Northern France _ Lille _ Grand Place © CRTC Hauts-de-France - Stéphanie GheearertNorthern France _ Lille _ Grand Place © CRTC Hauts-de-France - Stéphanie Gheearert
©Northern France, Lille, Grand Place |CRTC Hauts-de-France - Stéphanie Gheearert

5 things to do in Lille during the rugby world cup 2023

As part of the 2023 Rugby World Cup, the captivating northern French city of Lille is hosting two England games (against America 2 and Samoa) and a Scotland game (against Europe 2) at Villeneuve d’Ascq’s Pierre Mauroy stadium. Despite its proximity to the UK (the city is just 80 minutes from London Saint Pancras by Eurostar), many British Rugby fans may well be visiting Lille for the first time. Here’s a glimpse of what it has to offer beyond the games.

Northern France _ Lille © CRTC Hauts de France - Nablezon - make Art MediaNorthern France _ Lille © CRTC Hauts de France - Nablezon - make Art Media
©Northern France, Lille |CRTC Hauts de France - Nablezon - make Art Media

01. An Old Town perfect for an amble

With its cobblestones, indie boutiques, restaurants and cafés, art galleries and museums, the lively Vieux Lille (Old Lille) district with its beguilding mix of architecture reflects the different cultural influences (Flemish, French, Spanish-Dutch empire) that have made Lille through history and also created a city so open-minded towards Europe and the world.

Don’t miss La Vieille Bourse (Old Stock Exchange), the city’s most beautiful monument with its distinctive red bricks. Its inner courtyard now buzzes with locals busy at activities (including chess games and tango sessions) and it also hosts a daily flea market of second-hand books, stamps, postcards and film posters.

02. A festive and friendly atmosphere

 

 

If you feel like mingling with locals for a beer (or two) after games, Lille’s bar and restaurant terraces are convivial spots day and night. The cafés of the iconic Grand Place or Place du Théâtre have a grand setting; also charming but more intimate are the terraces of Place aux Oignons, one of Old Lille’s loveliest squares.

Mark Jackson of “Travel Begins at 40” blog recently visited Lille. He gives us his tips for the five best beer bars in Lille. Enjoy. Read more on the Travel Begins at 40 blog

And while France is a country of wine, northern France has a strong beer culture, and the local brews are a must-try. Accompany them by feasting on hearty Flemish food in an estaminet (a typical northern French bistro).

 

03. Europe’s biggest open-air fleamarket

Usually held on the first weekend of September, La Grande Braderie brings 2 million people to hunt for bargains sold by amateur and professional stallholders, including toys, clothes, books and other rare, quirky and vintage items of all kinds, all offered at fair prices. This is a joyful, convivial event where locals and visitors alike gather to feast on traditional moules-frites – mussels and chips – with a glass of local beer.

Handily, the 2023 Braderie de Lille takes place just a week before the beginning of the Rugby World Cup, so come early and enjoy both!

04. A vibrant cultural scene

Lille’s array of events and museums mean there’s always something interesting for culture vultures to see and do.

First up is the Fine Arts Museum of Lille (Palais-des-Beaux-Arts de Lille), a breathtaking late-19th-century building with a rich collection from all over Europe: paintings (including masterpieces by Goya, Monet and Delacroix), drawings and sculptures.

La Piscine Museum of Art and Industry (Musée La Piscine) in Roubaix is another must-see. Set in a former Art Deco swimming pool, it hosts a vast collection of applied and fine arts. Visit on a sunny day to fully appreciate the effect of the stained glass on the sculptures arrayed alongside the water.

Lille also has plenty of modern art, particularly during the annual Lille 3000 festival with its events and exhibitions throughout the city. A flagship venue of this festival is Gare Saint So, a former train station turned into a hip venue for exhibitions and concerts. Its bistro with its environmentally friendly terrace is a great place for a drink too.

05. A tribute to those who lost their life in World War I

Less  than 30 minutes by car from Lille lies a museum recounting the terrible battle of Fromelles between Australian and British divisions against German troops in 1916, when more than 8,500 soldiers were injured or killed in less than 24 hours. Most have never been found and given a proper resting place.

An excavation commissioned by the British and the Australian governments in 2009 uncovered the bodies of 250 British and Australians who had gone missing at Fromelles. DNA samples allowed them to be identified, and in 2010 the Pheasant Wood Military Cemetery was built by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) to give these men a worthy grave. The museum gives insights into this incredible investigation process involving the soldiers’ descendants.

Next to the museum, in the Australian memorial Park is the famous ‘Don’t forget me cobbler’ statue paying tribute to the courage of the Australian soldiers, the likes of Sergeant Fraser (depicted on the statue) who went to pick up their injured comrades in the battlefield, at the cost of their lives. An humbling example of the sense of brotherhood and comradeship of these men.