Walking Tour: Lille Discovery Stroll

  • Start Place du Général de Gaulle
  • End Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-la-Treille
  • Length 1km; one hour

The best place to begin a discovery stroll through Lille's Flemish heart is the city's focal point, place du Général de Gaulle (the Grand' Place), where you can admire the 1932 art deco home of La Voix du Nord (the leading regional newspaper), crowned by a gilded sculpture of the Three Graces. The goddess-topped victory column (1845) in the fountain commemorates the city's successful resistance to the Austrian siege of 1792. On warm evenings, Lillois come here by the thousands to stroll, take in the urban vibe and sip a strong local beer.

The adjacent Vieille Bourse (the old stock exchange), is ornately decorated with caryatids and cornucopia, a Flemish Renaissance extravaganza. Built in 1653, it consists of 24 separate houses set around a richly ornamented interior courtyard that hosts a used-book market. In the afternoon, especially on weekends, locals gather here to play échecs (chess).

Just east of the Vieille Bourse, impressive place du Théâtre is dominated by the Louis XVI–style Opéra and the neo-Flemish Chambre de Commerce, topped by a 76m-high spire sporting a gilded clock. Both were built in the early 20th century. Look east along rue Faidherbe and you'll see Gare Lille-Flandres at the far end.

Vieux Lille (Old Lille), filled with restored 17th- and 18th-century brick houses, begins just north of here. It's hard to believe today, but in the late 1970s much of this quarter was a half-abandoned slum dominated by empty, dilapidated buildings. Head north past the outdoor cafes to rue de la Grande Chaussée, lined with Lille's chicest shops. Continue north along rue de la Monnaie (named after a mint constructed here in 1685), whose old brick residences now house boutiques and the Musée de l'Hospice Comtesse.

Turning left (west) on tiny rue Péterinck and then left again will take you to the 19th-century, neogothic Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-la-Treille, which has a strikingly modern (some would say jarring) west façade (1999) that looks better from inside or when illuminated at night.