All aboard for the Lille secret that’s just 90 minutes from central London

Lille, the good-time fête capital of Northern France, seems worlds apart from the slick Big Tech HQs of Kings Cross and St Pancras International. Yet its 17th- and 18th-century townhouses are not even 90 minutes away by Eurostar – faster than the train from London to Margate. 

This is a day-trip destination so close it’s not just on the doorstep, it’s practically inside the door, boasting more to do than you can shake your fold-out tourist map at: the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille, one of France’s largest galleries, waffles at Pâtisserie Méert, a dynamic arts scene and, every September, La Grande Braderie, one of the largest flea markets in Europe. Plus, great food. Allons-y!

Look back in Flanders: the Dramatic backdrop of Lille’s Place du Théâtre 


Onze en France: The YOU crew at Euralille station

Onze en France: The YOU crew at Euralille station

All on board, and in little more time than it takes to see off a Eurostar croissant and café au lait, Team YOU is through the Channel Tunnel and zipping across France. With up to nine daily departures from London St Pancras International, Lille is 1 hour 22 minutes away. 

Once it was L’Île, an island on the river Deûle founded, they say, by mythical giants Lydéric and Phinaert, and ruled by Burgundy and Spain until captured by Louis XIV of France in 1667. The train arrives in Euralille, home to Lille’s commercial giants: a Westfield, for instance.


Grabbing our Oyster-adjacent Pass Pass cards at the tourist centre, we take to Vieux-Lille’s cobbled streets. Skipping the 17th-century Old Stock Exchange and the 104 steps of its très belle belltower, we make for Pâtisserie Méert, a tea salon famous for its Louis XVI décor and vanilla-filled waffles (gaufres) – Charles de Gaulle, a born and bred Lillois, was such a fan that, as president, he had them sent to the Élysée (Napoleon and Churchill were also said to be devotees).





Charles de Gaulle is a big deal in Lille. A YOU splinter group (picture editor Stephanie, editor Jackie and columnist Joanne, right) pays respect to the man known as ‘the great asparagus’ (he was 6ft 5in) at Maison Natale Charles de Gaulle (, both his grandmother’s home and his birthplace, restored to turn-of-the-20th-century bourgeois dignity and reconstituted as a museum. 

The rest of us pay our respects with more waffles before adopting the French flâneur tradition and ambling 20 minutes to the star-shaped Citadel of Lille, which rebuffed the invading Austrian army in 1792 and now stands in a bucolic par

Charles de Gaulle¿s birthplace, now a museum

Charles de Gaulle’s birthplace, now a museum

Lillois lunch

Lillois lunch


We make a quick stop to grimace at the stone gargoyles jutting from the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Treille. Nearby, a marching band practises indoors, its big brass notes drifting through an open window. Joy is unconfined at lunch on the courtyard terrace of l’Assiette du Marché (, where salmon fillet with asparagus, and pork with grilled camembert make for a very happy table. 

A visual feast

A visual feast

There’s time for a little shopping as  digestif: Sézane, the high-street French It-girl brand that’s a favourite of Sienna Miller and the Princess of Wales, beckons. Then it’s a 20-minute walk to the Palais des Beaux-Arts ( to marvel at Monet, Raphaël and more (La Plage de Berck by Ludovic-Napoléon Lepic, in the Inventing Impressionism exhibition, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the movement until September, with works loaned from the Musée d’Orsay. 



Some of Team YOU make their way to Roubaix La Piscine museum of art (30 minutes by Metro). La Piscine refers to the fact that the building once housed an art deco municipal swimming pool. The architect (Jean-Paul Philippon, famous for his conversion of the former Gare d’Orsay train station in Paris into the Musée d’Orsay) preserved a strip of water in the central hall that reflects sunlight through the stained-glass windows ( 

Exhibits occupy the old shower stalls and changing booths. Now a Lille suburb, Roubaix was a textile town in the 19th century, known as the ‘French Manchester’. Its Vélodrome, perhaps the world’s most famous cycling track, has hosted almost every finish for the brutal Paris-Roubaix challenge, ‘the Hell of the North’, since 1943 and is a mecca for cycling nerds. Our colleague Mark pays his respects.


Time for a sundowner at NŪ, a glitzy restaurant and rooftop bar opposite Euralille with panoramic skyline views ( before dinner on the train back to St Pancras International. We arrive by 9pm, Tracey Emin’s neon-pink text piece I Want My Time With You welcoming us home. Magnifique!

Fares from £39 one way;