Dan Splarn shares five ways to wile a day away in Lille, France
Weekends in the summer are precious. They get booked up fast with festivals, beer gardens, BBQs in the park and trips to the seaside, as we look to make the most of every last minute of sunny skies. Spare time is few and far between.
If you can, I’d definitely suggest keeping a window open to discover the historic French city of Lille, though. There are lots of things to see and do as well as buzzy places to eat and drink, and it’s all within an easy Eurostar journey of London St Pancras. Discover five fantastic things to do in Lille for some inspiration…
1 Start your day with a coffee from Gorilla
Promising “100% fresh and natural fast food”, Gorilla is a cutesy little caf found opposite Saint Maurice Church, on Rue Pierre Mauroy. Here you can get tasty bruschetta, fresh soups, toasted wraps, homemade juices and coffee, with warm service and staff who try to speak English if French isn’t your strong point.
Try to bag yourself a seat outside, where you can look out across the cobbled street and up towards the gothic Saint Maurice Church, which is a majestic building to look at.
I recommend ordering the bruschetta with guacamole and spicy beef and freshly squeezed orange juice – a quick bite at this friendly little joint is a good way to set yourself up for a day of exploring.
2 Pay a visit to the Vieille Bourse
Built in 1652, the Vieille Bourse (old Stock Exchange) is popularly regarded as the most beautiful building in the city. It’s located right in the town centre and is made up of 24 separate buildings, with a buzzing courtyard in the middle.
Throughout the week, the courtyard plays host to a second-hand book market and during the summer the place comes alive on weekend evenings with salsa dancing sessions – which are free to get involved in.
The Vieille Bourse is located on Lille’s Main Square, which is a prime spot to soak in the atmosphere and check out some of the city’s most interesting architecture.
3 Stop by The Town Hall and Belfry
Speaking of interesting architecture… Lille’s belfry dominates the city’s skyline. At 104 metres high it’s the first thing your eye is drawn to, built between 1924 and 1932 and designed by the architect Emile Dubuisson.
With more than a hint of Flemish inspiration, you can climb to the peak of the belfry where 360-degree views of the city are on offer. If you’d prefer to keep it casual and admire the view with your feet on the ground, there are still some great photos to be had for your Instagram feed at street level – #NoFilterNeeded.
4 Take in some history
Lille features its fair share of museums (like the Fine Arts Museum and Museum of Lille’s Gunners) which is great news for history buffs. The Charles de Gaulle museum – located at his birthplace on Rue Princesse – is well worth a visit, although a tour isn’t that easy to follow for English speakers.
Still, it’s worth checking out the birthplace of one of France’s most decorated and famous sons who led the French resistance in World War Two and went on to serve as Prime Minister and President. The de Gaulle museum is well maintained and features lots of artefacts that offer an insight into his early life.
5 Tuck in!
The Les Compagnons de la grappe restaurant is easy to miss, as it’s located at the end of an alley off Rue Lepelletier. It’s well worth seeking out for dinner though – classic bistro dishes are on offer and there’s a delightful outside courtyard space for you to dine.
You might have to wait a little while for a table (the place was busy with locals when I visited) but it’s worth hanging around for, especially when the sun goes down and the twinkling fairylights add that little extra to the atmosphere.
Another tip for beer lovers has to be Les 3 Brasseurs, which carries a great selection of blonde, amber and dark pints that are brewed on site. These go down a treat with the restaurant’s staple dish – a flammekeuche – which hits the sweet spot between a pizza and a savoury tart.
You can customise these flammekeuche with extra toppings of your choice (can’t explain why I went for an egg, but it worked pretty well) and it’s a good place if you’re dining on a budget.
And if you’re still looking for things to do?
You could soak in the culture of Lille’s old town, wander around the zoo (which costs just four Euros to enter) and explore La Piscine Museum, where you can find stunning artwork on the grounds of a former Art Deco swimming pool.
Start the adventure by visiting lilletourism.com