Second only to Parisian Louvre in the calibre of its collection, Lille's Fine Arts Museum (Palais des Beaux Arts) contains works by assorted great masters, the likes of Rubens and Manet. The basement level holds archaeological finds and miniature representations of the region's 18th-century fortified settlements.
The Lille suburb of Villeneuve-d'Ascq is worth the trip if only for its singular Modern Art Museum (Musée d'Art Moderne, d'Art Contemporain et d'Art Brut – LaM), which showcases works by celebrated modernists (such as Picasso and Modigliani, to name a couple), along with a noteworthy collection of outsider art.
First built in the 17th century following the seizing of Lille by French forces, the Citadel is an impressive star-shaped fortress which now houses the French Rapid Reaction Corps. Guided tours of the Citadel are held monthly. The park area surrounding the fortress contains pleasant greenery and the Lille Zoo.
Finally completed only at the turn of the current century, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-la-Treille bears striking dissimilarity to Gothic and Romanesque cathedrals across Europe - perhaps, due to its pronouncedly modern facade. The inside contains a crypt and sacred art museum.
Located only a short walk outside the old town, the Lille Zoo is a pleasant afternoon pastime for the whole family. Ticket prices are times lower than those at an average west European zoo, all animals are well looked after, and an impressive collection of species for a zoo of such compact size is represented.
The belfry of Lille's Hôtel de Ville shoots up a hundred metres into the sky, and is accessible via both stairs and an elevator (the latter means of reaching the top is recommended). From up top, a splendid view unfolds over the entire city, including a few local landmarks (although admittedly little of the old town).
The Hospice Comtesse Museum, or Musée de l'Hospice Comtesse, is a century-old once-hospital now open to visitors. The complex consists of a former hospital hall and an adjacent chapel. The English audio guide is informative and essential for those who do not speak French.
For honest, authentic Lillois fare, try this unpretentious eatery that serves a combination of French and Flemish dishes. Be warned: the offerings of northern French cuisine are generally rather straightforward, built on the foundation of meat and potatoes, with the occasional curiosity in the form of – in this case – bone marrow.
During the summer months, this atmospheric little eatery spills out onto the charming Place aux Oignons, where patrons tuck into hearty Flemish specialities. Cheese-lovers won't find themselves at a loss, and meals are welcome to be followed by a sweet crêpe or another local dessert.
The cosy old town restaurant offers a fusion menu of Flemish and international dishes, one of the most popular orders being the humble "Welsh" - essentially, toast smothered in cheese, with a few filling extras. Frequented by both locals and guests looking to experience northern French dining.
This atmospheric brasserie often stays open till the wee morning hours, entertaining guests with live music shows and fine food. It is a rather popular local dining spot, not least because of its great value French and Flemish cuisine. A "Chicorée" menu will set you back just over a dozen euros (includes starter or dessert, plus main).
Popularity of this corner restaurant is on the rise, and no wonder: dishes severed are all great value home-style cooking at its best. The star of the menu are the "pancooks" themselves - hollowed-out bread bowls stuffed with a mix of ingredients, sealed off with a generous helping of cheese.
Quai 38 is all hype among local seafood-lovers, for it is fresh seafood that the restaurant has its focus on. From scallops to lobster, to perfectly seared fish, there simply is no room to go wrong on the extensive and carefully thought out menu. Ring the day of booking to confirm the restaurant will be open.
Méert's gourmand history begins in the 18th century, when chocolate maker Delcourt opened his first boutique in Lille and started a real pastry revolution in the city. Nowadays, this tea salon is very popular for the exquisite cakes and pastries, along with, of course, the famous vanilla waffles: the best in Lille.
Despite its central location smack in the Grande Place of Lille, the cafe manages to keep its prices reasonable and slew of customers content. Grab a coffee and head to the second floor - if you're lucky, you might be able to secure a spot by the window, overlooking the very heart of the city.
It would be an abomination to leave northern France without sufficiently indulging in the region's speciality - galettes and crepes - and Beaurepaire lets you do just that, all at very reasonable prices. The menu variety astounds - from classics containing just egg and ham to much more elaborate concoctions (look out for the day's specials on the chalk board above the kitchen counter). The chef graciously agreed to take us in despite the scheduled afternoon break (2-7pm).
With multiple locations across the city, Notting Hill Coffee is an easy-to-find spot for a snack or a full meal accompanied by very decent coffee. In the food department, there are soups, salads, pasta, bagels, wraps, and all sorts of sandwiches; for dessert, pick from muffins, cookies, brownies, cakes and more.
This quirky bar is a find for any sci-fi, comic book, or even just pop culture enthusiasts. With regular thematic exhibitions and events, it attracts patrons with not only drinks but the thematic component, too, making for an entertaining pastime in the well-stocked game room.
This atmospheric bar in Lille's old town has, over the years, become a meeting place for the cultured elites, who rub shoulders with those outsiders who are lucky enough to stumble upon or learn of the place. The bar hosts live singers and serves a pleasant selection of drinks.
Following the closing of Lille's popular Magazine Club, Le Network now remains Lille's best of the kind for a night out on the dance floor. Le Network's indoor space is fit to host up to a few hundred party-goers, all dressed to the nines and ready to light up the night to house and electronic beats.
Bartown serves – rumour has it – some of the best cocktails in the city, with generous servings of fruit mounted on top of some of their concoctions. The atmosphere is pleasant and relaxed, forged by the establishment's jovial regulars. Meat and cheese platters complement the drinks.
The working-class, eclectic neighbourhood of Wazemmes contains Lille's most praised food market, the Marché de Wazemmes. On Sundays, trade spills out onto the adjacent outdoor area, making for an animated commercial affair. Nearby streets contain shops that minister to residents of North African origin.
Spread over an entire 8 floors, the stunning Furet du Nord is a bookstore that lays substantial claim to being the best in all of northern France. Genres represented vary greatly, from classics to manga comics, and a pleasant selection of English-language literature, along with local souvenirs, is also on offer.
The cheese boutique of a century-old family business is an absolute must: the family has long-dedicated itself to preserving rare varieties of cheeses and propelling the cheese-making tradition further. The boutique stocks cheeses sourced from small local producers.
The annual Braderie held in Lille the first weekend of September is a city-wide flea market, the largest one of its kind in Europe. For two days, the entire city transforms into an open-air marketplace featuring events and celebrations, as roughly two million shoppers make their way into town.
This compact old town store is truly a dream-come-true for all beer-lovers: the selection of artisan brews and beers from all over the region impresses and invites visitors to discover flavours they would never have elsewhere. Stocks a selection of other regional products.
What makes this particular wine shop stand out from competition is the owner, Aurélien, who is a wine connoisseur and enthusiast that prides himself on being personally involved in tasting and independently selecting each wine represented at the boutique. Quality is, therefore, at the forefront. Wine tastings are held frequently; check the website for schedules.
France can be visited visa-free for up to 90 days by citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Israel, UAE and most countries in America. If you are unsure whether or not you need to apply for a visa, we recommend contacting the embassy or consulate in your country. International (non-Schengen) travelers need a passport that is valid for at least 3 months after the end of their intended trip in order to enter the Schengen zone. Citizens of Schengen countries can travel without a passport, but must have a valid ID with them during their stay.
The best times of year to visit Lille are late spring and summer, when warm temperatures allow for walks and outdoor pursuits. The first weekend of September is also an interesting time to visit, since this is when Lille hosts its historic "braderie", a large-scale, city-wide flea market that attracts 2 million visitors annually.
The Lille-Lesquin Airport is located 7 kilometres away from the city centre. A shuttle bus service is offered and runs between the airport and the Euralille shopping centre (next to the main train station of Lille), and the journey lasts 20 minutes. Taxis can also be hired at the airport (check out this link to see the taxi firms that serve Lille Airport and some fares examples: www.lille.aeroport.fr/getting-to-the-airport/taxis). Lille can also be reached by train or bus from Brussels, and direct bus routes exist between the Brussels South Charleroi Airport and the city of Lille (check the flibco shuttles www.flibco.com).
Lille has a well-developed public transportation system, managed by Transpole, comprising metro, tram, and bus lines. Transpole has two underground lines which share the different areas of the city. The bus service include many lines which entirely cover the city of Lille. The service also include a night line (every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night) et a shuttle for the old city (with departures every 10-15 minutes, Monday to Saturday, from 7:00 to 21:00). Lastly, two tram lines serve nine districts of the city. Tickets for every mean of transport can be purchased both at the stations and online. For further information about tarifs: www.transpole.fr/fr/32-les-titres-occasionnels.
There are several taxi ranks across the city (Boulevard de Leeds at Lille Europe station or on Place de Buisses at Lille Flandres station). Multiple taxi-to-order companies operate in Lille, some of which include: TaxisLille +33 7 60 06 61 61 www.taxislille.com Taxi Flandres +33 6 05 05 05 01 www.taxi-flandres.com