This is the Paris of the Low Countries” Anonymous 18th Century traveller

Lille is a city of many interesting faces with the one advantage that all of its attractions are a comfortable walk away. From the Vieux Lille to the modern Lille, with shops, museums and entertainment in between there is always plenty to see and do in the city.

Lille’s name is a corruption of the word “l’isle”, the island (Rijsel in Flemish), because when the town was founded it was little more than a village surrounded by waterways. The name L’Isle first appeared in 1066 in the charter of a donation to the church of St Peter by Baudouin V, Count of Flanders, who owned a castle on one of the islands in the Deule River. The town developed around the castle and a port which existed on the site of the present Avenue du Peuple Belge. The development of the business connections between Netherlands, Flanders and Champagne fairs was essential for Lille in creating a North-South traffic rather than the original Roman route of Boulogne-Arras-Bavay-Cologne.

From the 13th century Lille was much sought after by the Counts of Flanders and the Kings of France. Following the death of Count Baudouin in 1205, his daughters laid claim to the city and the city began economic links with Flanders, England and the Holy Roman Empire. In the 14th century and again through a marriage union between Marguerite of Flanders and Philip the Bold, Flanders becomes part of the duchy of Burgundy. Lille became one of the capitals of the State of Burgundy and trade is again increased due to the presence of the Dukes of Burgundy. It fell to the King of Spain’s daughter, Isabelle to rule the area in the 17th century and opened up a “Golden Century” for Lille. Towards the end of the century Louis XIV, the Sun King, laid claim to the city and had the Citadelle built by Vauban, enlarged the town and laid down regulations for the height and size of its buildings.

By the 19th century the town had increased in size again and was transformed by a marked grow in the industrialization of the city and the region. Today, with a population close to 220,000 inhabitants, Lille is the 10th largest French city and gives its name to Lille Metropole, the fourth metropolis which also includes Roubaix, Tourcoing and over 50 other towns and villages. The building of the Eurostar terminal has confirmed Lille as a popular tourist stop, as well as providing an excellent business link to London, Paris and Brussels.

The quickest way to discover the city is to take the tour bus from the Tourist Information Centre or, alternatively, take the more leisurely option and stroll round the city on foot. Take in the atmosphere of the Old Lille area, the Opera, the Vieille Bourse, the Palais des Beaux Arts Museum or enjoy the full range of shops throughout the city. The numerous restaurants and cafes cater for all tastes and budgets, all with a good reputation for service, quality and friendliness. If you happen to be in Lille on the 1st weekend in September, you will be able to enjoy the “Braderie”, known as Europe’s largest “bring and buy” market. The restaurants vie for the largest pile of mussels shells outside the door as everyone tastes Lille’s speciality dish of “Moules Frites”.


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