Most people who visit France tend to head to Paris for city culture, the Loire Valley for French countryside, Brittany for beautiful coastlines or Nice for warm weather. It is rare that you hear of someone going to Lille for a holiday.
But actually Lille is one of those overlooked gems that, once uncovered, can provide a host of different experiences and leave you feeling like you have discovered something uniquely French and uniquely yours.
Firstly, when looking at how to travel there, check out iDBUS. This bus company offers services from London Victoria coach station to the heart of Lille direct. You could travel by train direct too, but the prices of the trains tends to rise the closer you get to your departure date and it can work out far cheaper to use the bus company. iDBUS set their prices in advance and the prices do not change no matter when you book, so you can see how much your travel will be when planning your holiday and can create a budget with no guessing and no nasty surprises.
The bus from London to Lille takes around five-and-a-half hours. When you consider the time you would spend waiting to check in and collect your baggage at an airport, or the time you could spend waiting if the train staff decide to strike, this isn’t a bad time at all.
Once you arrive in Lille you will quickly see how close it is to Belgium just by looking at the architecture, which lends a distinctly Flemish flavour to the city. Also, the residents are friendly, cheerful and welcoming on the whole, like their Belgian counterparts.
Take a stroll around the central square and admire the arcades and courtyards that stem from it. There are many little shops and boutiques selling local produce from chocolates and wine to pens and leather goods. The city also features the largest bookshop in Europe, the Furet du Nord, which is good for a look around and a bit of tranquillity. Lille also boasts the tallest belfry on its town hall, at 104m high – you can climb the steps to the top if you are feeling fit and your efforts will be met with some fantastic views across the city.
The Palace of Fine Arts is large enough and contains enough works of art to rival the Louvre.
As with anywhere in France, buying a baguette, cheese, ham and tomatoes is a very cheap way to feed yourself during the day, but there are many affordable restaurants and cafes around the city, most of which will serve moules et frites. Use the shell of the first mussel you eat to pinch out the other mussels as the locals do (and avoid a lot of mess); dip the chips in the white wine sauce for a delicious dinner.
For children, the local parks are well kept and spacious enough to let the little ones have a run around, or you could take them to the Zoological Park to see endangered species including a white rhino.
Lille has plenty to offer and enough to keep you happily occupied for a week or so, and combines the best of France and the best of Belgium.