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Top Attractions in and around Lille

From Fine Arts to a Peaceful Hospice, Lille has many top attractions

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Lille is one of north France’s most attractive cities to visit. When it became European capital of culture in 2004, it took on a new lease of life. Today the capital of French Flanders is full of attractions, both in the city and nearby. Here is my list of the top attractions in Lille.

1. Palais des Beaux Arts, Fine Arts Museum

lillefinearts
© Palais des Beaux Arts, Lille

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 Information

Pl. de la Republique
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 20 06 78 00
Museum website

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

2. Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse (the Museum of the Hospice of the Countess)

hospicelilleint
© Frederic Legoy

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 Information

32 rue de la Monnaie
Tel.: 00 (0)3 28 36 84 00
Hospice website

Guide to the Museum

3. Birthplace of Charles de Gaulle

lilledegcot
© Mary Anne Evans, licensed to about.com

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 Information

9 rue Princesse
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 28 38 12 05
Museum website

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

lilletripostal
© 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 Information

Avenue Willy Brandt
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 20 14 47 60
Tri Postal website

5. La Piscine Museum of Art and Industry, Roubaix

piscinepool
© Mary Anne Evans

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 Information

Musée d’Art et d’Industrie
23 rue de L’esperance
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 20 69 23 60
Museum website

Guide to La Piscine

6. Museum of Modern Art (LAM)

lamext
© Manuelle Gautrand Architecture

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 Information

1 allée du Musée
Villeneuve d’Ascq
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 20 19 68 68
LAM website

Guide to the Museum of Modern Art

7. Louvre-Lens

louvrelensint
© Mary Anne Evans, licensed to about.com
The new outpost of the famous Louvre Museum in Paris opened in December 2012. The gleaming aluminum and glass building houses a remarkable collection of art from the Louvre, taking in over 6,500 years of human achievement. It’s in the small town of Lens, just south of Lille. One of the main aims of the extension is to breathe new life into the former mining community in the same way that the Guggenheim did in Bilbao and to a lesser extent, the Pompidou-Metz Center did to Metz, the capital of Lorraine.

There’s a permanent exhibition and major temporary exhibitions, so allow at least 2 hours and if possible, half a day for your visit.

Practical Information

Louvre-Lens
Nr. Lille
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 21 18 62 62
Museum website

Guide to the Louvre-Lens

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