Lille is a charming city located in northern France, just a short train ride away from London, Brussels, and Paris. It’s the perfect destination for a long weekend getaway, offering a rich history, beautiful architecture, delicious food, and plenty of activities to keep you entertained.
In February 2023, we traveled to this city to trace some family ancestry. During our visit, we fell in love with its convenient location, friendly people, and delicious food. This has made it a place that we hope to visit regularly in the future.
Location and History of Lille
Lille has a rich history that dates back to the Middle Ages, and its location has made it a strategic stronghold throughout the centuries. Today, it’s a vibrant city with a mix of old and new, offering visitors a unique blend of French and Flemish culture. Located about 20km south of Belgium and about 100KM South East of Calais and Dunkirk, this city has a definite Flemish feel and a Northern France vibe that feels so different to a city like Nice on the Cote D’Azur.
It is also a great staging post to visit the battlefields of Flanders, Sommes and Ypres which we left for another trip.
9 Things to do with a long weekend in Lille
Before visiting we didn’t know much about the city or what there was to do. I am pleased to report there is plenty of great things to see and do for a long weekend in Lille.
We visited in February 2023 and were blessed with bright blue skies and biting temperatures but we’d rather have sun than rain!
Here is what we got up:
1 Wandering around the old town – the cobbled streets, painted buildings, and mix of independent boutiques and high-end retailers, including Louis Vuitton, make for a great shopping experience. These streets were deserted in the early morning and late evening making it a great time to soak up the atmosphere and grab some pictures.
2 A Visit to the citadelle – About a 15 minute walk from the old town, we enjoyed a walk around the old Citadelle. This star shaped structure has a long history of military use to the present day. Surrounding the structure is a large park of grassland, streams and ponds and footpaths. I am sure in the summer this is a great place for a picnic but we had to keep moving! There is also a small zoo and a funfair (the Cita-Parc amusement park) if you little ones.
3 Ate like a local – We indulged in many planned and unplanned treats throughout our weekend in Lille. We stumbled across a great lunch spot called Estaminet Au Vieux De La Vieille and sat in a buzzy cafe surrounded by locals. I opted for the local platter which included some local delicacies including ‘Le Welsh’ which is their take on the Welsh Rarebit. We had some fancy and some chilled dinners including a dinner at the upmarket Restaurant Le Coke & Bar which is in the old Coke building – where they would set the price for coke and coal which was an important part of the Lilloise economy in times gone by.
We came upon the food market at Marché de Wazemmes. A vast glass structure that hosted food producers from around Lille. In here you could get fresh fruit and salad (no shortages here) fresh meat and fish as well as local delicacies like white sausage.
In Lille there are many Fritteries – a glorified chip shop that sells large portions of Frites/French Fries. You get served them in a cone, which then pops into a cone shaped hole in your table – Genius!
I tried to look French whilst failing to translate the local paper in a tabac.
4 Explored the art scene – Lille has several galleries and museums to explore. We spent an enjoyable morning in the beautiful Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille – nicknamed The Louvre of the North.
5 Visited the Churches including Notre Dame de la Treille. I’m not religious but love the beauty and peace of a good church or Cathedral. This modern looking church dates back many centuries but has been built up and out over time. Don’t let the frontage put you off popping in! There are many other small churches around the city that are equally worth popping in.
6 Soaked up the History. Just being in the city is history enough, the Opera and Bourse are two beautiful historic buildings right there in the main square (mere steps away from our hotel.) The beautiful quadrant of the old Bourse now hosts book sellers most days.
There is also the The Hospice Comtesse Museum – a 17th-century hospital turned museum provides a glimpse into the city’s past, displaying artefacts and exhibits that tell the story of Lille’s development through the ages. (We didn’t go in TBH)
7 Poked around the market at Marché de Wazemmes . On Sunday we popped back in to see one of the largest street markets, I think, in Northern France. On the streets radiating around the market were hundreds of stalls selling everything from antiques and vintage vinyl to [more] fresh produce, 2nd hand clothes, material and toys.
8 Took thousand of pictures. The architecture and winter sunlight made the city very photogenic as you can see!
9 Walked a lot! Lille is quite compact – everything seemed to be around 15 minutes walk. The city felt safe to wander round even towards the edge of the city as we took a trip out the Rue Nationale where we came upon this wonderful Boulangerie!
Is a weekend long enough to discover Lille?
Yes. We came for four days. We thought that may be too many and had considered popping on the train to Bruges. On reflection we think four days was the perfect length for a long weekend. Enough time to see the sights and enjoy a few dinners but not long enough to get bored. We think three days may be plenty next time.
Where we stayed in Lille
We stayed at the Hotel Carlton, a luxury hotel located in the heart of Lille. It’s a historic building with elegant decor and spacious rooms. It’s also conveniently located within walking distance of many of the city’s top attractions. Our junior suite offered a large comfortable bed and a spacious seating area. The lack of a shower (only a bath) and limited wardrobe space were two minor niggles. The room was comfortable and quiet, with great views out to the Opera.
We enjoyed the extensive buffet breakfast every morning in the hotel.
3 Rue Pierre Mauroy, 59000 Lille, France
Where we ate in Lille
5 Rue Saint-Jacques, 59800 Lille, France
Sunday night pizzas. A buzzing place that fills up quickly. Cool Football themed decor (don’t know why) Tasty pizzas, great decor and good service. Go early if you don’t want to queue!
Restaurant Le Coke & Bar
30 Rue Thiers, 59800 Lille, France
High end dinner. Feels like a pop up but it’s permanent. Fancy food, good for a dress up dinner.
Le Coke / Restaurant traditionnel / Lille
59 rue d’Isly 59000 Lille
The dining highlight of our trip. Located about 15 minute Uber from the Opera/Hotel. Chic, contemporary bistro serving a changing menu of seasonal meat & fish dishes with wine pairings.
Definitely a locals place, bring your best French and enjoy wonderful hospitality and delicious food.
71 Rue de Béthune, 59800 Lille, France
The oldest restaurant in Lille. Another locals place which was OK. Big tankards of Belgian beer and local dishes made for a good first night dinner.
Estaminet Au Vieux De La Vieille
2 Rue des Vieux Murs, 59800 Lille, France
Where the locals have lunch!
Getting to Lille
Lille is easily accessible by Eurostar from London, Brussels, and Paris. The Eurostar arrives at Lille Europe station, which is just a short walk from the city centre. it takes about 90 minutes from London St Pancras International.
In conclusion, Lille is a wonderful destination for a long weekend getaway. With its rich history, beautiful architecture, delicious food, and plenty of activities to keep you entertained, it’s a city that’s sure to capture your heart. Whether you’re looking to relax, explore, or indulge.