Lille - Abbey Travel, Ireland



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Welcome to Lille


Is it French or is it Flemish? It is hard for the visitor to decide when visiting Lille, which has been officially part of France for 350 years but still at its core retains the ambience of the medieval wool towns of Flanders. The historic core of Vieux Lille is filled with grand architecture and cobble-stoned streets and squares, with a 'Grand Place' reminiscent of both Brussels and Amsterdam.

This confusion of cultures does not detract from this bright and beautiful city, set in the north of France, which was capital of Flanders during the Middle Ages. With the advent of the Eurostar fast train service from London, Lille, a major stop on the route to Paris, has been revived as a weekend break destination, and has plenty to offer longer-term tourists who arrive at its international airport as well.

Vigorous shopping takes place along its commercial thoroughfares, and some attractive sights beckon visitors, like the neo-Gothic Notre Damme de la Treille Cathedral, and the Hospice Comtesse, a former hospital housing a museum of Flemish art, furniture and ceramics. Old Lille is pleasant to stroll through, with its cobbled streets and mixture of shops, restaurants and cathedrals.

Those whose taste runs to art will also find a feast here, with Monet and Renoir being permanent tenants at the Musée des Beaux-Arts, and works by Picasso, Braques and Derains along with more modernistic marvels are on display at the Musée d'Art Moderne in the suburb of Villeneuve d'Ascq just outside the city.

Many visitors, though, are here for the beer. The best Belgian beers are on tap and served up in most of the popular bars, to wash down the delicious local cuisine, which focuses on seafood and rich sauces. If your main aim is to eat, drink and make merry in a historic environment, Lille is the place to be.

The best thing about Lille is that its local populace is not only welcoming, but adept at enjoying life, as can be witnessed by visiting any of the many bars and bistros (known as estaminets) in this fun city, which belies its reputation as the grim northerly cousin of pretty Paris.

Information & Facts


Lille's climate is mostly pleasant throughout the year, but summer (June to August) is the warmer time to visit with temperatures averaging 68°F (20°C). Winter temperatures can reach 32° F (0°C) in January and the wind can make days very cold. Rainfall is evenly spread over the year, but particularly in autumn and spring.

Getting Around

Most of the centre of Lille is pedestrianised and well signposted, ideal for walking. The city has a good public transport system, with two metro lines traversing the city, two tram lines travelling from Lille to Roubaix and Tourcoing and buses covering 60 different routes. The buses, tram and metro run every day (except 1 May), from 5.30am to around midnight. A single adult ticket costs around EUR1.25 for the entire network. A City Pass, costing EUR20 for one day, EUR30 for two days or EUR45 for three days allows free entry to museums and monuments and unlimited use of public transport. Taxis are widely available from the airport and the Lille Europe train station, which is centrally located at 1 Gare De Ville Europe near the main square. Renting a bike is also a good option in summer.

French is the official language.

The Euro (EUR) is the official currency in France. Currency can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change and some large hotels, though you will get a better exchange rate at the ATMs. Major credit cards are widely accepted, as are travellers cheques, particularly in major tourist destinations. Foreign currency is not accepted.

Local time is GMT +1 (GMT +2 between last Sunday in March and last Sunday in October).

In the heart of Lille's old town stands one of the few remaining Flanders buildings founded as a hospital in 1237 by the Countess of Flanders, Jeanne de Constantinople. It remained in service as a hospital until 1939, and today has been turned into an art museum. Works are displayed in the old hospital ward, with its barrel-vaulted ceiling, and other halls where the community of Augustine nuns once lived and worked, providing a haven for the sick. Outside there is a delightful medicinal garden. The collections on display include paintings, tapestries, sculpture and porcelain from the region.

Something different that appeals particularly to the mechanically minded is Lille's museum devoted to windmills. Situated on the highway to Roubaix, the Musée des Moulins boasts two preserved pivoting windmills, which visitors can watch in operation grinding corn, as well as a museum detailing the history of windmill technology. Visitors can tour the full facility, or just one or two of the sites for reduced admission if you're pressed for time.

An attraction in Lille particularly enjoyed by children, the Natural History Museum has been drawing the crowds since it opened in 1822. There are hundreds of thousands of specimens in the colourful building, featuring interesting displays of extinct species, two huge whale skeletons, insectariums and geology collections. With so much to see and do, the museum is both educational and fun for all ages.

A modern architectural attraction, Lille's cathedral (dedicated to the Virgin Mary) is an imposing homogenous structure, begun as a basilica in 1854 in 13th-century Gothic style. Building continued slowly, interrupted by wars and financial constraints, but finally in 1999 the lofty building was declared complete after the perfection of the unique main façade, designed by local architect Pierre-Louis Carlier in collaboration with Peter Rice, who engineered the Sydney Opera House. The central marble section supported by steel wires is an impressive sight, particularly viewed from inside or at night, when it is revealed as resembling a pink translucent veil.

Travel back in time with a visit to Lille's living museum, which is a recreation of a local village in days of yore. The Lille Open Air Museum site covers 10 hectares, an attraction where visitors can explore thatched cottages, traditional farmhouses, seed barns and rural craft workshops where artisans demonstrate traditional skills.

A striking and ornate 19th-century building which houses Lille's renowned museum of fine arts, Palais des Beaux-Arts is a masterpiece in itself. Inside the building is a treasure trove for art lovers, a cultural attraction second only to the Louvre in Paris. The gallery features works by Goya, Donatello, Raphael and Rubens, to name just a few of the masters represented. There are also a number of works by French artists, including three major items: Belisarius Asking for Almsby David; After Dinner at Ornansby Courbet; and Sleepby Puvis de Chavannes. Although the museum contains mainly paintings, there are also some collections of ceramics, relief maps and a large section of Italian and French drawings.

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