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Once in Lille there are many things to do, with a number of attractions to see. It's easy to get around on the integrated Metro, bus and tram system. Attractions include the Palais des Beaux-Arts, the star-shaped Citadel, the vast Centre Euralille shopping mall (for a city with such a mercantile past, retail therapy is second nature) and the warren of cobbled streets in the old town. Here, the 17th-century buildings are built of Lezennes white stone and Armentieres brick, with intricately carved wheat sheaves and cherubs crowning the doorways. The heart of the city is the Grand place, officially named the place du General de Gaulle after the most famous local son. There are many bars and restaurants on the streets between here and nearby place Rihour and place du Theatre. Lilles newer part is further east, in the Euralille district. Not to be missed is the carnival atmosphere at the Sunday morning Wazemmes market. The sound of accordions and the aroma of Sunday lunch waft past stands selling anything from puppies and kittens to bric-a-brac.
Read more on this destination in The AA Essential Guide to Lille.
Must-see attractions in Lille
Bois de Boulogne: This magnificent park is wrapped around the Citadelle (fortress) and bordered by the canal of the river Deule. The park begins with the tree-lined Esplanade (a long, level open area), first planted by Vauban in 1675, then crosses over the canal. The park is also home to the town Zoo. Lille's panthers, zebras and rhinos welcome visitors, as do the residents of IIes aux Singes (Monkey Island). At the entrance to the animal park is a children's playground with dodgems, rides and candyfloss stalls.
Citadelle: The architecture in Lille's historic heart is an appealing mix of Flemish and French, but the Citadelle is entirely French, built by Louis XIV's military engineer Vauban. This vast fortress - a mini town - is in the shape of a five pointed star and inspired the design for the US Pentagon. It was completed in 1670, after only three years of building work. The main entrance, the Port Royale, was intended to reflect the grandeur of Louis XIV, but security was another concern - the gateway is at an angle to the drawbridge to avoid enemy fire and the walls are 4m (13ft) thick. The citadelle is still home to 1,000 soldiers.
Euralille: This city of tomorrow is a huge monument to the optimism of Lille and its leaders. From Christian de Portzampac's Tour Credit Lyonnais, known locally as the 'Ski-Boot', perched above the glass and chrome Gare Europe, to the dramatic Centre Euralille shopping mall, this huge business and leisure development is the key to the city's renaissance. You can choose from around 140 shops at the Centre Euralille mall or even attend a concert at in the Grand Palais arena.
Modern Art Museum: The modern art museum, a short metro and bus ride out from the city, displays works by Picasso, Modigliani, Braque and others in its light airy galleries. Large, full-length windows between the showrooms offer glimpses of the fascinating sculptures that embellish the gardens that surround the Museum building. In addition to the original donation of French work from the first half of the century, the museum has acquired an enviable range of work by contemporary artists, among them Eduardo Arroyo, Richard Deacon, François Dufrène and Dennis Oppenheim. A schedule of temporary exhibitions features installation art and challenging, sometimes controversial, thematic shows by today's artists.
Les Places: The spiritual and physical heart in the City of Lille is the Grand' Place (known locally as place du General de Gaulle) and its two adjoining neighbours. The place du Gaulle is constantly transforming itself, one week perhaps a ploughed farmyard, the next a landscaped garden, or even a Christmas grotto with an enormous Ferris wheel. At midnight in January relish the rooftop and clocktower panorama from a swaying cradle high above the cobbles. Everyone's favourite rendezvous is the central fountain around the statue of the Deesse-a goddess and spiritual symbol of civic courage during the 1792 siege.
Wazemmes Market: Marche de Wazemmes is not to be missed, as this market is an occasion full of spirit, every Sunday morning. The stuff legends are made of. As rue Gambetta escapes from place de la Republique and approaches the marketplace, little shops and bigger stores fling open their doors to welcome the thousands making the pilgrimage to this bustling multicultural hub of Lille's weekend. The true carnival atmosphere belongs to the streets outside, so the best way to appreciate this cacophony is to surrender to its flow.
Museum of Fine Arts: This magnificent late 19th-century palace, houses France's second national museum after the Louvre, with a collection of masterpieces spanning more than 400 years. Once inside, climb the magnificent staircases to the first floor, taking time to admire the stained-glass windows illustrating arts and crafts. No one should miss the museum's celebrated Goyas, a pair of wicked portrayals of youth and old age (Les Vielles and Les Jeunes). The museum also houses a superb gallery devoted to the impressionists, which includes treasures by Monet, Van Gogh, Renoir and Sisley, as well as Lautrec and individual casts of Rodin's Burghers of Calais.
Hospital Museum: This former hospital takes you back to the 15th to 17th centuries, providing a charming glimpse of Lille's life and art with French, Flemish and Dutch paintings, period furniture and rare musical instruments. Much of the museum is devoted to salvaged images of Lille and the Low Countries through the ages. This is not simply a musuem, the Hospice Comtesse is the custodian of the very spirit of Lille.
Vieille Bourse: Undeniably the most beautiful building in Lille, the Vieille Bourse, standing between the places du Theatre and de Gaulle, is an opulent masterpeice of the Flemish renaissance. Created in 1652-53 to house the Bourse de Commerce, or trading exchange, it comprises 24 identical houses built around a courtyard. The exquisite decoration owes its flamboyance to the fact that the builder, Julien Destrez, was a noted carpenter and sculptor of wood.
Vieux Lille: Within the cobbled, winding streets, with names evoking hunchbacked cats and golden lions, lie an array of wonderful boutique shops selling antiques and linens. Maps never quite capture the confusing reality of this most serpentine of districts, as the complex knot of narrow tributaries of the rues Royale, de la Monnaie and Basse defy the concepts of right angles and parallel lines. The vibrant hues and striking exposed beams of the 17th century shopping streets have been lovingly restored since the district was reclaimed from decay in the 1960s.