11 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Lille
A worthwhile detour between Paris and Brussels leads to Lille, the largest city in French Flanders-the region of northern France that borders Belgium. Lille is the historic capital of Flanders, which only became part of France in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht. The Flemish influence is seen in the city's elegant Flemish Baroque architecture and hearty cuisine. Lilloise gastronomy incorporates typical Belgian dishes such as "moules-frites" (mussels and French fries) as well as unique local specialties like "waterzoï" (fish or poultry in cream sauce with vegetables) and "potjevleesch" (potted meat terrine). Visitors will also enjoy wandering the charming pedestrian streets and seeing the cultural attractions. A world-class fine arts museum, the avant-garde cathedral and Charles de Gaulle's birthplace are among the highlights. With its interesting sights, pleasant city center, and friendly atmosphere, Lille is a vibrant urban destination without any pretensions.
See also: Where to Stay in Lille
1 Place du Général de Gaulle (Grand Place)
The bustling main square of Lille, the Place du Général de Gaulle is surrounded by stately Renaissance and Baroque Flemish buildings with Neoclassical facades. Also known as the Grand Place, the square is a favorite meeting place for Lillois. This center of social activity is filled with cafés and brasseries. In the middle of the square, the Goddess monument commemorates Lille's resistance to the Austrian siege of September 1792. At the top of the column, the bronze Goddess holds in her right hand a linstock used to light the fuses on cannons. An engraved inscription on the base of the column reads: "The courageous response of the Mayor of Lille, André, who refused to surrender the besieged city." The Goddess was sculpted in 1845 by Théophile Bra, who also created bas-reliefs on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
On the south side of the square is one of Lille's most beautiful buildings, the Vieille Bourse (Old Stock Exchange), which was established in 1652. The Vieille Bourse is 24 houses that surround an arcaded courtyard. Exemplifying ornate Flemish Baroque style, the courtyard features a monument to Napoleon I at the center and is a hub of city life, where locals can be seen playing games of chess and shopping for tomes at the secondhand book market. Also found on the Place du Général de Gaulle is the Grand Garde, former housing for sentry guard soldiers, that was converted to the Théâtre du Nord.
2 Palais des Beaux-Arts (Fine Arts Museum)
The Palais des Beaux-Arts is considered the second most important museum in France after the Louvre. Renowned for its size and quality, this prestigious art collection is housed in an expansive 22,000 square meter building. The collection includes masterpieces of European painting by Rubens, Van Dyck, Goya, and Delacroix. There are also wonderful examples of 19th-century French painting such as David's Belisarius and Courbet's L'après-dînée à Ornans. Other highlights are the series of drawings by Raphaël and a sculpture gallery with pieces by Rodin and other artists. Those who appreciate military history will enjoy the 18th-century relief maps of fortified towns in Northern France and Belgium (which were used by French Kings during wars).
Address: Place de la République, Lille (Take metro line 1 to République Beaux-Arts stop)
3 Musée Louvre-Lens
About 30 minutes away from Lille, the Musée Louvre-Lens is a sleek modern museum located in parkland that was formerly a coal mining site. The Louvre-Lens Museum boasts an exhibit of more than 200 artworks from the Louvre Museum in Paris and has become a prestigious cultural attraction in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region. The Grande Galerie of the museum is a spectacular 3,000-square-meter space that displays artworks in a novel way, without being separated into rooms. The museum is curated by Jean-Luc Martinez, the director of the Louvre Antiquities Department, and Vincent Pomarède, the director of the Louvre Paintings Department. This world-class museum is a worthwhile excursion from Lille and is easy to access thanks to a regular shuttle bus service.
4 Musée d'Art Moderne, Villeneuve d'Ascq
About 12 kilometers northeast of Lille is Villeneuve d'Ascq, renowned for its prestigious Museum of Modern Art. One of the most important museums of 20th-century and 21st-century art in northern Europe, this is the only museum in France to gather such a comprehensive collection of modern art. The museum displays more than 4,500 works in 4,000 square meters of exhibition space. The exhibits include works by Braque, Kandinsky, Klee, Miró, Modigliani, and Picasso. The museum owes its collection to a donation from the Masurel family, and the museum founders were among the leading private collectors of Cubist art in France. Tourists can also take advantage of the museum's café, restaurant, museum shop, bookstore, and educational workshops. Temporary exhibits are held in a new annex.
Address: 1 allée du Musée, 59650 Villeneuve d'Ascq
5 Musée de l'Hospice Comtesse
In the heart the old town, the Musée de l'Hospice Comtesse occupies a medieval hospital founded in 1237 by the Countess Jeanne de Flandre. The Countess built the hospital in a wing of her own palace. A visit to this museum allows tourists to admire the decorations of a Flemish palace from the 15th, 17th, and 18th centuries. In the kitchen are traditional Lille earthenware tiles in the Delft style. Throughout the palace are exquisite paintings, art objects, and intricately carved Flemish furniture. The museum grounds include the old hospital ward and a chapel that belonged to Augustine nuns. Arranged around two courtyards, these buildings now display a collection of tapestries, sculpture, and porcelain from the 17th-century Flemish convent. There is also access to the old pharmacy and medicinal garden, which provide an insight into the hospitable vocation of the place.
6 Eglise Saint-Maurice
The Eglise Saint-Maurice is a beautiful Gothic church that was founded in the 14th century. The church has been renovated several times, as recently as the 19th century, yet has retained a sense of architectural unity. With its tower on the facade, the building is an example of an "Hallekerque" (barn-like church), a type of structure adapted to the fragile, marshy soil of Flanders. The Saint-Maurice Church is also distinguished by its harmonious interior featuring five aisles and 36 tall columns. The sanctuary is decorated with 17th- and 18th-century paintings by Lille artists. In one of the chapels, there is an interesting 16th-century statue that depicts "Christ's Scourging." The central chapel is devoted to Sainte Barbe, patroness of Lille artillerymen who defended the town. During the French Revolution, the church became known as a "Temple of Reason."
Another interesting church nearby is the Eglise Sainte-Catherine on Rue Royale, which is lined by lovely historical buildings. This 15th-century Gothic church boasts an exceptional painting, the Martyrdom of Saint Catherine by Rubens, in the north aisle. At the other end of Rue Royale is the Eglise Saint-André, an 18th-century church built for the Order of Carmelites.
Address: Eglise Saint-Maurice, Rue de Paris, Lille
7 Rang du Beauregard
The elegant 17th-century buildings of the Rang du Beauregard stand resplendent on the Place du Théâtre opposite the Vieille Bourse. The row of houses was created in 1687 by Simon Vollant based on guidelines from the City Council of Lille to achieve uniformity of architecture in the city center. The buildings were required to conform to specific design standards aligning with the Vieille Bourse. Builders had to follow a blueprint of three floors with an attic above and were only allowed to use stone and brick. The buildings feature simple classical lines with decorative cartouches such as scrolls, cornucopias, and angels. The Rang du Beauregard exemplifies Lilloise Neoclassical Baroque style and is intertwined with the history of Lille. In the facades are cannonballs from the 1792 Siege of Lille by the Austrians.
Address: Place du Théâtre, Lille
8 Cathédrale Notre-Dame de la Treille
Built in 1854, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de la Treille is a Neo-Gothic structure with surprising modern architectural details. Lille has been renowned since the Middle Ages for its special statue of the Virgin Mary protected by an iron trellis. The cathedral takes its name "Notre-Dame de la Treille" ("Our Lady of the Trellis") from this statue. The cathedral was designed by architect Pierre-Louis Carlier in collaboration with Peter Rice, the engineer for the Sydney Opera House and the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Initially the church was planned to be a massive size of 132 meters long with spires reaching over 115 meters. However, financial difficulties (because of wars) limited the scale of the project. The cathedral was finally completed in the 1990s and inaugurated in 1999. The most remarkable feature of the building is its translucent "veil," a metal structure that covers the central section of the cathedral-giving the sanctuary an orange-pink glow. Inside are stunning stained-glass windows and a collection of spiritual paintings.
Take a short walk north of the cathedral to visit the Eglise Sainte-Marie-Madeleine. Built in 1675, this church boasts an attractive Baroque design and an impressive 50-meter high dome; the facade dates from 1884.
Address: Place Gilleson, Lille
9 Maison Natale Charles de Gaulle (Charles de Gaulle Museum)
One of France's greatest statesmen, Charles de Gaulle was born in Lille on November 22, 1890 and baptized at the nearby Saint-André Church. His birthplace and childhood home on 9 Rue Princess is listed as a Historic Monument. The home has been restored and converted into a museum. Visitors can tour the home to view a collection of family mementos and other personal items including Charles de Gaulle's cradle, his christening robe, and a Saint-Cyr sword from his youth. A multimedia center provides a historic overview of Charles de Gaulle's life and accomplishments.
Address: 9 Rue Princess, Lille (Take Bus 14 or 50 to Les Bateliers stop)
10 Lille Flea Market (Braderie de Lille)
The biggest flea market in Europe, the Braderie de Lille is held every year during the first weekend of September. Thousands of exhibitors sell their wares at open-air flea market stalls placed throughout the city. Items for sale include books, old records, vintage porcelain, antique silverware, clothing, jewelry, artisan crafts, and artwork. This lively event feels more like a festival than a flea market; it draws huge crowds and features a food and drink fair plus a carnival. Tourists will enjoy the local street food including mussels, French fries, grilled fish, and other regional specialties.
11 Musée d'Art et d'Industrie André Diligent (La Piscine in Roubaix)
This exceptional museum is housed in an unexpected venue-the former Art Déco swimming baths in Roubaix, 14 kilometers from Lille. The swimming baths (no longer used for swimming) provide a unique setting for the museum's collection. A few examples of Picasso ceramics and an interesting display of 19th- and 20th-century sculptures encircle the decorative pool, while galleries of art on three floors display collections of textiles, drawings, clothing, and accessories. After viewing the artwork, visitors may relax in the garden and enjoy a casual meal at the restaurant, which features indoor seating and an outdoor terrace. The museum's boutique offers a selection of books, postcards, games, and jewelry.
Address: 23 Rue de la Espérance, 59100 Roubaix
Where to Stay in Lille for Sightseeing
Although several of Lille's top attractions are in smaller surrounding towns, those in Lille itself are quite close together. The main square, Place du Général de Gaulle (more commonly called Grand Place) is not far west of the rail station, and between them is the church of St. Maurice. Just to the north is the old town, Vieux-Lille, and the Musée de l'Hospice Comtesse. About the same distance south of Grand Place is Lille's outstanding Palais des Beaux-Arts museum. Close to these landmarks are these highly-rated hotels in Lille:
- Luxury Hotels: A block from Grand Place is Best Western Premier Why Hotel, whose large rooms have balconies and coffee/tea makers. South of the center, near the Beaux-Arts museum, L'Hermitage Gantois Autograph Collection has a glass-covered courtyard connecting its several buildings, which include a 15th-century church. Stylishly decorated rooms at Novotel Lille Centre Grand Place are close to Grand Place and the restaurants and shopping of Vieux-Lille.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Midway between Grand Place and the rail station, Ibis Styles Lille Centre Grand Place includes breakfast. Some rooms at Grand Hotel Bellevue overlook Grand Place, and all are furnished in the classic elegance of a grand hotel. South of the center, close to the Beaux-Arts museum and an easy walk to Grand Place and Vieux-Lille, Holiday Inn Express Lille Centre offers free breakfast and secure underground parking.
- Budget Hotels: On a pedestrian street between Grand Place and the art museum, the friendly Kanai Hotel has many stairs and no lift. In a lovely residential neighborhood on a tram line into central Lille, family-run Hotel du Croise includes breakfast and secure parking with its rooms, which are all on the ground floor with terrace access. In Vieux-Lille near the Musée de l'Hospice Comtesse, Ibis Budget Lille Centre has well-kept, basic rooms.