Read Our Top Tips for a Short Break in Lille
48hrs isn’t much in a city, is it? How on earth could you ‘do’ Paris or London in two days? But in a small city like Lille it’s definitely enough time to cram a lot of exploring, seeing (and eating and drinking!) in, and to really get a hint of the city’s style. Here’s our personal Tips for a Short Break in Lille – from our favourite restaurant to the most astonishing museum you’ll ever visit…
Walk. A Lot (and look up!).
In a small city like Lille, walking is a perfect way to discover it. We had a Lille Citypass – €25 per person for a 24hr pass; great value for those who will use it. I think we rather wasted ours; they cover all public transport, plus entry to all museums etc. We did enjoy the city bus tour, and we used it on the Metro to get to La Piscine, plus entry to the museum itself. But be aware that everything in the main tourist areas is reachable on foot – we loved exploring this way, from the old quarter all the way down to the river in one day, and never went above an enjoyable saunter. So if you’re purely a foot-explorer, the Citypass may not be for you. If you plan to take in the wealth of museums & galleries plus the city tour, then it will definitely save you money. Plan your activities first!
Whilst you’re pottering along please please please do look up; Lille’s old quarter (Vieux Lille) is utterly glorious in its architecture above the eyeline. Even if a quiet connecting street is lined with slightly run-down looking shops and houses, raise your eyes and you’ll see a row of loveliness is above you. The quiet, cobblestone streets of Vieux Lille are lined with stylish designer shops – Rue de la Monnaie and Rue Esquermoise are definitely worth a visit.
One note of warning – do remember to look around you, too. A lot of Lille, especially the main squares in the centre, is still cobbled streets – which are lovely, but very confusing to an unknowing tourist as there’s no actual ‘pavement’. The main squares are also roads – see the picture above, which is of a road cutting through the square, see the car on the right. The only thing separating you from the traffic is the occasional slim post, even where a side road joins a main thoroughfare. I kept forgetting this and sauntering across in front of a bicycle or car, forgetting that they had right of way.
This was actually the highlight of our stay – if you’re in the centre then take the metro from Place Rihour just one stop to Gare Lille-Flandres, switch to Line 2 towards Roubaix and get off at Grand Place. It’s then just a 5 minute walk (past yet more grand buildings!).
La Piscine is tucked away behind the main street – entry is 5.5 euros, but it is included in the CityPass.
To be honest, whilst the art housed within La Piscine is good, it’s the building itself which is the total star of the show. I could have spent much much longer just sitting and taking it all in.
The building was converted from an old textile factory which was converted in the 20’s into a hotel – and the swimming pool was built. It’s an Art Deco masterpiece, and it’s all still there for you to see. The pool was closed in 1985, but the city council thankfully ensured it was preserved – and in 1990 it began its resurrection as a museum of art and sculpture.
But it hasn’t been altered – the art has been carefully placed within the swimming pool building; original tiled changing rooms are used as showcases, statues line the now-shallow and narrow pool, but the tiled mosaic original pool edge is clearly visible all around them.
Don’t be alarmed by the regular yelping loud screech that plays for about 10 seconds – once you’ve heard it a time or two you realise it’s actually the sounds of the building in the past, when the pool was filled with excited children splashing and shouting. I grew to love the echoes of the buildings history it played.
And above all, the astonishing circular sun ray windows cast a delicious golden orange glow across the space – when the sun shines it’s a truly magical thing to see.
Honestly – don’t miss this extraordinary place.
We happened across this at the end of the first afternoon; we had stopped at a small boulangerie for a filled roll, and then meandered onwards just following our noses as we munched happily on the fresh bread and considered stopping for a beer. We found a busy street cafe – but right across the square was the oddest-looking cathedral we had ever seen; we forgot about the beer, and headed up the steps.
From the outside, the cathedral is strikingly modern – and frankly hideous. Weird flat panes of grey, strung about with odd wire construction that looked like leftover scaffolding.
Step inside, though, and all becomes clear – the cathedral is absolutely traditional stone construction right up to the front facade, but from the inside those weird ugly grey slabs glow a beautiful streaky orange, flooding the cathedral with warmth and light.
Inside, whilst it is an active cathedral there are many modern works of art placed among the more traditional Gothic works – we loved it and totally recommend you find it. Outside on the square and the steps are a couple of busy cafe’s obviously very popular with the hipsters of the city!
Don’t miss Fred’s! Oh my goodness, these mouthfuls of cloudy sweetness are incredible – be sure to buy a selection box of all six flavours. The tiny little shop often has a queue, but do join it. And don’t miss that ridiculously magnificent chandelier in such a tiny space!
Waffles & Le Welsh
I know – who knew? But after a long day exploring, I’m not sure much beat the flavour of a fresh waffle eaten on the street. I had mine with a simple dusting of icing sugar – so so good. C doused his with caramel sauce (bleurgh), and couldn’t speak for a while through the sticky deliciousness.
And when you’re stopping for a lunch, be sure to try ‘Le Welsh’ a local speciality. Yes, it’s Welsh rarebit, in essence – but oh my goodness it’s so goooood. Heated beer has a criminal amount of cheese added to it, and the mix is poured over a slice of toasted bread and ham before being baked until golden – and a fried egg placed on top for good measure. Eat it. It’s good. And tuck into the pile of chips it’s being served with too. You’ve been walking all morning, you’ve totally earned it.
Our tip-top absolute must-visit recommendation for dinner in Lille. We wished we hadn’t found it on our last night – we would have loved it revisit!
The restaurant is a rustic wood-fired grill – with a slightly different system of pricing. You choose your food, and the all-inclusive price covers all your drinks – at the managers discretion. We enjoyed a truly delicious raspberry and sparkling wine aperitif whilst we placed our order, and a perfect bottle of Bordeaux with our meal. The food was amazing, and when the groaningly full dessert trolley is wheeled across you’re asked to choose not just one, but a little of anything that you fancy.
Everything we ate was delicious, the wines were very good, and most of all the atmosphere was warm and so friendly. Tucked away from the main tourist areas, it was a short walk from our hotel and even though it was midweek it was still busy with locals (always a good sign).
Shopping, shopping shopping…
The centre of Lille is packed full of small independent boutiques and luxurious stores. And if you’re looking for something a little more mainstream, then head out to the train station – beside which is the most enormous shopping Mall, Euralille. You could spend all day inside, and still not have visited every store let alone the food courts. Way too much shopping for my brain, but i don’t think shopping-pro sister would ever leave!
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