Lille is an vibrant and up-and-coming city in north-east France. Although most tourist will overlook it when planning a holiday to France, it is a perfect first stop for visitors coming from the United Kingdom or Belgium by car. That is why I have written this guide on the best free things to do in Lille.
The city itself boasts beautiful buildings and a market place in Flemish style. Lille has many great little cafes and cute places to eat, hideaways where you can experience the city like a local and – most importantly – because Lille is not overrun by tourists it is a very calm and affordable destination in France.
When you are visiting Lille on a budget (we get it! we travel on a budget all the time!) you might want to have a look at these 10 free experiences and attractions in Lille!
Visit the Old Stock Exchange in Lille
Located between the Grand ’Place and the Place du Théâtre you will find the old Lille stock exchange. Many say it is the most beautiful building of the city. The stock exchange was built in the mid-seventeenth century and served as a stock exchange until the beginning of the twentieth century.
If you stand in front of the building, it looks like a complete building, but in reality, the old stock exchange consists of twenty-four separate houses. These houses were built in a square, creating a courtyard. The houses are built in Flemish Renaissance style.
A book market is held almost every afternoon on the central square. The gates of the fair will open at 2 p.m. and then you can browse through the various second-hand books and other curiosities.
TThings to do in Lille - he Grande Place of Lille
The Grand Place of Lille is the central square of the city and connects the different districts of the city. There is a large parking garage below the square where you can easily park your car. It is one of the best free things to do in Lille.
On this square are some of the most beautiful buildings in the city such as the old Vieille Bourse stock exchange which we talked about previously. In the middle of the square you can find the La Colonne de la Déesse. A fountain with a high base with an image of a goddess on it.
In the summer months the entire square is full of pleasant terraces. There is a large Ferris wheel in the Christmas period and an amazing Christmas market where you can eat and drink local specialties from all over France.
Things to do in Lille - La Grande Braderie De Lille Flea Market
The Braderie van Lille is Europe’s largest flea market and is known throughout France and far beyond.
Annually between 2 and 3 million bargain hunters come to Lille. It is the ideal place to make that special purchase, to look for bargains, but also to taste the atmosphere in the city: festive and cozy!
Don’t forget to taste the traditional moules fries (mussels with fries)! Traditionally, the restaurants pile up the empty shells of the mussels in front of the restaurant, hoping to win the competition for the highest mountain of mussel shells.
Visit Notre Dame de la Treille, the cathedral of Lille
The cathedral of Lille is very young: its construction began only in the 19th century. However, the building has had to stop more than once, and today, the architecture of the building mixes tradition (Gothic style) and modernity.
The west facade, completed in the 1900s with gray marble panels from Portugal, is nothing less than unique. Although the cathedral might not look very appealing from the outside – it is mostly dull and grey – the inside is beautiful. The interior of the cathedral is as modern as a cathedral gets and is very light and airy. The stained glass windows allow gentle light to come through and warm the place up a bit. Entry to the cathedral is free and I would definitely recommend visiting! One of the best things to do in Lille!
Things to do in Lille - Stroll through the Citadel Park
Lille has many amazing green spaces and one of those green parks in Lille is the Citadel Park. The Citadel Park got its name for – you guessed it – being located near the Citadel of Lille. At the entrance of the park you can find the Parc des Poussins which has many little rides and attractions for kids. Here you can find small trains, trampolines bumper cars and many other things to keep your kids happy and busy.
From the Citadel Park you can easily walk to the Citadel ( a large building in star shape). The Citadel Park really is a green lung as this large park outside of the city is absolutely massive. The park is well kept with beautiful lanes and more than enough benches and spots to rest. If you are in Lille, it is one of the best things to do in Lille.
Visit the Palais des Beaux-Arts on the first sunday of the month
The Musee des Beaux-Arts in Lille is a beautiful museum with a very prestigious collection of artworks. From Breughel to Picasso and Monet – some of the world’s biggest artists have their work hanging in this museum. The museum is overall not that busy – but it can be on the first Sunday of the month. During the first Sunday of the month entrance to the museum and its collection are free.
There is a lot to see: the museum covers a wide range of styles, times and techniques. You can experience the Flemish renaissance next to impressionism, Breughel’s busy works next to Raphael’s worksheets.
This museum is also a great place to take kids as there are tablets available at the reception that will guide you through the museum. There are special programs available for kids that will teach them more about art while honing skills such as observation and problem-solving.
Things to do in Lille - Stroll through the Wazemmes market
Don’t we all love visiting local markets in France? Well, this is a market you wouldn’t want to miss! It is one of the largest and most colourful markets in France held every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday from 7h to 14h.
The covered halls, however, are open from Tuesday to Saturday making it one of the best things to do in Lille.
Here you’ll find everything from food, fruits, and vegetables, spices, medicinal plants, cheese, waffles, beers, clothes, flowers, antiques, beauty products at a discounted price, jewelery, books …
Roaming around the Wazemmes Market is an experience and it can take up a few hours because there is just so much to discover and experience. I would recommend stopping at the Italian stalls as their delicacies are amazing and their pasta is great and cheap!
Visit the Lille Tourist Office
Wait why would anyone ever recommend visiting a tourist office?
Well, the Lille Tourist Office is situated in a place that used to be a gothic church from the fifteen century. When a fire destroyed the inside of the church it was repurposed as the tourist office.
Although there is very little left from the original decor, it is a great place to just walk in and have a look around. Who knows you can find a suitable tour or something else to do in Lille?
Things to do in Lille - Look around on Place du Theatre
The main buildings of the Place du Theatre is the opera house. The opera house is the largest in the square’s one side and the Chambre de Commere et d’Industrie that has a tall belfry that is seen from various part of Lille.
In 1907, there was an unfortunate fire in Lille. It is after this incidence that Louis-Marie Cordonnier built the Opera House. Its style is similar to the structures found in Paris and Monte Carlo. The theater has luxurious decorations, as well as an epic main staircase. The building boasts large decorations out of stucco, gold, marble, bronze, and sparkling crystals.
Visit the Christmas Market in winter
When I was still living in Belgium I loved visiting the Lille Christmas market. It is huge! There are more than 80 stalls with gift ideas, miniatures, Christmas decorations and party items offered for sale.
In the streets surrounding the Christmas market you can look through the small independently owned shops that decorated their windows and offer nice Winter discounts and great French hospitality.
On the Christmas market itself you can taste and experience many French specialities – especially those from the East of France. Here you should try the sausages, the mulled wines and their ciders.