Driving in Lille, France

European Capital of Culture in 2004, the medieval city of Lille is located in northern France. The historic city lies on the French-Belgian border and is connected 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, which has grown on the back of its rail connection, significant coal deposits, and a booming textile industry. Large sections of the city were destroyed during World War I, and the Great Depression had a major economic impact. Lille was captured early in World War II, but was quickly liberated after D-Day. Today the city has one of the largest student populations in France and is a magnet for foreign students. One of the city’s universities is named after Charles de Gaulle, who was born here in 1890.

Lille museums 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 and the Art Deco Musée d’Art et d’ Industrie de Roubaix: La Piscine.

The historic centre of Lille (Old Quarter or Vieux Lille) is well worth checking out, with its winding cobblestone streets, chic little cafes, and invitng restaurants. It’s also home to the Cathédrale Notre Dame de la Treille.

Lillie also boasts some beautifully designed squares, the largest of which is Place du Général-de-Gaulle (a.k.a. Grand place). Here you’ll find the La Grande Déesse fountain and such historic houses as the headquarters 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, teeming with sophisticated department stores as quirky 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, an excellent example of Neo-Gothic architecture dating from the 15th/16th century, which 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. Strategically located, it is the third-largest port in France and has changed hands numerous times throughout history. During WWII,the so-called Miracle of Dunkirk took place, when about 333,000 French and British troops escaped across the English Channel to safety from here. 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 at this point. 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 reach both by ferry and via the Channel Tunnel.

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 is Douai, worth visiting for the 14th-century bell tower.

You could also 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 to 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, although 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.  These are the only viable public transport options in the area. 

Just remember to drive on the right and give priority to drivers entering a junction from the right. Most of the roads you will encounter are of the highest quality, and the motorways – though often tolled - are a very efficient way of travelling between cities.  Drive off the motorway to be rewarded with breathtaking countryside scenery,  but use good maps and/or a GPS systems to negotiate the labyrinthine roads!

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, drop us an email or give us a call.