Flemish houses and St Stevens Church in Lille's Old Town
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Flemish houses and St Stevens Church in Lille's Old Town

© 123fr.com / David Hughes

Lille travel guide

Lille Local time

If Paris is the sophisticated doyenne of France, then Lille is its edgy, fashionable younger sister. Flirting with the border of Belgium, Lille tantalises with its Flemish roots, excellent museums, great food and beer, and the world-renowned Grande Braderie (Europe's biggest flea market and main hunting ground for vintage lovers), which takes place every year on the first weekend of September.

The city, known as Ryssel in Flemish, is the capital of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, making it the hub of northern France. Its thriving cultural scene goes hand-in-hand with a young population which swells with students from ENSAIT, France's top fashion university in nearby Roubaix.

Once a cloth-producing industrial powerhouse, the textile industry crisis of the 1970s saw Lille come apart at the seams, but it shrugged off its troubles with Gallic flair, responding with typical innovation to turn the city's fortunes around.

Thanks to a vibrant regeneration, Lille has gone from strength to strength and it now has a reputation as one of France's cultural hubs. Its pulsating creativity and industrial background has often drawn comparisons with Manchester, the UK's industrial northern city of music scene renown, but now it’s taking on its own designs.

The centre of Lille can roughly be divided into three main sections: Vieux Lille (the old town), Grand-Place (around the Place Général de Gaulle), and the République – Saint-Sauveur quarter. Beyond the centre, but still in the Lille metropolitan area and easily accessible on the metro network, are the towns of Villeneuve d'Ascq (where the LaM museum holds France's greatest modern art collection outside Paris) and Roubaix, which is home to ENSAIT as well as the stunning La Piscine art museum (formerly an Art Deco swimming pool).

After the Eurostar connection to London was opened in 1994, France’s coolest secret was out to the world, and that was before the war paint went on as Lille was made European Capital of Culture in 2004. Look out Paris, Lille is France’s new femme fatale.

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