Lying close to the Belgian border, Lille is a cosmopolitan city with strong Flemish roots and stands at the crossroads between France, the Low Countries and – since the arrival of the Eurostar in 1994 – England. No town in France has suffered more sieges down the centuries, yet Lille wears its influences on its sleeves and the picturesque Grand'Place is reminiscent of Brussels or Amsterdam.
Known as Rijsel in Flemish, Lille is also a bustling metropolitan centre that has coped well with the decline of local industry since the 1960s. It is famed for its bars and bistros, referred to locally as 'estaminets', and has a thriving cultural scene, as well as one of France's frontline art museums. Lille plays host to the biggest flea market in Europe, attracting around two million visitors each year on the first weekend of September.
The city's name in ancient French (L'Isle), as well as in French Flemish (Rijsel), derives from the fact that the first settlement was on an island in the marshes of the Deule valley. A garrison town, Lille took centre stage in many historical events from the Middle Ages to the French Revolution – hence the unwanted title of most besieged city in France.
Lille was controlled by Flanders, the Duchy of Burgundy, the Holy Roman Empire and the Spanish Netherlands before France took definitive command after the War of the Spanish Succession at the start of the 18th century. By then the erstwhile merchant centre was already a manufacturing base, becoming a major player during the Industrial Revolution.
Lille has always adapted to broader change and the past three decades have witnessed the construction of the Euralille business district, the arrival of the high-speed TGV line and Eurostar, and the development of university facilities. The city was European Capital of Culture in 2004.
• Louis Faidherbe (1818–89): general and governor of Senegal
• Charles de Gaulle (1890–1970): President of the provisional government of the French Republic from 3 June 1944 to 20 January 1946 and then the 18th President of the French Republic from 1959 to 1969
• Louis Pasteur (1822–95): professor of chemistry and founder of the Institut Pasteur de Lille
• Philippe Noiret (1930–2006): a French actor who won two César film industry awards
• Alain Decaux: a writer, historian and French television and radio presenter born in Lille on 23 July 1925
THINGS TO SEE
• Palais des Beaux-Arts: One of the largest fine arts museums in France. Renovated and extended in the 1990s, the museum has 12,000 square metres of exhibition space and is well known for its impressive collection of paintings ranging from the 15th century to the beginning of the 20th. It also has collections of drawings, sculptures, coins and ceramics.
• Hospice Comtesse: Located on Rue de la Monnaie in the old town, the Hospice Comptesse is home to a museum dedicated to life in Flanders from the Middle Ages to the French Revolution. The museum hosts a collection of paintings, mainly Flemish, and many items from the period (ceramics, Lille gold and silverwork, tapestries, etc) as well as furniture.
• Canonniers Museum: Installed in a former convent in Rue des Canonniers, the Canonniers (Gunners) Museum presents the military history of the city, focusing on the numerous sieges. It displays military objects and provides accounts of the daily life of the gunners stationed in the city.
• Lille Natural History Museum: Established in 1816, the museum boasts major zoological, geological, industrial and ethnographical collections. It also shows at least two temporary exhibitions every year.
• Birthplace of Charles de Gaulle: This building on Rue Princesse was made into a museum in 1983, which comprises two parts on opposite sides of a courtyard garden – the family accommodation and the 'Fabrique d'histoire' presenting De Gaulle's life and works. The first part of the museum transports visitors back to the time of Charles de Gaulle's birth while the second is a cultural centre, accommodated in his maternal grandfather's tulle fabric workshop.
Lille is served by six motorways: A1 to Paris (225km); A22 to Ghent (73km), Antwerp (124km) and Amsterdam (287km); A23 to Valenciennes (56km); A25 to Dunkirk (71km), Calais and the Channel Tunnel (110km); A26 to Calais (112km), Reims (201km) and Lyon (690km); A27 to Brussels (123km).
Lille-Lesquin international airport is just 15 minutes from the city centre, with flights to nearly 70 international destinations. Rail is another gateway to Europe. A strategic railway hub, it is 1 hour from to Paris by high-speed TGV (30 trains a day), 1 hour 20 minutes to London by Eurostar and 38 minutes to Brussels by high-speed Thalys train. The two railway stations, Lille Europe and Lille Flanders, are only 200m apart.
The river Deule flows through Lille and links the city's river port to nearly 700km of navigable waterways. The port is a multimodal international platform for river, rail and road transport and is the third-largest river port in France.
Distances to other UEFA EURO 2016 venues
Lens – 40km
Saint-Denis – 215km
Paris – 225km
Lyon – 690km
Saint-Etienne – 750km
Bordeaux – 805km
Toulouse – 895km
Marseille – 1000km
Nice – 1170km
Distances between city centres, by motorway where possible
Source: mappy – viamichelin
Distance of Stade Pierre-Mauroy to...
City centre: 7km
Lille is home to the longest automated metro system in the world: two lines and 45km of track (60 stations). There are also two tram lines – connecting Lille to Tourcoing and Roubaix (35 stations) – and 68 urban bus routes, eight of which cross the border into Belgium: a flat fare of €1.30 per journey applies. There are park-and-ride schemes at Champ de Mars, Porte de Valenciennes and Norexpo. Park your car and take La Citadine shuttle bus to the city centre. The parking fee includes the shuttle bus ticket (Monday to Saturday, 07.00 to 20.00). Buses depart every 10–13 minutes.
LOSC Lille (Lille Olympique Sporting Club) were formed on 23 September 1944 with the merger of two local sides, Olympique Lillois and Sporting Club Fivois. The post-war period was a very successful one for the Lille outfit, winning five trophies (two Ligue 1 titles and three French Cups).
A sporting and financial crisis in 1964/65 plunged LOSC into troubled waters. Relegation seemed inevitable and arrived two years later. Reluctantly the team had to renounce their professional status and, for the first time since 1932, Lille was not represented in the professional league. Ultimately LOSC were relaunched as a new entity in the French Amateur Championship (CFA) and became northern group champions in 1970/71.
At the end of the 1990s, with LOSC somewhat rudderless, Vahid Halilhodžić was appointed manager to steady the ship. It would not be long before the manager known as 'the saviour', along with club president Bernard Lecompte, were acclaimed by 16,000 fans at LOSC's former Grimonprez-Jooris stadium. Accompanied by LOSC's players, the manager, president and fans celebrated promotion from Ligue 2 on the last day of the season on 20 May 2000.
Claude Puel took charge for 2002/03 alongside a new president, Michel Seydoux. Together they forged a rejuvenated LOSC, in particular establishing a new training and technical centre at Luchin. However, the club would have to wait another ten years for their new stadium, Grand Stade Lille Métropole, to be completed. On the pitch, LOSC landed the Ligue 1 championship in May 2011 under the guidance of Rudi Garcia, who succeeded Puel, and secured the double by lifting the French Cup.
LOSC finally played their first match at their impressive new ground in August 2012, with the venue renamed Stade Pierre Mauroy in 2013. René Girard was installed as coach for the 2013/14 season.
• Jean Baratte: appeared for France on 32 occasions, 12 as captain; he still holds the record for the most French caps of any Lille player
• Jean Vincent: played for France at the 1954 FIFA World Cup and later coached FC Nantes to two league titles and was Cameroon boss in 1982
• Mathieu Debuchy: represented Les Bleus at the 2014 World Cup and spent a decade at LOSC before moving to England
• Yohan Cabaye: a Lille academy graduate, Cabaye joined Paris Saint-Germain from Newcastle United FC and was also in the France squad in Brazil
• Eden Hazard: another product of Lille's youth system, Hazard is now one of Belgium's international stars
Did you know?
LOSC can boast the highest attendance for a French league match. The game in question, against Olympique Lyonnais at the Stade de France, was watched by 78,056 spectators.
Lille is a very sports-oriented city as a result of its excellent facilities. The city's leading clubs include LMR (Lille Métropole Rugby), who have been targeting promotion to French rugby's second tier, Pro D2, for several years; Lille's basketball team play in the Pro B national league; Lille Métropole Hockey Club have been a major presence, without interruption, in the elite French league since their creation in 1924. The local tennis, athletics and weightlifting clubs also compete at a national level.
City of Lille website: www.lille.fr
Lille tourist information: http://www.lilletourism.com
Lille Metropolitan Area website: www.lillemetropole.fr
LOSC club website: http://www.losc.fr/en/english
Transport in Lille Metropolitan Area: http://uk.transpole.fr/
Advice on visiting Lille: www.Lille.TripAdvisor.fr/hotels