Meert restaurant

A weekend break in Lille, France

Last autumn my daughter and I found ourselves with a spare weekend whilst the other half of the family were off watching rugby. But what to do? After much checking of Trip Advisor and prices I eventually decided on a weekend break to Lille, via the Eurostar.

Lille: what did we see?

We unknowingly co-ordinated our visit with Journées du Patrimoine (similar to heritage open days in the UK) so the majority of tourist attractions were open and free. This meant we visited more attractions than I would normally recommend squeezing into a couple of days.

Vieux-ville (old town)

We spent most of our time exploring the cobbled streets of the old town. It’s home to the Musee de l’Hospice Comtesse, the birthplace of Charles de Gaulle and the best patisserie in Lille.

Vieux-Lille
Vieux-Lille

It’s a great place to wander and browse, soaking up the atmosphere and admiring the architecture. There are plenty of (pricey) independent shops to discover and cafes to stop for a coffee in.

Église Saint- Maurice de Lille
Église Saint- Maurice de Lille

The old town is best visited on a weekday as, with a couple of exceptions, Lille is shut on Sunday. Almost all shops, including the large Carrefour near the railway station, and many of the restaurants and cafés are closed.

Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse

This is a former hospice in the old town, originally founded in 1237 to care for the poor. The gound floor is a reconstructed Flemish house whilst upstairs contained art, wooden sculptures and a couple of large globes. My favourite room was the kitchen as it was covered in a set of amazing blue and white hand-painted tiles, all of which were different.

Musée de l'Hospice Comtesse
Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse

Outside we admired the buildings from the courtyard and wandered around the medicinal herb garden. There’s a chapel on site too but this appeared to be closed. I hadn’t originally planned to visit the hospice so we only popped in for a quick look; if you have time to spare the English audio guide is highly recommended.

La Maison Natale Charles de Gaulle

This house is the birthplace of former president Charles de Gaulle. The house belonged to his grandparents and although he never lived in it there are plenty of mementoes from his childhood.

Le Musee de la Maison Natale de Charles de Gaulle
Le Musee de la Maison Natale de Charles de Gaulle

We joined a 40 minute tour in French. As I only understood about 1 word in 5 it was rather fortunate my daughter had been given an English leaflet which explained the rooms!

Place du Général de Gaulle (Grand Place)

The Grand Place is Lille’s main square and is full of Flemish style buildings, including the old Stock Exchange.

Place du General De Gaulle, Lille
Place du General De Gaulle, Lille

It’s a good place to sit and people watch. There are plenty of pavement cafes and restaurants but we bought pizza slices for lunch and ate them sitting beside the fountain.

Sound and light show, Lille
Sound and light show, Lille

We came back later that evening for a special sound and light show, one of the free events that formed part of the Journées du Patrimoine weekend. The light show was projected onto the theatre and was made up of a series of short films with impressive lighting effects. It reminded me of the illuminations on Buckingham Palace during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee concert (although Madness didn’t appear!).

Vieille Bourse (Old Stock Exchange)

Old Stock Exchange, Lille
Old Stock Exchange, Lille

The Vieille Bourse is a Flemish style building in the Grand Place. It consists of 24 identical houses built around a courtyard. Nowadays this houses stalls selling old books, posters and records. On Sunday evenings it hosts the Lille tango club; that would be great to see!

Ronde des géants (giants’ parade)

Parade of giants, Place du Theatre, Lille
Parade of giants, Place du Theatre, Lille

This was the highlight of our visit to Lille, primarily because it was so unexpected. There’s nothing better than arriving somewhere and realising you’ve actually managed to coincide your visit with a local event.

La Ronde des géants, Lille
La Ronde des géants, Lille

The giants appear in carnivals and processions in many towns throughout this part of northern France. Dating back more than 600 years each town keeps up the tradition, maintaining and displaying their own giants. The structures are built on huge wickerwork frames and rolled and danced through the streets, accompanied by bands.

Parade of the giants, Lille
Parade of the giants, Lille

Wazemmes market

Most of Lille is closed on Sunday so locals head to the market at Wazemmes. I’d heard it was very crowded so decided to leave our hotel early and find breakfast somewhere near the market. After a quick trip on the Metro we discovered we were way too early as most of the stallholders were still setting up!

Wazemmes market, Lille
Wazemmes market, Lille

Undeterred we wandered around the cafes that surround the square and chose one populated by stallholders. Despite mistakenly ordering café crème rather than café au lait it was the best coffee and pain au chocolat ever!

The market itself wasn’t so good. Although the fruit and vegetable stalls looked good there didn’t seem to be much local produce. Most of the market consisted of the typical stalls you find everywhere; clothes, household goods and cheap toys. However my teenage daughter really enjoyed it and bought food presents for most of the family.

Parc zoologique (Lille Zoo)

My daughter was keen to visit Lille Zoo and although I had my reservations I was pleasantly surprised. The collection is quite small but the enclosures were large and well maintained. This is even more surprising given that entrance is free.

Lille Zoo
Lille Zoo

We loved watching the red panda and of course meerkats, which are always entertaining.  There’s also a tropical house with snakes, marmosets and tortoise and a couple of larger areas housing zebras, rhino and tapir.

The zoo was about a 20 minute walk from the old town. It’s located just inside a large park which had funfair rides for younger children. The park is also home to the Citadel but this is usually out of bounds to casual visitors as it houses some of NATO’s Rapid Reaction Corps!

Beffroi de Lille (Lille belfry)

I enjoy getting a panoramic view of cities and always seek out a tower to climb. In Lille this is the town hall belfry.

Lille belfry
Lille belfry

As we visited on a free entrance day there were a lot of people waiting to go up. After queuing outside we climbed 109 stairs to a small shop and registration desk where we had to queue again for the lift. By the time we finally managed to reach the top I was getting worried that we’d miss our train home. So whilst we got to see a birds-eye view of Lille it was rather rushed and we didn’t fully appreciate it.

Patisserie

Not a tourist attraction but definitely a Lille highlight was sampling the local patisserie. Our weekend treat was a trip to Meert restaurant, whose sweet concoctions can be seen in the top photograph. It wasn’t cheap, and it was incredibly hard to make a decision, but we eventually chose and shared an amazing chocolate tart.

Aux Merveilleux
Aux Merveilleux

However, almost as good, and much cheaper was Aux Merveilleux de Fred. After watching the merveilleux being made (meringues sandwiched together with whipped cream and rolled in chocolate) we joined the queue of people stretching out of the bakery. A few minutes later we sampled the merveilleux; they literally melt in your mouth so cannot possibly contain any calories!

Lille: our accommodation – Hotel de la Paix

We stayed at Hotel de la Paix, a small Art Nouveau hotel. We chose it for its excellent location, about 10 minutes walk from the railway station and less than 5 minutes to the main squares and old town.

Hotel de laPaix
Hotel de la Paix

Our room was on the third floor and was quiet and clean. The decoration is best described as colourful and quirky. It won’t appeal to all tastes but I enjoy places with character. The wifi was hit and miss in the room but worked well in the communal areas. There is a small breakfast area where we ate the first morning but it was much cheaper in local cafes.

Lille: getting there and getting around

I couldn’t believe how quick and easy it was to reach Lille via the Eurostar. It took less than 1.5 hours from London St Pancras; quicker than visiting many cities in the UK. The only slight stress was arriving in a new city late at night and having to walk past groups of people who tend to congregate near railway stations the world over.

The main attractions of Lille are easily walkable but you’ll probably want to use the Metro if you visit Wazemme. The Metro is straightforward to use and if travelling 3 stops or less you can buy a zip ticket which is cheaper. Remember to validate your ticket in the machines before you board.

Lille: the verdict

Although there were no amazing ‘must see’ sights we easily filled our weekend. We started out early on both days but still missed out several museums so there’s more than enough to see on a short break.

There were a couple of negatives. Dog owners don’t appear to worry about picking up after their pets. We also noticed groups of beggars, generally children, working the outdoor cafes around Grand Place asking diners for money. But overall we loved Lille and highly recommend it for a city break.

More info

  • Full details of of opening hours and costs for Lille’s attractions can be found on the Lille tourism website.
  • You can pick up a schedule of giant appearances from tourist offices in northern France, further details available from the La Ronde des Géants website (in French, but Google can translate it).
  • We booked our hotel via a well known hotel booking website as it offered better deals than going direct. The Hotel de la Paix website currently shows a rate of €98 per night for a double room.

Linking up with:

Wander Mum
Travel Monkey
Lou Messugo

36 thoughts on “A weekend break in Lille, France”

    1. The merveilleux were delicious. I believe they’ve opened a shop in London too; I was tempted to visit it last week but it wasn’t that close to where we were.

  1. You managed to pack in so much in a weekend I’m impressed! The journées du patrimoine are always a success, great timing with that and the giants’ parade (which looked amazing). I love Lille, it’s lovely at any time of year but especially at Christmas. I hope you link this up to my monthy linky #AllAboutFrance next week (Thursday 3 March)

    1. We did seem to do a huge amount – two very long days! Good to know about the linky, I’ll pop over and link up later this week.

  2. Aux Merveilleux! They are so delicious. Thanks for this useful post. I’ve been trying to decide if Lille is worth a visit but you’ve convinced me. #citytripping

  3. I keep looking at Lille for a possible break with my daughter – it’s one of the main Eurostar stops that I haven’t visited, but haven’t got beyond researching it. It’s lovely to get a taste of what it’s actually like there, and what a great coincidence to turn up with free entry and the parade. Useful to know about the Old Town all but closing on Sundays too, although it looks a lovely city to wander around at any time. Would not want to miss those patisseries though! #citytripping

    1. It’s a place I’d kept on meaning to visit too. I think the good thing about it is that there are plenty of other towns/cities nearby that you can easily get to on the local train from Lille. Opens up lots of opportunities!

  4. What luck that you coincided with a local festival and open day! Lille looks like a really pretty place to mooch around and sample some of those amazing merveilleux. I’m very impressed it’s such a short distance from London too. Thanks for linking to #citytripping

    1. On the way home we left Lille and were back in our Oxfordshire house 3 hours later. My other half took 6 hours to get back from Cardiff that day!

  5. I loved reading this. Lille is somewhere I’ve always fancied visiting and it’s so easy to get there. Like you say, some of these cities are actually easier to get to than cities in our own country! The Merveilleux certainly live up to their name. What fantastic timing you had – the free sights and giants’ parade look brilliant. #citytripping

    1. I know, we were very lucky to co-ordinate our visit. This is certainly something I’ll keep an eye out for when I research future places to visit.

  6. What a fantastic, comprehensive post. Good tip about things being closed on a Sunday. I’d love to see the tango club in action too! I think I’d find it hard to see the child beggars too. I saw a lot in Capetown and it was heartbreaking.

    1. Thanks Nell. I think we’re so used to places being open on Sunday now that we forget when we go abroad that not everywhere works the same. Fortunately there’s just enough open to keep busy.

  7. The Journées du Patrimoine are great and I discovered an ancient abbey just down the road from us thanks to them! I have been to Lille, very briefly, at the end of my inter-railing adventure many years ago but we didn’t have time to see much of it … and and I have been round the ring road twice thanks to missing my turning and not seeing how I could turn back! Lille does looks lovely so I think I need to try and do another visit. #citytripping

    1. I’ve heard about the infamous ring road and am glad I didn’t drive there! I’d ‘been’ to Lille a couple of times before, to change trains, so it was good to get out of the station and see it.

  8. Lille looks so pretty!! I recently discovered the parade of the giants and even though they’re a little creepy looking, I would still love to see them! #MondayEscapes

  9. I agree, there’s nothing better than accidentally timing a trip with another event you didn’t realize was happening. I’m sure your daughter loved the parade. The light show looks amazing too. #citytripping

  10. Hi Christine, I like that you decided to treat yourself and your daughter to a weekend away rather than become a ‘rugby widow’. I’ve never been on the Eurostar, but to think that you can just get on a train and be in France in no time at all is pretty amazing.

    To be in Lille at the same time as Journées du Patrimoine was perfect timing, it may have been a touch busier than normal but I bet the atmosphere was lovely and at least you got to visit places for free, which I can imagine saved quite a bit.

    I like your way of thinking. It makes sense that the quicker something melts in your mouth the less calories it has! And those meringues look too nice and well worth queuing for!

    xx

  11. What a great idea for a short break. I often find myself a rugby widow on the weekends – I might give this a go! It sounds like you had a good time in Lille, but that a shame about the dog mess. As a dog owner with kids, this is one of my biggest gripes about other pet owners! #MondayEscapes

  12. I have to admit that I never thought about visiting Lille, but after your post I certainly am very interested on doing that. The Flemish style buildings are so pretty, I love old towns! I didn’t know Charles de Gaulle was born in Lille, how cool!
    Lovely post, it seems like you guys had a wonderful time together 😀

    Thank you for linking up with #MondayEscapes

  13. Thanks for this virtual visit of Lille – it looks wonderful. I particularly like the Grand Place, with its Spanish-style arcades. My French friends tell me it’s really lively, a good town for students to study in.
    I’ll definitely have to book a weekend there. If I tell my husband that they make the delicious L’Angelus beer nearby, do you think he’ll come with me?

  14. An unexpected Parade of Giants! Makes me want to write a story about that immediately. What lovely set of days; you got some incredible pictures. Thanks for sharing both the fun and practical details!

  15. I agree Lille is great fun for a weekend and quicker for me to get to than the UK Midlands! You certainly time it well – a great bonus when it works that way as you say. Nice post. #MondayEscapes

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