Once an industrial city, Lille has reinvented itself as a cultural and business hub, with a metropolitan area that straddles the France/Belgium border along the Deûle River. Streets within the beautifully restored city center are lined with Neoclassical and Gothic Revival architecture. Add a sizzling dining scene and a fashionista's selection of boutiques and stores, and it's the perfect city escape.
With evidence of civilization that dates back 4,000 years, the city's historic buildings reflect various eras of French and Flemish history from the Middle Ages on, and include the La Vieille Bourse (1653) and Opéra de Lille (1923).
The art collection at the renowned Palais des des Beaux-Arts de Lille includes pieces from the 15th to 20th centuries. There is also a lively performing arts and theater scene to discover.
There is a longstanding culinary tradition in this city, offering everything from fine dining to gourmet street food, including a specialty in classic French and Belgian patisseries or pastries, cakes, chocolates, and waffles.
From shopping malls full of the latest designer clothes to open-air markets and chic boutiques, there is something for everyone's budget and taste.
The city's nightlife is busy and varied, including dance clubs and live music venues, bars and cocktail lounges, with a strong youthful component due to the large university student population.
Located right at the heart of Lille, the Grand Palais is a post-modern masterpiece. Created by celebrity architects Cecil Balmond and Rem Koolhaas, the building is an attraction in itself, but it also hosts massive conferences and major concerts at the on-site Zenith Arena. Events like Art Up! turn the Palais into a wonderland for contemporary art fans, while the Kids Parc in February and March offers an endless array of games and exhibits for kids to enjoy. No matter when you get to Lille, it's always worth checking out what the center has to offer.
A completely different sort of "palais", this fabulous fine art museum can be found on the elegant Place de la Republique and is Lille's premier cultural attraction. Lille may not be a massive city, but this collection would suit far larger destinations with its wide range of masterpieces. From Monet's "Houses of Parliament" to Rodin's "Descent into Hell", you'll find Impressionist paintings, modernist sculpture, and much more.
Crowned by the Column of the Goddess and its burbling fountain commemorating the Siege of Lille by Austrian forces in 1792, the Place du Général-de-Gaulle is Lille's civic focal point and one of the most elegant of its kind in France. The memorial is beautiful, but it's the nearby Stock Exchange that really takes visitors' breaths away. Built in the 1650s, the "Vielle Bourse" is a gorgeous construction with Spanish-style arches and an interior courtyard where booksellers set up shop. And when you're done exploring the Bourse, there are plenty of restaurants lining the square as well, making it somewhere that almost every visitor passes by.
A few hundred meters north of the Place du General-de-Gaulle, you'll come across the Hospice Comtesse - one of Lille's finest museums. The hospice itself was opened in 1236, but the current building dates back to the 1600s, which was a golden age for Lille's civic architects. These days, the hospice has gone, and the interior has been given over to a magical historical museum. Tapestries, puppets, paintings, and everyday objects conjure up a vision of what life there was like 400 years ago.
Situated on the Place Gilleson about 100 meters south of the Hospice Comtesse, you simply can't miss the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-la-Treille. The idea for Lille's cathedral took root in the 1850s, and construction on the huge edifice continued slowly, before grinding to a halt in the 1920s. Thankfully, the local government stepped in during the 1990s to complete what is now a stunning religious structure. Be sure to enter the church to see the astonishing play of light through the metal and marble facade.
With its seasonal climate, most tourists choose to visit the city from spring through fall, or April to October, when average temperatures range between 60 and 75 degrees.
Lille Airport (LIL) has convenient connections throughout Europe and within France. There is direct bus service that runs to the downtown area at EUR7.
Lille is a major European train hub, with many connections anywhere within the continent, including a 1-hour direct trip to and from Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.
Lille has highway connections throughout France and northern Europe, including Autoroute A27 to Liège and eventually Germany, and Autoroute A1 to Paris.
FlixBus and OUIBUS are two of the major bus companies providing connections from Lille throughout Europe.
Stay in the historic Brueghel Hotel, with its beautifully ornate exterior and modern furnishings, located in the heart of the city. The Hotel Kanaï offers spacious rooms in a pedestrian-only area of the historic city center.
Vieux-Lille - this is the Old Town, where you will find architectural gems like the Notre Dame de la Treille church and opera house, along with boutique and souvenir shopping, and multiple dining options.
Lille-Centre - the more modern heart of the city is where you will find a busy district of theaters, restaurants, and nightlife venues.
Wazemmes - this area southwest of the downtown is home to a casual dining and nightlife scene, along with the huge indoor/outdoor Marche de Wazemmes flea market at Place Nouvelle Aventure.
Transpole provides buses, trams, and train system both under and above ground, providing extensive service throughout the city and suburbs. Fares start at EUR1.60, with a 10-ride card available for EUR14.
Taxis are plentiful throughout the downtown area. Fares start at EUR5, increasing by EUR1.90 for every 0.60 miles.
Driving is feasible in the city, although parking is at a premium in some areas. A compact rental starts at about EUR27.
Rue de Béthune in the old city is lined with small shops and boutiques. The ultramodern Euralille shopping mall is located on Avenue Willy Brandt, east of downtown.
Carrefour can be found in the city. A quart of milk costs about EUR1.10, and a dozen eggs will cost roughly EUR2.75.
Méert has been serving kings and commoners delicious waffles - or gaufres - made with vanilla from Madagascar since 1761, starting at EUR3. Enjoy the intriguing Flemish fusion dishes at La Petite Table, starting at EUR1.