Although Lille is an industrial city, it also includes an old town with cobbled streets, a lively centre for futuristic shopping and leisure district.
Lille is the regional capital and was European City of Culture in 2004. It also has a large university. The city boasts one of France’s most prestigious art museums featuring work by, amongst others, Monet, Renoir and Van Gogh.
Visit the splendid Gothic church and seventeenth century stock exchange. Find bargains from fresh fruit to underwear at Marche de Wazemmes - a large open market held on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.
A major festival - the ‘Grande Braderie’ - takes place during the first weekend in September with street parades and party atmosphere. Listen out for Flemish or the local ch’ti dialect amongst the revelers. Some of the region’s best beers are brewed in Lille.
A stylish resort on the Canche Estuary with 12km of beautiful clean white sandy beaches, many surrounded by pine forests.
King Edward VIII, when he was Prince of Wales, entertained here and made Paris-Plage (Le Touquet’s nickname) fashionable. Full of art deco and art nouveau buildings, with 2 casinos, horse racing, golf, thalassotherapy seawater treatments centre, lively nightlife and Paris boutiques, Le Touquet is a very sophisticated resort.
Its superb beaches have a variety of water and sand sports and seafront swimming complex. There is a full programme of summertime activities including the annual sand sculpture festival, each year featuring a different theme.. For a wilder landscape, try the stunning North Beach. ‘Bagatelle’ at nearby Merlimont is a great children’s amusement park.
An ancient town of cobbled squares and gabled houses. The main square, place Aristide Briand, is dominated by an impressive town hall which hints at the town’s former wealth based on agriculture and textiles.
Art lovers should be sure to visit the church of St-Gery with a painting by Rubens and the Musee Municipal which houses works by Velasquez, Utrillo and Matisse along with several Flemish masters.
Cambrai was the site of the first full-scale tank battle in 1917 when British troops advanced over the Hindenburg Line. The tanks, although new, were anything but modern and most broke down and had to be abandoned.
The sites of 2 of the fiercest Anglo-French battles of the Middle Ages are located near the town of Hesdin on the River Canche.
The site of Crecy - southwest of Hesdin - only has a watchtower, Moulin Eduard III, to mark Edward III’s defeat of the French in 1346 using the new English longbow and gunpowder for the first time. The battle was the beginning of the Anglo-French Hundred Years War.
In 1415, Henry V routed a larger but less mobile army to the north east at Agincourt, close to the present day Azincourt. Discover more about the famous battle including a film at the museum in the village - open daily. Notices on the battle-site give strategic information.
One of the prettiest towns in northern France renowned for its tapestries in the Middle Ages, which were sold to decorate the homes of the wealthy throughout France. The museum houses a beautiful tapestry fragment depicting St Vaast taming a wild bear.
Almost destroyed during WWI, the town was stylishly reconstructed. Visit the caves dug more than 1,000 years ago which have sheltered refugees from various conflicts including WWI.
An important stop on any battlefield tour is the war cemetery, and the memorial outside the town designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens is a moving commemoration to missing soldiers.
Dunkirk secured its place in legend in 1940 as the WWII setting for the rescue of more than 300,000 retreating Allied troops from its beaches by a flotilla of small boats from across the Channel. Visit the historic beaches at Malo-les-Bains to the east of the town and learn more at Dunkirk’s museums.
Today the safe sandy dune-backed beaches are venues for watersports like sea kayaking, windsurfing and sailing. Have a go at longe-cote - a type of open-sea aquatic hiking with the aid of a paddle - developed by a coach at Dunkirk Rowing Club. The first aquatic trail was opened in 2009. Contact Opale Longe-Cote in Dunkirk for details of beginners hikes, tel: (00 33) 6 12 12 54 79.
France’s third largest port with its fishing and concentration of heavy industry is not the most beautiful of towns. But take the trouble to look and you’ll still find traces of a colourful history from Dunkirk’s beginnings as a fishing village through centuries of disputes with Spain, the Netherlands, England and France.
See model boats and find stories of pirates, Dumas’s Man in the Iron Mask and more at the town’s port museum. Musee des Beaux-Arts features displays of the dramatic events of May 1940 and 17 and 18 century paintings. Dunkirk’s Modern Art Museum shows work by twentieth century artists.
Admire elegant seafront architecture, visit fifteenth century St-Eloi church and the town’s landmark medieval belfry - open for guided tours April to September. Dunkirk’s spectacular annual carnival goes back hundreds of years (see Events for more).
Dedicated shopaholics will find every outlet here from hypermarkets to fashion boutiques. Dad and the children may prefer golf or the planetarium.