The Northerly region of France, Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, is a definite must visit for any UK traveller. A stone throw away from the south of England makes it the perfect weekend getaway. Bordering with Belgium, and a deep history in World War I and II, has given this region of France a unique culture, history, cuisine and outlook – quite different to what you may find in the South of France.
With no major cities in the region, it is a perfect getaway for wandering and exploring. To help you plan your path, we have picked the brains of top travel bloggers to find out top exploration spots to discover, tasty cuisines.
1. Stroll the charming Vieux-Lille
Written by Yulia, editor of Miss Tourist
If you are searching for unusual and off the beaten track places, you should definitely visit La Pisine museum. The museum is a former swimming pool of a school and it hosts a great collection of both contemporary and classic art. Even if it is more far away than the historic center, you can easily get there by city tram!
The north of France has very rich culinary heritage. Flamand cuisine is strongly influenced by the Belgium one. That’s why, when in Lille, try the moules – mussels. Especially if you visit during the brederie time.
Stroll the Vieux-Lille – the charming Old city. Walk around the Citadel. If you have a chance, visit the city during the “Braderie” period – the 2 days a year when the city becomes the biggest flea market in Europe, completely crazy!
2. Visit one of the 5,000 flea markets!
Written by Janine Marsh, editor of T
This is a part of France that is largely forgotten in the rush to head south, but stop awhile and you will discover the gentle rolling countryside of the Seven Valleys and historic towns like Montreuil-sur–Mer where Victor Hugo dreamed up the idea for Les Miserables, a land of culture and friendship where heritage and history are revered.
The Flemish influence is strong in northern France and nowhere more so than the Estaminets, a cross between a restaurant and a bar. Expect robust home cooked stews and pastries,
Expect robust home cooked stews and pastries, fresh fish, stinky cheeses and chunky breads. Try De Drie Kalders in the rural town of St Omer for a true taste of northern France.
Northerners love a flea market and there are around 5,000 held each year in this region including the Lille Braderie, the biggest in Europe with 4,000 stalls and the Amiens Rederie with 2,000 stalls! They’re not just about bagging a bargain, going to a flea market is a cultural experience.
3. Go Char à Voile(Sand Yachting) in Dunkirk
Written by Dana Wielgus, editor of As told by Dana
First stop has to be Vieux-Lille. North of the city centre, ‘Old-Lille’ was constructed in the 19th century and is coated in charming cobblestone streets, colourful Flemish architecture, shops, and restaurants. Lille’s Wazemmes Market is an authentic outdoor market with worldwide cuisine. It is open Tues/Thurs/Sun mornings. North East of Lille, lies Roubaix. When there, visit
When there, visit Musée de la Piscine, a Former swimming pool converted into popular art museum with permanent and temporary expositions. A trip to Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie cannot be completed without taking a trip to the coast. Caps Gris-Nez is idyllic for a Stroll along seaside to admire WWII sites and striking cliffs.
France is the capital for fine cuisines, and every region contributes to this in its own unique way. When in the North some must-try foods and drinks are:
Welsh- Melted cheese, ham, and egg fried over bread, with chips.
Carbonade Flamande- A sweet-sour beef and onion stew slow-cooked in beer.
Fricadelle- Don’t ask what’s in it, but be sure to order from an authentic Friterie (chip shop!).
Beer- Enjoy Dark Chimay, or Blonde Chouffe, Rince Cochon or Karmeliet.
There is a huge variety of activities to do in the region. For the sports enthusiasts, I would suggest Char à Voile- Sand-yachting on a wind-powered vehicle in Dunkirk. For the shopaholics a trip to Braderie de Lille – Europe’s largest flea market in September is a must!
For the party-goers, visit during the time of Carnaval de Dunkerque– and you can party the night away with locals at the ball; catch fish thrown from the town hall the next day and celebrate Carnaval with the locals.
4. Walked through one of the most curious museums
Written by Emma, editor of Adventures of a London Kiwi
With an incredibly colourful history, Lille is located right on the border of France and Belgium where the building facades wear each period of occupation like badges of honour. Invaded at various points by the Vikings, the Belgians, the French, the Germans, and allegedly the Spanish, Lille now claims her wealthy merchant town allegiance to the French, but with
Invaded at various points by the Vikings, the Belgians, the French, the Germans, and allegedly the Spanish, Lille now claims her wealthy merchant town allegiance to the French, but with strong Flemish overtones.
We spent a few hours meandering in the sunshine, skirting the edges of the star-shaped Citadine de Lille and pottering through the zoo. We walked through one of the most curious museums I’ve discovered in a while (and that’s saying something when we’ve visited Amsterdam’s Cat and Handbag museum).
Housed in a former swimming pool, Las Piscine has what can only described as a collection of curious. Beauteous oil paintings, statues of house cats, a dress collection, human organs immortalized in porcelain – they seemed to have it all.
We found ourselves in one of the most decorated train station halls we’ve probably ever seen. Explored the amazing history of the Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse (the Museum of the Hospice of the Countess), where nuns and monks tended to ailing members of the community from the 13th century until 1939.
For meals we just ate as the whimsy took us. A modern coffee shop that wouldn’t be out of place on Instagram, a family run restaurant where we spoke no French, they spoke no English but we all belted out the chorus of Black Eye Peas songs, a local boulangerie or two (seriously, pain au chocolat fresh from the oven are worth any money, 10 minutes of pointing and a gluten-intolerant stomach ache – worth it).
And, of course, we popped into the beautiful confection that is Meert. Famous for their drool-worthy waffles, we picked up a few, but not before we were lured in with their heat beating ice-cream sundaes.
We began with a walking tour organised by the information centre and learnt all about the fascinating buildings that line the main square.
We discovered the afternoon secret of the intriguingly modern Lille Cathedral; A floating marble visage so thin the sun shines through the beautiful rose hued marble into the Cathedral hall.
We accidentally discovered the fascinating graffiti running along the train station and concurred with the writer of the only travel book we found (kindly lent to me) that the first 5 minutes walk from the station is pretty grim but if you pace yourself with coffee and croissants along the walking tours, everything will work out perfectly.
Slow travel, the very best way to discover a city like Lille.