What to Do in Lille in Northern France

Tour World War I remembrance sites from this French city

Lille in northern France
Tobias Van Der Elst/Creative Commons

Lille, France is located in the north of France, on the Deûle River, near the border with Belgium. Lille is one hour by train from Paris and 80 minutes from London by TGV train. 

Lille is in the Nord-Pas de Calais region of France.

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How to Get to Lille

The Lille-Lesquin International Airport is located 10 km from the center of Lille.

An airport shuttle (from door A) gets you into the center of Lille in 20 minutes.

Lille has two train stations located 400 meters apart. Lille Flandres Station offers TER regional trains and direct TGV service to Paris, while Lille Europe Station has Eurostar service to London and Brussels, TGV service to Roissy Airport, Paris and major French cities.

See also: Interactive Rail Map of France

Visiting World War I Battlefields from Lille and Elsewhere in the Region

Lille, as the first stop on the French side of the channel tunnel, is a good place to visit if your main interest in the region is the World War I battlefields. However, there are other places you might want to consider. Arras, an hour from Lille but with no direct trains, is actually a little closer to many of the battlefields, while Bruges in Belgium also has WWI Battlefield tours.

There is also a ​2-Day Battlefield Tour from Paris.

These are some of the main battlefields close to Lille:

  • Somme The biggest battle of the western front, with a million killed or injured. Around an hour's drive from Lille. Remember those who lost their lives on this Somme Battlefield Tour
  • Fromelles The bloodiest battle in the history of warfare involving Australian troops. Learn more about what happened on this Battlefield Tour of Fromelles and Flanders.
  • Vimy Ridge A victory for largely Canadian troops. Learn more on this Vimy Battlefield Tour from Lille.
  • Ypres One of the most famous battlefields, usually called 'Wipers' by troops at the time. There is no tour from Lille, but there is from nearby Arras: Ypres Tour from Arras

​​See also: 3-Day Tour of World War I Battlefields from Lille

About the Battle of Fromelles

The Battle of Fromelles, close to Lille, was the first important battle on the western front involving Australian troops. It is also considered to be the bloodiest 24 hours in Australian military history. In the night of 19 July 1916, 5533 Australians and 1547 English soldiers were killed, injured or left missing. The German losses were estimated at less than 1600 men.

For many, this battle was as tragic as it was useless. It was simply a diversion for the great offensive battle in the Somme that was raging 80 km to the south. The battle provided neither a strategic advantage nor lasting benefit.

More Things to Do in Lille

See also:  Tour of Lille by Convertible 2CV

Lille is known for its narrow, cobbled streets with Flemish houses, lively cafes, and elegant restaurants. It was designated as the "European City of Culture" for 2004.

You'll want to see Lille's Gothic Cathedral, the collection of 15th- through 20th-century paintings at the Musée des Beaux-Arts, which art folks have designated the second most important art museum after the Louvre in Paris, and Place Général de Gaulle, also known as the Grand Palace.

To get a different perspective on Lille, climb the stairs of the belfry and see it from above.

For a great example of the Flemish baroque by architect Julien Destrée, see the Old Stock Exchange (Vieille Bourse).

The Hospice Comtesse was founded as a hospital in 1237 by the Countess of Flanders, Jeanne de Constantinople and remained as a hospital until 1939. Get a glimpse of where Augustine nuns provided a haven for the sick, see some art (the Musée de l'Hospice Comtesse has been turned into a museum) then go outside and visit the medicinal garden.

On the west side of Lille is Citadelle de Lille, Lille's fortress, built around 1668 by Vauban and was part of the city's fortifications, most of which were dismantled towards the end of the 19th century. The Bois de Boulogne surrounds the Citadelle, and is popular with walkers and folks with children. There is a well-run zoo (Parc Zoologique) nearby.

Shoppers will want to stop over at the Center Commercial Euralille or Euralille Shopping Center located between the two train stations. 120 shops, restaurants and cafes will vie for your money in this Rem Koolhaas 1994 classic.

Note that many museums in Lille are closed on Monday and Tuesday.

An interesting day trip from Lille: take the train to the nearby town of Lens, where you can see the new extension of the Louvre, called the Louvre-Lens: Lens Travel Guide

For tours of Lille, see Viator, which offers guided tours of different attractions in Lille.

Lille Public Transportation

Lille has 2 metro lines, 2 tram lines and about 60 bus lines. For the tourist, obtaining a Lille City Pass might be the best answer to transportation needs, as it provides entry to 27 tourist sites and attractions as well as free use of the public transportation system. You can get the pass at the tourist office.

Lille Office of Tourism

Lille Tourist Office is located in the Palais Rihour at Place Rihour. There are many tours you can sign up for in the tourism office, including Flanders battlefields coach tour Lille - Ieper - Lille, the City Tour, the Old Lille Walking Tour, you can reserve to climb the Town Hall Belfry for a view of Lille, and you can sign up for Segway tours.

Lille Christmas Market

Lille was the first city in France to offer a Christmas market. The market runs from about mid-November to the end of December, and shops are even open on the three Sundays before Christmas. The Lille Christmas market is located on Rihour square.

Weather and Climate

Lille offers a very pleasant climate in the summer, although you can expect a little rain, which intensifies in the fall. June-August daily highs are in the low 20s (Centigrade), around 70°F.