Home to the Université Catholique de Lille since 1875, Lille is a vibrant and dynamic university city at the centre of Western Europe. With swift connections to Brussels (35 minutes), Paris (60 minutes), and London (80 minutes), Lille is perfect for students planning to visit and study Europe. And there is always much to see and do in Lille itself – a welcoming multicultural haven.
Lille, a City of Art, Culture, and History
Founded in 1066 by the Count of Flanders, Lille – Rijsel in Flemish – became an important trading and stock market point on the route between the rich Flemish towns and the Champagne fairs. As evident from some of its architecture, Lille was successively Flemish, Burgundian, and Spanish before finally becoming French in 1667 under Louis XIV, whose military engineer, Vauban, built Lille’s impressive Citadel.
Lille’s strategic location and the area’s rich resources have made it one of the most fought over regions in Europe, a history visible today particularly through the numerous memorials from the last two World Wars in the region, toured by national and international visitors each year. Lille can boast all the conveniences of being at the centre of a 2 million inhabitant urban zone, yet remains a “human-sized” university city with 250,000 inhabitants. Visitors can get around easily on foot or by bicycle. Public transport also offers the metro, the tramway, and many buses.
Big city advantage, small city atmosphere
Lille is a cultural destination with much to offer. Art lovers stroll the Palais des Beaux Arts, home to the 2nd largest fine arts collection in France after the Louvre (with a collection including Rubens, Van Dyck, Goya, and Delacroix), the ancient Hospice Comtesse with works dating back to the 13th century, the Modern Art Museum (whose impressive holding includes works by Picasso, Braque, Miro, and Modigliani), and La Piscine, located in a former art deco swimming pool in neighbouring Roubaix. Further afield, one can find world-renowned museums such as the Louvre-Lens Museum, which opened in 2013 to supplement the Louvre in Paris, and the Matisse Museum in Le Cateau-Cambresis, his hometown. Other galleries and museums abound.
Lille also boasts a significant number of theatres, music halls, movie theatres, an opera house, and a national orchestra, while the metropolis is home to a large number of regular cultural events, including a choir festival, a famous accordion festival, the Lille Piano(s) Festival, the International Independent Movie Week, a contemporary dance festival, and annual events such as the “Fête de la Musique” on 21 June with free concerts all over town.
Where to find information?
The City of Lille website
The City of Lille website has a great deal of useful information on everything happening in the Metropole, from culture to sport to daily life in the various quartiers. One page gives access to a wealth of guides (in PDF format) to various aspects of Lille as a “City of Art and History.” However, it is all in French.
This magazine comes out monthly and lists pretty much all the shows and concerts to see each month across the entire Hauts-de-France region, Lille included. Copies are available at various places across the campus and around the city, but you can also consult those listings online (again in French only).
The Lille Tourism Bureau website
The Lille Tourisme Bureau website maintains a list of current and upcoming events and a useful outline of Lille’s history. It is also the best single source of information on the Lille Metropole’s lovely parks and gardens and its various historic sites and monuments, including the many excellent museums.
Anyone in a hurry might want to glance first at the “must see” page, but of course the site can also serve as a portal to further exploration. Many of the site-specific pages contain links to other websites, such as those for La Piscine (an art museum housed in Roubaix’s former Art Deco swimming pool) and of course the grand Palais des Beaux-Arts (the largest and most important art collection in France outside of Paris). Those with an ear for classical music might want to check out the sites for the innovative Lille Opéra, or for the Orchestre National de Lille (in French only). Most of these institutions offer special rates for students or for anyone aged 25 and under.
Also worth checking out is Lille’s own “attractiveness agency”: HelloLille. Their website not only includes information on all those same cultural sites (and even a few more) but also brief introductions to local food and beer culture, and more.
If you would like a more individualised introduction to Lille’s history and culture, you might want to join one of the periodic guided visits organised by the International Relations office at the Université Catholique de Lille.
Their resident guide, Garrett Epp (Professor Emeritus at the University of Alberta in Canada and a part time instructor here) is always happy to share his enthusiasm for his adoptive home.