Le Grande Braderie de Lille dates back to the middle ages in some stories, when the lower classes were allowed to sell the cast offs of the upper classes. The event has grown over the years to include over 100 km of vendors and 2 million visitors. There is a half marathon, a moles et frites (mussels and fries) festival and lots of fun shopping. The zoo is also open for free that weekend.
I emailed the tourist office of Lille and they sent me maps the month before we left. Those maps were very helpful.
The house we booked was in Kortrijk, Belgium. For the number of people we needed to house and how much we wanted to spend, and what was available we were about 30 minutes north of the city, just across the border. We knew that the city center was closed to traffic for the duration of the weekend. We saw a lot of places where they would have lots near metro stations for you to park and ride in. When we actually got to our house and started looking at our options we saw that we could drive a half hour, park at a metro and ride 25 stops to the city center! That was a lot! We looked at trains next and we found a local station that was 10 minutes away and then 30 minutes into Lille with only 4 stops. A round trip ticket was 8 euros per adult. There was a parking garage for our vehicle with in walking distance of the station. We made it into the city without incident.
We started making our way across the city. It was a little busy, especially with the half marathon finishing up. It took us about an hour to make our way from the Gare Lille Flanders to the Champs de Mars, but we weren't really trying to hurry that much. This was about 9:45-10:45. We saw a few vendors setting up. I did see a wine bottle drying rack about 3 feet tall, it was amazing, but it was also quite heavy and we were just getting started. She was only asking 50 Euros, it still makes me a little sad to think that it went home with someone else. Through the city there were only a couple of vintage vendors. There were several table set up by Haribo, the candy company. There were food vendors, and a lot of the stores had sidewalk sales. We made our way to the Champs de Mars area where the zoo was located too. This is also where the yellow road on the map for the braderie was located. That was the part that was labeled Perimetre Brocanteurs Exclusivement. We started at the Emmaus table, our favorite thrift store in Paris had their own set of tables at the Braderie. This is where Jon took off with the kids to have their fun, and my friend Shelly and I took off and had our fun. There was so much to see and so many people that wanted to see it as well. We manages to each find some treasures. I had my rolling market bag and a big shoulder bag. We kept shopping and filling our bags up. Some of the vendors were willing to bargain, others had higher prices, you never knew what you were going to get. Shelly and I both got a couple of surprisingly good deals. There were also a few things we were really excited to find and willing to pay a little more for.
By 2:00 PM Jon had already taken the kids back to the train and headed back to the house. Shelly and I still hadn't eaten lunch. We had brought some food with us thinking the food would be really expensive, but there were surprisingly reasonable food options. I ended up buying a hamburger so we could sit in their little area. It felt so good to get off of our feet for a bit. We kept going until we realized that we needed other facilities and of course they were all the way back by where we had started. It was so hard to turn around without seeing every booth, but our bags were full and the crowds were starting to fill in.
By the time we were done my friend had a full bag, a painting and a giant wooden cut out of Asterix, a French cartoon icon. I had my rolling back and large shopping bag FULL. There was also a road sign I had tucked under my bag.
From here we left the Champs de Mars and started back across the city to the train station, it was about 4 PM. We eventually made it to the train station by 5:30 and hopped on the 6:07 train back to Belgium. The journey across the city was pretty miserable. The streets were PACKED in places. We could not move. Not everyone had been doing as much shopping as we had. Our bags were full and cumbersome, but they were full of treasures so we pressed on.
Here is a picture of me at the train station. That is one big smile because we were almost home!
La Braderie is unique in that it goes all night long. We read about people using flashlights to shop through the night. We had our flashlights packed and we were excited to try it, but after seeing the city filling up, and talking to a train station employee, we were worried for our safety if we were to go back in. It felt less like a brocante or flea market and more like a street party. So we made the decision to call it a night. We ordered Thai food and it was amazing and then we got all of the kids situated and settled in for a quiet night.
The festival was not exactly what I was expecting, but it was a lot of fun.
I am really glad I went this year, but I don't think I will put it on the calendar for next year.