Lille in Northern France is often bypassed on the Eurostar route from London to Paris. But people alighting at Lille-Europe station will discover a city with a lot to see and do. Right outside the station the sculpture “Les tulipes de Shangri-La” by the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, is a nice welcome to Lille.
It is a short walk from the railway station to the Grand Place, the heart of the city. On this vast square there are a lot of interesting buildings including the building housing the Chamber of Commerce, the Theatre du Nord and the Old Stock Exchange; this beautiful Art Noveau building is the site of a book market in its courtyard; behind the Old Stock Exchange is the Opera House. The Goddess Column, at the center of the Grand Place is a popular meeting point in Lille.
Looking away from the Grand Place, is impossible not to spot the City Hall belfry towering over Lille rooftops. A lift goes to the top of the belfry for wonderful view of the city and the magnificent Porte de Paris at the center of a busy roundabout just below the belfry; there is the option to take the lift on the way back or, walk down and stops at different levels of the belfry en route. Although tickets can be bought on the day of the visit, it is also possible to book them in advance online and save a few Euros, or get free access on the first Wednesday of the month (no advance booking).
Back on the ground, a closer look at the Porte de Paris and its beautiful Baroque facade is a must; it was built to commemorate the glory of Louis XVI who conquered the city from the Spanish in 1667.
Next stop on a visit to Lille should be the Fine Arts Museum in Place de la Republique. The building is beautiful outside and also inside with long corridors and staircases; it houses permanent collections with works by Goya, Monet and Picasso to name but a few, ceramics, drawings and it often hosts temporary exhibitions in its vast rooms. On the square outside there is a nice fountain.
From Place de la Republique it is a short walk to Maison Coilloit, a beautiful Art Nouveau style building close to Rue Solferino. Along this long road there are some interesting buildings like the Sacre Coeur church and the Palais Rameau, a nice building with a greenhouse; unfortunately the building is not open to the public and can only be viewed from outside.
Close by is Jardin Vauban one of the numerous green spaces found all over the city; it is very peaceful with a small lake and a grotto. It also includes the Jardin d’Arboriculture Fruitiere with apple, pear and peach trees.
A bridge connects the Jardin Vauban to the Citadel Park, Bois de Boulogne. Lille’s largest green space is surrounding the ramparts of the Citadel, a walled fort; nowadays is the Headquarters of the Rapid Reaction Corps-France.
The Citadel Park is very popular with joggers and families who often visit the free zoo in the park; 400 animals of 70 different species can be seen there including rhinos, zebras, pelicans and many more. Often on the opposite side of the canal towards the Citadel a Highland cow can be spotted grazing.
Exiting the Bois du Bolougne towards Rue de la Barre is Quai du Wault; beautiful houses by the water’s edge make this part of the city look more like Amsterdam than Lille.
Continuing down Rue de la Barre, the Cathedral comes into view. Its official name is Basilica de Notre Dame de la Treille; the modern facade was added in 1999 with a beautiful rose window. Behind the cathedral is Vieux Lille, the old town. The best way to explore it is to get lost in its narrow alleys with colorful houses, shops and buildings.
Before getting back on the Eurostar it is worth to pay a visit to Meert, a patisserie with a tea room serving delicious cakes; their specialty though are waffles, filled with butter, sugar and vanilla from Madagascar, they are sold in small boxes and make for a very tasty souvenir. For people that cannot get enough of them the company offers online ordering and delivers all over Europe!