Looking for things to do in Lille, France? I’ve got you covered! Dad and I try to schedule in at least one trip together every year and last year, we decided to go on a day trip to Lille.
I’d only ever been shopping in Lille, France once, but that wasn’t in the city center, so to prepare for our getaway I made a list of things to do in Lille and I mapped them out on a Google map of Lille that I could easily access on my phone.
Want to do some Lille sightseeing with me? Come along!
Top things to do in Lille, France
1. Place de Charles de Gaulle
The Place Charles de Gaulle, named after the French general and later president De Gaulle who was born in the city, is the central square in Lille Old Town. Bars and restaurants surround the square, making it a great place to do some people-watching.
This was our first stop during our Lille day trip and it’s a great place to start because – as with many central squares – you can explore the entire center from here.
2. Book market on Vieille Bourse
The Vieille Bourse or “Old Stock Exchange” is one of the places to visit in Lille. The building dates back to the 17th century and consists of 24 identical houses built around an inner square.
If you go in the morning, it’ll be rather calm and you’ll be able to admire the architecture, but in the afternoon, secondhand booksellers open their stands and people come to play chess here.
3. Opéra de Lille
You can find the Opera of Lille on the Place du Théâtre. Even if you don’t go in for a performance (we didn’t), the building’s facade is pretty impressive and when the weather’s nice, you can see people sitting on the steps leading up to the entry doors.
Like opera houses all around the world, it’s one of those typical landmarks listed as one of the things to see in Lille in guidebooks.
4.Go shopping in Lille
Old Town Lille is great for shopping. Yes, you can find some of the big retailers here, but I recommend diving into streets like the rue de la Grande Chaussée (for luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Hermès), the rue de la Clef and the Rue Masurel (for independent boutiques and trendy stores), the rue Basse (for antiques), the rue Nationale, the rue de la Vieille Comédie and the Place Rihour.
That last square is also where you can find the Lille Tourist Information in case you’d like to get a Lille tourist map or have some questions.
5. Check out the Notre Dame de la Treille
As far as Lille attractions go, the Notre Dame de la Treille is quite something. Not simply because it’s a cathedral, but because to me it looked like it was patched together out of different pieces of church. There’s one bit that looks really old, then one bit that looks like it’s been added later but in a rushed way and then there’s the facade: grey and modern-looking, but not inviting at all.
I’m a fan of “tight” architecture without any fringes, but this facade… I wasn’t convinced.
By the time we got to the cathedral, I was also getting hungry, so we didn’t go in. Instead, we headed to our next stop…
6. Have lunch at Tous les Jours Dimanche
Tous les Jours Dimanche – translated as “Every day Sunday” – is a fun bistro at 13 rue Masurel. I found out about it while researching places to eat in Lille. At first, I was a bit hesitant to go in as the menu hanging by the door seemed rather limited, but I was pleasantly surprised once we got inside.
Tous les Jours Dimanche is much bigger than it looks from the outside, but it’s compartmentalized in such a way that no matter what table you’re sitting at, it always feels cozy and you get the impression of having food in someone’s living room.
The restaurant has an open kitchen, personnel is friendly and the food is good. I had a lovely quiche and, if I recall correctly, my dad had steak.
I think we got lucky to get a table around lunchtime on a Saturday because the place was rather full. So maybe it’s best to go a bit early or later if you want to be sure to snatch a spot.
7. Have a merveilleux at Aux Merveillieux, 67 Rue de la Monnaie)
What to do in Lille when you’re craving something sweet? Have a “merveilleux”! Apparently, having a merveillieux (pastries with merengue, lots of whipped cream and chocolate) is one of the typical Lille things to do and Aux Merveillieux (67 Rue de la Monnaie) was the place to get them, so I did!
I opted for a small version of the classic, but Aux Merveilleux also sells “modern” versions with different kinds of flavors. Yum!
8. Walk over the Place aux Oignons
The Place aux Oignons is one of those cute little squares that’s just pretty. There’s nothing special to see here, but it’s a lovely spot and it’s close to all the fun streets of the Old Town, so you might as well go and have a look.
9. Check out the Citadelle de Lille from afar and feel like a child again at the amusement park
The Lille Citadel is located in the center of a big park park, but can’t be visited. You can see the building from afar and walk around its high walls from a bit of distance, but it’s still military domain and so a no-go zone for tourists and locals alike.
Lille Zoo is located in the same park and so is a fairground for children. Just outside the park, you can walk through the Jardin Vauban.
10. Check out the Palais des Beaux Arts
The Palais des Beaux Arts or Fine Arts Museum of Lille is quite an impressive building, but when we were there, the facade wasn’t visible due to an event taking place on the square in front of the museum. The permanent collection, taking in 22,000m², consists mostly out of works from the 17th until the 19th century.
Because of its size, the museum is often called the Second Museum of France, with the Louvre being the first. If you’re an art lover wondering what to see in Lille, France this is the answer.
11. Walk through the Porte de Paris and take a photo of the Mairie de Lille on the Place Augustin Laurent
The Porte de Paris (“Gate of Paris”) is an Arc de Triomphe built in the 17th century to commemorate Louis XIV conquering the city. I found it a bit special as the other Arcs I’ve seen around Europe in places like Berlin, Paris and Barcelona were all pretty “open”. This one looks more like a building.
Across the street from the Porte de Paris, there’s something we’re familiar with here in Belgium too: a belfry. Belfries are something typical of Belgium and the north of France and Lille’s belfry can be seen by City Hall at the Place Augustin Laurent.
Good to know
You can climb to the top of the Belfry at 104 meters to get a panoramic view of the city. It’s also the highest viewpoint in Lille. You’ll get binoculars to see all the things and an audioguide.
Some interesting facts about Lille, France
- In the Middle Ages, Lille was part of the County of Flanders. Sometimes people wonder: “Is Lille in France or Belgium?” because Lille also has a Dutch name, “Rijsel” from when it was part of the County of Flanders, but that was long before the country of Belgium was founded.
- Lille was Cultural Capital of Europe in 2004.
- Lille has a completely automated subway system. This means you won’t see any subway drivers!
- The name “Lille” evolved from “L’Île”, meaning “island”. The city originated on a tiny island in the river Deûle.
Tours and ticket deals in Lille
If you plan on visiting a lot of tourist attractions in Lille and using public transportation while you’re there, have a look at the Lille City Pass. It includes:
- Free entry to more than 30 tourist sites and activities in Lille
- Free usage of Lille’s public transport network (metro, bus, tram)
- Discounts in selected restaurants and shops in Lille, Roubaix, and Tourcoing
The city pass is available for 24, 48 or 72 hours.
If you’d rather learn about Lille with a guide, check out these two recommended tours:
Is Lille worth visiting?
I definitely think so. It’s easily walkable, has a nice Old Town with plenty of shops and sightseeing opportunities and art lovers will definitely find some places to go in Lille as well. I wouldn’t mind going back 🙂
How many days in Lille?
We did Lille in a day as it was a rather short drive for us and we managed to see all of the main sights. We didn’t really go shopping though, neither did we take a tour or visit a museum. If you want to do those things during your Lille visit as well and visit the city center at a slower pace, then a day in Lille might not be enough.
In that case, you could plan a weekend in Lille or go during the week when it’s calmer in the center (and in the shops ;-).
Where to stay in Lille
If you go to Lille and want to stay at a hotel, the following three cater to different budgets and styles but are all located in the city center and get great reviews. They also all offer free WiFi and breakfast.
La Maison du Champlain
La Maison du Champlain is a Bed and Breakfast located in a charming 19th-century building. The spacious suites are soundproof and equipped with a flatscreen tv and Nespresso machine but you can also get your cup of coffee with your included continental breakfast. Guests can use the spa for an extra cost and come by train or park at the paid public parking nearby.
Hotel L’Arbre Voyageur
Hotel L’Arbre Voyageur is a four-star hotel located just a 5-minute walk from the Lille Flandres Train Station and a 10-minute walk from the Lille Europe Train Station. Aside from its individually styled rooms, this hotel also has its own bar and two restaurants – perfect for when you want to stay in at night. There’s paid public parking nearby.
L’Art de Vivre Bed & Breakfast
L’Art de Vivre Bed & Breakfast is a bit softer on the wallet while still getting great reviews. It has its own garden and only serves organic and local products at the included breakfast. Water, as well as organic coffee and tea, are available all day long, and there’s free public parking nearby.
If you’re looking for an apartment rather than a hotel, I recommend checking airbnb. Sign up through my link and get a discount on your first stay!
How to travel to Lille?
Where is Lille in France?
Lille lies in the north of France, by the border with Belgium and about 225 km/140 miles from Paris. It’s the capital of the Hauts-de-France department and one of the biggest cities in France.
How to get to Lille by plane
Lille-Lesquin International Airport is only 10 km away from Lille’s city center and 20 minutes by airport shuttle. Another option is to fly into Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) Airport.
How to get to Lille by train
Lille has two train stations: Lille Flandres Train Station and Lille Europe Train Station. The former is where you arrive on regional trains from within France or on the high-speed train to Lille from Paris. The latter is where you can get in when arriving on the Eurostar from Brussels or London to Lille or on high-speed trains from within France.
Because of the easy connection and short travel time, London, Brussels, and Paris all make great day trips from Lille by train. And of course, you can also travel the other way around to do a Paris to Lille day trip, for example.
How to get to Lille by car
We drove to Lille as it’s only about an hour and a half from Leuven. There are plenty of underground parking lots near the Old Town, so we just searched for one on Google Maps before leaving and entered that address in the GPS.
I hope this post has given you a good idea of what to see in Lille in one day and has made you curious about visiting Lille as well. If you go, be sure to let me know how it was!
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