How to spend one day in Lille, France
One day itinerary for Lille, France
Just ninety minutes away from central London on the Eurostar, Lille is well placed for a day trip for those craving a taste of France. With its beautiful historic centre, up and coming arts scene and cobbled streets lined with boutique stores, visitors should be able to overlook the high chance of rain in exchange for a chic weekend without the Paris price tag.
How to spend one day in Lille, France
1. Gare Saint Sauveur
From the central train station you can take a lovely walk down Rue Pierre Mauroy past the Porte de Paris monument to Gare Saint Sauveur, a former ‘goods station’ converted into an exhibition space with a theatre, cafe and gift shop attached. Check in advance for the exhibition details. When I visited it was ‘Sportfoto’ – a collection of photography and mixed media installations revolving around sports of all kinds. With free entry it is definitely worth a look.
2. Palais des Beaux Arts
A good local art gallery can be a saviour for a tourist trapped in the rain. This gallery in Lille is a beautiful building in itself, and features a wide range of collections with treasures including a sculpture by Rodin and painting by Monet. There are also some pieces specific to Lille and its history. Entrance fees vary depending on the collection, but the gallery is free on the first Sunday of each month, on heritage days, museum night and for women on Women’s Day.
From the gallery, it’s a short ten minute walk west into Wazemmes and its covered market, best visited on Tuesday, Thursday or Sunday between 7am and 2pm. One of France’s largest markets, Wazemmes hosts a wide range of vendors and food stalls during these times making it a great stop for a snack.
4. Old Exchange & Place Charles de Gaulle
Heading back into the historic centre, it’s time to get a bit lost. Explore the centre and its gorgeous architecture, but be sure to hit the main market square and head into the Old Exchange, home to a host of second hand book sellers.
5. Patisserie Meert
All this wandering should help you work up an appetite, and while you will pass quite a few patisseries, I recommend holding out for Meert. One of the more well established it has all the fare and feeling of a traditional french bakery. Everything I had was absolutely delicious; I guarantee you will have food envy so best to share a selection of treats with a friend.
6. Parc de la Citadelle
If you’re craving some greenery and the weather permits, the parklands surrounding Lille’s Citadelle make for a lovely stroll, particularly after having just indulged in a chocolate eclair. Circle the fortresses five sides for a pleasant 2km loop before heading back into the city centre.
7. Rue Royale
Before you head back to the train, it’s time to shop. Rue Royale and the streets surrounding the centre are filled with boutiques with everything from vintage clothing to artisan homewares. At a minimum it’s worth window shopping, but if like me you head back to London via train you’ll be pleased with the chance to actually take something home with you without the restrictions of airline carry on baggage allowances.
How much I spent in a day in Lille
Eurostar return from London: £105
Entry to Palais des Beaux Arts: Free on first Sunday of the month
Lunch at Wazemmes market: £15
Afternoon Tea at Patisserie Meert: £5
One day total: £125
My trip highlights
I took one of my best friends on a weekend away to Lille when he came to visit me in London, and it was a very special trip! It poured raining most of the weekend making things a bit difficult but being such a small city, we managed to run between places pretty easily.
We ate dinner at La Petite Cour; rustic French food in a gorgeous old building tables covered in bright, plastic table cloths and great cocktails. One of my all time favourite things about visiting France is hitting the local market or even supermarket for cheese and wine – even the cheap stuff is oh so good – so be sure to do that too, even if just for snacks to take on the Eurostar journey home.
What little Lille lacks in major sightseeing draws it makes up for in charm. A lovely place to wander, eat, drink, shop and hang out with friends, it makes for a brilliant day break and an often much needed reminder that London is at the epicentre of Europe (and you should really be taking advantage of that more often!).