Its convenient location in northern France near the border with Belgium has given Lille a rich history which can be seen all across the city in one day in Lille. Though relatively small in size, Lille is France’s fourth most populous city, and the locals are never short of things to do as the city is full of many attractions to easily fill a Lille itinerary.
We’ve carefully handpicked the best things to do on a day trip to Lille and ordered them so you can follow our Lille itinerary to a T and easily go from stop to stop on your French sightseeing adventure. If you’ve got more than just a day in Lille, we’ve also got some great ideas on how you can spend them!
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Lille is a perfectly sized city for a weekend away, with a broad range of activities to take part in as well as cuisine influenced by the French, Germans and Belgians to indulge in.
Towards the end of November and throughout December, Lille has a wonderful Christmas market with quaint pop-up shops lining the central square Place du Général de Gaulle. It’s a great place to spend the whole day, but you can also just enjoy a spontaneous afternoon there after arriving in 90 minutes from central London via Eurostar!
You can take a similar trip on the first weekend of September for Lille’s annual flea market, or braderie. The largest in Europe, Lille’s braderie has been a tradition for almost a millennia and draws millions of visitors to the stalls that cover most of the central streets each year.
However, if you want to incorporate this into a culture-filled weekend in the city, you might be disappointed as many businesses and most tourist attractions close during the flea market.
There are great venues across the city too, so you can time a trip to Lille with a concert or exhibition to make the most of your stay in the lovely city. If you’re wondering how many days to spend in Lille, just see what’s on over your holiday dates and decide from there!
The easiest way to get to Lille from the UK is by Eurostar from London St Pancras station – you can arrive in Lille in 1 hour 30 minutes, with luggage and in a comfortable seat. You can take a train in the morning, experience a great deal in Lille in one day and be back in London by 9.30 pm, without needing to worry about parking or airport security.
You can also arrive in Lille from Paris Gare du Nord station by train in an hour, or from Brussels in 45 minutes, both with reasonably priced tickets and well-running trains. You can view train schedules here.
If you prefer to shorten your journey or make it even more convenient, however, you can also drive to Lille from the UK, crossing the channel on the Eurotunnel in 30 minutes and driving an hour to reach Lille. If you need to rent a car, you can browse options here.
Within Lille, it’s very easy to get around on foot or with the comprehensive public transport system. There are 2 metro lines, 2 tramways and around 60 bus routes to take you all around the city every day of the year, except 1 May.
Our Lille itinerary will take you on a historic journey from the north of the city into the centre, passing through remnants of the 1600s to the present day, ending with a night to remember in Lille’s cultural centre.
Arguably the most famous Lillian – or Lillois – is Le Général himself, Charles de Gaulle. You can begin your one day in Lille with a visit to de Gaulle’s grandparents’ house, where the former French President was born.
This magnificent property with a wonderfully ornate art deco conservatory has been redecorated to appear as the house would have done at the time, complete with family photos of the bourgeois family, de Gaulle’s toys and christening gown.
In the annexe, you can learn about the life of the World War One war hero turned leader of the Free French in their permanent exhibition as well as the auditorium that hosts relevant displays on the World Wars and French interwar period.
Walking for 10 minutes eastward to the Citadel, crossing over the canal on the picturesque Pont Napoleon, you arrive at the incredible Citadel, conceived by legendary engineer Vauban at the behest of King Louis XIV after he conquered the city in the 1660s.
This star-shaped fortress is a small village protected by five bastions, with several royal gates welcoming you into its centre today to explore the historic ruins and enjoy rambling through the grounds.
The citadel is still a military base so visitors cannot see the inside of the citadel, however, the grounds, entrance gates and canal make for a lovely scenic walk.
You can also walk through the Esplanade du Champ de Mars Lille, a historic walkway that now houses a large funfair, with some rides giving thrill-seekers excellent views over the city of Lille.
Known for its statue of Mary protected by an iron trellis since mediaeval times, this formerly small basilica was converted into a huge cathedral in the 1850s, although war and financial difficulties meant plans changed and the cathedral’s façade was only completed in 1999.
You can marvel at the imposing exterior of the cathedral as well as enter to get a glimpse of the white marble and orange-yellow stained glass window that gives the cathedral a wonderful warm glow.
Just behind the Lille Cathedral is the Place Aux Oignons and the city’s old town where you can find the best places in the city for lunch or a drink in the beautiful buildings reminiscent of those you might find in Bruges or Amsterdam.
A day trip to Lille is incomplete without a walk through the old town – this is absolutely one of the best things to do in Lille. So wander the charming streets, take in the Place du Theatre, maybe visit the Hospice Comtesse Museum and consider finding a restaurant that appeals to you.
Try excellent local cuisine for a decent price in l’Estaminet Au Vieux de la Vieille at 2-4 rue des Vieux Murs. With strong influences from Flanders, you can find all kinds of local dishes on the menu, from Andouillettes to Gratin de la Vieille and excellent Belgian beers on draft.
Having indulged in a luxurious Lillois lunch, it’s time for the main event: Place du Général de Gaulle which is one of the top places to visit in Lille. This square is in the heart of the city and is the main location of the Christmas market and September flea market, so it should definitely be on your Lille itinerary if you’re on a strict schedule for your Lille day trip.
The buildings surrounding the square demonstrate the Flemish-influenced yet remarkably diverse architectural styles on display in the city, and none is more stunning than la Vieille Bourse – the Old Stock Exchange.
This dark salmon pink building with yellowish stone decorations on its exterior captures the attention of all visitors to the square due to its bright colours and wonderful design. While briefly under Spanish rule, King Philip IV permitted a stock exchange to be built in the 1600s, giving way to this fantastic building comprising 24 houses, each identical, surrounding an equally beautiful courtyard.
After the new stock exchange was built in 1921, La Vieille Bourse gained its nickname and was classified as a historic site. Today, you can go into the courtyard to find a second-hand book market, florists and chess players while you snap some photos of the architecture.
Continue down for a kilometre to Place Augustin Laurent, or take the metro from Rihour station to speed things up, and you’ll come across Lille’s town hall. This magnificent building is visible from miles away, thanks to its 104-metre tall bell tower, known as the Beffroi de Lille (the Lille Belfry) which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s as great up close.
Built in the 1920s by Emile Dubuisson, the building possesses the same Flemish pointed roofs found across the region, although it adds an unusual round turret while still keeping to the art deco style of its time period.
You can go up the bell tower, walk all the way or take the lift from halfway up to enjoy fantastic views over Lille and down over the Porte de Paris, which you’ll walk past on your way to the next stop on your Lille itinerary.
This triumphal arch in the middle of the roundabout was built to celebrate King Louis XI’s capture of the city and is a spectacularly large and ornate structure. On occasion, the city gate provides the backdrop for light displays, so it’s worth walking past at night too!
Heading West for ten minutes for the penultimate stop of your trip to Lille, or the last stop if you don’t have time to spend an evening in the city, you’ll find the stunning Palace of Fine Arts.
Built in the late 19th century, the building itself is a testament to its era with its immense size and strong, symmetrical archways, but more interestingly, the museum itself holds hundreds of works by some of the world’s most famous artists.
With paintings by Rubens and Manet, sculptures by Rodin and Barthouldi, and numerous drawings by Raphaël – to name just a few – the permanent collection has plenty to see and is well worth the entrance fee.
There are also some ancient artefacts in the museum, with some paintings and ceramics up to 2,500 years old! The Palais des Beaux-Arts makes for a perfect activity for a day trip to Lille as the variety of items mirrors the breadth of history displayed in the city.
The museum is also free to enter on the first Sunday of the month, and for women on International Women’s Day as well as on Museum Nights, which you can look out for in the website’s calendar.
One of Lille’s best cultural centres, La Maison Folie Moulin hosts many artistic performances throughout the year from theatre to love music and dance. Despite its name, the building is actually a former brewery, although it is located in the Moulins district, and the brick walls lend it a rustic aesthetic enhancing the space.
Most tickets are reasonably priced, below 15 €, however, some are free. If you haven’t planned anything for the evening of your Lille day trip, head over and get your ticket on the door up to 45 minutes before the performances, which usually start between 7 and 9 pm.
If you’d rather not rush around the city, you should definitely spend more than one day in Lille so you can travel at convenient times and leisurely walk around the city. Plus, over 2 days in Lille, you can take the opportunity to go further out to the La Piscine – Musée d’Art et d’Industrie.
This art and science museum is located in a former swimming pool and its art deco interior makes it a fantastic spot for photographs, especially for fans of Wes Anderson!
For history buffs, you can spend one of 3 days in Lille visiting the war memorials along the border with Belgium to pay your respects and take in the awe-inspiring monuments, as well as have tours of famous battlefields such as the Somme. You can visit independently or arrange a guided tour.
Where to Stay in Lille
Moxy Lille City – Mid-range visitors to Lille will love this centrally located hotel. They have an excellent location within the city, they have a number of great rooms to choose from along with an on-site bar and breakfast available in the mornings. Click here to check availability
Grand Hotel Bellvue – Located on the Grand Place in the centre of Lille, this luxury hotel is great for those looking for an upmarket stay in this French city. They have a range of sophisticated and opulent rooms on offer along with plenty of other plush amenities. Click here to check availability
Aparthotel Adagio – If you’d like to have your own flat while staying in Lille without sacrificing all of the amenities and benefits of a traditional hotel, then this aparthotel is a great option. There are a number of different flats to choose from along with an excellent location in the centre of Lille. Click here to check availability
The People – Lille – This hostel is an excellent option for those looking for a great budget place to stay. Offering both dorms and private rooms, there is also an on-site bar and restaurant and a great location for exploring all the city has to offer. Click here to check availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Lille hotels!
It may be a small city, but it’s impossible to see all of Lille in one day. That’s why it’s the perfect city to keep coming back to for a day trip from London, Paris or Brussels to enjoy the historic sites, wonderful food and mesmerising culture.
Are you planning to visit Lille? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!