With its grand cobblestoned squares lined with outrageously exuberant Baroque buildings, Lille is one of France’s best-kept secrets. And thanks to its excellent rail connections, it is easy to take a day trip to Lille from other major cities, including London via Eurostar.
But which are the best things to see during one day in Lille?
This is where I can help. Have the best time in this fascinating Flemish city by following this Lille self-guided walking tour.
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Make every minute of your Lille visit count
Before you dive into this article, here’s a video of the best Lille attractions to whet your appetite.
Where is Lille in France?
Lille is in Northern France, close to the Belgian border and around 140 miles from Paris. It is the so-called capital of French Flanders and Flemish influences are evident throughout the city, from its architecture to its food.
One Day in Lille: A Walking Tour
This Lille walking tour will take in many of the city’s must-see sights.
Although this 3km walking tour takes a logical route from north to south, you may need to tweak it and dog-leg back to a few places to accommodate their opening hours. Check these in advance.
NEED TO KNOW! Museums and art galleries in Lille are closed on Tuesdays.
Lille walking tour map
To help you make the best of your Lille visit, here’s an interactive walking tour map. Click here or on the image itself for step-by-step directions to get you from one attraction to the next.
Musée de Hospice Comtesse (Hospice Compesse Museum)
Founded in 1237 by Countess Jeanne de Flandre, the Hospice Comtesse Museum is the first stop on our Lille walking tour.
This hospital remained in service until 1939 and is now the city’s museum and home to a collection of Flemish paintings, tapestries, wood sculptures and porcelain.
Aux Merveilleux de Fred
No Lille day trip is complete without trying merveilleux. The best place to pick these up is Aux Merveilleux de Fred and there’s a shop opposite the Hospice Comtesse Museum.
Literally marvellous, these little cakes are made from clouds of light meringue liberally smothered in fresh cream and chocolate shavings.
I’ve since discovered that I can get my fix at London branches of Aux Merveilleux de Fred
Notre Dame de la Treille (Lille Cathedral)
I have walked down the nave of many cathedrals over the years but the Notre Dame de la Treille ranks amongst the most interesting that I have visited.
Lille Cathedral owes its unique appearance to its troubled genesis.
Originally conceived as a Gothic building, the cathedral’s foundations were laid in 1854. However, workers had to down tools in 1947 when funds dried up, and construction was not resumed until 1999.
The resulting cathedral is a dizzying mix of traditional meets contemporary. The ugly modern façade, made from 110 marble sheets, contrasts with the cathedral’s interior with its soaring Gothic arches.
Its glass rose window above the main entrance features unusual symbols including UFOs & astronauts, said to represent the cycle of death and resurrection.
However, for me, Lille Cathedral’s star turn is its La Sainte Chapelle behind the main altar. Housing a small 12th Century statue of the Virgin Mary, it has an exquisite mosaic floor.
Place du Théâtre & La Veille Bourse
Lille’s Place du Théâtre is dominated by two flamboyant buildings.
The first is its gleaming white opera house topped by an overblown sculpture of the Triumph of Apollo. The other is the ornate, albeit more restrained, La Veille Bourse.
La Veille Bourse was one of my favourite places to visit in Lille. Formerly the city’s stock exchange, this structure comprises 24 small houses arranged around an elaborate, porticoed inner courtyard, embellished with decorative plaques and stone sculptures.
Now home to a book market, La Veille Bourse has an interesting history. Prior to its construction in the 1650s, most trading took place outside, and traders were at the mercy of the elements.
Battling wind, rain and damp chill during my day in Lille I felt their pain!
Therefore, to prevent the traders from falling sick, La Veille Bourse was commissioned to provide private houses supporting trading in the coldest months.
Place du Générale de Gaulle (Grand Place)
Lille’s beating heart, the Grand Place was the site of the city’s medieval market. Today, it’s a focal point for celebrations – and demonstrations – and a popular meeting place.
At Christmas time, it is home to a giant Ferris wheel.
The Déesse Column, commemorating the 1792 Austrian siege, holds court in the centre of the square.
More exuberant Flemish buildings flank the square, including the La Voix du Nord building, home to the largest newspaper in Northern France.
Climb the steps to the entrance of Théâtre du Nord for a birds-eye view of the Grand Place.
Place Rihour & Lille Christmas market
Lacking the architectural bravado of the Grand Place or Place du Théâtre, the smaller and unremarkable Place Rihour, is home to the friendly Lille Tourist Office and the city’s Christmas market.
Avoid visiting Lille’s Christmas market on weekend nights. Enormous queues were snaking along the market’s perimeter on Saturday night, and the area was rammed with visitors.
Church of St. Etienne
A few minutes’ walk southwest of Place Rihour is one of France’s largest Jesuit churches, the 18th Century Church of St. Etienne (L’Église Saint Etienne). The embodiment of simplicity, it features an exquisite pulpit.
Sculpted by François Rude, it is crowned by angels and cherubs with Faith and Hope holding a vessel of St. Stephen’s martyrdom.
Palais des Beaux-Arts, Lille
Around ten minutes south-east of the Church of St. Etienne is Lille’s cultural calling card, the Palais des Beaux-Arts.
Flanking the southern side of the vast Place de la République, this fine art gallery is second only to the Louvre in France for size and stature.
An illustration of the democratisation of art, the Palais des Beaux-Arts was established by Napoleon in the early 1800s to popularise art, its collection curated from the spoils of war.
Working your way chronologically, start at the basement level with art from the Renaissance period.
Don’t miss a pair of paintings by Dirk Bouts (1420 – 1475) that were once part of a triptych. The painting to your right depicts the righteous ascending into Heaven.
The souls featured in the left-hand side painting weren’t so lucky, with the dammed falling into Hell to be tortured by demons for eternity.
It is thought that the central painting of this triptych represented Judgement Day.
On the upper floor, there is an impressive collection of muscular Rubens, a smattering of Sisleys and expressive Goyas. The Palais des Beaux-Arts is also home to a fine collection of Rodin sculptures, the most striking of which is Les Bourgeois de Calais.
Porte de Paris and the Belfry (Bellfroi de Lille)
Five minutes’ walk east of the Palais des Beaux-Arts is the Porte de Paris, the final stop on our Lille walking tour.
Built by Simon Vollant in the late 17th Century to celebrate Louis XIV’s capture of Lille for the French, this is the most striking of Lille’s surviving city gates.
The adjacent red brick and stone Flemish belfry rises over the city like a giant exclamation mark. At a height of 104 meters, this UNESCO-listed monument is the highest civilian belfry in Europe.
How to Get to Lille
How to get to Lille by train
Lille has two train stations: Lille Flandres and Lille Europe.
Lille Flandres, in the heart of Lille’s old town, serves regional and intercity trains and intercity from within France as well as some TGV (high-speed train) services.
Eurostar trains from Brussels and London and high-speed trains from within France operate from Lille Europe.
It is a ten-minute walk between Lille Flandres and Lille Europe train stations.
EUROSTAR FROM LONDON TO LILLE
The first train from London St. Pancras International station leaves shortly before 7 am and arrives in Lille before 9:30 am; and the last return train leaves at 9 pm, getting into St. Pancras at 9.30 pm.
In 2022, return fares start from £78 in Standard class and from £140 in Eurostar Standard Premier class.
DAY TRIP TO LILLE FROM BELGIAN CITIES BY TRAIN
Most trains from other French cities and from Belgium arrive at Lille Flandres station.
The journey time between Lille and Paris du Nord is one hour.
If you are in lovely Leuven, you can be in Lille in as little as two hours.
Note that some of the TGV services go into Lille Europe.
Take a look at train times here.
Travelling to Lille by car
If you need to bring your car, Lille is just under 70 miles from Calais. Eurotunnel trains run from Folkestone to Calais up to four times per hour from 7 am. The last train back from Calais is at around midnight.
Alternatively, take the car ferry from Dover to Calais, a 90-minute crossing.
There are underground car parks near the old town.
How to Get Around on a Day Trip to Lille
Your own two feet are the best way to get around Lille. As most of Lille’s attractions are close to one another, the city lends itself beautifully to a self-guided walking tour
But if you are feeling weary, Lille has an excellent bus, tram and metro network. In 2022, a 24-hour travel pass costs €5; single tickets are €1.70.
Public transport is included in the Lille City Pass, which also includes free access to attractions and a selection of discounts and special offers. This is available for 24 hours, 48 hours or 72 hours.
Unlimited travel SNCF TER network (regional express trains) throughout Nord-Pas de Calais for a period of 24 consecutive hours is included in the 72 hours Lille City pass.
Where to Stay in Lille
As one of France’s biggest cities, Lille is not lacking in accommodation options. However, to be in the thick of things, pick a central location near the old town.
I chose this 3-star hotel for its central location close to Lille Flandres station.
>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK AVAILABILITY & BOOK
Here are some other hotels that I have found that may suit other budgets:
This 4-star hotel is right in the thick of things on the Grand Place. A good breakfast is included in the room rate.
>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK AVAILABILITY & BOOK
Close to Lille-Flandres Station, this budget hotel looks terrific value and its helpful staff get a special mention in online reviews.
>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK AVAILABILITY & BOOK
Where to Eat in Lille
La Pâte Brisée, 63 rue de la Monnaie
Opposite the Hospice Comtesse Museum, this busy, no-nonsense restaurant serves belly-filling portions of tartiflette, an artery-clogging dish of cheese, white wine, potatoes and bacon.
It tastes so good.
How Many Days Do You Need in Lille?
One day in Lille is enough to cover its main sights. Thanks to its excellent rail connections, including the Eurostar service to London, it is easy to visit on a day trip.
However, I recommend spending two days in Lille to appreciate it at a more relaxed pace.
Is Lille Worth Visiting?
Over the years, Lille hasn’t earned the best reputation. It’s been viewed as a northern France equivalent of Marseilles if you like, with industrialisation and racism in equal measure.
However, over two days I was slowly seduced by its grandiose Flemish architecture, the charm of its old town, the friendliness of its people and its hearty cuisine.