Lille is one of France’s undiscovered gems. With the Old Quarter’s beautiful wide squares and a labyrinth of narrow cobbled shop-lined streets that stand out against the modern futurist buildings around the centre, the city is now a major tourist attraction. Its vibrant cultural life, with one of the best art galleries outside Paris, and thriving music scene, plus the annual Braderie – the biggest flea market and antique fair in Europe which takes place every September and when more than a million visitors create a virtual 36-hour street party – are rapidly making Lille northern France’s unofficial capital.
Main City Paris
Surface 39.51 km²
Density 5,720 /km²
One little secret worth sharing is the best view of Lille from the top of the imposing belfry crowning the Hôtel de Ville (the town hall), which at 104 metres, is the tallest municipal building in France. Little-known by visitors, it’s a popular place for local people to admire their city. From the top if you look to the northwest you can see the massive 17th century citadel designed by Vauban over the huddled roofs of Vieux Lille, making a stark contrast to the extraordinary cutting-edge modern architecture of Euralille to the east. The foundations of the tower stand on the site of La Liberté, the old café where the socialist anthem l’Internationale was composed and sung for the first time in 1888.
Set around the covered courtyard between two old town houses of Vieux Lille, a series of candlelit red brick and panelled rooms with wooden tables creates an inviting and warm décor at restaurant La Cave aux Fioles. The staff here are friendly and welcoming, and the cuisine – a fusion of excellent traditional cooking with a modern twist – lives up to the intimate atmosphere of the restaurant. The menu is full of choice, from mouth-watering waterzooï de Homard – a rich lobster stew – to mushrooms stuffed with Roquefort. For dessert try the typical Délicatesse du Nord: glace au genièvre et à la chicoré – a tantalising ice-cream flavoured with local gin and chicory.
The vibrant club B-Floor is a favourite nightlife venue amongst the students and party-goers of Lille, famed for the size of its huge dance floor, which can take up to 500 people, and which gets really packed on Fridays and Saturdays. B-Floor’s top DJs play electro, house and dub, and with evenings of salsa, rock, reggae, merengue and blues there’s something to please the most demanding of dance fans. The well-stocked bar has an extensive cocktail menu, plus there’s a happy hour on Friday nights.