Reviewed by Emma Rogers
Eurostar run trips to Lille, France, daily as part of their route to Brussels. The journey is only 1 hour 20 minutes from London St Pancras Station, stopping only at Ebbsfleet briefly on the way. Our trip to Lille was for two people, leaving on Saturday morning and returning on Monday afternoon.
Catching the Eurostar from St Pancras is similar to flying with all the security checks that are needed and rigorous passport checking. Leave more than the 30 minutes suggested on the ticket because on busy days (like when we were there) it took much longer.
The Eurostar journey is a quiet one, with the British countryside turning in to the flat but equally pleasing countryside of Northern France so quickly, you hardly notice it. If you’re not keen on tunnels, you’ve no need to fear because the journey is under tunnel darkness for so little time, you hardly notice it. During the journey, you have allocated seats and a snack is brought rounds for Premium customers. Luggage is kept near you or on the luggage racks above, and the dining cart is available throughout the journey. If you need to work, the tables and legroom are ample, but there’s no wifi on the trains to be able to connect. The new trains in 2 years’ time will cater for wireless connections.
Lille town is part of the Flanders area of Northern France and Belgium, and the people of Lille are rightly proud of their Flanders heritage. Subtle references to poppies (i.e. for the Flanders fields of World War One) are throughout the town. The station itself is newer, probably twenty years old and built at the same time the Eurostar arrived in France. Once you walk from the station towards the town, the area becomes livelier, with neon lights, bars open 24 hours a day and lots of circular traffic to navigate. We noticed lots of families, all asking their way to the shopping centre (where there is a huge Carrefour hypermarket). Rothe shopping district which has all the European chain stores (H&M, C&A) and long forgotten British stores as well as some modern ones.
Continue past the centre of the town and follow the locals to the Old Lille. This is a world away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of Lille and introduces you to a more European medieval architecture, and a lifestyle which is much slower and gentler. The cobbled stone streets are best left to flat shoes, but ambling through the alleyways, you find small boutique shops, miniature supermarkets, patisseries and quaint restaurants. There’s even a market near the Notre Dame Cathedral which sells everything from clothes, food and sweets to waffles and fresh cheeses. You don’t go hungry here!
From the first week of December, the Lille Christmas market was out in the main square. An originator to the idea of British Christmas markets, this pop-up venue has all the stocking fillers you wished you thought of yourself, hot chocolate with rum, Christmas confectionery and even gift tags to take home. The children are catered for in the another square near the Post Office where a giant wheel and carousels will amuse them, along with animatronic animals playing Christmas tunes!
Most of the hotels are geared up for tourists rather than business travellers but nearly everywhere spoke a little bit of English or the menus were written in English as well. We stayed at the Ibis Flanders Gare which is relatively new. It has comfortable sized rooms and free wifi in the rooms, which is rare, and the breakfasts are very fresh and well catered. Eating out in Lille is a tad expensive, so stay nearer the station to get a better deal.
Lille by Eurostar is an easy journey for the weekend whether it’s friends visiting the Christmas markets, or a weekend of something different with the family. There’s no better way of getting there hassle-free than on the Eurostar service, leaving daily from London St Pancras.
For more information or to book tickets visit www.eurostar.com or call 08432 186 186.
Lille Fact Box
– Eurostar operates up to 9 daily services from London St Pancras International to Lille with return fares from £69.
– The ease of travelling from London to Lille by Eurostar
– The extra baggage allowance you get on Eurostar vs planes (Eurostar offers each person 2 bags/suitcases and 1 piece hand luggage)
– 14th November 2014 is Eurostar’s 20th anniversary and over the coming months customers can expect lots of surprises and delights to celebrate
– Fastest London-Lille journey time is 1hr 20 minutes.
– Eurostar also offers connecting fares from more than 300 stations in the UK.
– Tickets are available from eurostar.com or 08432 186 186.
Lille Christmas Markets
A charming Christmas market and over 80 chalets are open from 19 November to 30 December. The main square is transformed into a Winter Wonderland with an 18-meter high Christmas tree and visitors can enjoy the seasonal sights of the city from a giant Ferris wheel.
Journey time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Markets open: 19 November – 30 December
Tickets from: £69 return