Lille (Dutch: Rijsel) is the capital of the Hauts-de-France region in northern France and the core of one of the largest metropolitan agglomerations in the country. Historically, it has also been the capital of Flanders, and later an industrial powerhouse, thanks to which it now boasts a large and handsome historic centre. Today, it is known as a major economic and academic centre, with a very large student population. Situated at the literal crossroads of Europe, Lille is within a 90-minute train ride from Paris, Brussels and London.
Lille is France's fifth largest metropolitan area, and its most northerly. The city sits on the Deûle River, very near to the border with Belgium. The whole metropolitan area of Lille, which covers both French and Belgian territory and includes Kortrijk and Tournai, is estimated to have more than 2.1 million inhabitants. It is the capital of the Hauts-de-France region and the prefecture of the Nord department.
While the area of present-day Lille has been inhabited since as early as 2000 BC, the first mention of the city itself dates back to 1066, when it was referred to as apid Insulam in Latin. Meaning "at the island", this toponym is reflected in both the French and Dutch names of the city, both being contractions of the same expression (L'île and ter ijsel).
Most visitors will probably arrive by train at Gare de Lille Europe or Gare de Lille Flandres. It is possible to land at the Charles de Gaulle Paris airport and then continue by train, but do not try this at the Ryanair's Paris airport (Beauvais) as there is no train connection at all and the only bus is back to Paris itself.
Lille has its own international airport, but it is mostly served by flights to holiday destinations around the Mediterranean and other airports within France. That said, proximity to Paris and Brussels allows one to use the airports of either metropolis to visit Lille, especially those with direct train connections to Lille. Visitors from other continents may also entertain the option of landing in one of London's airports and transferring to a Eurostar train to Lille from the British capital.
- 1 Lille Lesquin International Airport (LIL IATA). This airport is small but convenient for entering Lille or travelling on to nearby areas across the border in Belgium. Both major and budget airlines operate scheduled services. Unlike larger airports there is hardly any walking as the check-in desks are directly inside the entrance and the security gates are directly behind the check-ins. A direct coach connects to central Lille (stops outside the main railway station) in 20 minutes, and runs once an hour costing €7 one-way, while a return ticket is €9. A taxi into the centre costs about €20.
- 2 Brussels South Charleroi Airport (CRL IATA). Located some 120 km (75 mi) from Lille, BSCA offers a wide range of European destinations through low-costs giants Ryanair and Wizzair, as well as a few other LCCs. It is a popular option with Lille's student population. Reaching the Belgian airport can be tricky without a car, though Flibco offers an hourly service to the airport. The journey lasts 1 hr 40 min and can cost as little as €5; Otherwise, you can take a train from Lille-Flandres train station to Charleroi, then hop on the bus to the airport. This journey should take you a little more than 2 hr.
Lille has two major train stations:
- 3 [dead link] Gare de Lille Europe. Lille Europe lies at the heart of the Brussels-Paris-London high-speed rail corridor. TGV and Eurostar trains stop here; the TGV / Thalys journey from Brussels takes little more than 30 minutes, the TGV from Paris about an hour, and the Eurostar from London an hour and 22 minutes through the Channel Tunnel.
- Check the SNCF website to see train timetables
If you are travelling from the United Kingdom, Eurostar is the best option to reach Lille through the Channel Tunnel. The journey time to Gare de Lille Europe is 1hr 22 mins from London St Pancras International, 1hr 8 mins from Ebbsfleet and just 56 mins from Ashford. Train connections run regularly by ferry from Calais.
Lille is also linked by TGV to Lyon (3 hours), Nantes (4 hours), Strasbourg (3.20 hours), and Marseille (5 hours).
Another option is to take the TER or the regional, slower moving trains, where a ticket can be purchased fairly cheap to many locations in France and Belgium. The transit bureau for the Nord-Pas-de-Calais offers weekend "Trampoline" passes, where a round trip on TER trains between Lille and several Belgian cities can be purchased for a set price of €20-40, with the freedom of choosing your own train times. Be careful though: depending on the train, cities may be referred to by either their French or Dutch names, which can get confusing.
The tickets of all those companies can be purchased on Sobus.
By public transport
Lille has two metro lines that connect the centre of the city with several suburbs, and two tram lines from Gare de Lille Flandres to Roubaix and Tourcoing, two other major cities in the Hautes de France region.
There are also bus lines that service all parts of the city.
- Transpole Public transportation in Lille, In French, English and Dutch.
Single tickets are €1.60 + a €0.20 charge for the rechargeable ticket. 24 hour day passes are available for €4.80 - other ticket types are available for longer stays. Machines accept cash and cards. The tickets cover the Transpole metro, buses and trams to any destination - longer distance intercity trains (to Roubaix for example) require separate tickets.
Lille is a cultural and commercial hub with a wide range of restaurants, bars, clubs, museums, shopping malls, and more. A highlight is the old city with beautiful, Flemish influenced architecture. The night life, thanks to the city's large student population, is cutting edge and lively. It is a diverse, dynamic, and beautiful city--there is something in Lille that will appeal to everyone.
- 1 La Vieille Bourse. Built in 1653, this is a historic and beautiful building with an atrium style opening and inner court. Located between two picturesque squares, Place du Général-de-Gaulle and Place du Théâtre, this former commercial exchange still plays a central part in the life of the city. Within the inner court, you may find antique booksellers, posters, and other hidden gems.
- 2 Place du Général-de-Gaulle (La grand place). The main square of Lille. It has many beautiful, Flemish inspired buildings, like the headquarters of local newspaper La Voix du Nord and a fountain with the statue of a goddess, "la Grande Déesse" (1843). There are myriad restaurants, bars, and stylish shopping centers located around the square.
- 3 Place Rihour. Surrounded by restaurants, houses the tourist information centre inside its main attraction, the Palais Rihour (1453).
- 4 Town Hall (Hôtel de Ville), Rue Augustin Laurent. The Town Hall and its 104 meter tall Belfry is a historical monument and Unesco World Heritage Site. The belfry is open to visitors from Tuesday to Sunday. You can access this site by getting off at the metro station Mairie de Lille.
- 5 Opera, 2 rue des Bons Enfants, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Built in 1923.
- 6 Chamber of Commerce (Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie Grand Lille), Place du Théàtre. Built in 1921, now an upscale co-working and office building. Offers a magnificent sight, especially when lit-up at night.
- 7 Citadelle. A masterpiece of 17th century defensive military architecture, built in the reign of Louis XIV and designed by Vauban, the famous French military architect. In the same area is a zoo (free of charge) and a lovely park.
- 8 [dead link] Cathédrale Notre Dame de la Treille. The construction of this cathedral started in 1854 and was eventually finished only in 1999.
- Take a stroll through the old quarter of the city, known as Vieux Lille, and enjoy the cobble-stone streets, the variety of stylish designer shops, gourmet restaurants, and museums. At Christmas Town, you may visit the Christmas Market, take a ride on the ferris wheel in the main square, and take pictures with Father Noel by Christmas Lights. More notable streets like Rue de la Monnaie and Rue Esquermoise are definitely worth the trip.
- 9 Palais des Beaux-Arts, Place de la République, ☏ . M: 14:00-18:00. W-Su: 10:00-18:00. Closed on Tuesdays. A famed museum covering European art from the 15th to 20th century. There are myriad events open to all, including night events and festivals. €7 regular, €4 concession and evening tickets (entry from 16:30, except for weekends).
- 10 Museum of Natural History, 19 Rue de Bruxelles, ☏ . A large collection of stuffed mammals, insects, fossils, etc.
- 11 Musée de l'Hospice Comtesse, 32 Rue de la Monnaie, ☏ . A former hospital now presenting art.
- 12 Musée d'Art et d' Industrie de Roubaix : La Piscine, 23 Rue de l'Espérance, Roubaix, ☏ . A 20th century art museum built around a former swimming bathhouse. The main room features a swimming pool.
- 13 [dead link] LAM - Lille Art Modern Museum, 1 Allée du Musée, Villeneuve-d'Ascq, ☏ . Modern art, outsider art, contemporary art.
- 14 Birth House of Charles de Gaulle (Maison Natale de Charles de Gaulle), 9 Rue Princesse, ☏ . The birthplace of Charles de Gaulle, Leader of the French Resistance and later President of France.
- The subway in the long-distance train station Lille Europe is an attraction on its own. In the expansive, main hallway, the wall is covered in a beautiful, large mural depicting various famous landmarks around the world.
- 1 Théatre Sebastopol, Place Sébastopol, ☏ . One of the most famous theatres of Lille.
- Chalice Sound System hold regular reggae gigs at various locations around Lille. Check their Facebook page to know when the next event will be.
- 2 La Braderie. The largest flea market in Europe, held every September for which millions of people come to Lille. You will find everything: paintings, antiques, ornaments, furniture, clothing, art, and more. The traditional food of the braderie is moules-frites, or mussels and fries, usually paired with a refreshing local beer. You will find many restaurants selling this meal for an affordable price. Tourists and locals alike will be partying, eating, and drinking, in a very lively, fun atmosphere.
- The annual Christmas Market. A must for visitors. You can access this market from the main square, where you can also enjoy the ferris wheel and Christmas lights strung up all throughout the old city. The beautiful lights, warm atmosphere, local shops, and restaurants make this enjoyable for everyone. There are unique, local shops that sell items such as handmade soaps, artisanal honey, saucisson, and handmade crafts. There are many food stalls that sell a range of delicious Christmas food such as hot, spiced wine, pretzels, tartiflette, raclette, warm waffles with your choice of sweet topping, cider, soup, chocolate, and even cocktails.
Lille has a very large student population, thanks to the many schools and universities located in the city. There is also a significant international student population, thanks to the Erasmus program.
- Business schools: Skema, Edhec, IAE Lille, IESEG School of Management, etc..
- Engineer: École centrale de Lille, ENSAM, HEI, ISEN etc..
- University: Lille 1 (Scientific), Lille 2 (Medicine,Law,Political Science,Management,Sports) (and the IEP Lille), Lille 3 (Human Sciences, Arts and Letters), Lille Catholic University (Multi-disciplinary)
For any foreign students wishing to come to Lille, the following website could come in handy: Web Site du Crous
- ICL-Clarife is the language centre for the Institut Catholique de Lille, France's largest private university. Located in the heart of Lille, ICL-Clarife organises complete French language and civilisation study programmes for non-Francophones. Web Site ICL-Clarife
- The open market, 1 Marché de Wazemmes. Open every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday morning, but the busiest day is definitely Sunday. Vendors sell everything from fresh fruits and vegetables, Moroccan, Mediterranean, and Vietnamese food, books, stationery, suitcases, shoes, clothes, and even perfume and undergarments! Be sure to pick up a bag of fresh clementines, a bright bouquet of fresh-cut flowers, some rotisserie chicken and roast potatoes for lunch, and a glass of beer at one of many little pubs surrounding the market.
- The pedestrian streets just past Grand Place (rue de Béthune, rue Neuve, Rue du Sec Arembault, rue des Tanneurs, etc.) offer popular clothing chain stores such as Etam, Pimkie, Zara, H&M, Sinéquanone, as well as small pubs, restaurants, and two large cinemas. These buildings reflect beautiful architectural designs and styles from the 1930s.
- 2 Euralille. Lille's largest shopping mall and offers popular clothing chains as well as the Carrefour hypermarket. It is located between Gare Lille Flandres and Gare Lille Europe in the heart of the city, making it wonderfully accessible to travelers coming into Lille. Stores include Primark, Zara, H&M, Timberland, Nike, and anything else you could think of.
- 3 Le Furet du Nord. A bookstore located in the Place du Général de Gaulle. It is the largest bookstore in Europe with eight floors and more than 420,000 titles. It is a perfect place to spend a day.
- Printemps. A luxury department store located in Vieux Lille offering brands such as Burberry, Chanel, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Louis Vuitton, and more.
- There are dozens of upscale boutiques (e.g. Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Hugo Boss, Kenzo) and trendier, independent stores and restaurants located in Vieux Lille.
Food lovers will find themselves in a foodie heaven in Lille. The dishes of the north are delicious, hearty, and warming, and restaurants pride themselves on serving authentic food at affordable prices. Typical dishes include Potjevleesch, the Welsh, which is a hearty melt of cheddar cheese and fried egg, carbonnade flamande, a hearty beef stew, and, of course, moules frites. Try the maroilles cheese if you're feeling brave--it's the special cheese of Lille with a powerful odor.
Those with a sweet tooth will find hundreds of little patisseries and boulangeries selling more cakes, pastries, and macarons than they knew existed along with an exquisite number of chocolate shops. Guillaume Vincent (12 Rue du Cure Saint Etienne), sells beautifully decorated, rich chocolates.
One of the more popular and affordable (but greasy) eating options are the multitude of kebab shops around the city. For a few euro, you can get a hearty sandwich with shaved chicken or lamb with a side of frites. A local speciality is the kebab with "Fricandelles": sausages that are native to this region. These are a great (and more local) alternative to a fast food chain for a quick bite.
A Lille must have: Delicious stuffed waffles enjoyed at Meert, probably the most beautiful pâtisserie in France. These waffles were the favorite of President Charles de Gaulle. Meert is located on the Rue Esquermoise next to the Grand Place (place du Général de Gaulle). Take the metro Line 1 and get off at station Rihour. There is a another location at the Piscine (Museum of Arts and Industry) of Roubaix (Station: Gare Jean Lebas on Line 2). Pastries bought here are to be enjoyed fully and without self restraint.
- Le Flams, 8 rue du Pas (near La Grand Place). From €11.40 for the "all you can eat" flammekueche menu. A flammekueche is an Alsacian speciality with crème fraîche, onions, and bacon on a thin crust of dough. Yummy.
- Pâtisserie du Lion d'Or, Place du Lion d'Or. This pâtisserie has all sorts of goodies, including THE best croissants in Lille.
- Sherlock, 150 Rue Solférino. Delicious, hearty pub food with a British influence. Great hamburgers and selection of beer on tap.
- Les Delices de l'Inde, 22 rue Sainte Anne. Lovely family run restaurant serving the best Indian food in Lille. Authentic and home cooked.
- Friterie des Lilas, 40 rue Saint Gabriel. The most delicious, homemade fries in Lille. Over 10 sauces to choose from, fries served with side salad and sausage.
- Creperie de la Vielle Bourse, 6 rue des 7 Agaches. Delicious Bretagne crepes in a historic building.
- Il Piccolino, 57 rue Sainte Catherine. Italian, pizza, and Mediterranean food. Serves pizza of the highest quality.
- Kyoto, 44 Place de la Gare. Good Japanese food including sushi, sashimi.
- You can try some of Lille's famous "estaminets" (typical restaurants): for instance rue de Gand has two nice restaurants: T'Rijsel and Chez la vieille. The atmosphere is very agreeable, and you can taste some of Lille's typical dishes: Potje'vleesch, Carbonade flamande etc. These restaurants, being rather notorious in Lille, are very popular and it is strongly recommended to book a table two or three days in advance.
- Brasserie Flore, place Rihour (just beside La Chicorée, near 'Rihour' subway station.). Large choice of good meals. Menus from €13.50.
- Crowne Plaza Euralille, 335, Boulevard de Leeds, 59777 Euralille. Newly opened in December 2002, this modern hotel has light airy rooms with long rectangular windows, giving excellent view over the city of Lille. Opposite Lille Europe train station, just a short walk to the historic heart of the city. Restaurant offering excellent buffet meals and "à la carte".
- La Chicorée, place Rihour (just beside le Flore, near 'Rihour' subway station). Food served nearly 24/24 and 7/7. Typical meals, typical beers. But do not expect to find excellent food here : this restaurant may just be useful if you don't know where to have dinner at 3 in the morning...Do not miss the awesome plate collection on the walls. Each was signed by an artist or a famous person, as La Chicorée is the place were they usually eat after the show. You might even meet someone famous if you try it after 2 or 3 am!!! It's also the place where a lot of casual people eat at night, after their job, after a trip in café, after a show... It's of course rather popular with tourists, but if you wish to appreciate Lille's cuisine at its best, try some other place. Menus from 13.50€.
- L'Omnia, 9 Rue Esquermoise. The entrance of this restaurant/bar is difficult to miss and situated close to la Grand Place. Ramps and murals combine to create a perspective that evokes the feeling of being in Alice in Wonderland. Inside the decor appeals to the same childish sense of wonder- all red lights and plush, appropriate to this ex-theatre and ex-brothel (you'll find the history of the building on the placemats). The food itself is affordable - the lunch time menu starts from €9. The 'potjevles' are regional specialty but recommended only to the adventurous. Otherwise, the chicken tikka skewers are very enjoyable. The bar also seems to be very proud of their wide range of beers, and the wine was reasonably priced and good.
- Pubstore, 44 rue de la Halle. This somewhat intimate restaurant is a great place for lunch or dinner. Candles on each table make it a nice spot for couples to have a quiet dinner. The menu, found under the glass tabletop, is full of diverse, delicious dishes. Each dish also has a clever name, usually a play on words.
- L’ Gaïette, 30, rue Masséna. The menu in this restaurant focuses on regional specialties and is written in Ch'ti, the local patois/dialect. Great food and a warm, friendly waitstaff make this restaurant a great place to have dinner.
- Pancook, 125 rue Colbert. This restaurant is a perfect spot for lunch and dinner offering high quality, delicious meals for a reasonable price. Restaurant specials are Flemish-influenced, including regional dishes such as potjevleesch and carbonnade flamande.
- Le Compostelle, rue saint-Etienne. May offer some good dishes in a beautiful environment.
- The Barbue d'Anvers, rue St Etienne. Flemish cuisine.
- Monsieur Jean, Rue Pierre Mauroy (right next to the Vielle Bourse). Fancy restaurant
- L'Huitriere, rue des Chats Bossus. Behind the early 20th century art-nouveau fish store lay one of the best seafood and fish restaurants in the country, appreciated by many famous people. The upscale restaurant is definitely closed, but you can still have oysters (and other small seafood) with a drink on the 1st floor
Lille has an amazing nightlife, wonderful bars and nightclubs, and a world of drinks to try. Because it is the north of France, beer is the most popular drink. Try as many kinds as you can, including Belgian ales which are very popular.
Rue Solferino has many bars and clubs. This is the street to visit if you enjoy a lively nightlife and party scene. On Rue Masséna, you will also find countless bars, nightclubs, and restaurants including small delicious kebab stands that are open late until the wee hours of early morning.
- Coming Out. LGBT-friendly bar. This relatively new bar has a diverse clientele. Virginie and Alain, the friendly, personable owners and operators, are there every day, working hard to make their clients happy, and they are! Red walls, blue lights, and a black bar create a very cool environment with ample seating in comfortable chairs. Open from 5 PM on, stop in for a beer or a cocktail (the specials are written on the chalkboard on the wall), or ask about their Karaoke or other special nights.
- Maison du Moulin D'Or (Morel & Fils), 31 Place du théâtre, ☏ . This place used to be "une bonneterie," which is still reflected in the decorations inside. Dress forms, wooden dolls, cloth, and beautiful colors (soft sea green and pink) are found throughout two floors. A great place to stop for a coffee or beer when you're out and about.
- The Drugstore, 21 Rue Royale, ☏ . Very small, groovy lounge with two floors and a few tables outside when the weather warms up. Ambient music and orange lighting complement the vintage-looking movie and music posters on the walls. My advice: grab a table upstairs - the chairs are comfy and you can see down onto the street and people-watch. This bar is more for cocktails than beer, and their happy hour special offers all their cocktails for €6.
- Café Oz/The Australian Bar, 33, Place des Bettignies, ☏ . Café Oz / The Australian Bar, 33, Place des Bettignies. Very cool bar with a lively atmosphere, good mix of music played, and a mélange of Francophone and Anglophone bartenders. They also have a terrace open during the day when the weather warms up for those who wish to enjoy an afternoon refreshment. Check their website or head on in and ask about their various happy hour specials, which fluctuate depending on the day/season.
- La Capsule, 25 Rue des trois Mollettes. Specializes in French and foreign artisanal beers on tap and bottled. Over 100 choices of beer to choose from. Cozy, wonderful interior, perfect to meet friends in.
- Le Quai des Bananes, 84 Rue Royale. Every type of cocktail you can think of if you'd like a change from beer.
- Le Lobby, 10 Rue Royale (A large beer, draft beers at reasonable prices). Popular with college students.
- Salsa the night away at Le Latina Café, 42/44 Rue Masséna. You will find all things Cuban including portraits of Che Guevara, hot Spanish tunes, and their famous Havana Club Mojitos. As well, indulge in a Desperado (tequila beer) or two. Drinks are a bit pricier, but the ambiance makes it all worth it.
- Pub Mac Ewan's, 8 place Sébastopol. offers about 140 different beers Starting at €1.90.
- Hermitage Bar (in the Hermitage Gantois). Luxury hotel is open to the general public (dress appropriately). It is one of the most refined spots to enjoy a drink in Lille (priced accordingly). The hotel also hosts art exhibitions that you can enjoy free of charge.
- La Part des Anges, 50 Rue de la Monnaie.
- Le Farafina, 165 bis, rue de Solferino.
- 1 Alliance Lille, 17 Quai du Wault, ☏ . Luxury hotel in the center of Lille. Seminars organization.
- 2 Citadines City Centre Lille, Avenue Willy Brandt - Euralille, ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. The residence is near to the railway station. Each apartment houses a bathroom with a separate toilet, a separate kitchen area complete with stove, microwave, fridge and dishwasher, and TV with cable channels. 5 apartments are equipped for people with reduced mobility. Daily rates starts from €96.
- Lille Hostel. An HI hostel, about €17.30/night.
- Nord Hotel. Situated in the southern part of Lille, about a ten minute ride on the subway away from the centre of town. When first arriving, the area seems a bit intimidating, but is actually quite quiet. Fairly basic accommodation. Small, clean room and friendly staff. €60/night for a twin room.
- 3 Hotel Brueghel, 5 Parvis Saint-Maurice, ☏ . Peacefully overlooking a church, but in a very central location. about €80/night, 3/5 Parvis Saint-Maurice.
- 4 Mister Bed City Lille, 57, Rue de Béthune, ☏ . Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 12:00. Central location, basic but clean. Approx €60.
- 5 Hôtel Carlton, 3 Rue Pierre Mauroy (opposite the Opéra), ☏ . €110-150.
- 6 Novotel Suites Gare Lille Europe, Boulevard de Turin, 59000 Lille, ☏ , ✉ H5240@ACCOR.COM. Check-in: 12:00, check-out: 12:00. Located just opposite the train station, with entrance right in front of where the long-distance coaches stop. Spacious studio apartments for up to 3 adults or a family of 4, all with both a bath and a shower, as well as a separate toilet. Basic self-catering facilities, incl. microwave, in every room. Breakfast is very basic and better taken care of by means of shopping around than paying extra at hotel. No views to speak of and a bit of a walk from the historic city centre. Starting at €60 per room per night.
Despite its charm and dynamic vibe, Lille is seen as a dangerous city rife with social issues by most French people. As a former industrial powerhouse, Lille suffered greatly from deindustrialization right up until the late 1990s. Even if the city and its metropolitan area have made a remarkable economic comeback, crime-related issues are more common here than in other French cities.
During the daytime, taking the basic precautions you would take elsewhere should suffice to avoid trouble. However, do be cautious at night and try to stick to well-lit streets. Try to avoid Lille's southern neighborhoods as much as possible.
By far the most common issue you will encounter is pickpocketing, which is particularly common on the Metro, railway station, and in crowded areas (especially on Saturday nights). Alcohol and drug fueled behaviors are also common; this is exacerbated by the large student population.
Finally, Lille has one of France's most visible homeless populations. They tend to be more aggressive than in other cities, so watch out for any dubious-looking individuals.
- Greece, 21 Rue Jules Ferry, 59370 Mons-en-Barœul, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Bruges - Train from Lille to Kortrijk (€6) and from Kortrijk to Bruges (€8).
- Kortrijk and Tournai — Belgian cities close to the French border, part of the metropolitan area of Lille. Easily reachable by train via cheaper special tickets, named Trampoline [dead link] offers. For €8 you can make a day trip to one of these two cities.