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Lille or Not

While I’m stuck at home I’m daydreaming about a possible trip next year, virus permitting. We were originally planning trip from mid-August to mid-October where we would visit family in Germany, spend a week in Switzerland, maybe a week in Italy (Lake Maggiore and CT), then the rest of the time in France. Although the vaccine news is promising I am trying to be realistic about when we would actually be able to get one. I think it would be better to push that trip to another year. Anyway, I was recently watching a movie that was set at Christmas time and I started thinking about a Christmas market trip. I wouldn’t want markets to be the only thing we do, but they could be incorporated. We could leave in mid to late November, which would buy us 3 more months for the vaccine.

First, when do Christmas markets begin? Mid-November? Early December?

My thoughts are to fly to Frankfurt and spend a couple of days there, then train to northern Germany to spend a week with the family. From there I would like to go to the Alsace, probably spending about 4 nights. I’m thinking Colmar. We want to finish up in London for about 10 nights and I was considering spending a couple of nights in Lille on the way. We’ve never been there. Alternatively could always go to Paris, which is never a bad idea. I’ve been there 6 times for a total of over 40 nights, including a 10 night trip over New Year’s once.

So, Lille or no Lille? Is there anywhere else logically on the way from the Alsace to London that would be better? And of course there’s always Paris. My favorite city.

Posted by
3212 posts

I happened upon Lille on a recent YouTube of lesser known cities that deserve some time. Lille was on the list. But it might depend on age and what you want from a town. It is a university town, so though there is historical sites, it is more about the vibe. At 63, it didn't appeal as much to me. Even 10 years ago, I wasn't taken by it when I was there several hours with a friend, but I hadn't researched it and not being a shopper, it wasn't my thing. I don't think we left the few shopping blocks around the train station, so that might have been our error. The only reason we were there is because the cost of trains from Paris into Belgium is expensive. Friends drove from west Belgium to Lille to pick me up there and save a bundle.
Personally, I have shortlisted Nancy for some time. If you have any interest in Art Nouveau/Art Deco architecture, it is worth a visit.

Posted by
2093 posts

I vote for Lille. I had wanted to go there on our 2019 trip, but I just couldn't make it work with the higher priority sites we wanted to see. Basically, we chose WW2 American sites over WW1 Commonwealth sites.

You could break up your train ride (or drive) from Colmar (or Strasbourg) to Lille with a short stay in Paris. Then you could take Eurostar from Lille to London.

Posted by
7829 posts

Thanks for your swift responses. I was thinking Lille made sense because we can take the Eurostar to London from there. It looks like we would have to change trains in Paris coming from Colmar, but I don’t want to factor in time for both Paris and Lille. Besides the time in Germany I want to spend more time in London. We cancelled a London/ Paris trip in February this year because we wanted to concentrate on our 8+ week trip this fall, which clearly didn’t happen. If only we had known what 2020 would bring. We will be spending time in Paris when we do the trip we push back to 2022.

Nancy looks interesting, but probably not for this trip.

We will be using public transportation only.

Posted by
1386 posts

First, when do Christmas markets begin? Mid-November? Early December?

Traditionally they start on Advent Sunday, but there can of course be exceptions. If the plan is Christmas markets you are spending a lot of time in France and the UK. Nothing wrong with that, but Christmas markets are a German tradition that is most traditional in the German speaking areas of Europe. It has spread around the continent, the Hanseatic league brought it to the areas around the Baltic sea e.g. But it is a pretty new phenomena in France and the UK. Except in Alsace and Lorraine, an area that have changed hand between Germany and France many times.

Posted by
7829 posts

Just to clarify, we will begin our trip in Germany. We will spend 2-3 days in Frankfurt after we arrive for day trips or whatever. My cousins live in Cologne and my aunt lives in Hannover, so we will go to one or both of those places, unless we all decide to rent a big house somewhere like we did last year. I expect a minimum of one week with them. It would make logistical sense to start with the family, then go to Frankfurt (a must, as I have some things to deliver there) before Colmar. Unfortunately my family aren’t long term planners and we will be flying with airline miles. Arriving in Frankfurt will give us flexibility for our next stop.

This would not be a Christmas market trip in the traditional sense, though we would like to include some. I’m looking to experience holiday decor and festivities. Living in California it is definitely not a winter wonderland. We went to NYC in December a few years ago and enjoyed being there that time of year.

Posted by
7840 posts

Andrea! I am planning Colmar and Strasbourg for around the 6th or 7th of Dec (2021) for 3 nights, bookended with Paris and starting in London before Thanksgiving. I want to make sure I am there during the week instead of the weekend. If you're there around that time, I'll buy you and Jim hot wine! Darcy has talked me in to staying in Colmar, lol and I always do what she tells me, lol!!

This is off your topic but do keep your eye on the Kew Gardens Christmas lights for your time in London. They were to start this year around Nov. 18 or 19, I think, so I'm keeping that in mind for next year. Advance tickets needed.

Posted by
25 posts

The oldest and largest Christmas market in Europe is in Strasbourg. Not to be missed if you want to do a Christmas market - plus Strasbourg is an amazing town. Just last Christmas we were in Brussels and enjoyed their very good (and very spread out) Christmas market.

Posted by
3212 posts

I thought it was in Colmar, but at least nesr Colmar is a village with Kathe Wolfarht Christmas store. https://www.kaethe-wohlfahrt.com/en/feerie-de-noel-en/
It is a lovely village with amazing half timbered buildings and those carved men on the building corners. It is the closest I have gotten to Germany so my exposure is quite lacking.

Posted by
5688 posts

Hi Andrea — this past year I have fallen absolutely in love with Lille, and I think it is very charming.

My husband started working there in mid-January , so we went to set him up while the big Ferris wheel was in the grand square, and everything was all holiday-lit. It’s a very festive and cozy town, and walking around looking at the architecture just made me happy. There is a mix of this superb flamboyant Flemish Gothic (I guess) contrasting with rough-hewn, more common buildings of old textured bricks. All joined up by cobblestoned streets lined with atmospheric restaurants and pubs.

I would highly recommend it, and you’re right about the Eurostar stopping there and making your onward to Alsace easy. It’s a very easy walk into the heart of the old town from the train stations.

Posted by
5688 posts

P.s. I know the Strasbourg Christmas market starts in mid- to late November (and that is a great time to go, before it gets too insanely crazy by mid-December, in my view). I don’t know about others.

Posted by
7829 posts

Thanks everyone! I’m getting excited to even think about planning a trip.

Pam! It would be wonderful to meet up in Colmar! Your time there is very close to what I was thinking. I wanted to be home for Thanksgiving, since this year is, well, we all know what this year is. If we leave here the day after Thanksgiving (11/26) and arrive in Frankfurt on the 27th we could get away with spending one night, though I would prefer two. We could definitely plan to arrive in Colmar by the 7th or 8th. Hot wine it is! I’m thinking 4 nights there would give us a day in Colmar, a day in Strasbourg and a day for villages. I hope we can do that without a car, or just rent one for one day.

Kim, thanks for your enthusiastic recommendation for Lille. I would love to go to Paris, but with only a day or two I’d rather save it for a longer visit the following year. Of course a couple of days is okay too. :-) It’s not like I would have any agenda since I’ve spent so much time there. I just thought this would be a good opportunity to go somewhere new.

I appreciate the opinions of everyone who has responded so far. Thank you.

Edited to add to Pam - Good call to do whatever Darcy says!

Posted by
24193 posts

I'm probably different than most, but you already know that.

For me, and for my wife, Lille is very much a love/hate relationship.

9 times out of 10, when we cross the Channel to visit Europe, we spend at least one night, either our first or our last (often both) either in Lille or within a very few km, often staying in Englos, a western suburb. We used to stay in northern near suburbs but after our two fav hotels changed hands and after a very unpleasant experience a few years ago at a B&B (also on the north side) we tried staying southeast by the airport in cheap and cheerful chain hotels, and switched to Englos several years ago. We are not the usual Rick Steves traveler - rather than going into the centre we tend to stay more like a sort of a regular short term temporary local - dealing with few attractions but doing the grocery shopping and stocking up on things I can't get at home; and getting dinner inexpensively but wholesomely at a fav restaurant chain.

So not very touristy. Again, the little bakery we go to for macaron is well out of the centre. I've never taken the bus there, we find (difficult and challenging but possible) street parking in our car from home.

We have always had reasonable access to the Métro in Lille so we have been into the centre and the old town several times, but to be honest it has never appealed to us. We find the pavements (sidewalks) in the centre very hard to walk on. They are not level, they are busy, and very very narrow, and heavy car traffic, and with my wife's vision issues it is pretty hard and dangerous.

The architecture is pretty nice in places, very modern in others. I understand that the museum is pretty good but never went in. Shop windows are pretty nice in certain parts of the old town but with the narrow pavements they are a bit close.

I understand that the fortress is pretty good, but we've seen so many similar in the Netherlands that we haven't developed an interest in this one yet.

The bakery chain Paul is from Lille, one of the originals is near the stations. General Charles de Gaulle was from Lille, and Le Creuset pots and pans aren't made very far away. The Field of the Cloth of Gold is pretty close too.

Both of the stations are easy to use, the Eurolille station is much more modern, functions well, and has the fairly large shopping centre attached (well across 50 m of open concrete, but basically attached except in awful weather, ask me how I know) which has a modest food court and two - count 'em, two - branches of Paul.

TGV train service between Lille Eurolille and Paris Gare du Nord is excellent and fast.

I know you aren't driving, but for those who might, driving in and around Lille is the pits. Low speed limits, lots of speed cameras, and if you can imagine crossing Belgian drivers with French, you get the worst of both worlds - awful lane control, too fast, drive right up your backside and are generally awful drivers. Belgians, by and large, have never found the turn signal stick on the steering wheel. They don't look behind before making their dash across all lanes either. The drivers in Lille have learned from them and adopted similar behaviour.

Belgium by the way abuts Lille to the north. We prefer to visit villages and towns on the Belgian side of the border. Less than an hour in the car to Ghent, by the way. My wife just came into the room and said, "We just don't like Lille. Lots of people do. We don't".

Never visited Christmas markets in France (Luxembourg, Bruges, yes, Germany, but never France) so can't help with that.

Posted by
24193 posts

that took so long to write - there were only two answers when I started, LOL

Now I'm ashamed after the glowing reviews by Kim, but clearly we see the same place with different eyes.

After all this calms down maybe we could meet up in Lille and learn to see it through more knowledgeable eyes.

Posted by
7829 posts

Nigel, before I submitted this question I looked at some prior forum posts and saw you weren’t a fan of Lille. I can see how walking there could be difficult for your wife. We have plenty of time to decide. We definitely want to see you both if we can make this trip. Either in London or we can take the train up your way. Your choice. :-)

Posted by
1711 posts

Andrea, please keep optimistic about travel next year. The thought of 2 Full years with no travel is too depressing. We are praying that we are able to go on our August/September trip to Croatia and Paris, which we postponed like so many others. We plan on 6-8 weeks. After reading about your trip and thinking about everything going on this year, I am toying with the idea of returning in December for 2 weeks to do Christmas markets. I was even thinking of asking my husband’s cousin and his wife in Croatia to go with us for a week. We would spend the other week with them in Croatia. If they can’t come with us, we have a friend who lives in Rimbach, near Heidelberg, whom we could also invite. I haven’t mentioned it yet to hubby cause he would think I am Crazy, at first, mull it over, then say yes, let’s do it. While I am home, I am realizing that we can’t put everything off till tomorrow because tomorrow is not gauranteed. We last went to a Christmas market in 1981 in Germany. Too many years ago.

Posted by
7829 posts

Barbara, I am feeling optimistic about travel later next year. We are postponing the August-October trip because the friends we will be traveling with for a good portion weren’t comfortable with it. That conversation took place earlier this month, before new vaccine information came out.

I’ve never done a Christmas market trip, though we did experience one in Bruges when we were there just after Christmas one year. After moving on to Paris we stumbled across a small one there as well.

Posted by
7020 posts

Fifty years ago Lille was a former coal mining region, soot covered and poor, equivalent to former coal mining areas in the States, and the butt of jokes. Consequently, the government focused on development, restoration, and improvement. Now, the ugly duckling has become a swan. These past few years, I've heard only good reports from French friends who have been there and others who want to go. It's become a dynamic city.

Posted by
5688 posts

Nigel does bring up a very good point — those cobblestone streets and sidewalks, while charming, can be the devil to walk on — and even more so if you have any mobility limitations.

And as an added aside: General de Gaulle was born there 130 years ago this week ! Nov 22, 1890.

Posted by
7829 posts

I think we will need to adjust the schedule I was considering so we can spend a bit of time in both Paris and Lille. It dawned on me that if we skip Paris entirely we wouldn’t have an opportunity to see our “son” who was an exchanged student. I haven’t seen him in 2 years and my hubby hasn’t seen him since his visit here 3 or 4 years ago. Maybe we can celebrate Thanksgiving with our family the weekend before. 🤔

Posted by
3212 posts

I appreciate Bets, recent history lesson on Lille. I also realized I was there 10 years ago, so it seems to be a city that is still evolving and my negative comments may have no context.
As the train goes through Paris, it sounds like a stop to see your 'son' should be worked in.

Posted by
5688 posts

But the whole point was that Andrea wasn’t going to be on any train going through Paris ! Hence the Alsace/Lille/London progression.

Andrea, honestly your exchange “son” could come meet you for the day or lunch or whatever in Lille. It’s only an hour’s train ride from Gare de Nord to Lille Flandres. (But if you want to go to Paris anyway I totally understand!)

Posted by
930 posts

Andrea, here are dates of Christmas markets I was planning on attending this year. They seem to begin around the same time each year.

Munich 23 Nov - 24 Dec, Nuremberg 27 Nov - 24 Dec, Regensburg 26 Nov - 23 Dec, Strasbourg 22 Nov - 24 Dec, Colmar 20 Nov - 30 Dec,

Frankfurt 23 Nov - 22 Dec

I'm planning & hoping to try again in 2021.

Posted by
3212 posts

So, is Rome2Rio totally off track (haha) that all trains from Colmar to Lille have to go via Paris? Maybe that is just now in the covid world, but that is what I used to see what options there were for stops.

Posted by
7829 posts

Thanks for the links, Tim.

Brushtim, those dates are very helpful.

MariaF, I found the same. The only option for a train that didn’t go from Colmar to Paris Est, with a change in Strasbourg, then Paris Nord to Lille was one option that required the change at CDG. That’s another good reason to stay in Paris for a few days. Not that I really need an excuse. 😉

Posted by
1018 posts

Hi Andrea --
I think that Vero (France with Vero) has a couple of short video clips on YouTube of Lille.
If I remember correctly, she lived there for a while and really likes it.

Posted by
5688 posts

Sorry, I misunderstood - I thought Andrea had found trains that went Alsace/Lille, bypassing Paris. You’re right, I see that that doesn’t exist !

Yes Sharyn - I do remember some posts from Vero about Lille. Good thinking !

Posted by
874 posts

Lille just happens to be one of my most favorite cities in France. One I actually dream of living in I liked it so much. I went there for 9 days during my Christmas holiday in 2017. It is such a beautiful city with really some of the friendliest people I have met. Even after 9 days I didn't see everything in the environs that I wanted to. At Christmas Lille certainly has a special magic with la grand roue (Ferris Wheel) in Le Grand'Place.

The museums in Lille and surroundings are fabulous. The Beaux-Arts museum is one of the best in all of France. Also in the area there is the La Piscine museum in Roubaix and the Louvre-Lens in Lens. Both easily accessible from la Gare Lille-Flandres.

I took an amazing food tour while I was there that introduced me to the local cuisine. I was expecting not to like Maroilles cheese because of the BIENVENUE CHEZ LES CHT'IS film that was a smash hit in france. But to my surprise I loved it. Plus the Patisserie Meert is worth stopping in. Their stuffed waffles are the bees knees. Food-wise Lille is really in a special league.

So yes. Lille. Lille. Lille.

Posted by
7829 posts

Wow, Lille is sounding more and more interesting. But Paris...I just need to determine how much time to devote to them and not shortchange other places.

Posted by
758 posts

I would compare Lille to cities like Genoa or Antwerp or Bologna not very touristy might have some interesting things if you just like to be in cities or need to be close to public transport. I'd pick Paris.

Posted by
1472 posts

Five years ago I have visited Lille a few days before Christmas and I was surprised how nice it was. Walking from one of the railwaystations to the main squares, there are two of them, you have the idea being in Paris, but the older part is completely different and actually Flemish with a French twist or is it the other way around? There are numerous little shops, giving a special intimate character to the place and think you will have no idea where to start first, exploring the place was part of the fun. It was crowded, but for me not annoying, btw don’t miss seeing the fleamarket in Vieille Bourse.

The first time I visited Lille was with a company outing in the early nineties to see a few of our projects, the time it was undergoing serious redevelopment. It was during a rainy cold winter day and the place was as sad as the other nearby places like Tourcoing and Roubaix. The new railwaystation and the huge shopping mall Euralille were under construction and still a bit in the middle of nowhere and was hard to imagine that this ugly duckling, like Bets says was becoming a swan. Nowadays Lille is a popular weekend trip destination and to my opinion if you like shopping you can easily spend a whole afternoon there.

You can’t compare the Christmas market of Lille with those typical German style markets like Strasbourg or Nuremburg, the place has it own special vibe and makes it for that unique and for me certainly worth a visit. Don't compare it actually with Paris too, too different to my idea.

Posted by
7829 posts

Lille keeps sounding better and better. My focus on the trip is not just Christmas markets, though we will incorporate them when we can, it’s more to visit family in Germany and then enjoy the holiday atmosphere in the other places we will visit. I know Germany is the place for Christmas markets, but I’m not sure how much opportunity we will have there to visit them. My cousins both live in Cologne, and one of them has twin boys that will turn 4 years old just before our visit. Their mother lives in Hannover. I’m not sure where we would be seeing them. It could be in either of those cities, or maybe we will rent a big house to stay in as we did when I took my uncle there last year to see his children and meet his grandchildren.

Would two nights (one full day) in Lille be enough or would three be better? The time we spend in Lille would dictate how much time we would have in Paris and London.

Posted by
1472 posts

How long Lille will keep attracting you is hard to say, but if you want to visit the already mentioned museums staying two nights will make sense to my opinion. In case you want to make daytrips to other places like nearby Tournai in Belgium likely you will need more time. Tournai is a lovely historic place with a huge cathedral and it has a small but lovely Beaux-Arts museum in a purpose built Art-Nouveau building, completely off the beaten track. In case you haven't visited yet Ghent is not that far away and easy to reach by a frequent train, will takes about 1 hour and fifteen minutes. Ghent has a huge Christmas market too and mind both places have cobbled streets btw.

Have no idea how Arras is around Christmas time, has two very nice main squares and think worth asking once in Lille if it's worth a visit. And....know cobbled streets are there too.

Posted by
7829 posts

Thanks Wil. We wouldn’t be taking any day trips from Lille. It would just be a stopover as we transition from France to London. In 2008 we arrived in Bruges two days after Christmas. It was a winter wonderland and there was a Christmas market that we weren’t expecting. We were supposed to be there again this October as part of a long trip. Of course the trip was cancelled.

Lille is nice. I am French, and surprisingly i had never gone and had always wanted to go.
I find it nice, but maybe not as charming as what i had hoped for. A nice stopover bu i would not go all the way there for a trip.
If you go , do not miss the Piscine museum in Roubaix, a museum in an Art-Deco swimming pool.

Posted by
1480 posts

If you look up “France with Vero” on YouTube, she just did a walk in Lille. I loved revisiting the city with her.

Posted by
7829 posts

Patty, I watched it live on NYE. I’m looking even more forward to seeing it for myself now. She did a walk earlier in the day for her Patreon’s that took her to some other areas as well.

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1480 posts

I love her! I have a bunch of the Patreon walks saved to watch.

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7829 posts

I can’t always watch her live, but when necessary I go back and watch it later. She’s wonderful.