If you’re planning a short break or weekend trip to France I would recommend Lille as a great place to visit. This major town in northern France has undergone a major rebirth in recent years. Once known as “The Manchester of France”, this former textile powerhouse went through a period of serious decline until the 1980’s. Its resurgence has been so great that in 2004 it was crowned the European Capital of Culture.
Lille’s historic buildings have been given a new lease of life and these exquisitely charming, characterful buildings cannot fail to impress its visitors. The thing that struck me most on my first visit to Lille is how totally different it is to other big French cities like Paris and Nice. It has many red brick Flemish style buildings which are incredibly ornate.
Top Attractions in Lille
The best place to start enjoying the stunning architecture is La Grand Place (Main Square). This is situated in what is known as the “old centre“, an area containing many 17th and 18th century town houses and other fascinating buildings. Just wandering around the narrow, cobbled streets you will discover the real Flemish soul of this French city.
The Vieille Bourse is the most significant building in La Grand Place. This former stock exchange was built by Julien Destrée in 1653. It is made up of 24 identical houses which are situated around a courtyard which now serves as a central meeting place.
Once you’ve taken in the splendour of the city’s streets you could always take a trip to the fabulous Palais des Beaux-Arts. The museum of fine arts is regarded as the second largest to the Louvre and houses an impressive permanent collection of European paintings, together with a large sculpture gallery and an extensive collection of drawings and ceramics.
On the first floor there are ten rooms containing over 650 paintings with works by Rubens, Delacroix, Géricault, Corot and Courbet to be enjoyed.
Another interesting place to visit is the Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse. This former hospice, which was founded in 1237 stands in a beautiful courtyard and is now home to temporary cultural exhibitions as well as a collection of 17th and 18th century art including ceramics, tapestries and musical instruments. On the ground floor they have recreated the interior of both a Flemish house and the hospital as it would have been hundreds of years ago.
The Notre Dame de la Treille is another of Lille’s fabulous buildings. The construction of this Roman Catholic cathedral began in 1853 and lasted nearly 150 years. It has a very contemporary facade which belies the grandness of the interior with its beautiful stained glass windows and elegant columns.
Finally, if you get chance to travel outside of the city Roubaix is definitely worth a visit. Located in the metropolitan area of Lille it is just a short tram ride away. It is good for shopping but moreover this is the home of the famous “La Piscine“.
This former art deco swimming pool is now an extraorindary museum of art and industry. It houses a fine collection of paintings, drawing, ceramics and textiles.