Expat’s Guide to Exploring Lille

Londoners know Lille as the stop before Paris on the Eurostar high-speed train link connecting London with mainland Europe. Moving to France and working in Lille means this impressive city is no longer a place to pass through, but a destination to immerse yourself in. Located almost on the border with Belgium, Lille is well located for business in Europe. It is just 35 minutes by TGV high-speed train from Brussels and an hour from Paris. The international airport is 15 minutes by car from the city centre and the progressive public transport system includes efficient trams, buses and a driverless metro system.

Discovering Lille’s Culture and Dining

As the fifth largest conurbation in France, Lille has a rich history, culture and heritage. Elected a European Capital of Culture in 2004, Lille has long been a city of trade and commerce. Its prosperity is immortalised in noteworthy landmarks. Lille Cathedral, the Palais des Beaux-Arts and three Botanical Gardens (one run by the University Pharmacy Faculty and filled with medicinal plants) sum up the broad diversity of the city. With wonderful restaurant dining, thanks in part to its Flemish neighbour, Lille is a thriving city large enough to offer high-end shopping, shows, museums and nightlife yet small enough to make expats feel comfortable at home.
Speaking French is a huge advantage when moving to Lille, but locals will warm to any attempt at a few words of greeting in their native language. English is widely spoken across France, particularly by the younger generation and those in business. English speaking nannies, au pairs and teachers are in high demand by the many business executives who relocate to France with their family.
The temperate oceanic climate in Lille means cold damp winters and beautiful summers with average temperatures reaching a comfortable 23°C in July and August. The French al fresco lifestyle blossoms in these months, particularly in the city parks and gardens putting on a magnificent show of floral colour. Stroll through the Parc Les Poussins on weekends and absorb the local ambience. Fairground rides, the zoo and puppet theatres capture the quintessential French emphasis on quality outdoor living and family life. Like most French cities, open-air markets are an integral part of the lifestyle in Lille. Vendors sell everything from local cheese and hardware to vibrant bouquets of fresh-cut flowers.

Exploring Old and New Lille

Take time to explore some of the older parts of the city where Flemish merchant houses line the narrow streets of Vieux Lille. The pastel-painted buildings accommodate rustic cafés, bookshops and elegant pâtisseries, their windows dressed with a bountiful display of hand-decorated tarts, pastries and savouries. The timeless simplicity contrasts sharply with the grand neo-classical Opera House and Chamber of Commerce (CCI) on neighbouring Place du Théâtre. The landmark Vieille Bourse (Old Stock Exchange) graces the Place du Général-de-Gaulle and the nearby Citadel de Lille is one of many 17th century French military defences built by Vauban.
Amidst all the tasks on your to-do list as part of your move to France, take time to enjoy a leisurely lunch of moules et frites (mussels and french fries) swimming in broth with a chunk of crusty baguette. That’s when you’ll truly know you’re living in France as a local!