Lille is one of France’s best cities and it 82 minutes from London with Eurostar
We Brits are so used to booking cheap plane tickets to Spain and Portugal that we often forget there are holiday hotspots to explore by train.
Perhaps the price of British rail tickets makes us dismiss the Eurostar, but you can get tickets for as little as £39 to destinations around France, the Netherlands and Belgium.
And, some of the lesser explored stops are less than two hours away from London – making them perfect for a weekend away or even a day trip.
At under 90minutes from St Pancras Station on the Eurostar, Lille is a stunning city littered with Gothic churches, Flemish architecture and large museums.
It takes just 82 minutes to journey there and there’s plenty to do within walking distance of the station.
As the Eurostar website states: “Lille is the perfect place to visit for a day trip or a short break.
“You can spend the morning shopping in the old town, drop into Meert for coffee and waffles, have a hearty plate of moules frites (mussels and chips) for lunch, then pop into the massive Carrefour hypermarket, next to the station, to stock up on fabulous French produce, and still be home in time for dinner and your favourite soap.”
We’ve put together a collection of things to do, dishes to eat and places to shop in Lille for a top notch budget break.
Check out our recommendations below…
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Best things to see and do in Lille
The Vieux-Lille is a neighbourhood in the city that features an ornate 17th Century stock exchange, a striking 19th Century cathedral and the Porte de Gand monument.
Wandering around this area, and the main square, will have you craning your neck at the impressive architecture and history.
Red brick buildings make this neighbourhood look more Belgian than French and it’s worth taking a stroll before stopping in any of the cocktail bars, shops and restaurants.
Palais des Beaux-Arts
This municipal museum is dedicated to fine art and antiques as well as some modern art and it’s a great place to spend the morning.
Built in the Belle Epoque style this museum looks like a palace and is filled with riches.
In fact, it’s the second biggest collection of fine arts in France beaten only by the Louvre so art lovers should definitely make the time to look around.
Lille Natural History Museum
Another fantastic museum for the curious this attraction houses zoological and geological collections.
Opened in 1822, it survived both World Wars and now hosts over 200,000 artefacts and specimens.
Definitely worth seeing when staying in Lille especially as the entry cost is just €3.80 (£2.98) for adults and children under 12 go free.
Lille’s zoo is small, but well looked after and it contains 300 different animals of more than 80 species.
The park has six parts including a tropical building, an African and an American section and a monkey house.
Entry costs just a few euros per person.
Monument to Carrier Pigeon
A little bit of a niche attraction, but this enormous 20ft statue in Lille is a good sight for anyone with an interest in World War I history.
Located at the entrance to the Lille Zoo it pays homage and honours France’s carrier pigeons during the conflict.
In the statue, peace is represented by a female figure as she liberates a swarm of birds.
There are plenty of shops in Lille, but there are also some incredible markets the likes of which aren’t seen as much in the UK.
The Marché de Wazemmes is a traditional market hall where you can buy everything from those glorious French cheeses and breads to flowers, fabrics and more exotic items.
The colourful market is one of the largest in France and is often given a vibrant atmosphere thanks to accordion players and musicians.
The Marche is open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays until 2pm.
There’s also La Braderie flea market once per year in September.
The market began in the 12th Century and is the largest event of its kind in the Europe.
The flea market features over 10,000 exhibitors and will attract almost two million visitors.
Avid readers should head to the Vieille Bourse Book Market in the former Chamber of Commerce building near the Grand Place.
The market sells second hand books of all kinds and the courtyard is usually full of sellers as well as locals playing chess who are happy for you to join in.
Most of the books are usually in French, but there are plenty of other languages included too.
The book market is open Tuesday to Sunday from 1pm to 7pm.
Things to eat
You may choose to simply nibble on the foods you buy at the markets or nip into whatever restaurant tickles your fancy, but there are some regional dishes you should give a try in Lille.
La Carbonnade Flamande is a beer and onion stew which features chunky vegetables and tender meat covered in a rich gravy.
It’s perfect for dunking fresh bread covered in plenty of butter.
For lunch time, Flamiche au Maroilles is a cheesy tart made with lots of butter and pepper kind of like a quiche.
And, surprisingly, you can also find Le Welsh in Lille which is made of melted cheese poured over toasted bread and ham with a fried egg on top.
Kind of like a mix between a Croque Madame and a Welsh rarebit we’d eat this every day.
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