Located 115km or 1.5 hours from Calais, Lille is great destination for a short weekend driving road trip from London. It is known as the “Capital of Flanders” and the Flemish influence on architecture, design and art are well preserved in the old town.
A stroll at Parc de la Citadelle and Lille Zoo
We started the weekend in Lille with an hour stroll around Parc de la Citadelle, in the north of the city. This is a moderate sized park, with serene river-side paths, rolling hills and a pentagon-shaped fortress. On the south-side of the park, there is a small but sufficient zoo with many variety of birds, watchful meerkats, twitchy chubby pairie dogs, two chunky rhinos, tight rope walking white hand gibbons and rock-like tortoises. The star-attraction was the charming and elegant red panda. It was strutting up and down the ladder when we were there in its nonchalant demeanor. We spent a leisurely 2.5 hours in the zoo.
Treat yourself to some galettes and crépes
After working up an appetite, we walked down Rue de la Barre and Rue Esquermoise to the heart of the town and found ourselves in Crêperie Beaurepaire. It is a warm, cosy place with exposed brickwork, wooden ceiling beams and two floors of seating. It has the full works of savoury galettes with ham, mushroom, cheese, egg and load more as well as any sweet crépe you can think of. It serves beers and there are alfresco seatings for warmer days.
Admire vintage prints at La Vieille Bourse
With filled-tummies, we back-tracked slightly to visit the famous Pâtisserie Méert. Chocolate-galore! We then pottered on towards the Main Square. Here we came face-to-face with the ornate 17th century former stock exchange. It is an imposing 4 stories building with red bricks and sculptured pillars and window boarders. Walk through one of the archway and you will find second hand books and vintage prints stalls in the open courtyard. We spent the last hour of daylight rummaging through old newspaper prints, comics, magazines, posters and maps.
Indulge in artisanal food at Marché de Wazemmes
We kicked off Sunday with Marche de Wazemmes. It is an enclosed food market with many tentacles of market stalls selling everything from basic clothings to toys to fresh flowers and vegetables. The highlight for me is the food market. There are about 30 food stalls in this bright, tidy and clean charming Victorian orangery / conservatory building with high ceilings. There is a stretch of individual bench tables at the centre of the hall to enjoy your pickings.
You will find local fresh fruits, artisanal sausages, all cuts of meat, foie gra, French cheeses, fresh seafood and even Italian cut meats. There are also a few ready-to-eat food stalls selling pizza and empanada. The market is the birthplace of Canard Street, a culinary celebration of everything duck – duck confit, duck burger, duck tartare and even saucisson. The other celebrity under this roof is Maison Doucet, a lovely boulangerie patisserie. Find the longest queue and you will find them.
We kicked back with a tray of fresh oysters, bulots and crevettes from one of the fresh seafood stall. Loaded by up a selection of French cheese and Italian cold cut meats.
Pay homage to the old art masters at Palais des Beaux-Arts
15 mins walk down the Rue Léon Gambetta, we were greeted by the magnificent Belle Époque-style mansion. In the wide open spaces of this palace, as they named it, you will find masterpieces from Peter Paul Rubens, El Greco, Vincent Van Gogh, Auguste Rodin, Rousseau and Carolus-Duran. The most prominent perhaps is Claude Monet’s melancholic painting of the Houses of Parliament in London. Do take time to admire the grand uncluttered stained glass windows and don’t forget the sculptures, artefacts and large 3D maps on the lower ground floor
Practical Driving Tips:
We parked at Parc de la Citadelle on Saturday. It is a large open car park with over 100 spaces. Best spot to explore the park and the city centre. The entrance to Lille Zoo is just round the corner from here.
Parking around Marché de Wazemmes on Sunday when the market is in full swing, will be very limited. We parked at Parking du Sébastopol, which is an open car park for a local theatre, halfway between the market and our next destination, the Lille’s Fine Art Palace. Parking is free on Sunday. It is a 10 mins walk to the market and 5 mins to Palais des Beaux-Arts.
Click here for locations of underground parking in Lille city centre.
Low Emissions Zones
At the time of writing this article there are no driving restrictions or low emission zones in Lille.
If you would like to read more about Lille and get under the skin of this amazing city, please do check out the Bradt Travel Guides on Lille written by Laurence Phillips from the Amazon link below.