Pop.density (people per km2): 322
Three principal communes
The largest city in the north by far, Lille is a very industrious and surrounded by a huge sprawl of suburbs and industrial plants. Once you get through the sprawl, Vieux Ville has lots of character (much of which is Flemish influenced) - beyond the three large public squares at its centre there's a warren of red-brick terraces on cobbled lanes and passages. Lille is a prosperous commercial centre and on Saturday is jam-packed with shoppers. There are also some fine restaurants, theatres, museums and art galleries. The town has a pristine metro system, and with its Eurostar and TGV links it has become an important transport hub in northern Europe. The town has successfully capitalised on this and has established a reputation as an international business centre.
In the midst of mining country and only 35km south of Lille, this town although badly damaged in both world wars is surprisingly attractive and lively. It was a haven for English Catholics fleeing Protestant oppression in Tudor England.
Close to the border with Belgium, Valenciennes is a major industrial town. Its principal activities are automobile construction, mechanical engineering, railway construction, and chemicals. The town, like so many in northern France, was badly damaged in the two world wars. Today it has a large university population with over 30,000 students.