On my recent trip to Paris, I decided to take another day trip from the city, this time to the city of Lille. It was an easy trip by train and its one of the less crowded cities outside Paris. When I visited Lille it was Monday and the weather was clear but overcast. It was a perfect day to go – less crowd and good weather.
Lille is the gateway to Europe from England, as Eurostar has several trains from London to Lille. There are two train stations in Lille – one is called Lille Flanders and the other Lille Europe. They are right next to each other, and both are very close to the old city center. Both train stations are an easy walk to the old city center.
The city center is the best place to hang out in Lille. I spent my first hour in Lille taking the public but just to get a feel of the town. It seems if you wonder outside the city center, you will find the residential community of Lille, but not much else.
At the city center lies two grand squares – Place du Theatre where the Opera de Lille and Vieille Bourse is located; and the Place du General de Gaulle where the iconic column of the city sits. The tourist information office is located just off the Place du General du Gaulle and it’s very easy to find. From here, you can get a map of the city and perhaps some postcards. This is the only place in the city where I found postcards and refrigerator magnets if you’re in that sort of thing.
At the Place du Theatre, you’ll find two historic buildings – the Opera de Lille, a white neo-classical building and the Grand Lille with its clock tower and currently undergoing restoration. Across the way is the La Vieille Bourse which now has retail spaces and cafes in its ground floor. The historic Hotel Carlton is found here as well. All four buildings has its own unique style of architecture giving the square its own character.
Walk around the La Vieille Bourse and you’ll find another square called Place de General du Gaulle. I guess you can tell who it is named after. At the middle of this square is a structure called Colonne de la Deesse (The Column of the Goddess). During my visit, the column’s base was surrounded with fencing perhaps from restoration. In the same square, you will find the Theatre du Nord. Walk further down at Place Rihour and you will find the city’s tourist information center. This would be a good place to start.
Walking around town, I found two churches – the Cathedral Notre Dame de la Tieille on the north side of the center of town and closer to the train station is Saint Maurice’s Church. Both has their own unique style of architecture. The cathedral may have a modern exterior but its interior is a bit Gothic in style built in the 1850’s. Saint Maurice’s Church however was built centuries before, specifically from the 14th century. It’s a smaller church from the cathedral and it is classified as a historic monument today. It has been undergoing restoration for the past two years preventing it from further damage such as erosion.
If you look around the Saint Maurice’s Church, you’ll see a lot of retail chains and cafes for the modern consumer. But if you walk further past the Opera de Lille, you will find centuries old buildings now used for retail spaces, office spaces and restaurants most of them looks like independent businesses. These are the ones you will not see in postcards.
The day trip to Lille was not a total lost. When I took the bus around town it gave me a sense of disappointment, but when I started wandering on foot, I found the hidden parts of the old city quite charming and very unexpected. The city of Lille at the northernmost part of France, very close to the French-Belgian border. I was only in Lille for a few hour but I’m glad I went. I’ve heard of Lille before and I’m glad I was able to see it. Perhaps the city is a good gateway to Belgium.