I was actually visiting for a family occasion as my cousin was getting married that weekend (in a pretty little church in Vieux Lille and then we all went to Belgium for the beautiful reception). It turns out I have a few other cousins who live in Lille so they gave me lots of tips on what to do and see, I cannot thank them enough as they were great tips.
Let's start a little virtual visit of Lille then!
I stayed a couple of nights with one of my cousins and his little family in the area of La Madeleine so I took a bus when going into the city. This was just three stops away, about 5 minutes.
There is a metro and a tramway but I never used those, I just walked everywhere. Make sure you wear some good walking shoes as a lot of the older streets are paved with cobblestones.
All the sights, museums and shops I wanted to see were at short walking distance from each other so it was pretty handy. I also love to walk to places when I visit a city so if walking is not your cup of tea, buses and metro stops are pretty easy to find.
I also borrowed from my cousin a very handy map with main buildings and listed streets showing on it. Lille has a lot of little streets so a detailed map helps a lot (I only found out now about Google's offline maps, this could come in handy as well if you plan your trip before heading out).
The major train station Lille-Europe (trains go to Paris, Brussels and London from there) is a short walk from the city centre which made it easy for me when I had to go pick up family members and E. who joined me the day before the wedding.
Lille is really a pretty city so once I got to the famous Grand' PLace, I left the map in my bag and just walked around so I could take in all the wonders surrounding me.
- Grand' Place: because of this time of year, a huge Christmas Ferris wheel sits in the middle of it at the moment. It is surrounded by beautiful old buildings. Step into the Vieille Bourse where you can buy a lot of old posters and photography from stands in this little flea market.
- Place Rihour: located almost side by side with Grand' PLace, it is currently used for the lovely Lille Christmas market.
- Vieux Lille: this area includes Grand' Place and goes further North of it. It is full of cobblestone streets and beautiful buildings. You will also find a lot of nice cafes and restaurants (or estaminets: small bars or bistros), great little design shops or boutiques where to buy gifts and accessories. My wanderings in Vieux Lille led me to the unusual Cathédrale Notre-Dame de la Treille (if you are into architecture details, go and check the front of the cathedral and the details of its dark glass doors) with a detour via a pastry shop selling incredible macarons (more about food later).
- Palais des Beaux Arts: I cannot visit a new city without going to one of its art museums. My cousin M. had given me some great tips about exhibitions happening at the moment and the 'Joie de Vivre' (enjoyment of life) themed one at the museum of Beaux Arts was high on my list. It was so interesting and the collection of paintings, photos and sculptures accompanying it was really great. Plus, seeing Gene Kelly singing in the rain in the morning of my first few days in Lille really set the tone for the rest of my mini holiday, it was a joyful one indeed!
- Le Tri Postal: this exhibition building is located between Gare Lille Europe and Gare de Flandres. I was really interested by the exhibition entitled 'Tu dois changer ta vie' (you must change your life). Instead of being a visitor, you end end up being an actor while walking through it. From the start, you decide which path you will take (eventually, you end up arriving on the other side, seeing the entire exhibition). I felt it was a lot about our own destiny and the choices we make in life. I also really enjoyed the exhibition 'Seoul, quick, quick' which is both about the dynamism of Seoul and its popular culture but also about its modernism which is happening too fast.
For those of you who have been to Belgium, you will find many similarities in what food and drinks Lille has to offer: good beers, moules frites (mussels and fries), delicious waffles etc.
But Lille and its region also have a variety of other dishes. And if you go there, you HAVE to try maroilles cheese. It stinks a lot but it is delicious and now on my list of favourite cheeses.
- Les Compagnons de la Grappe: 26 rue Lepelletier. My cousin M. had recommended we try this place and it did not disappoint. Make sure you book a table ahead of your visit though because we were there for the second service of 9.30pm and it was packed. I had called the week before so I could get a table for E. and my brothers. It was a really good choice of restaurant since they have a lot of local dishes on their menu and we were able to try a few of them. For starter, we all shared the assiette decouverte which was ideal to taste a few specialties such as prawn croquettes, maroilles tart mini slices and other delights. I ordered a steak frites with shallot sauce for main because I missed it badly (it was cooked to perfection and practically melted in the mouth). My brother S. ordered the half cooked beef tartare with grilled maroilles cheese on top and my younger brother L. had the duck fillet with foie gras sauce (it took only a few seconds before we were all dipping our fries in this delicious sauce). E. went for a very clever choice: l'assiette du Nord, in which you could try 4 local specialties. They were: carbonnade (beef stewed with beer and sometimes gingerbread spices), Welsch (a toasted slice of bread covered with ham and a mixture of beer, melted cheddar cheese and mustard - also known as welsh rarebit), pot’je vleesch (or how not being able to pronounce what you are eating... a cold terrine with four types of white meat) and a mini version of the same half cooked beef tartare my brother had. I really loved the food and the very French atmosphere of this little restaurant. I will definitely go back the next time I visit.
- Méert: 27 rue Esquermoise. When I passed by this beautiful shop and cafe, I stopped immediately when I saw all the wonderful desserts in the window. Méert's history goes as far as 1761. There, you can buy the most divine chocolates and sweet delights. It is famous in particular for its exquisite Gaufre Méert, two very thin waffles filled with a divine Madagascar vanilla paste. We went there for breakfast the morning of the wedding. The salon de thé was so beautiful, we felt like we were in a Wes Anderson movie (Grand Budapest Hotel came to mind immediately). I ordered some toasted brioche and a gaufre Méert. I was really tempted by everything on the menu but decided to keep some stomach space for the wedding reception later that day. It did not stop E. to order a very delicious little dessert AND a croissant. I guess that all those years of trying to convince him that cake is perfectly alright for breakfast finally worked.
- Frites; Lille is very famous for its delicious French fries which you can usually get from food trucks called 'friteries'. The day after my cousin's wedding, we all met again for what we call in France 'le retour de mariage'. When we arrived, a 'friterie' was parked outside, hired by my cousin and her husband. It was a great idea! We could each get a paper cone filled with thin crispy delicious frites and a choice of sausages: fricadelle (minced meats sausage - some family members told us not to ask what type of meat it was because you can never get a straight answer...) or merguez (spicy sausage). Of course, I was curious and went for the mystery sausage. It was not bad at all and I am obviously here to tell the story.
- Christmas market: Lille has a lovely Christmas market on Place Rihour at the moment and if you are feeling hungry, you will have some delicious choices there. You can find all types of mulled wines, ciders or juices. This was wonderful since the weather was beautiful but quite chilly. There were many stalls selling cheese covered breads and potatoes (many different types of cheeses on offer), sausages, pretzels, waffles, nougats, crepes and a lot of local specialties.
- Patrick Hermand: rue Basse. I was walking in Vieux Lille when I fell upon this gorgeous patisserie shop. The cakes looked incredible but since I was walking around and the patisserie had no seating, I opted for two macarons to take away and eat in the street. One had a chicory ganache with caramel and speculoos crumbs, the other one had more Japanese tones with cherry blossom and green tea flavours. I took E. there the day before we left and we tried two more: mine was creme brulee flavoured (it was actually incredible!) and his was passion fruit and basil, surprising but quite tasty. It was nice to find this little macaron heaven in Vieux Lille.
There are cafes and restaurants everywhere in Lille and I think it is easy to find a good place to eat in. I also ate a lot of delicious things at my cousin's house and at my other cousin's wedding. But at this stage, I think the best thing is to go there and try it for yourself. Even if you are visiting Belgium, a little detour via Lille will not take you much time, it is really nearby and worth it.
I thought that while I was in France, I would do a little bit of Christmas shopping for gifts. Those ended up being mostly food related but Lille also has a lot of little design and clothes boutiques that are very interesting.
- La chambre aux confitures: 12 rue Esquermoise. I had heard a lot about this little jam shop located in Paris (mostly via French bloggers mentioning it). When I heard one had opened in Lille, I put it on my list immediately. It was like entering a jam wonderland, so many amazing flavours! And it is not only jam, they also sell chutneys, savoury sauces (to go with cheeses etc.), honeys, spreads and caramel sauces. You can obviously taste before you buy and if i had listened to my food brain, I would have tasted absolutely everything. The shop assistant was so lovely and introduced me to some unusual flavours (apple and vodka jam, which she said goes really well with smoked salmon). I left with a little bag of delicious jams that will be gifted to some of my friends and family members at Christmas. The day before we left Lille, my godmother actually gave me a gift box of four different mini jars of their jams, how wonderful!! I am not going to detail all the flavours I got here because some are for gifts but one I got for us is a little jar of strawberry and tonka jam and it is absolutely amazing.
- Furet du Nord: if you love books and stationary, this is the best place for it. It is located on Grand' Place and you will find amazing books on many levels (it goes quite high up, around seven floors I believe). It is one of the biggest book shops in Europe and a book lovers heaven (I had to keep reminding myself of non existent suitcase space left and that I will be in France again soon and can buy lots of books then).
- Les Cousines de Léon : located on 25 rue Royale. A cute little boutique for craft, design and accessories with many original gift ideas.
- La Case de Cousin Paul: 93 rue Esquermoise. If you feel like buying decorative hanging lights for your home, here you can get string lights and get a choice of many different colourful balls for them.
- Hema: located at the entrance of Euralille shopping centre (between Gare Lille Europe and Gare de Flandres). Hema is a Dutch store selling lovely things, from stationary, decoration, kitchen utensils to clothes for all, etc. It is really inexpensive and if you plan a trip there, make sure you have enough space to bring things back with you because there are many chances you will not leave empty handed, I didn't! And at the moment, it is very festive and they sell gorgeous Christmas decoration and also food items (I bought some very tasty little gingerbread men there, they did not last too long). Now, I am going to cross my fingers really hard so that someone open a franchise a Dublin soon.
- Carré d'Artistes: 83 rue Esquermoise. This gallery sells original works of art at affordable prices to make it more accessible to people. I found the idea behind it very interesting and I will keep an eye on the online store for paintings I would eventually like to get (the little ones start at €75, which is really good for unique and original work).
- Vieux Lille: this area of Lille with its cobblestone little street is really great for shopping in general, especially if you are interested in interior design and clothes boutiques.