Every year, I try to visit a new city in France, either before or after my summer job in Paris. This year, I decided to go to Lille for a few days at the beginning of August. I thoroughly enjoyed my time here and wanted to share some of my favorite places to eat and places to go. In this post, I’ll just focus on where to go and in a follow-up post, I tell you where I enjoyed dining.
1. Lille City Pass: My first stop, after checking in to my very nice hotel, the Clarance, was to go to the tourism office on the Place Rohan and buy a 72-hour City Pass. They are also available for 24 and 48 hours. This gave me access to numerous historical sites, as well as the network of trams, trains, buses and the two-line subway system. Not having to pull out my wallet each time I visited a site certainly freed me up to check out places I might not have gone to otherwise.
2. Guided City Tour: At fist, I couldn’t make any sense of Lille’s tangle of street in the historic town center, so the guided City Tour really helped me to understand the why as well as the where of Lille. Lille grew exponentially in the industrial 19th century, due to the textile industry. Its success, however, also brought difficulties in the form of disease and an astronomical infant mortality rate. Originally, like nearby Bruges or more exotic Venice, Lille had been crisscrossed with canals. These were used by the factories as well as the citizens for, well, everything. The city walls kept the population contained within a fairly restrained footprint. Eventually, the decision was made to fill in the canals when three successive waves of plague swept through in the course of a century. There are still places in the city where a smell of stinky drains emphasizes the wisdom of that decision!
3. City Bus Tour: The following day, I went on the bus tour with recorded commentary (and an over-eager driver who kept talking over that commentary),which helped me get a sense of where things were outside the historic core of the city and plan more visits, such as to the Porte de Paris and Befroi, a deco-era tower with a panoramic view of the city.
4. The Palais des Beaux Arts: Although its relief maps from the 18th century are currently being restored, there was still enough to see in a pleasant hour. The second floor houses several Rubens’ and this rather lovely sculpture of Napoleon’s son, for example.
Que voir à Lille (kuh vwar ah Leel) means “What to see in Lille” and I hope I have given you some ideas. Of course, the most enjoyable moments are the little corners one stumbles across par hasard. And to do that, just go for a wander. No admission required.