Experience Historic French Markets At This Underrated Tourist Destination

While Paris sees more tourists than any other place in France, there is much more to the country than the City of Light. In fact, in 2023, the French tourism minister, Olivia Grégoire, has been encouraging incoming tourists to explore other parts of France, or at least other parts of Paris besides the city's biggest attractions (per The Times). From the historic shores of Normandy to the lavender fields of Provence, there are unique experiences all over the country — even though it is smaller than Texas.

North of Paris, near France's border with Belgium, is the historic city of Lille. This city has a long history of trade and commercial activity. The opulent La Vieille Bourse building was built for the town's merchants back in the mid-1600s and later became a stock exchange in the 1800s. Lille keeps this business history alive through large outdoor markets. While such markets are popular all over Europe, Lille boasts the continent's largest during the first weekend of September, called La Grande Braderie.

La Grande Braderie involves around 10,000 merchants

During La Grande Braderie, flea market buyers and sellers alike can expect to find antiques, books, clothes, toys, and even offerings from local restaurants. Amid all the second-hand browsing and bargain-hunting, there are musicians performing on the streets which makes the flea market feel like a festival. La Grande Braderie takes place across much of central Lille, including the space around La Vieille Bourse. This makes a trip to the market a great way to see the beautiful and historic buildings of Lille, such as the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de la Treille and the Opéra de Lille.

There are about 10,000 "stalls," meaning 10,000 sellers. All of these individual spots take up quite a bit of space, and so to accommodate, around 62 miles (100 kilometers) of roads become pedestrian only during La Grande Braderie. This could impact your inner city transportation logistics, but a map of La Grande Braderie is available to the public on the city's website. The map will help you get around the flea market, or avoid it if you are looking for something else to do in Lille.

Lille has a vibrant Christmas market as well

If you cannot visit Lille during La Grande Braderie in September, there are markets that operate either year round, or at other times annually. The Vieille Bourse Book Market occurs at La Vieille Bourse every day except Mondays, and there are plenty of books in English as well as historic newspapers and comic books.

Christmastime in Lille brings about another festive market. Lille's Christmas Market is at Place Rihour, just a few minutes' walk from La Vieille Bourse. The Christmas Market is open every day from November 24th to December 30th. Not only are there classic foods like roasted chestnuts and souvenirs galore, but also carolers, buildings decorated to perfection, and a Ferris wheel at Grand Place outside of La Vieille Bourse. 

Trains frequently run from Gare du Nord in Paris to Lille. The ride takes less than two hours, and Lille's train station is located less than one mile from La Vieille Bourse and Place Rihour. Eurostar trains run directly from St. Pancras Station in London to Lille in under two hours as well. Flea markets aside, the underrated city of Lille is a convenient day trip from London or Paris.