In the heart of Lille is the beautiful Grand Place (officially named Place Charles de Gaulle), once the medieval market place and still a popular gathering spot. Its decorative brick houses, ornate Vieille Bourse and pavement brasseries around the fountain of the Déesse – the goddess said to have saved the town when it was besieged by Austria in 1792 – give it an elegant and patrician air. At one end the Grand Garde, now the Théâtre du Nord, once housed the royal guardsmen and bears the sun motif of Louis XIV. Behind the Vieille Bourse, on place du Théâtre, you’ll find Lille’s belle époque opera house, the neo-vernacular Chambre de Commerce and the Rang de Beauregard, an elegant terrace of tall decorative houses. Architecturally, it feels like you could be in Amsterdam, Cologne or even Berlin. Snake around all the connecting streets to get a proper feel of the place.
With its gabled brick houses, tall belfries, beer culture and mussels and chips, Lille is a fascinating blend of French and Flemish. But it is also a dynamic city with a young student population, an adventurous year-round cultural scene and plenty of lively bars and estaminets (a bistro-pub crossover). In short, it's an ideal and underrated destination for a day or weekend trip from Paris. Check out our favourite bits.