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On the border between France and Belgium, this city combines Flemish charm with French allure. Despite its size, Lille has often been seen as a cursory Eurostar stop before arriving into Paris – a city to pass through instead of a destination in itself. But recently the capital of the Hauts-de-France region has been gaining well-deserved recognition and is gradually making a name for itself as a cultural hub within Europe.
In the district of French Flanders, wander through cobbled streets, stopping off at cafés and bars to soak up the quaint village atmosphere. Every autumn Lille hosts La Braderie, Europe’s largest flea market which dates back to the 12th century, and during summer months the city’s three lush botanical gardens are filled with picnicking locals.
Art connoisseurs, wander through the grounds of the Musée d’Art Moderne, d’Art Contemporain et d’Art Brut (or more simply, LaM) for modern art and a sculpture park. Alternatively, head to the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille for more traditional fine art by van Dyck, Rubens, Goya and Picasso.
Eldorado – a cultural fiesta hosted by the city. Since becoming the European Capital of Culture in 2004, Lille has hosted regular events embracing global cultures. This year, Lille has paired with Mexico to explore the vibrant history, legacies and legends that shape Central America. Make your way around Lille’s Maisons Folie to find exhibitions, events and installations themed around the myths, conquests, journeys and dreams surrounding the mystery that is Eldorado.
Who to take with you
Someone with an eye for design. In 2020, Lille will become the World Design Capital. Beat the crowds and explore the city’s innovative design, beautiful buildings and sustainable infrastructure before the city becomes overrun with eager architects and school trips.
When to go
Go at the end of April to catch the opening parade of Eldorado festival. Music, floats, costumes and a party atmosphere create a parade that’s not to be missed.
Where to stay
If you’re looking for a quaint, French village hotel, stay at Clarance Hotel. Located in an 18th-century townhouse, this hotel combines its five-star boutique status with a French chateau feel. For a more modern affair, book a room at the centrally located and gloriously opulent Grand Hotel Bellevue where high ceilings, elegant decor and a belle-epoque vibes exude from every corner.
Most likely to bump into…
Students. A university city, Lille’s student population have ensured that there is much to do come nightfall. Clubs and bars are dotted throughout the city centre, while cosy cafés provide the perfect spot for a hangover brunch.
Essentials to bring with you
Keep it casual but classy as you flit between Lille’s Maisons Folie in this floaty skirt.
How to get there
You can reach Lille in one hour and 20 minutes on the Eurostar from London King’s Cross.
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