Lille is the industrial hub turned cultural capital of the Nord-Pas de Calais region, with grand architecture and a strong Flemish identity - many of the locals still use its Flemish name, Rijsel - and moules-frites appears on many a restaurant menu. It's a key Eurostar city, reached from London in around 80 minutes by high-speed train, and this has helped Lille establish itself as a city break destination.
The outlying factories and sprawling suburbs are testament to the city's industrial importance, and against this modern urban landscape Lille's historic centre, full of character and charm, comes as a pleasant surprise to many visitors. The pretty old quarter, Vieux Lille, with its ornate buildings and winding cobbled streets lined with excellent restaurants, brasseries and cafes is the focal point for cultural tours. Many start in the Place de Général du Gaulle, named after one of Lille's most famous sons. Also known as the Grand Place, it's dominated by the Ancienne Bourse, the old stock exchange, and the Nouvelle Bourse, easily recognisable with its tall belfry.
A must-see attraction is the Palace of Fine Arts, the largest museum in France outside of Paris, whose treasures include paintings by Rubens and Van Dyck. Hospice Comtesse, which served as a hospital and orphanage and now features displays of paintings, tapestries and regional porcelain, is another gem.
There's excellent and varied shopping to be enjoyed here too, be it in the upmarket fashion boutiques or at the annual Braderie de Lille in September, the biggest flea market in Europe that includes lots of fringe events that give the city a fun festival feel.
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