Ten things to do in Lille

Explore the "Capital of Flanders" and its charming Vieux Lille district

The fourth largest university city in France, Lille is a lovely town tucked in the northern part of the country near the border with Belgium. A lively hub with a thriving cultural scene, the capital of the Hauts-de-France region boasts incomparable architectural beauty and historical heritage. From the lavish Baroque buildings of the restored Old Town, the so-called Vieux Lille, to the fascinating 17th-century fortress La Citadelle de Lille, explore the city's best attractions and delve into the history and traditions of this charming Northern-France town. If you visit in September, join the enthralling celebration of the Braderie de Lille, Europe’s largest and most famous flea market, and try the exquisite specialities of the local Belgium-influenced cuisine. Read through our tips on how to make the most of your stay and discover our favourite things to do in Lille.
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Le Vieux Lille- Lille's Old Town

Start your exploration of Lille from the wonderfully restored historic centre. Le Vieux Lille, as the Old Town is known, is a charming maze of cobblestone streets lined with magnificent Baroque buildings. The eclectic architectural style and deco elements attest to Lille's long Dutch heritage, since the city belonged to the Flanders before being annexed to France in the 17th century. From the lavishly decorated church facades to the elegantly restored terraces, Le Vieux Lille features an out-of-time charm, blending the majestic splendour of the past centuries with a modern, lively atmosphere. The treasures you will discover in Lille’s Old Town include: the Hospice Comtesse located in Rue de la Monnaie, which used to be the residence of Flemish Countess Joan of Constantinople in the 13th century and is now one of the city’s most visited museums, Charles de Gaulle’s Birthplace and Childhood Home, the Old Stock Exchange building, and the renowned Cathedral Notre Dame de la Treille. Le Vieux Lille is also famous for its vibrant dining scene and nightlife; make sure to stick around until after dark to get a real glimpse of the Lille’s enthralling vibe.

Grand Place

Lille’s largest and most emblematic square, the Grand Place, is the perfect place to admire some of the city’s most iconic buildings and monuments. Besides the Vieille Bourse, the square, which is also called Place du Général de Gaulle, hosts remarkable monuments such as the Colonne de la Déesse (Column of the Goddess), erected in 1792 as a memorial of Lille’s siege and surrounded by an elegant Neo-classic fountain, and the magnificent Théâtre du Nord, Lille’s historic city theatre which also hosts a dramatic arts academy and represents one of the town’s most important cultural hubs. While you stroll across Grand Place, take a break by one of the many cafes and restaurants lining the square to unwind and experience Lille’s true vibe.

La Vieille Bourse- Lille's Old Stock Exchange

The Vieille Bourse, the Old Stock Exchange building, is one of Lille’s most representative landmarks with incomparable historical and artistic value. Located in the central square of Grand Place, the mansion is an astonishing masterpiece of Flemish Baroque architecture. The Vieille Bourse building was built in the form of a quadrangle made of 24 identical blocks that incorporate an internal courtyard, which nowadays is crowded with florists, bouquinistes, and chess players and hosts live events such as tango workshops. The sumptuous campanile tower is adorned with a statue of the god of commerce Mercury, symbolizing the essence of the building and Lille’s economic rise, whereas the bass-relief lions of Flanders sculpted on the building’s portals are a reminder of Lille’s belonging to the Netherlands.

Discover Lille's cuisine

Lille is an excellent destination for foodies; combining the rich French culinary tradition with a strong influence from Belgian cuisine, Lille’s gastronomy is eclectic and varied. To get a real taste of the local flavours, we suggest you try the traditional Belgium-influenced moules frites, a typical dish of mussels served with fries and different dressings. Continue your culinary exploration with the very Flemish waterzooi, (lit. boiling water in Dutch, a simmered poultry meat dish cooked in broth and served with a lemon-based cream) and with the strong-flavoured carbonade flamande, a beef meat-based dish cooked in beer and accompanied with gingerbread, brown sugar and mustard. Faithfull to the France's gastronomic reputation, Lille’s cuisine also includes several kinds of cheese; make sure you try the iconic Boule de Lille, also known as mimolette, a typical red cheese similar to edam. In the warm months, you can enjoy some of Lille’s mouthwatering sweets and pastries in the many open-air cafes and dining venues. Beyond the famous waffles - or gaufres - made with vanilla from Madagascar, delight your sweet tooth with a cramique, a small raisin brioche coated with pearl sugar, and the merveilleux, a little cake original from Belgium made of two meringues filled with a thick layer of whipped cream, coated with chocolate shavings and topped with a cherry.

Street markets and Braderie de Lille

For a very local shopping experience, we recommend you visit Lille’s most famous street markets. Halles de Wazemmes covered marketplace is a great spot to purchase and taste fresh ready-to-eat food and offers a relaxed and cosy atmosphere that you can enjoy with any weather condition. Other excellent markets where you can find the best local products are the Marché Sébastopol, occurring twice a week, and the Marché Place Vanhoenacker, offering fresh local, organic fruit and vegetables and exquisite bakery items and pastries. The Marché de la Vieille Bourse, hosted in the inner courtyard of the Old Stock Exchange building, is a paradise for book lovers: dozens of bouquinistes crowd the historic venue of the Vieille Bourse with stands offering ancient and second-hand books, comics, postcards, newspapers, and trinkets. But Lille’s most famous market is undoubtfully the world-famous Braderie de Lille taking place during the first weekend of September. One of the largest gatherings in France and Europe’s most extensive flea market, the kermess brings in town a wave of live music and shows, including a colourful fun fair, a marathon and food events. All around the city, you will find countless mobile trucks offering exquisite fusion street food, that you can taste while browsing the quaint festival’s stands.

Palais de Beaux Arts and Lille's museums

Lille’s cultural scene is among the most compelling in France. The wide choice of museums and galleries will leave you no time to get bored. The Palais de Beaux Arts, situated in Place de la République at a short distance from Place du Général de Gaul and the Vieille Bourse, is a Baroque jewel and a piece of art in itself. One of the first museums built in France, it dates to the beginning of the 19th century and houses a rich collection of masterpieces ranging from the 15th century to the modern age that includes works by Goya and the Italian Renaissance masters. Beyond the already-mentioned Musée de l'Hospice Comtesse and Charles de Gaulle's House, we recommend you check out Lille’s unique modern art museum, LaM, Lille Metropole Museum of Contemporary Art . Set in an impressive sculpture park, the museum hosts an extensive collection of 20th and 21st-century modern, contemporary, and art brut including over 7000 works.

Lille's Porte de Paris

Lille’s iconic landmarks also include the magnificent triumph arch Porte de Paris celebrating the conquest of the city by Louis XIV. After Lille’s siege and its annexation to France, the new owners built several gates through the city walls; the Paris Gate is probably the most remarkable one since it was meant to symbolize the Sun King’s victory. Nowadays, the city walls are gone, but the structure remains one of the most significant and sumptuous examples of military architecture in Europe. Not too far from the Porte de Paris, you will come across the Townhall building and its famous Beffroi de l'Hotel de Ville , the 104 metres high belfry designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Make sure you climb it and enjoy a spectacular view of Lille’s cityscape.

La Citadelle de Lille- Lille's Citadel

Right next to Le Vieux Lille you will find one of the city’s unmissable attractions. The Citadelle de Lille was built in the second half of the 17th century by the renowned architect Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban and is one of the most stunning and effective military fortifications erected in France. The Citadel of Lille, sometimes referred to as the “Queen of the Citadels” due to its meticulous defence structure, is still used by the French Army but the fortress and the surrounding 70 hectares of parkland are open to the public. The parkland outside the citadel is home to diverse wildlife and hosts Lille’s Zoological Garden.

Lille Zoo

When visiting Lille with your family and children, a visit to the city’s wonderful Parc Zoologique is mandatory. Set in the parkland surrounding the Citadel of Lille, the zoological garden is free and hosts both endemic and exotic fauna species. The zoo, which opened in 1950, offers all visitors free entrance and is arranged in thematic areas where animals are grouped by taxo­nomic origin, geographical origin, and habitat. The zoo’s guests include alpacas, mara, capybara, Brazilian tapir, scarlet macaw, and the rare red panda.

Parc de l’Heron and Vauban Garden

After a long day of sightseeing or business, take some solace in Lille’s green lungs. The beautiful Parc du Héron (Heron Park) is an ideal spot to enjoy nature and outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, horse riding or jogging. The park is home to the homonymous lake, the largest body of water in town, an extensive part of which is an ornithological reserve and refuge for over 250 aviary species. The elegant park and English garden Jardin Vauban, created in 1863 by the landscape architect Jean-Pierre Barillet-Deschamps, is one of Lille’s most unconventional historical monuments and includes an artificial cave, different ponds, monuments erected in tribute to Lille’s illustrious personalities (including Charles de Gaulle) and even a puppet theatre.