Lens is not a big tourist destination in an of itself, but that’s not to say that there aren’t some attractions for you to while away a matchday in the city.
It might surprise you to learn that there is a Louvre museum in Lens. Yes, that same Louvre museum. In an effort to extend the cultural institutions beyond Paris, in 2003 the Louvre sought a regional base to extend the collection, and ultimately settled on Louvre-Lens. The museum was opened in 2012 by Francois Hollande, and houses objects from the Paris collection on long-term loans. More than a million visitors have crossed its threshold in just a couple of years.
The Louvre-Lens lies around a 20 minute walk northwest of the train station off the rue Paul Bert. Most of the museum is free, but some temporary exhibitions charge an entrance fee.
The main train station is something of a site in itself - built in the 1920s to resemble the shape of a steam locomotive, it is one of the oldest buildings in the region in this style. The inside is decorated with some beautiful mosaics.
Mining plays a big part of the history and culture in the region, and so the two Loos-en-Gohelle slagheaps (known as 11/19, after the two mineshaft numbers they were created by) are actually something of a tourist attraction in themselves. They’re the tallest in Europe, and a monument to the city’s mining heritage. Nowadays, they’re a site of ecological diversity and a quiet spot to go for a walk.
The city centre was largely destroyed in World War One, so a lot of the buildings that have been rebuilt since are in the art-deco style of the 1920s. Very fre pre-war buildings remain, but the church and town hall is one such example. The Place Jean Jaures, the city’s main square, is the real hub of town life. Lined with town houses and shops it’s particularly busy on Saturdays for the market, and the town hall and Saint Leger church mark the centrepoints of the city.
Outside the city
The nearby town of Arras is more of a tourist hotspot. The tourist office is located on the ground floor of the Town Hall, on Place des Héros, and should be your first top in finding out what’s going on in the town. Open 7 days a week from 9am to 6:30pm (from 10am to 6:30pm on Sundays, closed an hour for lunch) it’ll provide you with all you will need to know.
The Town Hall itself, and the Belfry attached, are UNESCO World Heritage sites. You can ascend the Belfry - access is by lift (and 43 steps) up to a height of 55m - for a great panoramic view of the town. Entry is €3 (€2 concessions) and it’s open until 6pm.
From its art district to its charming squares, the Boves (a maze of tunnels 30 feet below the city) and the Saint Vaast Abbey and Cathedral among others, there’s plenty to see and do.
The area of Nord-Pas-de-Calais is rich with military history, playing host to several key battles during both World War One and World War Two. The Canadian National Vimy Memorial on the route south-west towards Arras marks the battlefield park that encompasses the areas that saw action during the Battle of Vimy Ridge and the Battle of Arras. There are preserved trenches and a number of cemeteries, but large areas of the grounds are closed off due to safety concerns.