City guide: Lille

Just a short distance over the channel, on the border of Belgium, is the historic French city of Lille. Lille’s culture draws on both Flemish and French aspects – Lille only technically became French after Louis XIV captured it in 1667 – giving rise to a unique architectural and cultural experience. Tall belfries, brown and red brick gabled houses, mussels and chips: Lille is a unique European experience. And with easy access to London, it’s a popular choice for expats who want to be able to live and work in France whilst still being able to return home to Britain on weekends.
Lille is a city with a rich history. Archaeological digs suggest it has been inhabited since as early as 2000 BC and since this time the city has undergone numerous cultural changes. From medieval Flemish occupation, to the French Revolution, to the present day, Lille’s character is strongly shaped by its past. 17th and 18th century buildings – now graceful shops – hint at the city’s Flemish origins. The restaurants in the Grand Place display Flemish-inspired offerings along with distinctly French cuisine. The annual Braderie de Lille, held during the first weekend of September, is an immensely popular flea market, the origins of which can be traced back to the twelfth century. It regularly draws between two and three million visitors to the city, making it one of the largest gatherings in France and the largest flea market in Europe.
Getting around the city is straightforward. The Lille Métropole uses a mixed mode public transport system – railways, highways, and even waterways – which is considered to be among the most modern in all of France. Lille Lesquin International Airport is just 15 minutes from the city centre but the simplest way to return to Britain is via the Eurostar. Up to nine services make the daily tip from Lille to London St. Pancras. On average, this journey takes a total of 2 hours and 20 minutes but the fastest services make the journey in just 1 hour and 22 minutes.
As for jobs, Lille’s economy has transformed over the past half century from one which focused on mechanical, food, and textile manufacturing to a more service-based one. As of 2006, services account for 91% of Lille’s economy. What’s more, between 2008 and 2013, Lille created more jobs in the digital sector than any other city in France so there are plenty of opportunities for expats in these fields.
If you are tempted by the prospect of Lille, property prices – both to rent and purchase – are relatively affordable. An average 3 bedroom apartment in the city centre will cost around 1,200EUR (£920 at current exchange rates) per month to rent – almost half the cost of the equivalent home in Paris. To buy, apartments in the city centre sell for approximately 3,300EUR per square metre. Again, this is far more affordable than Paris (approx. 9,420EUR per square metre) and less still when compared to London prices.
As the 2004 European Capital of Culture, Lille has much to offer expats. Friendly, historic, and characterful, expats will enjoy exposure to a uniquely European city. Furthermore, it’s a very practical place for UK expats, with its strong economy, affordable property prices, and excellent transport links to the UK capital.
Information correct at time of publication.