France: Budget travel guide to Lille

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Nestled between Paris, London, and Brussels, Lille is a small city not to be overlooked. Between its irrefutable charm, both culturally and architecturally, its vibrant student life, and budding international arts and tech scene, there are plenty of reasons why you may fall in love with this northern slice of France.

It is the capital of France’s Nord-Pas de Calais region but is better known as “The Capital des Flandres” due to its Flemish roots and quirky Ch’ti culture. Whether you’re an art enthusiast, a beer devotee, a shopping addict, or simply a curious traveler, Lille offers a niche for almost anyone, especially for those traveling on a budget!

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Think of Lille as Paris’s spunky relative whose inner warmth, artsy mannerisms and hearty, flavorful cuisine makes up for the not-so-sunny weather. In other words, Lille has become an unquestionable candidate for France’s cultural underdog.

Lille Christmas

The Lille Christmas Market is a festive time to visit. Photo: photophilde

When to go

The truth is, Lille is a place you can visit any time of year without breaking your budget — and this isn’t always the case with other small cities in France. Because of its ideal geographic location, high-speed train services like TGV, Eurostar, and Thalys offer cheap train tickets to and from Lille as low as €9 if you book in advance!

With this being said, it’s important to note that the beginning of September, known as “la rentrée” in France is one of Lille’s busiest times of the year, with the following month, October, coming in second, and December, coming in third. Between La Grande Braderie de Lille — Europe’s largest flea market, Lille3000 — an evolving artistic & cultural organization (that transpired after Lille was named European Capital of Culture in 2004), dedicated to exposing a wide spectrum of burgeoning innovations, artists, ideas, and projects on a local and international level, and Le Marché de Noël — Lille’s chocolate-box Christmas market, Lille sees most of its tourists during the autumn and winter months.

Getting there

What does Lille have that other small cities like Nantes, Angers, and Strasbourg lack? Well, let’s just begin with Lille’s accessibility — an urban tributary of sorts that smoothly segues into three European hubs in an hour and a half or less.

By Air

Although Lille has its own airport, Aéroport de Lille-Lesquin, it is more likely that you would arrive by train, bus, or car bearing in mind its convenient centricity to other neighboring cities. If you are planning on flying, however, many low-cost European airlines fly in and out of this airport, making long-distance travel a feasible option. Check CheapoSearch for the latest airfare prices.

If you are arriving by plane, there is a shuttle that drops you in the city center, departing every hour, which costs €8 for a single journey and €10 for a return. If you’re traveling in a group, you may consider buying a book of 10 tickets, which only costs €35. On the contrary, shuttles from the city center to the airport leave every half hour. For more information about flying and the Lille-Lesquin airport click here.

Lille TGV

Arriving by TGV train at Lille Flandres station. Photo: Roel H.

By train

Lille has two train stations, Lille Flandres and Lille Europe. While the former is situated closer to the city center, the latter is less than 10 minutes away by foot, just across a small bridge.

The fastest way to get to Lille from neighboring cities is by train. Lille is a quick 35 minutes from Brussels, 60 minutes from Paris, and only 80 minutes from London.

Related: How to find cheap TGV trains tickets in France

By bus

If you’re a last-minute booker, the spontaneous type, or super tight on cash (and not short on time) you may choose to come by bus or car. But, let’s be honest, it’s always nice to know all your options, and Rome2Rio efficiently lists all the modes of transport possible from Point A to Point B.

Bus companies such as OuiBus and FlixBus offer the most routes at the cheapest rates — with the main caveat being time: they take more of it!

By rideshare

BlaBlaCar is great for the spontaneous type, especially if you’re traveling alone or in a pair, as drivers can post their routes and time of departure at any moment of the day. This option will usually get you to your destination faster than a bus, but it won’t guarantee certain luxuries a coach bus offers, such as free Wi-Fi, A/C, and a considerable degree of comfort. If you like to travel more authentically, however, we would highly recommend Blablacar as it allows you to directly integrate with other cultures and get some insider tips — if you’re brave enough to ask!

If you’re coming by BlaBlaCar, ask your driver if he or she can drop you off at or around one of the main train stations.

Lille Bike Share

The Lille bike share system is a fun and easy way to get around. Photo: Simon

Getting around Lille

Walking

Lille is a walker’s paradise, so you’ll want to be sure to pack a good pair of shoes with you when planning your trip. Although there are a few museums and sites outside the city center that are worth visiting, Lille is small enough to be traversed and circumvented in one day.

Biking

If the weather is nice and you fancy biking, Lille also offers affordable city bikes, called V’Lille, which can be rented by the half hour with a base rate of €1.60. The first 30 minutes are free and every successive 30 minutes cost an additional euro.  Otherwise, there are several biking tours the city of Lille offers that you can book online here.

By metro

Depending on your luck and the time of year you plan on visiting, you may have to face a bit of rain, so be sure to pack an umbrella. If you are unlucky and you do have rain, don’t fret! Lille is home to the world’s first driverless metro system, which opened in 1983 and can take you to all the points you’ll want to visit.

Attractions and things to do in Lille

When you’re traveling on a dime, it’s best to know your options.  This way, you not only maximize your time but also capitalize on the money in your pocket. Fortunately for Cheapos, Lille offers plenty of frugal options for visitors traveling on a budget.

Lille Museum

Sculptures at the Palais des Beaux Arts-Lille. Photo: Bill J.

Lille City Pass

For those interested in maximizing your time and your money, we would recommend purchasing the Lille City Pass. It gives you access to 28 museums and historical sites, the Lille transport network (metro, tram, and bus), plus special benefits for shopping, nightlife, leisure, and dining out. 24-hour, 48-hour, and 72-hour passes are available, starting at €25.

Our favorite museums and attractions in Lille

Palais des Beaux Arts-Lille
Place de la République
Recommended for the collection for fine arts & Antiquities.

La Piscine
23 Rue de l’Espérance (in Roubaix just outside of Lille)
Recommended for its unusual setting & Art Deco interior.

LaM – Lille Musée d’Art Modern, d’Art Contemporain, et d’Art Brut
1 allée du Musée
Recommended for its funky architecture and modern art.

Town Hall Belfry
Place Augustin-Laurent in the historic heart of Lille
Recommended for history with the best view.

Vieux Lille

A narrow street through Vieux Lille, the old town of Lille. Photo: Guillaume

Super cheapo attractions

If museums and historical sites aren’t your things, there is plenty of lollygagging and historic meandering you can do without waiting in long lines or paying entry fees.

Explore Old Town
Shop with your eyes and absorb the Flemish architecture of Vieux Lille.

Marché de Wazemmes
Wander through the Marché de Wazemmes that takes place every Wednesday and Sunday from 8 am to 2 pm and experience the lively spirit of this traditional flea market, selling everything from fruits and vegetables and ethnic dishes to furniture, electronics, and all sorts of tchotchkes.

La Grand Place
Explore the monuments of La Grand Place, the Lillois’ most ornate rendezvous square, including The Goddess statue and fountain, which stands as a memorial of the Austrian canon ball siege of 1792 and La Vieille Bourse, the old Stock Exchange building where you can dig through the past in both sight and smell. Just across from this prized jewel of Flemish architecture, stands another world-class site, the historic Opera de Lille, boasting neo-classical architecture and an eclectic range of performances spanning across multiple centuries.

Parc de la Citadelle
Take a stroll through Lille’s largest green space in Parc de la Citadelle, where you may recognize scenes from the 2013 Cannes Palm d’Or film, La Vie d’Adèle (Blue is the Warmest Colour), or come across Lille’s Zoo, with free entry to all!

La Gare Saint Sauveur
Check out La Gare Saint Sauveur (La Gare St. So for short) an upcycled train station turned multifunctional space, home to various art expos, concerts, parties, film projections, and its own bar-restaurant. If you’re looking for a hip place to take a mid-day break or have some libations come night, this is the place to be!

Eating and drinking for cheap: Beer & Bouffe

Lille may be close to Germany, but the beer and “bouffe” (French slang for food) scene isn’t quite the same. Let’s start with food. Given Lille’s northern locale you may have guessed their local fare is a bit heartier (and heavier) than their fellow southern citizens.

No trip to Lille is complete without diving into some Flemish cuisine, something that makes French Flanders stand apart from its neighboring regions. Most restaurants will offer some Flemish dishes, and you’ll know right away because these dishes aren’t the easiest to pronounce! Some of the main components of Flemish cuisine are beer, meat, cheese, raisins, prunes, brown sugar, and chicory.

 

Moules Lille

Moules Frites is an item you’ll see on many menus in Lille. Photo: Frédérique V

Popular dishes in Lille

There is a lot of good food in Lille, but keep an eye out for these classic foods that capture the flavors of the region:

Flamiche aux Maroilles – a rich and creamy quiche, bursting with flavors of Flanders and northern France’s “infamous” & very pungent cheese

Potjevleesch – a white meat terrine sheathed in mousseline

Carbonnade Flammande – small chunks of braised beef slow-cooked in Flemish beer and sprinkled with gingerbread

Moules Frites – mussels and fries, the iconic dish served during La Grande Braderie, although you can find it at almost any restaurant

Savor old-school cuisine and atmosphere at Estaminet Chez La Vielle. Photo: Courtesy of Estaminet

Our favorite restaurants that won’t break the bank

L’Arrière Pays
47 Rue Basse

This place specializes in tartines, French for “crostini” or “open-faced sandwiches”, and really gives you the bang for your buck. The generous portions and homey atmosphere reflect the inner warmth often found in the North of France. And be sure to order their fresh-cut fries — they are absolutely delicious.

Estaminet Au Vieux de la Vieille
2-4 Rue des Vieux Murs

Nestled in an adorable nook of Vieux Lille, this traditional northern bistro (or estaminet in French) epitomizes the quirky charm of Lille. You’ll find kitschy, old-world décor and simple dark wood furniture, ceilings, and walls adorned with antique kitchenware and old musical instruments — you can’t get any more authentic than this!

La Face B 
60 Rue d’Esquermes

For those vegans and veggies out there, we haven’t forgotten about you, and Lille hasn’t either! This “salon de thé” and lunch café serves up some delicious and cheap vegan fare that’s a bit off the beaten track. And for those of you travelers always seeking out free Wi-Fi, they have that, too.

Beer in Lille

If Bordeaux holds the title for the capital of wine, then Lille is definitely the hub of France’s beer culture. There are plenty of brewpubs, beer shops, and breweries to explore in the region. Read our guide: How to enjoy Lille’s famous beer culture for less.

Gastama Hostel offers one of the best values and locations in all of Lille.

Cheap lodging in Lille

Hotels and apartment stays in Lille are a lot cheaper than Paris. Hotel rooms are easily available for under $100 per night.

Hostel Gastama

109/115 Rue de Saint Andre
Prices from $65 per night

From dormitories to private rooms, this hostel is not just a place to rest your head. It’s also a restaurant and bar where backpackers, travelers, and locals alike come to hang out in one of the coolest spots in Vieux Lille. It’s a 10-minute walk from La Grand Place and a 15-20 minute stroll from the train station. See photos and learn more about Hostel Gastama.

Are you looking for more affordable places to stay in Lille? Search more than 300 hotels, hostels, and vacation apartments in Lille.

Your tips

Have you been to Lille? Share your tips on saving in this French city!

 

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