Lille, Nord-Pas-de-Calais: tourism & sightseeing

Photo of Lille in Nord

Visit Lille (Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France)

PHOTO GALLERY MAP & PLACES TO VISIT

Lille is a major city in north-eastern France, close to the frontier with Belgium. It is a substantial city, and the centre of the largest conurbation in this region of France.

Long an industrial centre, especially following the industrial revolution of the 19th century, Lille fell into the same problems of decline that affected many such cities. In the last two decades it has made great efforts to revive itself and make the most of its character, and is now perhaps the most important tourist destination in this part of France. This 'rebirth' was celebrated in 2004 when the city was European City of Culture.

Explore Lille

Many of the interesting buildings and monuments in the city have been given a new lease of life in recent years. The most interesting part of a visit to Lille now is centred around the 'old centre', a substantial district containing numerous 17th and 18th century townhouses and other buildings, in a regenerated region of the town.

Allow plenty of time to explore the streets of the old town because there are numerous places of interest, squares where you can pause, and historical houses.

La Vieille Bourse

Start your visit to this part of Lille in the large open square called La Grand Place. The square is surrounded by numerous interesting buildings and gives a fascinating introduction to the architecture of the town.

Most important among these buildings (and the highlight of a visit to Lille) is the 'Vieille Bourse' . The Vieille Bourse is a fine 17th century building composed of 24 identical houses surrounding a large inner courtyard. These  impressively decorated houses  are now mostly shops at ground level and have some of the most intricate arcades to be found. There are numerous carvings and statues on the buildings.

This beautiful courtyard is often used to stage events such as second-hand book fairs and demonstrations of tango dancing.

Also on the Grand Place notice the flemish-style building with the triangular facade. This is the Grande Garde and was built in 1717. Decorating its facade is the sun emblem of Louis XIV.

Chamber of Commerce in Lille

From the square you can see the tall belfry of the chamber of commerce standing above the buildings. The Chamber of Commerce is situated at the entrance to the Boulevard Carnot and has a belfry that is 76 meters high. Listen out for the bells ringing as they often play typically northern tunes such as "Le P'tit Quinquin"!

Next to the Chamber of Commerce the Opera House was built in 1907 following a fire in the previous theatre. Inside the "salle à l'Italienne" is one of the last examples to be built in France.

The 15th century Palais Rihour (where you will find Lille Tourist office) is another impressive building. It too was damaged by fire early in the 20th century but has been extensively rebuilt.

Vieux Lille

One of our favourite parts of Lille is the area known as "Vieille Lille" or "Old Lille" and is particularly attractive. Its 17th century houses have a distinctly Flemish style and the buildings often have colourful facades. The "Place aux Oignon" is a very attractive square, surrounded by bars and restaurants making it a perfect refreshment stop.

A more recent addition to the architectural heritage in Lille is the town hall, built in the early decades of the 19th century. It is most notable for its high belfry which is 104 meters high. It is one of the more than 50 belfries in the region which as a group have UNESCO World Heritage classification.

There is a substantial cathedral in Lille, the cathedral Notre-Dame-de-la-Treille, built in the 20th century that is of passing interest.

Another substantial construction is Vauban's citadelle, said to be the strongest in France and surrounded by parkland, well maintained and open for limited visiting.

Palais des Beaux Artes, Lille

Some remnants of the fortifications that once surrounded the old town can still be seen, and gateways along their length - of varying stature from the very old Noble Tower, through the entrance gates at Porte de Roubaix and Porte de Gand, to the grandiose structure and decoration of the Porte de Paris (the current Porte de Paris replaces the original, more modest, entrance that stood here).

Lille Museums

There are several museums of note in Lille, but one stands far ahead of the others in terms of interest and visitor numbers. Lille Museum of Fine Arts (Palais des Beaux-Arts) is the second most popular museum in France ( the Louvre is number 1) and contains a very wide selection of paintings covering all art-forms and most artists from the 16th century to the 20th century.

Other museums in Lille include:

  • the Museum of Natural History
  • Museum of the Hospice Comtesse - an interesting look at life here in the 14th-17th centuries (in a very attractive 13th century Flemish building)
  • Museum of the Cannoniers - shows the military importance of Lille and the battles and attacks it underwent

Lille Markets

Decorative statue in Vieille Bourse, Lille

There are several weekly markets in Lille including:

  • the unmissable market here is the Wazemmes Market, where an innumerable number of stands cater to an innumerable number of visitors, with a very wide range of food products and other items available. One of the largest markets in France, it is open on Place de la Nouvelle Aventure on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday mornings. be sure to pick up some of the local cheese - 'Vieux Lille' - while you are there.
  • the Arts Market at place des Archives (Sunday morning) is a good place to see (and buy) arts, crafts, paintings etc.
  • the Lille christmas market is also among the most poular of the markets held in the run-up to Christmas across northern France.

Public Gardens in Lille

  • To the south of the town are the extensive Botanical Gardens, and an impressive tropical greenhouse
  • The pretty English style gardens at Vauban Garden are a haven of peace in the city
  • The extensive Citadel Park associated with Lille Zoo covers a very large area, with the trees in the Bois de Boulogne being one of the highlights

Places to Visit Nearby

More UNESCO classified belfries can be seen at Aire sur la Lys, Arras, Cambrai and Boulogne-sur-Mer.

You can find more local travel ideas in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais guide.

See also:

Map of Lille and places to visit

Visit near Lille with France This Way reviews

Tourist classifications

Lille has received the following tourist classifications: historical protected town centre' (secteur sauvegardé); listed town of Art and History ;

Address: Lille, Nord, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, 59000, France || GPS: latitude 50.6372, longitude 3.06333

Plan your visit to Lille, Nord-Pas-de-Calais

Sightseeing & tourist attractions to visit nearby

  • Cathédrale Notre Dame de La Treille (Lille): religious monument
  • Beffroi de Lille (Belfries of Belgium and France): heritage site
  • Parc zoologique de Lille: zoo or wildlife park
  • Réserve naturelle du Jardin écologique du Vieux-Lille: site of natural beauty
  • Beffroi de Loos (Belfries of Belgium and France): heritage site (4km)
  • Wattignies: ville fleurie 4* (6km)
  • Wasquehal: ville fleurie 4* (6km)
  • Le parc Barbieux: remarkable garden (8km)
  • Roubaix: town of art and history (10km)
  • Tourcoing: ville fleurie 4* (12km)

The French version of this page is at Lille (Francais)