Lille may not have the attractions and the glamour that French cities like Paris and Cannes have, but this town in northern France has a charm and a splendor of its own, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed my time in Lille. This town is located near the Belgian border, so you will find just as many Flemish influences as French influences during your stay. In fact, if you speak French you may actually have a hard time understanding the local language in Lille, as it is heavily influenced by Flemish and Spanish influences. Even though I couldn’t understand the language very well, I was still smitten with the unique charm of Lille, and I couldn’t wait to recommend this underrated French city to my friends, family and fellow travelers.
I had been living in London for several months when I had the craving to take a spontaneous weekend trip out of the UK. As I searched for nearby destinations, I came across Lille, which is just a short train ride away from London. Without hesitating, I bought a train ticket and packed a bag. Then I pulled up HotelTonight’s website and booked a great last-minute hotel in Lille, and just like that I was ready for my mini French vacation.
The heart of this Flemish town is Vieux Lille, the city’s picturesque Old Town. I was lucky enough to book a hotel in the Old Town, so I spent a great deal of time wandering through the historic streets, passing beautiful old buildings and imagining what life must have been like here in the 17th century. Since Lille was (and still is, for the most part) a mercantile city, the town is full of stunning mansions once built by rich merchants. My favorite part of my Lille trip was simply getting lost and wandering the streets of the Old Town, which has a unique vibe and culture you won’t find anywhere else in France.
Built in the 17th century, the Vieille Bourse remains Lille’s most impressing building. This architecturally stunning building is the old stock exchange, and it surrounds a square that had been the heartbeat of the city since medieval times. Today, Vieille Bourse is situated in a beautiful square that boasts great cafes and meeting spots, and it’s definitely one of the most recognizable sights in all of Lille. If you’re lucky, you may even be in Lille when there’s a big event at the Vieille Bourse, like a tango night or a book market. By simply spending some time near the Vieille Bourse, you’ll get a great sense of the town’s distinct energy and culture.
When I asked some Lille locals what I should do during my brief weekend visit, they each told me to explore Marché de Wazemmes. While I’ve been to my fair share of markets during my travels, I’ve never been to one as large or as diverse as Wazemmes. This vibrant market is split into two sections–the outdoor market and the covered market, so you will still be able to get some good shopping in on a rainy day. This market has everything: flowers, fresh produce, locally made cheese, meats, pastries, textiles and antiques. Whether you want to pick up some food for lunch or you want to find a great souvenir from your time in Lille, you’ll definitely be able to find something great at the Marché de Wazemmes.
I’ve visited many French cities over the years, and I’m always impressed with their large green spaces. The French love getting outdoors and enjoying the beauty of nature, which is why the Lillois love the Bois de Boulogne. This large public park, which is surrounded by the Deule River, has many great trails for hiking, walking and biking. So if you’re looking to enjoy a bit of fresh air, greenery and sunshine, do what a local would do and head to the Bois de Boulogne. There’s also a free public zoo in the Boise de Boulogne, making it a great place to visit if you have young children.
Even though I was only able to spend a weekend in Lille, I felt that I was really able to get a good grasp on the locals’ culture and lifestyle. I also found that the locals were far friendlier and more welcoming in Lille than in major French cities like Paris, which made my entire stay in Lille very pleasant. Lille may not be one of the more popular destinations in France, but it certainly has its own charms and attractions, and I will certainly return to this quaint Flemish town in the future. When I decide to take another impromptu weekend trip to Lille, you can bet that I will book my last-minute hotel in Lille through HotelTonight, which makes it so easy for travelers to find great accommodations at a moment’s notice.