© Lille, Place du Général de Gaulle, shopping | CRTC Hauts-de-France - AS Flament

Why Lille is the real deal for your next city shopping break

Ever feel like all the shops are the same whichever city you happen to be in? Where’s the variety? Where’s the frisson of stepping over the threshold of a shop you’ve never been in before? The answer could be just over the Channel on a shopping weekend in France, in Lille to be precise, not just because of the vast array of shops  ̶  both big French high street stores and small, on-trend independents  ̶  but also because Lille is closer to home than you might think. Car free, just an 82-minute journey time from London by Eurostar, and you can shop till you drop!

Northern France _ Lille _ Le Petit Souk _ Shop © CRTC Hauts-de-France AS - FlamentNorthern France _ Lille _ Le Petit Souk _ Shop © CRTC Hauts-de-France AS - Flament
©Northern France, Lille, Le Petit Souk, Shop|CRTC Hauts-de-France - AS Flament

Shop till you drop

 

Built on a former island, today the city of Lille falls under the watchful eye of the emblematic goddess who sits atop a column in Grand Place, the city’s most popular meeting place. Have an early coffee here on a cosmopolitan café terrace to set you up for the day, or to avoid wasting precious shopping time over lunch, you might fancy treating yourselves to brunch. Head to Tous les Jours Dimanche near Notre-Dame de La Treille cathedral where you can relax in comfy leather armchairs as you enjoy savoury tarts and home-made cakes.

Now you’re ready to meet local designers and perhaps be seduced by THE original, local and authentic item that you won’t find anywhere else.

Off you go down the lively cobbled streets and through little squares; the exuberant facades around you are all different – so don’t forget to look up to admire the architecture! If when you’re buying a gift (or better still self-gifting!) you always find it more rewarding to know something of the item’s backstory, make a beeline for Rue de la Clef where you’ll find Colonel Moutarde known for its quirky and multicoloured bow ties. They’re created with thread from the nearby neighbourhood of Marcq-en-Barœul and with machinery that comes from Roubaix, a suburb of Lille. Also on Rue de la Clef, there’s Julie Meuriss, selling exclusive leather goods with pretty patterns and designs.

Rue Bartholomé Masurel is also very fashionable. Here, you’ll find Summer Camp, which sells household fabrics made using linen from Hauts-de-France. Nearby, you’ll see Mademoiselle Chapeau, with its range of wide-brimmed hats, berets, caps and panamas in a wide choice of materials and colours; Chloe, the milliner, is a Parisienne originally from Lille who wanted to honour her hometown by making her wonderful creations available for everyone to enjoy.

If it’s not a successful weekend without a cultural interlude, the unmissable Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille is well worth a visit.

Get to know local gastronomy

 

Time for afternoon tea! Just a few steps from the museum, L’Impertinente tea-room, with decor worthy of The Andrews Sisters, produces gâtals – unique (and delicious!) cakes and shortbreads. Also, you can’t visit Lille without tasting a local craft beer. At the Célestins microbrewery (120 Rue Esquermoise) you can taste authentic beers made from recipes that have been handed down over eight generations.

Before turning in for the night, visit Place aux Oignons, where you’ll find the Flemish tavern (or ‘estaminet’ as we say in northern France) Au Vieux de la Vieille, tempting you with local specialties such as Hauts-de-France’s most celebrated cheese Maroilles, as well as classic Flemish dishes like Potjevleesch or Carbonnade (Flemish beef stew). Or maybe you’d prefer to head to the on-trend rooftop bar and restaurant Mama Shelter? Under the guidance of three-starred Michelin chef Guy Savoy, it offers inspiring dishes, including local specialities. Other places to be seen at in Lille include Le Bellaza, a sumptuous Italian amphitheatre restaurant that serves up wonderful dishes from across the Alps.

Set Sunday morning aside for a trip to the markets in Wazemmes, where you’ll find a lively and friendly vibe, full of colour and life from around the world. Grab something to eat and enjoy it either on the move or at a table for a more leisurely bite. For a light-hearted lunch, try La Luck on Boulevard Jean-Baptiste Lebas – it provides a range of board games you can play.

Time out

Need help relaxing? Les Cents Ciels is a hammam steam-bath spa, also on Boulevard Jean-Baptiste Lebas, that will take you on a refined trip to the Orient.

Looking for some green space? Try the Parc de la Citadelle de Lille for a stroll – or even a run – at the foot of the Reine des Citadelles, aptly called the ‘Queen of the citadels’ by its designer, Vauban.

Before leaving, don’t forget some souvenirs of Lille – without doubt, the waffles made by Meert will prolong your memories of an excellent weekend.

Local's tip

Olivier Duhamel Villeneuve D'ascqOlivier Duhamel Villeneuve D'ascq
Watching the world go by from a café terrace on Place du Théâtre in Lille

What I love about Lille is its unique character and way of life ‒ the mixture of the French and the Flemish influence ‒ and there really is no better way to while away an afternoon than sitting in Place du Théâtre with a local beer and good company. Beer and heritage go hand in hand here and in fact the region is the second biggest brewing hub in the whole of France. So as long as you consume in moderation, you’re definitely in the right spot to try a beer or two, or ‘une mousse’ as it’s known locally! At the foot of the opera house and the belfry, Place du Théâtre is the best place to get a taste for it, with no one rushing around, just people spending quality time in a warm and welcoming atmosphere, cares left behind. Later on, you might see people sat on the opera house steps too ‒ and for good reason; it’s a great place to contemplate and enjoy the last light of the day, that key moment when street lights take over and the heart of the city continues to beat into the night. A magical and memorable moment to share, for sure.

Olivier Duhamel’s first love is modern architecture in and around Lille
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