France’s fourth biggest city, Lille, is often overlooked as a place to settle in France. But with an influx of hipsters, fantastic access to three European hubs, and impressive culture scene to boot – there’s a lot more to Lille than meets the eye. The city is nestled close to the Belgium border and is the main city in France’s Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, which like Lille does not really have a reputation for pulling in the tourists, despite being home to two Unesco World Heritage sites. Lille is a city in northern France, in French Flanders. On the Deûle River, near France’s border with Belgium, it is the capital of the Hauts-de-France region and the prefecture of the Nord department. As of 2009, Lille had a population of 226,827 within its administrative limits and an urban population of 1,015,744, making it the fourth largest urban area in France after Paris, Lyon and Marseille.
Lille lies in the heart of the triangle that links three of Europe’s main metropoles – London, Paris and Brussels. It seems like all roads and rail links lead to Lille, which is 35 minutes from Brussels, one hour from Paris, and 80 minutes from London. This means it makes a very accessible location for a weekend away. And the city boasts what was the world’s first driverless metro system, which opened in 1983.
Lille is the third-biggest student city in France after Paris and Lyon, boasting over 100,000 students – many of whom are international. In 2013, the University Lille had more foreign students than any other university in the country, with just over one in five students coming from abroad.
Traditionally a trading and textile city, Lille maintains its reputation of having a big shopping culture and is the birth-place of big retail chains such as Auchan, Decathlon, Leroy Merlin and Castorama.
Famous people from the greater Lille include:
Jean Perrin (1870-1942), Nobel Prize in physics and creator of the French CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research). Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970), general, resistance fighter, President of France (1940-46, 1958-69). Philippe Noiret (1930-2006), actor. Bernard Arnault (1949-), businessman, main shareholder and CEO of LVMH and Christian Dior, and 7th richest person in the world in 2006. Nicolas Hulot (1955-), journalist, ecologist and writer, founder of the TV programme Ushuaïa Nature, and initiator of the Pacte écologique for the 2007 presidential elections.
The northern city is also proving attractive to certain types of investors. According to a study by Le Journal des Entreprises, a journal for French businesses, Lille created more jobs in the digital sector between 2008 and 2013 than any other city in France. In the east of the city, rising from the ground lies Eurallile, France’s third largest business district after La Défense in Paris and La Part Dieu in Lyon.
A 20-year plan will be presented to the town hall this year to transform the site into a mega hub for new businesses, with better public transport access and residential buildings. This will make Euralille a point on the European map for business tourism and less of a transit place – it will be a place where people stay. So tourists, students and anyone looking to move to France, think bout getting off the train at Lille next time and not just for a short stay.
Lille is undeniably one of the most charming cities in France. Veille Bourse, Rang du Beauregard, Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Opera, City Gates, Citadel, Hôtel de Ville, Palais Rihour, Lille Cathedral, Place du Général de Gaulle (Grand Place), Palais des Beaux-Arts (Fine Arts Museum), Musée Louvre-Lens, Musée d’Art Moderne, Villeneuve d’Ascq, Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse, Eglise Saint-Maurice, Rang du Beauregard, Cathédrale Notre-Dame de la Treille, Musée d’Art et d’Industrie André Diligent (La Piscine in Roubaix) and Lille Flea Market (Braderie de Lille).