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Things to do in Lille

Must-see sights during your visit to Lille

Lille, northern France’s largest city, surprises many visitors with its impressive architecture, the winding streets of its tastefully restored old quarter (Vieux Lille), its plethora of excellent restaurants and its bustling nightlife. It offers a serious attitude to culture, with some great museums too.  For French city breaks, don't just think about Paris - head to Lille for an alternative holiday.  This city has something for everyone.

  1. Enjoy Lille’s art scene at the Modern Art Museum
  2. Wander around Lille’s Coilliot House and city hall
  3. Head to the Museum of Natural History
  4. Visit Lille’s Musée des Beaux-Arts
  5. Learn more about Charles de Gaulle
  6. Marvel at the citadelle
  7. Explore Lille’s old quarter
  8. Enjoy Lille’s nightlife and food

1. Enjoy Lille’s art scene at the Modern Art Museum

One of the best things to do in Lille is to explore its art scene. The suburb of Villeneuve d’Ascq is a mark of Lille’s cultural ambition. Acres of parkland, an old windmill or two, and a whole series of mini-lakes form the setting for the Modern Art Museum. The ground floor holds exhibitions by contemporary French artists, while the permanent collection, on the first floor, contains canvases by Picasso, Braque, Modigliani and Rouault.

Best for: Modern art

While you’re there: The museum has the largest collection of art brut (“raw art”) in France, which includes graffiti pieces.

2. Wander around Lille’s Coilliot House and city hall

On rue de Fleurus, lies Coilliot House, one of the few houses built by Hector Guimard. He made his name designing the Art Nouveau entrances to the Paris metro - it’s worth taking a look at the facade.

Best for: Interesting architecture

While you’re there: Take a look near the triumphal arch of Porte de Paris to find even more impressive architecture.

3. Head to the Museum of Natural History

Located near the green avenue Jean-Baptiste Lebas lies the charming Museum of Natural History. It is a manageable size for children and a great day out for the family. Here you can find a lovely collection of dinosaur bones and fossils.

Best for: Family fun

While you’re there: There is also an impressive array of stuffed birds, including a dodo.

4. Visit Lille’s Musée des Beaux-Arts

The Musée des Beaux-Arts on place de la République is France’s second museum (after the Louvre in Paris, naturally) with the core of its collection from Napoleon’s looting of art from the rest of Europe. The museum contains some important works. Flemish painters form the bulk of the collection, from “primitives” like Dirck Bouts, through the northern Renaissance to Ruisdael, de Hooch and the seventeenth-century greats. There are also several works painted by Rubens for the Capuchin convent in Lille. The museum's late 1990s redesign is sleek and spacious.

Best for: Classical culture

While you’re there: Spot other French contributions too which include paintings by Delacroix, Courbet and Monet.

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5. Learn more about Charles de Gaulle

One of the most interesting things to do in Lille is to visit the Birthplace of Charles de Gaulle.The house where Charles de Gaulle was born in 1890 is now a museum. It exhibits keepsakes and personal objects in rooms that give a very real idea of a bourgeois home in the nineteenth century. A multimedia display takes you through his life.

Best for: Historical insights

While you’re there: There are interesting temporary exhibitions on related subjects such as the story of Anne Frank.

6. Marvel at the citadelle

A must for military buffs, the citadelle overlooks the old quarter to the northwest. It was constructed in a familiar star-shaped fashion by Vauban in the seventeenth century. It’s still in military hands today, but the outskirts are now a splendid park for walking. Looking for Lille holidays? We recommend staying at the Hotel Mercure Lille Centre Grand Palace for a comfortable visit.

Best for: A walk with a view

While you’re there: There are plenty of places for a drink around the citadelle for a pitstop.

7. Explore Lille’s old quarter

The smart shopping streets, rues Esquermoise and Lepelletier, lead towards the heart of Vieux Lille, a warren of red-brick terraces on cobbled lanes and passages. It’s an area of great character and charm, having been successfully reclaimed and reintegrated into the mainstream of the city’s life. To experience the atmosphere, head up towards rue d’Angleterre, rue du Pont-Neuf and the Porte de Gand, rue de la Monnaie and place du Lion d’Or. Walking around this area is simply one of the best things to do in Lille.

Best for: Getting a feel for the city

While you’re there: There are several museums in this area. Don’t forget to visit one of the main sights of the area - the Countess Hospice.

8. Enjoy Lille’s nightlife and food

What to do in Lille? Eat of course! A Flemish flavour and a taste for mussels characterize the city’s traditional cuisine. The main concentration of cafés, brasseries and restaurants are around place Rihour and along rue de Béthune. The old quarter (Vieux Lille) has a reputation for gastronomic excellence, particularly on the eastern side towards and along rue de Gand, where you’ll find most of the worthwhile places. The student quarter along rue Solférino is good for eating. Find Chinese or Japanese eateries and cheap kebab shops. The cafés around the Grand’Place and place Rihour buzz with life. Up near the cathedral in the old quarter, rue Royale, rue de la Barre, rue Basse and place Louise-de-Bettignies have trendier spots, with a few stretched out along rue de la Monnaie. West of the centre, Celtic-style pubs dominate in studenty rue Masséna, attracting a young crowd.

Best for: Evening entertainment

While you’re there: Don’t forget to check out the city’s art and music events - there’s a particularly lively jazz scene.

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