When Brittany’s parents visited us, we wanted to do a day trip that would show them something different from London. What better than to take the Eurostar under the Channel Tunnel into France? Since Paris is too big and significant for a day trip, we opted for the smaller French city of Lille which is only a 90-minute ride on the train from St. Pancras. We set off early in the morning and upon arrival headed straight for Grand Place to orient ourselves.
The square isn’t as grand or picturesque as others we’ve seen, especially since it’s not car-free, but it’s a good launching point for exploration of Lille’s Old Town. We quickly got busy, wandering the small streets of Vieux Lille (noteworthy are Rue Esquermoise, Rue de la Monnaie and Rue des Vieux Murs) and popping our heads into the many patisseries and chocolatiers dotting the streets (Guillaume Vincent and Meert). We grabbed our souvenir (a small print) from Alain Buyse Sérigraphe d'Art on Rue des Vieux Murs. Though parts of the city are industrialized and gritty, the parts that are quaint really are as good as it gets.
Lille’s cathedral (Basilica of Notre Dame de la Treille) is unique in its exterior design and houses some beautiful stained glass. Nearby is the unassuming restaurant Tous les Jours Dimanche where we grabbed lunch (chicken curry sandwiches for Britt and Rico and hearty quiches for Britt’s parents) and recharged. After resting our feet for a bit, we set off for the Citadel, a noteworthy fortification surrounded by a park. We were surprised by the little zoo that also inhabits the island—it’s free and has a fun variety of animals including a Red Panda, Rhinos and Zebras!
We headed back toward the Old Town and poked our heads into the Old Stock Exchange’s central courtyard where old books and prints were being sold. After thumbing through some collections we set off south for the town hall’s 341-foot bell tower, where an elevator brought us up to the observation deck for a breathtaking view of the city and its surrounds. Back on solid ground, we walked back to Grand Place to sit and people watch before catching the train back to London.
While Lille isn’t the most beautiful, charming or interesting city in the world, it was a worthwhile day trip from London and most importantly gave Britt’s parents a taste of continental Europe and planted the seed for them to come back another time and see some more!