The northern French city is easily reached by ferry and car or by Eurostar, and while quintessentially French in parts, its distinctive Flemish heritage shines through as well (its only been part of France since the late 17th century). This dual heritage is good news for fans of Belgium’s greatest cultural exports, beer and moules-frites (mussels served with chips and mayo) which are readily available in Lille’s many cafés and restaurants.

Despite its industrial past and somewhat featureless landscape, it’s certainly not grim oop north. Lille, the thriving urban centre of the region, is an energetic and charming city with a youthful vibe (thanks to its 100,000 students) and a thoughtfully restored historic centre. The grand public spaces, civic buildings and boulevards are reminiscent of Haussmann’s civic planning in Paris while the cobbled lanes of the old city are chocker with posh boutiques and patisseries.

Mussel in
Moules-frites are so popular in Lille that, once a year, the consumption of them rises to epic proportions. The first weekend in September sees the Grande Braderie de Lille, Europe’s largest flea market, take over the city’s streets. As well as snapping up some great bargains, the two million visitors chomp their way through mountains of moules-frites, which are served on practically every corner. There’s a competition to be the street with the largest pile of empty mussel shells at the end.

Segway to heaven
In the carpark adjacent to the citadel there’s an office where you can arrange a city tour with a twist. Hop onto a Segway, the movement-propelled gizmo – not unlike a motorised lectern – that was once hailed as a revolution in public transport. Those heady predictions may not have come true but they’re certainly a fun way get around. There’s a guided tour by Segway every Saturday, April-December, and they’re available for individual hire if you’d just like to zoom around by yourself for a bit.

Naturally, with its sizeable student population, Lille isn’t too badly served for pubs and clubs. There’s even an Australian Bar, noted in the students’ annually produced guide to Lille as a rather lively spot. If you’d like to do as the locals do, find yourself an estaminet. One of the city’s proudly upheld Flemish traditions, these establishments are informal places for meeting up with friends over a beer or two, a tasty snack and a traditional pub game. They usually have a wide range of locally produced beers and serve traditional treats such as tarte au maroilles, made with the stinky regional delicacy that is maroilles cheese. Some estaminet are along classic ‘old man’s pub’ lines, while others have trendy gastro-pub leanings. Le Barbue d’Anvers in Rue Saint-Etienne is one such establishment, combining a smart take on traditional food with chic ambience.

Worth a look

Wazemmes Market
This twice-weekly affair in the multicultural suburb of Wazemmes has a souk-like atmosphere and a vast array of food and merchandise on offer.

Palais des Beaux-Artsx
Many claim this gallery’s collection of art is second only to the Louvre in France. Highlights include 40 drawings by Raphael.

Lille Zoo
Situated in the wooded Bois de Boulogne area, this peaceful spot has the rare advantage in France of being free to the public.

Bonus points for: Clean streets, and refined charm
Loses marks for: Maybe a little too clean
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