Lille, pearl of the North

For more posts on Lille: “Louvre Lens, should you go?“, “Villa Cavrois – an architectural manifest.” and “La piscine – what a beautiful museum!

August 22, 2014


Who would have thought that this city that brings to mind a dreary drab grey industrial place, would charm us so much? I don’t exactly know where the perception comes from because the city has a lot to offer on all fronts. Some Belgians living just accross the border visit Lille for the large shopping malls (Euralille) close to the railway station, but this is not what usually attracts me in a place.
Over the years we heard other sound about Lille having great museums and city center. Lille had also been cultural capital of Europe in 2004, and had done efforts to regenerate the city on that occasion.

And yes you are pleasantly surprised on your first visit to Lille. A beautiful medieval town centre, with narrow cobblestone streets and ancient guild houses in enticing colours, Renaissance palaces and gothic churches. On the main square the old bourse attracts everyone’s attention, and on the inside there is an old book market. At the tourist information center they supply you with free wifi and a free map of the city. You can take a peek at the multimedia information counters or talk to one of the very friendly staff members manning the other counters. There is a small souvenir shop where they sell specialties of Lille (vanilla waffles) or funny items cashing in on the popularity of the film “Les Chti’s”. And Lille has  many inviting bars and restaurants. Our timing was a bit unlucky, because not only is August 15th a catholic holiday, many bars and restaurants take their holiday the second half of August.

So Lille is really quite the opposite of a drab, grey city, it is actually quite similar to the Belgian cities Gent or Antwerp. It breathes a welcoming atmosphere, and on top of that we discovered that the city boasts many original small boutiques and is an attractive shopping destination! So we already planned a shopping spree one of the following weeks!


Wander around the city center, enjoy the beautiful 17th century architecture, the Grand Place (main square) with the Old Stock Exchange built from 1652 to 1653, one of the town’s finest buildings. This building is made up of 24 little houses around an arched courtyard.


A second-hand book market as well as chess players can be found inside. As for the museums you can visit The Palais des Beaux-Arts of Lille (Fine Arts Museum) one of the first museums in France. Its imposing 19th century building houses collections of European paintings. For modern art lovers there is LaM in Villeneuve d’Ascq with works from Braque, Kandisky, Klee, Léger, Miro, Modigliani, Picasso. A bit outside of Lille, near Roubaix you find the extra ordinary La Piscine, Museum of art and industrie. A museum set in an art deco swimming pool exhibiting drawings, textiles and ceramics and 19th and 20th Centuries paintings and sculptures. We did not yet visit those museums but plan to on our next visit to Lille. This time we had planned a visit to Louvre in Lens, an 30 min. drive south of Lille. (see my post Louvre Lens, should you go? )


Other beautiful buildings include the opera house, the beauregard row and the chamber of commerce on Place du theatre, the railway station, the hospice comtesse museum in rue de la Monnaie, the churches (although I did not like the notre dame cathedral) and the citadel. Enough for a good sightseeing walk through the city.

And then there is the shopping. In the many small cobblestone streets you find attractive boutiques, and there is undoubtly a creative vibe with many new young brands to be found in the shops here.


When it comes to eating and drinking Lille has enough to choose from. We took our breakfast at the famous Meert Patisserie on rue Esquermoise. They are famous for their vanilla filled waffles. The salon the Thé and restaurant is housed in a beautiful building that was styled in 1839, in a flamboyant oriental style, with ironwork and large mirrors. Meert has a wonderful façade, and you feel plush when sitting inside. We took the traditional breakfast, which gives good value with a freshly pressed orange juice, an large croissant, a piece of French bread with butter and homemade jam and a coffee of your choice.

After our visit of the Louvre in Lens we decided to find a place to have dinner in Lille. The choice was because of the holiday not very large, but we eventually ended up in Le Barbier qui fume, a butcher turned restaurant, that focuses on quality pork and beef meat. The pork ribs are smoked over an oak fire, which gives it a very pronounced taste. We had bone marrow and Iberico ham as starters and steak and pork ribs as main course, and all was prepared to perfection and served with a smile. The wines were very good, and the interior of the restaurant creates a warm atmosphere. It is advised to make a reservation if you want to be sure of a table because the place was obviously very popular. (see the post: To eat meat tot not to eat meat?)

We will surely go back to Lille very soon, it is not really further than Gent or Antwerp or Brussels in Belgium and a welcome change of place!

Office de Tourisme et des Congrès de Lille
Palais Rihour
Place Rihour
BP 205 – 59002 LILLE Cedex (France)
Tel. from abroad: +33 359 579 400
Tel. from France: 0891 56 2004

27 rue Esquermoise 59000 Lille
Tuesday to Friday : 9h30 – 22h
Saturday : 9h – 22h
Sunday : 9h – 18h
03 20 57 07 44 Métro Rihour

Le barbier qui fume
69 Rue de la Monnaie, 59000 Lille, Frankrijk
+33 3 20 06 99 35

Palais des Beaux-Arts of Lille
Place de la République 59000 LilleTél : 33 (0)3 20 06 78 00
Monday : 14h – 18h.
Wednesday to Sunday : 10h – 18h.

1 allée du Musée
59650 Villeneuve d’Ascq – France
Tél. informations/réservations : +33 (0)3 20 19 68 88 Fax : +33 (0)3 20 19 68 99
Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm
The LaM is closed on Monday. Closed exceptionally on 1 January, 1 May and 25 December.
The Sculpture Park is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 9 :00 am to 7:00 pm

For a review on Villa Cavrois visit my post “Villa Cavrois, an architectural manifest.

4 thoughts on “Lille, pearl of the North

  1. Pingback: La piscine – what a beautiful museum! | mychefmaison

  2. Pingback: Villa Cavrois – an architectural manifest. | mychefmaison

  3. Pingback: La piscine – what a beautiful museum! | mychefmaison

  4. Pingback: Louvre Lens, should you go? | mychefmaison

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