Explore the brocantes and flea markets of Brussels and Lille.
The ideal weekend for everyone who loves to rummage through flea markets, antique shops and brocante stalls; this thrilling trip features the daily flea market of Brussels, and the Sunday morning brocante of Lille, where families, students and fashionistas poke through stalls of antiques, retro furnishings and charming bric a brac.
Investigate the elegant antique shops of Brussels' Place Sablon, and continue the theme in the funky vintage shops of Lille.
In between, wander the streets of the old towns, recover in a pavement cafe, or shop for less durable souvenirs- Belgian chocolates or French patisserie.
Leave on a Thursday morning to take full advantage of “antiquing” during the weekend, and return on Sunday evening with your vehicle stuffed with vintage wonders. Arrive in Dover Eastern Docks, for an afternoon crossing to Calais. Allow at least 45 minutes before departure to check in. If you’re taking the Eurotunnel, there are four departures an hour, a crossing time of just 35 minutes and cars emerge straight onto the Autoroute.
The sea crossing to Calais takes around 90 minutes, depending on the weather.
After driving onto the ferry, leave your car and go up to the decks. Watch the white cliffs slowly recede into the distance, and have a meal, drink or snacks in one of the onboard cafes and restaurants- the food is decent and reasonably priced, and there are usually safe play areas for children. In the seating areas, there's plenty of space to simply sit and watch the many ships that sail the channel.
Remember you can take the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle too...
Taxis are available outside Dover Priory station for the short journey to the ferry terminal.
Calais - Brussels 125 miles No Tolls
Take the Autoroute from Calais and drive through Flanders passing close to Bruges and Ghent.
The motorway can be busy as you head towards Brussels, so aim to journey outside of rush hour times for a more relaxed trip. Like most European capitals, city centre driving in Brussels is perfectly manageable, so long as you remember that priority can be given to drivers coming from the right, even on side roads.
Days 1 - 3
Brussels - Lille 70 miles No Tolls
Drive from the centre of Brussels to the Autoroute for the short journey down to Lille (on the signs, it’s Rijsel in Flemish). Again, this is a major arterial route between France and Belgium but the drive will be quieter on a Saturday afternoon. Driving in Lille’s compact city centre is very straightforward. Just follow the signs to the centre and Vieux Lille (if you're staying at one of our recommended hotels.) Check in to your hotel, drop your bags off and head out to explore.
Days 3 - 5
Lille is a lovely city, with a wonderful old town full of shops and cafes. Spend the rest of the afternoon strolling, admiring 19th century gems such as Meert patisserie on Rue Esquermoise, a pretty street full of cafes, shops and bars. Stay in the Old Town for the evening, and eat at one of the many charming, affordable restaurants on the Rue Royale, or experience exquisite French cuisine at Le Compostelle or La Part des Anges.
Day 4 Lille
Sunday mornings in Lille are synonymous with the huge Brocante at Wazemmes, easily reached by taking the Metro (line one to Gambetta.) If you suspect your purchases will be too many to carry, you can drive and park at Flandre Gambetta. The market begins right by the station, filling the Place Nouvelle Aventure with stalls selling vintage trinkets and clothes, second hand books, bric a brac, and further along, fruit and flowers.
The area is strongly North African, and the culture is reflected in restaurants and cafes around the Place, so a Middle Eastern Sunday lunch could round off your trip. . Alternatively, La Brulerie at 10 Place L'Aventure is a specilist tea and coffee cafe and a perfect place to escape the market once it begins to wind down around 1pm.
Shops are closed in Lille on Sundays, so take the metro (Gare Jean Lebas Line 2) out to the excellent art gallery and museum at Roubaix, housed in a beautifully re-furbished Art Deco swimming pool.
Back in Lille, enjoy dinner at one of its friendly restaurants such as Le Coq Hardi in the Grand Place, before returning to your hotel.
Day 5 Lille - Calais 75 miles No Tolls
After checking out in the morning, take the Autoroute for the short, simple journey back to Calais for a lunch time crossing, ensuring that you're back in England in time to be home by Monday evening, admiring all your fantastic finds. Allow plenty of time for check-in at Calais as they can sometimes be a little thorough at passport control.
Remember that you can always take Eurotunnel Le Shuttle if you'd prefer not to travel by sea. It's very simple and takes just 45 minutes.
Take the ferry and after ninety minutes or so, you'll see the white cliffs of Dover appearing on the horizon. You'll be back in Dover in plenty of time to be home by bedtime, as you gain an hour going back to England, ready to start planning your next trip.
Remember you can take the Eurotunnel too, if you'd prefer to avoid travelling by sea. Check in is simple and it takes just 45 minutes.
Taxis are available to take you the short distance to Dover Priory railway station.