24 hours in Lille
Cultured, colourful and compact, Lille ticks all the right boxes for a short getaway. Nestled close to the border with Belgium, this northern gem is rightfully proud of its Flemish roots. A stroll through the charming old town – le Vieux-Lille – takes in cobblestoned streets, a Unesco-protected belfry and historic red-brick buildings. Every September, the city plays host to La Grande Braderie, Europe’s largest flea market and a must for vintage bargain hunters. But there’s plenty more to enjoy year-round. Whether you’re in the market for a culture hit or a pungent taste of fromage, here’s how to spend a day or two in Lille.
Book your city break
Potter around Vieux-Lille for a taste of its Flemish influences. The Grand Place was upgraded in the 17th century from humble medieval roots and now hosts Lille’s beloved annual fair. Don’t miss the Old Stock Exchange, where a second-hand book market, chess matches and tango dances keep locals entertained. The imposing Palais des Beaux-Arts gives the Louvre a run for its money: drop in for masterpieces by the likes of Raphaël, Rodin and Courbet.
Peckish? Méert’s carved, gilded and marbled façade is something to behold, as are the delicate patisseries inside. Rumour has it Charles de Gaulle was a fan of its vanilla-flecked waffles. Aux Merveilleux de Fred’s specialty is a cloud-like meringue; grab a box of bite-sized ones to wolf down on the spot or take home. If a flat white and cheesecake is more your bag, make a beeline for Wally’s Coffee.
Where to get a drink
Come apéro hour, artisanal brewery La Capsule has craft beer on tap. Butcher shop turned cocktail bar Chez Paulette is the spot in town for jazzy vibes and pre-dinner tipples. Graze on chorizo, burrata and other tartines. Laid-back wine bar Les Frères Pinard sprawls over two levels. There’s a well-stocked deli on the ground floor, and an arched cellar to linger over a glass or two.
Where to eat
Flemish cuisine gets the bistro treatment at La Petite Cour, an atmospheric converted curate’s house. Try the homemade shrimp croquettes and the hearty carbonnade stew. Chez La Vieille is another old school address: the perfect spot to try gratin made with local maroilles cheese, and speculoos mousse. For something a little lighter, stop by Slow & Green Cantine for flavour-packed vegan bowls.
Stay the night to set out early for Roubaix’s La Piscine, a striking museum set in a former Art Deco swimming pool, now packed with art and design. LaM, Lille’s modern art museum, cuts a fine figure in landscape gardens. Look out for temporary exhibitions from the heavyweight likes of Giacometti and Modigliani. Converted train station Gare Saint-Sauveur is now a gallery and events space hosting workshops, art shows and an urban farm.
Hit the shops
Browse the racks of up-and-coming fashion designers at Maisons de Mode, an initiative to support and showcase local talent. For foodies, it’s worth the trip to Halles de Wazemmes. The covered market’s well stocked with organic produce and stalls peddling local cheese and charcuterie specialties. In the old town, browse Momentum Concept Store for quirky homeware and upcycled finds to take home.
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