I lived in Lille, France for 8 months between 2016-2017 while I was a Teaching Assistant. Lille is the capital of Hauts-de-France, the northernmost region of France. This region is relatively new, combining the two former regions of Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardy. Lille is specifically located in French Flanders, close to the France/Belgium border.
When applying to the TAPIF program, candidates select three of their top choices of regions where they hope to be assigned. Luckily for me, I wasn’t assigned to any of my choices! I was assigned to the Lille region, and I immediately fell in love with it! The city has so much charm!
There is a lot to see and do when exploring Lille. Below are some of the main areas to visit in the city:
Grand Place is an absolute must-visit. This square in the heart of Lille is home to a lot of shops and restaurants, and is often filled with performers or locals socializing. In the winter, the square has a Christmas market complete with a giant Ferris Wheel that boasts a great view over the city.
I spent a lot of time in this square – shopping, running errands, eating out. The square connects back toward the train station and Lille Centre through a pedestrian-only road lined with shops. If there is one thing that Lille is lacking, it is absolutely not shopping areas!
Vieille Bourse, the former Chamber of Commerce and Industry building, is one of the most prominent buildings in the main square. The courtyard inside has vendor tables with books, posters, and random trinkets – open every day except for Monday!
Place du Theatre
Place du Theatre is the square in front of the Opera de Lille. It is right beside Grand Place facing Gare de Lille Flandres, one of Lille’s main train stations (not to be mistaken for Gare Lille Europe – just 1 kilometer away, past the Euralille shopping center).
While walking through Place du Theatre, you may notice something if you look closely to the surrounding buildings. There are several cannon balls embedded in the facade of two buildings! There are several different stories about where these came from, but the online consensus is that they are from an Austrian invasion in 1792. One cannonball has even been painted to look like a boob!
Vieux Lille, or Old Town is one of my favorite parts of the city. The winding cobble streets have so much character. This is also where most of the fun bars are!
There is (yet more!) shopping opportunity in Vieux Lille along Rue de la Monnaie, which encircles the back of Cathedral Notre-Dame de la Treille. This unique cathedral has a modern facade in the front, but also has some traditional gothic features. The construction spanned nearly 150 years, from 1854-1999! Notre-Dame de la Treille is the patron saint of the city.
There are many restaurants with outdoor seating facing the Cathedral, and L’Imaginaire off of Rue de la Monnaie has a patio out back that opens up behind the church.
Citadelle de Lille
Citadelle de Lille is right beside Vieux Lille. This is a very popular location for runners and dog walkers because there is a long path encircling the Citadelle. The surrounding park includes a zoo (free admission!) and a park with rides and games for children. The area is absolutely buzzing on sunny days, with nearly the whole city flocking to the green areas for picnics!
Palais des Beaux-Arts
Palais des Beaux-Arts is stunning both inside and out. The facade was under renovation while I was living there, but I could still see the architecture from the exposed sides. This museum is a must-visit, with a stunning collection of sculptures, paintings, prints, drawings, and plans-reliefs.
Beffroi de Lille
The Hotel de Ville (city hall) in Lille is complete with a belfry, which is iconic of the region. The Beffroi de Lille is actually the tallest civil belfry in Europe. The style is quite different to the belfry of the Chamber of Commerce in Place du Theatre.
There are sculptures of two giants on either side of a fleur-de-lis at the base of the belfry. Lydéric and Phinaert are characters from folklore of the foundation of the city. The belfry is a UNESCO world heritage site. Tickets to visit and climb the belfry can be purchased online or at the belfry itself – there is information inside about the history of the building and city. The belfry boasts a wonderful view over the city and of the intricate Porte de Paris.