What about going to the North during your next trip in France? It takes one hour from Paris to arrive in French Flanders, and it is the occasion to visit its capital: Lille.
Although Lille was founded in the 11th century, the city was united with France only 300 years ago. Indeed the great foreign powers cast covetous glances to the city because of its strategic position in the core of Europe. Lille was even a part of the Spanish Netherlands Empire for 200 years. That's the reason why the architecture of the city is a mixture of French influence and Northern Europe's culture. You will find a good example of Flemish influence when you walk on the Grand Place, the heart of the city. While you are there, make the most of it, take a seat outside a café and have a good local beer!
From the Grand Place, walk through the "Vieille Bourse", literally, "the Old Stock Exchange", the oldest and the most beautiful monument in the city. Nowadays, you will find second-hand booksellers, florists and even chess players. After leaving the "Vieille Bourse" you will find yourself on the Place du Theatre, where the wonderful Chamber of Commerce stands, whose Belfry chimes traditional melodies… Welcome! You are now in the Old City!
You will fall under the spell of these wonderful façades as well as the narrow cobbled streets. The Old City urges you to stroll, from Notre Dame de la Treille, a modern style and disconcerting church, to the Place aux Oignons, the corner of artisans, and also Rue de la Monnaie, where you will do your shopping in the high-class boutiques of the city.
If you prefer to visit Museums, don't miss the Fine Art Museum of Lille, next to the pedestrian streets. It is the second most famous museum in France after the Louvres. You will discover paintings from Picasso or Rubens as well as sculptures and ceramics.
As you visit Lille, you should not miss the monument that represents the city: the city hall Belfry. Built in 1932, the 104 meter high Belfry dominates the Flanders, and wherever you are, you can see it !
Only once a year that apparent peaceful atmosphere is broken. During the first weekend of September, the city becomes a gigantic flea market. More than 2 million visitors loaf about the streets to get good bargains. But "the Braderie de Lille" is also a pretext to party, and everyone enjoys the free concerts taking place in every corner of the city. During their treasure hunt, the "Bradeux" (name given to those going to the Braderie) can rest and eat mussels and chips, the emblematic dish of the Braderie. This dish is a terrific success, simply judging by the "mountains" of shells in front of the restaurants!
After 2 days of effervescence, the city's sanitation department must face a Herculean task as they have to collect tons of garbage made in only one night! Take a walk just after they have done their work…it is the best moment to see how beautiful Lille is!