What to see in Lille, the capital of Flemish France
Lille is French or is Flemish? It is difficult for the visitor to clarify this doubt. And it is not strange that it is so since this city is officially part of the France for over three centuries but still maintains, in appearance and atmosphere, the style of the squares where wool was traded in the Flanders of the past. And indeed the old town, also known as Old Lilleis a catalog of palaces and cobbled streets that recall, not sound disrespectful, the glimpses of Brussels or Gentlemen. So the answer is simple but complex at the same time: it’s French. But also Flemish. This confusion, however, is certainly not a bad thing, on the contrary. Yes, because it could be said that two cultures are better than one and, moreover, the contamination adds other items to the list it reveals what to see in Lille. A city, we have said, ancient and with a great industrial tradition which, however, about twenty years ago found itself with a productive fabric in crisis.
Art and beauty
A problem? No, an opportunity. The city was subjected to a complete facelift which has brought its beauty back to light thanks to enormous investments. The connections with the fast trains they then made it easily accessible on the routes between Paris, London And Brussels and they’ve been popping up everywhere designer boutiques which transformed it into a small capital (as it was in the past).
That is why this city of just over two hundred thousand inhabitants has been reborn in the name of art thanks to its new and old jewels such as the cathedral of Notre Damme de la Treille and theComtesse hospitala former hospital that houses a museum of Flemish art, the Musée des Beaux-Arts and that of d‘Art Moderne. But if we talk about what to see in Lille, we also need to add a suggestion on what to do: certainly walk unhurriedly through the old center and then enjoy a beer (the Flemish ones are the best in the world) and enjoy life like the locals do.
Local pubs are called “estaminet” and are always crowded: stop by to eat the local stews (the carbonade) or soups like the waterzoï. Then raise a glass and stop wondering if it’s French or Flemish. She’s just beautiful. And that’s enough.
What to see in Lille: the old town
The starting point for visiting the city is undoubtedly its old part. It is, as mentioned, an ancient settlement with suggestive cobbled streets and old houses Flemish (now often transformed into exclusive boutiques) where it is pleasant to take a walk discovering how little the landscape has changed over the centuries. Walking in the winding alleys one catches the long story and particularly lively is a tour on Sunday when the market takes place Wazemmes, large and always full of people and sounds, a dive into an atmosphere of northern flavors mixed with the sound of an accordion. Not to mention the Christmas time when one of the flea markets most impressive in Europe.
After walking through the crowds it’s always nice to sit in a café and watch life go by before paying homage to the splendid cathedral with a dutiful and awed discovery.
De Gaulle square
The journey to discover what to see in Lille will then forcefully lead to what is the main square, the Grand Placededicated to the most famous son of the city: the general De Gaulle. The headquarters of the newspaper overlook the large open space of medieval origin Voix du Nord (also a base of the Resistance during the war) and especially the Old Boursethe place where Flemish merchants exchanged wool and goods in past centuries when Lille was on a par with other major cities such as Bruges, Antwerp And Gentlemen.
Now it is still a fundamental monument around which used book shops are found and chess enthusiasts meet for their challenges. At the center of the square is the column that evokes the siege of Lille by the Austrians in 1792 and is the classic meeting point for tourists and locals.
Not far away, impossible to miss and a further stop in our guide of what to see in Lille here is the belfry, the only monument declared a World Heritage Site byUNESCO of Lille. It is the bell tower of the town hall which rises proudly for 104 meters. This is the perfect place to get a complete view of the city: once you’ve climbed the first 100 steps, take the lift (or walk if you’re brave) to the top of the bell tower. The view reaches over the surroundings and up to the distant hills.
What to see in Lille: De Gaulle’s house
He is the famous son of the city. And of course he is remembered with respect. Let’s talk about the general Charles de Gaulleleader of the Free French forces in exile in London during World War II and after president of France in 1950. Many criticize him but he certainly helped bring stability to a divided country, which was struggling to adjust to the confusing post-war situation. The house where he was born in 1890 is today a museum and it was actually his grandparents’ house: technically he didn’t grow up here but it still remains a place where he celebrates with family relics and objects from the past.
After history, let’s now dedicate ourselves to art: and in this sense, the list of what to see in Lille does not lack options. The first stop will necessarily be at Palais des Beaux-Arts which for some represents the latter best museum of Franceafter Louvre. We don’t want to say if it’s true: we confirm, however, that the Palais is housed in a palace Belle Epoque in the neighborhood of Saint Sauveur.
Classical and contemporary art
The collection includes paintings by great masters such as Donatello, Raphael, Rubens, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, El Greco, David and Toulouse-Lautrec. If you want to know more about the works on display there is a useful free audio guide system available to visitors. But remember to bring an identity document with you or else you won’t be able to have it.
We are still talking about art now: but of a decidedly different type. Indeed, among the things to see in Lille there is the LaMa museum located in a large green area, surrounded by lakes, a Villeneuve d’Ascq. It was opened in 2010 and houses over 4,500 outstanding works of art from the 20th and 21st centuries, as well as many temporary exhibitions. Moving from room to room, the museum offers visitors an unprecedented itinerary through modern art to contemporary artthrough one of the largest collections of France between works Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, Paul KleeAloisi Corbaz, Augustin Lesage, Richard Deacon, Barry Flanagan.
Before continuing the discovery of the art baggage of the city of Lille, we make a stop to visit a type of structure dedicated to a very different art: the military one. It’s about the Citadela small fortified city within the city, built around 1670 by the will of Louis XIV with the shape of a star and imposing ramparts with a perimeter of more than two kilometers. Sixty million bricks were prepared to make it and she became the queen of bricks for the time fortified citadels in the center of a defensive line that was extraordinary for the time. Now it is a park and the green space near the center where you can relax and play sports.
What to see in Lille: Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse
Returning to the city center we must not overlook the Musée de l’Hospice Comtessethe museum housed in the hospital which was founded in 1237 by Countess Jeanne de Flandre and which remained active as a nursing home until 1939. The buildings that can currently be visited date back to the 15th, 17th and 18th centuries and consist of a hospital ward, a chapel decorated with the coats of arms of the main benefactors of the hospital and buildings belonging to the community of nuns of Augustin, arranged around two courtyards and a garden.
Since 1962, these buildings have been the setting for a collection of paintings, tapestries, wood sculptures and porcelain from all over the northern region of France housed in what still looks like a small Flemish convent of the seventeenth century.
The flea market
Every first weekend of September Lille is transformed into the headquarters of Europe’s largest flea market. This is the market de la Braderiesa unique event that attracts more than every year two million people from many countries looking for business and entertainment. For two days – and even at night – life goes crazy and stalls are set up for tens of kilometers with over ten thousand exhibitors divided by sectors. Even those who don’t like markets can have fun. And everywhere they eat huge plates of mussels with french friesthe gastronomic symbol of this part of Europe as can be seen by the mountains of mussel shells everywhere.