What to Do in Lille in Northern France

Check out World War I memorials and battlefields

Opening of Fromelles Military Cemetery in Lille, France, and Reburial of the 250th Soldier

Dan Kitwood/Staff/Getty Images 

Lille, France, is located in the north of France, on the Deûle River, near the border with ​Belgium. Lille is one hour from Paris and 80 minutes from London by the high-speed TGV train. In France, Lille is in the Nord-Pas de Calais region.

How to Get There

The Lille-Lesquin Airport ​is located about 5 miles from the center of Lille. An airport shuttle (from door A) gets you into the center of Lille in 20 minutes.

France has an in-depth rail system, and Lille has two train stations located 400 meters apart. The Lille Flandres station offers TER regional trains and direct TGV service to Paris, while the Lille Europe station has Eurostar service to London and Brussels, TGV service to Roissy Airport, Paris, and major French cities.

Visiting World War I Battlefields Around Lille

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. You can also check out a two-day battlefield tour from Paris.

These are some of the main battlefields close to Lille:

  • Somme: This was the biggest battle of the western front where one million people were killed or injured. It's around an hour's drive from Lille. You can remember those who lost their lives on this Somme Battlefield Tour.
  • Fromelles: This site saw the bloodiest battle in the history of warfare involving Australian troops. You can learn more about what happened on this Battlefield Tour of Fromelles and Flanders.
  • Vimy Ridge: This battlefield was a victory for largely Canadian troops. You can learn more on this Vimy Battlefield Tour from Lille.
  • Ypres: One of the most famous battlefields, it was called "Wipers" by troops at the time. There is no tour from Lille, but there is from nearby Arras through the Ypres Tour from Arras.

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 July 19, 1916, 5,533 Australians and 1,547 English soldiers were killed, injured, or left missing. You can visit the memorial to Australians. The German losses were estimated at less than 1,600 people.

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 about 50 miles to the south. The battle provided neither a strategic advantage nor lasting benefit.

More Things to Do in the Area

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 de Lyon, which art folks have designated the second most important art museum after the Louvre in Paris, and Place du 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. You could also cruise through the streets of Lille in style in a vintage 2CV convertible.

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

The Hospice Comtesse Museum was founded as a hospital in 1237 by the Countess of Flanders, Jeanne de Flandre and remained as a hospital until 1939. Get a glimpse of where Augustine nuns provided a haven for the sick, see some art, 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. There are 120 shops, restaurants, and cafes that will vie for your money in this Rem Koolhaas 1994 classic.

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

For 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.

Public Transportation

Lille has two metro lines, two 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 28 tourist sites and attractions as well as free use of the public transportation system. You can get the pass at the tourist office.

Office of Tourism

The 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 a remembrance tour, a city tour, a bike tour, and a guided walking tour of Old Lille. You can also reserve to climb the Town Hall Belfry for a view of Lille and sign up for Segway tours.

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 through August daily highs are in the low 20s (Centigrade), which is around 70°F.

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