Driving in Lille, France
The medieval city of Lille is located in northern France and was the European Capital of Culture in 2004. The city, which has a long and interesting history, is the largest city in the region and is on the French-Belgian border. It also connects to the UK, via the Channel Tunnel. It takes about 1 hour and 40 minutes to get from London Waterloo Station to Lille, via the Eurostar.
Lille is a vibrant and modern city – the fourth largest in France and the main city in the region to the north of Paris. The rail connection and the Industrial Revolution really helped establish Lille as a developed city and the large coal deposits and textile industry contributed as well.
Large sections of the city were destroyed during WWI and later during the great depression the city’s population took a major hit economically. In WWII the Lille was captured very early in the war and again was very quickly liberated after D-Day. Today the city has one of the largest student populations in France. There are many universities with different disciplines and it’s a popular place for foreign students. It was the birthplace of Charles de Gaulle in 1890 and, today, there’s a university in the city named after him.
There’s much to see and do in the city centre including a descent number of museums to wander around. These include the Musée des Beaux-Arts (the second largest fine arts museum in France after the Louvre), the Museum of Natural History (home to a large collection of mammals, insects and fossils), the Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse (formerly a hospital but is now an art museum) and the Musée d’Art et d’ Industrie de Roubaix: La Piscine (modern art museum displayed in an Art Deco setting).
The historic centre of Lille (Old Quarter or Vieux Lille) is well worth checking out with its narrow, winding cobblestone streets, chic little cafes and restaurants. It’s also home to the Cathédrale Notre Dame de la Treille.
Lillie also boasts some beautifully set squares, the largest of which is Place du Général-de-Gaulle (aka Grand place). Here you’ll find the fountain, La Grande Déesse and a number of historic houses surround the square including the HQ of the Flemish newspaper La Voix du Nord.
Another square located nearby is the Place du Théâtre which is home to many fantastic historic buildings such as the Opera House and the Chamber of Commerce. Located between the Place du Théâtre and the Grand’place is the La Vieille Bourse – the site of the former commercial exchange. Other squares worth visiting include the Place Rihour, where the tourist information centre is located.
One of the most impressive features of the city is la Citadelle. This was built by Louis XIV and its main entrance is situated opposite the historic centre.
Lille is also a shopper’s paradise. Like all other major European cities it has loads of department stores as well as quaint little French boutiques.
What to see in the Lille area?
Lille lies in the 4th largest metropolitan area in France. This area is made up of Lille, Roubaix and Tourcoing, as well as their suburbs. Tourcoing is an interesting place to visit with such sights as the Church of Saint Christopher, which dates from the 15th/16th century and is considered an excellent example of Neo-Gothic architecture; it also has an 80 metre tall bell tower with 80 bells.
Lille is the capital of the Nord Department which stretches from the northern tip of France as far as Picardy, along the Belgian border.
Dunkirk is located just a short 80km drive from Lille along the E42. It has a very strategic location and as the 3rd largest port in France has changed hands numerous times throughout history. During WWII roughly 1/3 of a million French and British troops escaped across the English Channel to safety. This is sometimes referred to as the Miracle of Dunkirk. As well as having a rich heritage, Dunkirk has fantastic shopping options and is well worth a day trip.
Just a few dozen kilometres along the coast is Calais. This is the closest point between France and the Island of Great Britain which is just a mere 32 kms away. If you’re lucky on a clear day you can even see the White Cliffs of Dover! Calais is a popular spot for British tourists as it’s easy to get to by both ferry and via the Channel Tunnel – and the tax is lower as well.
Other towns worth visiting in the Nord Department include the commune of Valenciennes, located about 40km in the other direction. It’s home to the Dodenne Tower, the La Maison Espagnole and the Notre-Dame du Saint-Cordon. Also to the south there is Douai which is worth visiting solely for the Bell Tower which was built in the 14th century.
You could always nip over the border and visit Belgium. This part of Belgium is home to cities such as Mons (host town of the Doudou Festival held annually on Trinity Sunday) and Charleroi. And since the area is French speaking make sure you keep your French phrase book handy!
Why not hire a car?
The best way to get to Lille is via rail connection from Brussels, London or Paris. You could also fly in but the airport is largely for domestic flights though it does have connections to Munich, Milan and Venice.
Once here though, the easiest way to get around and explore the surrounding countryside is to book Car Hire Lille. The city has 2 subway lines that largely connect the city centre to the suburbs and there are buses to both Roubaix and Tourcoing. Other than this there are no significant public transport options in the area.
Just remember driving is on the right and priority goes to drivers entering a junction from the right. Most of the roads you will come across are of the highest quality and the motorways can be tolled but are a very efficient way of travelling between cities. You could choose to travel off the motorway and this can be rewarded with breathtaking countryside scenery but some roads are a bit like mazes so its best to be prepared with maps and/or a GPS system.
If you have any travel tips for Lille, feel free to leave your story in the comment box below. Also, if you’ve any queries about car hire in Lille just get in contact.