1. Palais des Beaux Arts, Fine Arts Museum
The Fine Arts Museum of Lille is France’s second museum after the Louvre in Paris. It was all due to Napoleon, who brought the spoils of war from his European conquests to France, then distributed them to other cities. Lille did very well indeed. The museum, housed in a grand neoclassical building of the late 19th century, is enormous. The large impressive spaces offer a panorama of great European art, from Flemish masterpieces of the 17th to 19th centuries like Rubens’ Descent from the Cross, and Van Dyck’s Christ on the Cross, to works by other European masters such as Goya, Corot, Goya, Monet, Lautrec and Picasso. Watteau was the first curator, so he is well represented as well.
In addition, there are sculpture galleries, showing superb 19th-century pieces and basement rooms where the likes of Donatello’s bas-relief Festin d’Herod and sketches by Raphael take pride of place.
Don’t miss the huge detailed models by Vauban of Louis XIV’s fortified north France towns in the dark exhibition space, which look like children's giant playthings.
The Museum holds very good temporary exhibitions as well, so some exhibits might not be on show on a visit.
Practical InformationPl. de la Republique
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 20 06 78 00
Open Monday 2-6pm
Wednesday to Sunday 10am-6pm
Closed Tuesday, Jan 1st, May 1st, July 14th, First weekend of September (during the braderie de Lille), November 1st and December 25th.
Admission Adult 6.50 euros, 4 euros for 12 to 25 year olds
Café Monday 2pm-5.30pm; Wednesday to Sunday 10am-5.30pm
This former Hospice Comtesse is a peaceful, beautiful collection of buildings, recalling the days of the richness of Lille as part of the property of the Counts of Flanders. Founded by Countess Jeanne (1206-1244) in her own palace, it was one of the many religious, humanitarian hospitals that sprang up in Flanders and Hainaut in the 12th and 13th centuries.
You walk through a large gateway into an inner courtyard. The hospice rooms that you can visit lie across the cobbles. You enter into a parlour which gives you a feel of what is to come. The building was changed through the centuries, but the 17th-century wood paneling, tiled walls and wooden floors full of oak furniture, give you a real sensse of the past.
Practical Information32 rue de la Monnaie
Tel.: 00 (0)3 28 36 84 00
3. Birthplace of Charles de Gaulle
In the old town on a side street, you come to the house where France’s most famous president, Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) was born. It’s a thoroughly bourgeois house, typical of the late 19th century. There are only a few rooms to see, but it does give you an idea of life at the time.
More satisfying for a real view of the private man and the public figure is the impressive Charles de Gaulle Memorial in Colombey-les-deux Eglises in Champagne and the private house he lived in for so many years.
Practical Information9 rue Princesse
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 28 38 12 05
Open Wed-Sat 10am-noon, 2-5pm, Sun 1.30-5pm
Admission Adult 6 euros, 11 to 18 years 4 euros
More Sights for Charles de Gaulle
4. Tri Postal
The Tri Postal houses temporary exhibitions throughout the year. If you’re visiting Lille and there is an exhibition on, do try to go there. The former sorting office, right next to the railway station where the trains delivered mail from all over France, is a large building, with a series of white open spaces on several floors. The exhibitions are always top-rate, from the Silk Road (works from the collection of Charles Saatchi) to Phantasia, a collection of works that was part of Lille Fantastic, the major cultural three-month exhibition throughout Lille. The city puts on such an exhibition, taking over all the main galleries and museums, every three to four years.
Practical InformationAvenue Willy Brandt
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 20 14 47 60
Tri Postal website
Take the short metro ride from the central Lille Flanders station to Roubaix, the suburb of Lille which houses La Piscine, La Musée d’Art et d’Industrie. It’s a fabulous building, a swimming pool and bath house built for both the well-to-do and the poor in a 19th-century town that was rapidly expanding to meet the demands of the growing textile industry. The building has been imaginatively restored, with the pool itself housing a collection of sculpture and the small corridors to either side full of paintings and some remarkably good ceramics. It’s an odd collection, a real hotch-potch of interesting art, with some minor works by major artists like Bonnard and Vlaminck.
Practical InformationMusée d’Art et d’Industrie
23 rue de L’esperance
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 20 69 23 60
Another short metro ride and you get to the Museum of Modern Art in Villeneuve d’Ascq which is on the outskirts of Lille. The museum (officially LAM or the Lille Metropolitan Museum for Modern, Contemporary and Outsider Art), re-opened in September 2010 after 4 years of renovation and building a new extension. It stands in rolling green parkland in the university campus suburb.
In 2006 LAM was officially classified as the 4th Museum of France after Paris’s Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay and the Pompidou Center.
Exciting art and top temporary exhibitions make this a draw for visitors from Lille as well as those from the U.K., Belgium and the Netherlands.
Practical Information1 allée du Musée
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 20 19 68 68
There’s a permanent exhibition and major temporary exhibitions, so allow at least 2 hours and if possible, half a day for your visit.
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 21 18 62 62