This post is incredibly overdue! But first things first: are you enjoying the wintery autumn weather? Eeek! Boots and coats and scarves and snuggles and fireplaces. We LOVE autumn.
Back to the Braderie: if you haven’t been, and you are a flea market aficionado, then you must visit. Even if just once! The event takes place very year in Lille, France, on the first weekend of September. The whole city is transformed into a giant bazaar.
Before going, we read some comments on TripAdvisor that dismissed the Braderie as a giant tacky boot sale, which is categorically untrue. What it is, is a giant flea market, and there are different sections that feature different types of items, from modern, mass produced things (we saw SO MANY boxes of loom band materials and socks…), to traditional French vintage objects (lots of glassware, clothes, household items…), to salvage from all eras. There truly is something for everyone (I went with my husband, and although he did spend some of the time working in the hotel room 😦 , he really enjoyed wandering and bargain-hunting)! There are no restrictions (apart from the usual legal ones) on the types of wares that can be sold in the Braderie, hence the variety, but there are areas that you can go straight to if you have something specific in mind.
The great thing about the Braderie, is that the entire city is filled with a festive vibe. While Northern France weather isn’t that much less gloomy vs. London’s (it’s so much further south than us, but you really need to keep going south for any decent sunshine, I’ve concluded!), there were a couple of days with blazing, glorious hot weather. Which, added to the bustle, the sound of stall-owner cries fighting to be heard over buyers haggling and booming street music and the sight of piles of mussels,really come together to lift the party spirit. Oh, and there’s also a half-marathon first thing in the morning. Fun!
Here’s our quick guide to the Braderie, based on what we read/learned from being there.
From London, the quickest way is via the high-speed Eurostar (from St Pancras Station). It takes only ~1.5hours (that’s less time than to go to York!), and Eurostar only requires you to check-in 30mins before departure – less hassle than flying. Tickets are actually pretty affordable if you book in advance (we paid about £50/pp one way, but I booked a couple of months ahead).
Once you get into Lille, the station is pretty-much in the city centre. Lille is very walkable, so you can stay near the station and walk into the Braderie everyday (we got in late on Friday night so chose to stay at the Suites Novotel by the station).
The alternative is ferry to Calais, but we didn’t try that – since you only have a weekend, I’d recommend just taking the Eurostar!
The Metro is the most efficient way of getting around, especially since the roads are closed off/generally pedestrianised both for the Braderie and the weekend’s half marathon. To be honest, though, I didn’t once step foot into the Metro – Lille is incredibly walkable. There were certain places nearer the canal that were too far to walk for the short time we had (we were there all weekend but it’s amazing how much time one can spend browsing in a small area), so in those cases, Metro is the answer! Most of the Braderie takes place between Gare Lille Flandres (near the international station, and right by a giant shopping mall), and the Porte des Postes station.
If you have a van, according to The Good Life France, you can park just outside the city and take a metro in. The car parks are at: CHR Calmette, Porte des Postes and Porte in Lille, Saint-Philibert in Lomme, and Cité Scientifique and 4 Cantons in Villeneuve d’Ascq.
Where to go for what:
First stop, definitely accept the maps that people working for the tourism office are handing out on the streets. The maps run out very quickly and they are golden!
Generally, we would recommend avoiding the main streets (Rue du Molinel, Rue Faidherbe, Rue Nationale, and the pedestrian areas – Rue Neuve, Rue de Béthune, Rue du Sec-Arembault). The main streets tend to be taken up by local shops selling their wares on their shop front on discount, or by stalls selling bric-a-brac/corner shop type things. Not the main attraction for you, I’m guessing!
Jean-Baptiste Lebas Boulevard, Boulevard Louis XIV, Rue Debierre and Rue du Réduit
This is the place to go to for vintage/antique homewares, books, trinkets. The roads are quieter, and sometimes there are large gaps between clusters of stalls, so you might think you’ve got to the end of the area or have made a wrong turning. Keep wandering! You’ll be rewarded with the contents of someone’s attic spread out across the road, good antique collections of silverware, copper pots, etc. We found an exquisite early 19th century piano chair that was in decent condition and only EUR60 starting price! Alas, taking the Eurostar does mean limited cargo 😦 There are couriers, apparently, but that’s something we haven’t figured out yet… any ideas let us know!
There are hundreds of stalls selling antiques – to be honest, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. There is so much to see – the quality and variety of the wares were as good as what you’d get back in the UK, however, prices are much cheaper at the Braderie than back home, so take advantage! The sellers are professional dealers (as opposed to someone trying to empty out their loft), so expect quality and expect a slight premium. Some of the roads (esp. the Jean-Baptiste Lebas Boulevard) get pretty busy, so brace yourself.
Place Simon Vollant (around the old Paris Gate)
We couldn’t get enough of this area – not only is it beautiful, it’s also has plenty of vintage and second hand finds on offer. Good landmark, too, so you don’t get lost in the maze of the city streets.
Façade de l’Esplanade – near the canal
Sadly, we didn’t make it here! But this is apparently the place to go to for fine and larger sized antiques, e.g. furniture, paintings. The length of the canal is covered with dealers from all over the continent, with chairs and desks lining the walkway… quite a sight!
Wazemmes area of Lille
Place de la Nouvelle Aventure
Boulevard Victor Hugo
Moulins (rues d’Arras, de Douai, de Cambrai and de Maubeuge)
Wander around and you will not be disappointed. You’ve probably heard about the moules mountain competition amongst all the restaurants, where the restaurant with the biggest pile of mussel shells wins (great photos to be found on instagram, use #braderiedelille). However, I really liked Raptor Shack for a quick (and dirty!) burger and fries, if you don’t want to interrupt the antiques-hunting. Yum.
The only problem with the Braderie predictably falling every first weekend of September, is that there is no way around the pricey accommodation then. The market attracts visitors from all over Europe/the world, so places on AirBnB (which we gave up on fairly quickly) and similar platforms tend to get booked up very early on, sometimes even a year in advance. We ended up staying at the Suites Novotel, which we would highly recommend. It was ~£130++/night for two sharers. Super comfy, clean, right by the Metro/Eurostar station, extremely friendly staff…
One of our favourite things, by the way, were the random street bands – there was a fantastic student (?) brass band that was playing Michael Jackson hits. We couldn’t stop laughing!
The Braderie de Lille is one of the best flea markets I have been too, not just because of the sheer volume and variety of things (it was the salvage hunter’s dream, I wish I had a large van to take everything home with me), but also because of the feel of the place. Everyone was so friendly, and it didn’t matter that I did not speak any French. All round good fun, worth a visit!
Have you been? Any tips to share?
Images: Courage & Dash