Let me convince you why you absolutely must visit Lille, the capital of France’s North. Beer. Mussels. Friendly people. Things that don’t exist in Paris are available in excess in Lille. I’ve been to Paris more than I’ve been anywhere else in France — but in second place is not Bordeaux or Lyon or Nice or even Marseille (which I love!) but Lille. I’ve been to Lille more than anywhere else I’ve been in France except for Paris. This is mostly because every Labor Day weekend, I head to Lille for its huge flea market, possibly the biggest and oldest in Europe. (Operating for nearly 1000 years, it only stopped a handful of times, including the Nazi invasion of France during World War II and after the terrible truck attack in Nice in 2016.) Lille is only an hour from Paris by train but its location, bordering Belgium, hints at its very different identity: It’s beer, not wine, and moules et frites instead of steak tartare. It’s friendly! I know I already said that, but it’s worth …
The list of the top cities to visit in France that aren’t Paris begins with Lille and goes all the way south to Nice: Mon dieu, there’s a lot of France that isn’t Paris! Paris can be cold (both climatologically and interpersonally), it’s expensive, the weather’s terrible — yes, it’s beautiful, but so is Lyon! And Lyon’s cheaper, friendlier, and both sunnier and snowier!
The news is basically all good in terms of the best day trips from Paris by train: There’s a wealth of attractions within Ile-de-France, the administrative region that includes Paris and its suburbs — nearly all of these are accessible via the RER or Transilien commuter trains. (And it’s even better if you get a Navigo pass for the week or month — with an all-zone pass, which would include transport to and from Charles de Gaulle airport, you can travel for free on all of these lines.)
So what are the best flea markets in France? The French take their flea markets very, very seriously, and these events are hugely popular. Plan in advance for accommodations or risk staying out of town.