Lille in Nord Picardy is a cultured city with a volatile history that has seen many European clashes on its soil. It sits near the Belgian border in the area formerly known as Flanders.
First noted in the archives in 1066 as a small town built around a castle, Lille is now the 10th largest city in France and has the 4th largest metropolitan area. Named the European Capital of Culture in 2004, Lille has much to offer those interested in the arts with many excellent museums, fine architecture including the famous 17th century stock exchange, the Vieille Bourse, and modern builds such as the business district of Euralille with its futuristic lines of steel and glass. With 36% of the population under 25, there is much youth and vibrancy in this city that has seen much history. Having switched hands under the control of many countries including Flanders, France, Burgundy, Spain and the Netherlands throughout the Middle Ages and Early Modern Europe, Lille was also occupied by the Germans during both world wars. Since the 12th century, the city has been renowned for its production of cloth and the industrialisation of the 19th century necessitated the development of the city's infrastructure as the population doubled. Architecture here has a strong Flemish influence and much of the old town, Vieux Lille, features highly decorated and flamboyant facades. Take a wander through the old streets and explore this beautiful part of the city and be enveloped in its history.
When visiting Lille, it is impossible to miss the modern cathedral Notre Dame de la Treille, and its striking facade made of 110 sheets of white marble supported by a metal structure. An idea in 1854 that took most of the 20th century to build and was only finished in 1999, the cathedral was built in collaboration with Peter Rice, the engineer behind the Sydney Opera House and the George Pompidou Centre in Paris. Other structures that are recognisable are the citadel, a star-shaped fortress designed by Vauban and built for Louis XIV after he laid seige and took the city in 1667, and the town hall with its UNESCO-listed 104m high belfry. There are some fantastic arts museums including the Palais des Beaux Arts de Lille, which was one of the first museums ever created in France, LaM, filled with 20th century art and La Piscine, an Art Deco swimming baths that provides an unusual backdrop to the applied arts and fine arts in its collections. There are many tours of the city available with a convertible coach tour and various guided tours on foot. Buy the Lille city pass, available as 24hr, 48hr and 72hr passes which allows free access to lots of museums, tourist sites and attractions as well as providing free travel on Lille's public transport network of buses, trains and trams. Stroll through the pretty parks and gardens that Lille has to offer such as the Vauban garden, an English country garden that also contains a marionnette theatre for children. A visit to the city at the beginning of September will see the streets bustling with activity at the annual 'clearance of Lille', a huge flea market with 10,000 vendors whose stalls stretch for 100km and brings in over 2 million visitors to the city. During the event, the restaurants of the city sell the popular dish of moules frites (mussels and chips) and compete for the largest pile of mussel shells at the end!
Lille is great for shoppers with luxury goods and antiques in Vieux Lille, department stores and international brands in the centre and ethnic shopping in the Wazemmes district. For those who like their shops all in one place, the Euralille mall contains over 120 shops featuring everything you could want in international fashion, beauty, multimedia and more. Make sure you eat out at an estaminet - small Flemish restaurants which are traditional to the area. Once inside one of these friendly taverns be sure to order some of the tasty local dishes such as carbonnade (beef chunks braised in beer), waterzoi (fish or poultry in a creamy sauce that is usually served with vegetables) or potjevleesch (white meat terrine in aspic). Dessert lovers will enjoy foods made with vergeoise, a sugar made from sugar beet syrup, such as sugar tarts, gaufres (filled waffles) and babulettes de Lille toffees. Wash down your meal with some locally brewed beer and top it off with a digestif of Genièvre, an eau de vie that is flavoured with juniper berries.
Region: Nord Picardy
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