I landed in Lille with little more than a vague idea about the city (near the Belgian border, been around forever, Flemish influences) and an address for a hostel. I had seen the name thrown around as a nice day trip from Paris, and so though it would be a nice layover of sorts on my way down from London. I was, ignorantly, not expecting much at all. What I found was a lovely city that I am very disappointed I only had 28 hours in.
Lille sits near the Belgian border in French Flanders and the area has been inhabited for over 4000 years. In that time it has been home to important battles, trades and fairs, and fallen under the control of several different empires and countries. Evidence of this can been seen all around, from the old city gate at what used to be the entrance to Lille, to the Flemish-influenced architecture of the buildings, to the post-Roman triumphal arch built in honor of Louis XIV. Most of the streets, especially in the older parts of town, are still made of bumpy, uneven cobblestone. This does not, however, stop the drivers in the area from flying down the tight streets (thankfully, everyone’s breaks seem to allow them to stop on a dime for pedestrians that wander across the road without a thought.)
After doing a bit more research, I found that Lille is certainly beloved (at least by people that know about it). It may not come to mind as readily as Nice or Bordeaux, but it is an absolutely perfect spot to spend a few days when you want to escape the expanse of Paris.
Everyone I met was very kind and even willing to put up with my miserable attempts at French. There are a seemingly endless number of cafes and restaurants and shops (though in typical French fashion, none seem to open before mid-day. All the more reason to sleep in, I suppose.) The city is very walk-able, with lots of winding little streets to wander around. The tourist information center also offers an hour-long bus tour (in multiple languages) for 10 Euros, and if you are into that sort of thing it is a nice way to get your bearings in the city and learn some of the history.
If you are visiting France and don’t have Lille on your list of places to visit, I suggest you add it ASAP. It is both relaxing and engaging and makes for a very nice respite from Paris (or a lovely pit stop on the way to Paris from England or Belgium.)
Information about my stay:
Length of Stay: Two half days, one night
Transportation to Lille: Ouibus from London (29 pounds)
Transportation out of Lille: Ouibus to Paris (19 Euros)
Accommodation: Gastama Hostel (23 Euros / 1 Night) [Loved it! Would definitely recommend]
Daily budget: 50 Euros/day