Lille is rather underrated, but it’s actually a decent place to spend a weekend from London especially as
- Travel time is only an hour and a half from King’s Cross/St Pancras International
- It’s cheaper than having a UK staycation
- The city is quaint enough to explore in two days – on foot
- It has a good selection of estaminets and restaurants
- The Lillois are very friendly
I recently went for a quick weekend trip and here are my notes 🙂
STAY: at the L’Hermitage Gantois (An Autograph Collection Hotel)
L’Hermitage Gantois used to be a charity hospice in the 15th century. Now it’s become Lille’s first ever five-star hotel. As well as 90 individual rooms and suites, the hotel boasts of gorgeous courtyards, two restaurants given a nod by the Michelin-guide, a tranquil spa and indoor pool, plus a trendy bar that’s quite popular with the locals. It’s also peppered with a lot of art, and there’s even a gallery featuring up and coming artists.
Rooms are quite traditional with oak-panelled walls and beamed ceilings but you do get some Philippe Starck tables and chairs for a touch of modern decor. Service is quite good – with staff eager to please
The hotel itself is a stone’s throw away from the Palais Beaux Arts and is a five minute walk to the city centre. Plus it’s close to the Eurostar, too!
SEE: The City Centre
Frankly, if you only have a quick weekend in Lille and want a relaxing city break, I suggest you don’t pepper your itinerary too much. It’s small enough to explore and there’s no reason for you to go FOMO gung-ho on seeing the sights. Walking around the city centre is delightful enough as you get to see very pretty and cool concept stores, clothing boutiques, Flemish architecture, cathedrals, and restaurants.
EAT: Glorious seafood and Franco-Flemish fare
Feeling peckish? You’d probably spot a bunch of estaminets pinned across town. These taverns normally offer traditional Franco-Flemish fare, and it’s your chance to try some local food. Your best bet is Estaminet Au Vieux de la Vieille. They’re considered the best in the city so prepare your beer belly whilst you wait for tables, or do the sensible thing and book a table. I particularly enjoyed the carbonnade flamande (or beer beef stew) and traditional fish soup.
There’s a lot of temptation from the patisseries and boulangeries around town, but if you’d let yourself be tempted, head off to Meert. Frankly, there may be better tarts and merveilleux (choc and cream coated merengue) elsewhere, but Meert is an institution to visit and you’ve got to try their cakes or take home some of their biccies.
There’s also an abundance of seafood and fresh salads if you need a break from all that stodge. Jour du Peche and L’ecume des Mers both serve fantastic seafood dishes. And if you fancied a little bit of an adventure, head off to Bloempot for a surprise twist on Flemish dining (read my full review here)
FIND: Some good old souvenirs from La Vieille Bourse
You know those stalls by the river Seine, the ones that sell old books, magazine covers, and kitschy stuff? Well, they’ve got a lot of these in La Vieille Bourse, otherwise known as Lille’s old stock exchange building. There are a couple of great gems here, if you have the time to look. And there are also some fascinating chess.
DRINK: The Dandy
Table service cocktails with a short but sweet menu? I’m down. One of the coolest haunts in the city, The Dandy has cool atmosphere and even better drinks. Sole ingredients define the drinks: and your drink comes as a surprise. It’s right at the city centre so definitely try to book a table if you can.
FIND: Art everywhere in Lille!
Palais Beaux Art is smaller than the usual museums you would see in bigger cities but it’s full of gems, too. The museum houses some of France’s finest collections from Van Dyck, Goya, Monet, Rodin after the Louvre. They’re opening another annex soon, so better watch out for when that launches!
There are a lot of artwork scattered in the city as well – I mean, you do get greeted by a big Yayoi Kusama plant as you step off the Eurostar. There’s a lot to see just walking ’round the city – from sole installations in old buildings to quirky gnomes sold in concept stores and traces of its medieval and industrial roots.
Overall, Lille is a quaint pretty city that’s a good place to escape to for a stylish French weekend.
Have you guys been to Lille?