Lens, France is the site of the new extension of the Louvre museum called "Louvre-Lens". If you're an art lover, you might want to plan a stop in this former coal mining town to have a look at the sleek steel and glass museum and park on top of an old mining area.
Once a coal mining town, the Lens metropolitan area consists of a quarter million people. By the time the last mine closed in 1986, the city suffered from poverty and a high jobless rate. It is hoped that the new museum will turn the struggling Lens into a hot travel destination, much like the Guggenheim did in Bilbao, Spain.
Lens is a city in the Pas-de-Calais department of northern France near the border with Belgium. Lens is near many WWI memorials, including the closest at Vimy, where the battle of Vimy Ridge was fought, and Loos, where the Battle of Loos took place 3 miles northwest of Lens. (See our France Regions Map)
How to get to Lens, France
The Lens Railway Station (Gare de Lens) is a French National Heritage Site, It's an Art Deco concoction built to look like a steam locomotive. TGV trains from Dunkerque to Paris stop in Lens. Lille is 37-50 minutes away by train; the trip should cost around 11 euros.
From London, you can take the Eurostar to Lille, then the regional train to Lens.
By car on the Autoroute, Lens is about 137 miles (220km) from Paris and 17 km from Arras, the capital of the Pas-de-Calais department. The A1 gets you from Lens to Paris, the A25 to Lille.
The closest airport is found at Lille, Aéroport de Lille (LIL).
Attractions in Lens Center
All of the attractions listed below are very close to the Lens train station, with the exception of Louvre-lens, but for the first year at least there will be a small, free bus from the station directly to the museum, so that Lens could very well be done as a day trip from Lille or other cities nearby.
The Louvre-Lens, opened in December of 2012, will display works from the Louvre in Paris. Around 20 percent of the collection will rotate each year. Unlike the Louvre, in which the art is arranged by culture or artist, the museum at Lens will display art over time. The museum includes a landscaped park you can stroll.
The Boulevard Emile Basly, near the train station, offers some of the best examples of Art Deco in northern France.
You can find out about Lens' mining past at the Maison Syndicale on Rue Casimir Beugnet, a historic monument with documents and artifacts illuminating the history of the area.
Le Pain de la Bouche is a popular restaurant at bis rue de la gare. Bistrot du Boucher at 10 Place Jean Jaurès is also praised by many as affordable and tasty.
The Cactus Cafe on Rue Jean Letienne is legendary for its music, from traditional French to rock, jazz, blues and folk.
Lens Market days: Tuesday, Saturday and Friday mornings.
Where to Stay in Lens
One of the more compelling reasons to make Lens a day trip happens to be the lack of hotels in the city center. The Campanile Lens is a chain hotel, pet friendly with free wifi.
There are plenty of hotels in Lille in all price ranges.
For those wishing to explore the many WWI battlefields or just like a house in the country, HomeAway lists many Picardie vacation rentals (book direct).