reality show, and placed 7th in the national competition). Then, head over to the Beffroi de Lille, or the Belfry, which are a signature piece of architecture in northern France. Bring your student card for a discount and climb to the top, reading about Lille’s history along the way. Afterwards, hit up the local grocery store and load up on baguettes, cheese, ham, chips, and of course boxed wine and head to the nearest parks (either Parc Jean-Baptiste LeBas or Parc Vauban) for a picnic. Depending on where you are, eat, relax, and people watch, and then either head to Gare Saint Sauveur, an old train station converted into an exhibition / concert hall / bar, or the free Zoo next to Parc Vauban (There are also free bathrooms here!) Finally, stop to admire Le Palais de Beaux Arts (and go inside to visit if you’re interested in art), or just grab a coffee nearby. Saturday night, head out on the town near Rue Solferino (or as it’s better known in Lille, Rue de la Soif.) If you want to eat dinner out, I recommend La Gaiette (for local dishes). If you’re not looking to drink, see a show at L’Hybride, the short film cinema, try the Escape Game, or see a show at the Opéra. If you are looking to party, there are a TON of cool bars on this street, as well as a few night clubs (my favorite is Stairway, but the most popular is Smile).
After a long night out on Saturday, the best way to kick off any Sunday in Lille is with a visit to the famous Wazemmes Market. My favorite thing to do is buy a large chicken and some potatoes, heat them up in the oven, and then serve them for lunch. There are also a large variety of Arabic-influenced desserts and Vietnamese-styled food. The market is also a great place to have a beer (or a coffee) at 9 am and just people watch. There are all sorts of folks who come to this market and it is really a site to see (just watch out for pickpockets!)
If you have time to kill, I highly recommend heading to Roubaix via métro or tram to visit the famous La Piscine museum, and old municipal swimming pool converted into a museum (again, don’t forget your student card!) The architecture is beautiful and it is really a very unique museum.
If you’d rather spend time outside, take a bike ride using the V’Lille bike systems, or go for a run/walk along the canal. There are a ton of people out on Sundays and it’s a great chance to people watch!
Lille, although not the prettiest or most well-known city in France or Europe, is a great place to live, and a great place to spend a weekend. I hope I’ve convinced you to come spend a few days up here in the north (just don’t forget your umbrella!)