When I moved to Roubaix, it wasn’t a town that particularly excited me. I thought it was just a place to live that was close to Lille.
But Roubaix I’ve learned has a pretty incredible history which makes it an interesting place to visit and live. It actually has been one of the richest towns in France and housed some of France’s biggest millionaire families. This is because of the towns’ significant historical role in textiles. Roubaix was the heart and soul of the textile industry when it was in its prime and recently, as a result, fashion (more on that later)!
Because of its history, Roubaix offers several museums, historical landmarks and parks for tourists to explore and learn more about this northern industrial town. Here are 5 of the top things to do in Roubaix I have discovered so far!
1. La Piscine Museum
One of Roubaix’s pride and joys is the Piscine Museum. If you know a little French, you’ll know that ‘piscine’ means swimming pool. So why on earth is it called the ‘swimming pool museum’!? Because the museum is in a refurbished public swimming pool from the 1930s! The entire art deco building’s original architecture has remained intact as they have turned the pool into a stage for sculptures and the former change rooms and cubicles to display the museum’s art collection.
If this hasn’t convinced you to visit or if art isn’t really your thing, I think you should visit just to see the building. It is stunning! The pool room has enormous stained glass windows and I found it really interesting to see how they used the historic space. Walking into the pool from the main reception, you essentially walk through the old showers! Seeing these small private spaces being used for an entirely different and public purpose was amusing to me.
When I visited, I particularly enjoyed the textiles and fashion floor. They had costume sketches and set ideas for various operas on display. This was something I like to view; the “behind the scenes” experience, the preliminary sketches, and the ideas inside an artist’s brain really interest me. Something else that was pointed out to me was under the tables and tables of textiles, you can see so many huge binders filled with more textiles. I just like to think about how they archive and store all of these various materials. Just imagine all of the ones that aren’t even on display!
Address: 23 Rue de l’Espérance, 59100 Roubaix
2. Parc Barbieux
This spot is probably my personal favourite in Roubaix. Why? To start, it is a huge park (around 86 acres!). I’ve visited so far in the winter, spring and summer and I can say I’ve enjoyed it in all seasons (I can’t wait to see it in autumn).
Spring is perhaps my favourite because you can tell that they put a lot of time and energy into its landscaping. I’ve seen many staff walking around, taking care of the park and making sure it is clean and safe. For me, this is something I really appreciate and don’t take for granted because I have definitely walked through some parks that do not have great vibes. And because of the great care that they put into the park, it is actually known as one of the finest urban parks in France! In Roubaix, who would have guessed!
The best part of the park for me is that there is actually a lot to do and see; it’s a really diverse park. There are large flower beds, massive hanging trees, play areas for kids, long ponds for birds, a cute cafe, rock gardens with waterfalls and you can find some sculptures hiding in certain corners. I’ve seen wedding photos take place, children learning to ride a bike, people playing sports, artists working on installations, couples going for a stroll, families having a picnic together, and people going for runs. This might just sound like your average park, but trust me, Parc Barbieux is a really nice space to spend time and is definitely something to check out when you’re in Roubaix.
Address: Parc Barbieux, Avenue le Notre, 59100 Roubaix
3. Villa Cavrois
Hidden in the neighbourhoods between Roubaix and Croix, about a 10-15 minutes walk from Parc Barbieux, there is a large estate called the Villa Cavrois. The villa was built in the early 1930s and I found it stands out in terms of its style and architecture. The inside reminds me of a time capsule with the furniture and style being very colourful, geometric and simplistic.
This house has a rather interesting history beyond being used as a residence, it honestly has been through the wringer. It was occupied by the Germans in 1940, resulting in the house being converted into a barracks and being damaged by the end of the war. When the Cavrois family returned, they expanded the house and continued living there until 1985. After that, the house was abandoned and it was taken over by looters resulting in it being completely deteriorated. It wasn’t until 2001 before the restoration project began!
The house is considerably large but I think it’s interesting to compare it to other famous palaces or estates I have visited on other travels. Most others I’ve seen are filled from top to bottom with stuff. This house was the complete opposite, it was extremely minimalistic. It was rather shocking how empty this large house felt, even looking at the historic photos from back when it was a residence. My favourite room was the parent’s bathroom for 2 reasons. 1) Again, because of the shocking way they chose to use the room, leaving rather expansive empty spaces and 2) because it was the first time I have ever seen a bathroom with full carpeting.
Address: Villa Cavrois, 60 Avenue John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 59170 Croix
4. Roubaix Centre
A friend and I recently went for a walk around Roubaix centre, not really sure what we would find. Our goal was to find a nice place to sit, have a refreshing drink and enjoy the view. So off we went. And of course, like most French towns, you can start in the Grand Place. The Grand Place houses a gorgeous town hall and church, lined with terraces from several restaurants. But we felt there was more to Roubaix Centre so we kept going.
Continuing down the Grand Rue we passed along a pretty impressive mall and eventually stumbled upon Place de la Liberté at one of the mall’s entrances. This was another promising place for us. Someone was playing live music, there were many restaurants and cafes to choose from, large pedestrian spaces, and trees sprinkled throughout the square. The best part was the colourful buildings that lined the streets. We thought we found our spot but decided to keep walking.
We crossed the street, passing one of the main metro stations in Roubaix, Eurotéléport, to something that caught our eye. It’s called McArthur Glen, an outdoor outlet mall and it was gorgeous! It felt like we stumbled into Covent Garden in London. It was a lovely place to walk around and window shop. Several food trucks were offering some sweets and treats and we eventually found our place to sit. All of this to say, we had a very pleasant wander around Roubaix Centre and would recommend checking it out!
Address (McArthur Glen): 44 Rue Mail de Lannoy, 59100 Roubaix
5. La Manufacture
Another spot in Roubaix worth mentioning is the La Manufacture museum. Remember earlier I mentioned Roubaix was at the heart of the textile industry in France? Well, if you want to learn more about it, head over to this museum! It is located in a historic textile factory from 1914. After visiting this museum, I have a newfound respect for these industrial workers. Inside they have several working looms from different eras, allowing you to witness the evolution of the industry. And if you’re able to go on a guided tour, your guide will operate the looms for you showing the complexity, danger and muscle that goes into the various fabrics that have been made over the years.
I honestly didn’t have the faintest idea that I would leave the museum as impressed as I was. I was blown away by the size and complexity of using a loom. And don’t even get me started on tapestries! Seeing the thousands of strands of string or yarn floating over each machine was overwhelmingly impressive. And then watching the looms evolve into automatic machines, operating at incredible speeds and volume was incredible. I can’t imagine how loud the building would be with several machines operating at the same time. It is a miracle employees still had their sense of hearing. Nevertheless, it was really an enjoyable experience.
Note to future visitors: when I visited, the guided tours were only offered in French not English. Some of the information panels had helpful English translations and the video guided visits have subtitles in English. Without a guided tour you still have access to see all of the looms, machines, and the other various displays in the museum!
Address: 29 Avenue Julien Lagache, 59100 Roubaix
Always be a tourist!
This is your biggest reminder to always be a tourist! Explore your local area and always have your mind set to discover! We get so accustomed to our local area but make sure to appreciate your surroundings!
If you’re in need of more ideas of how to spend your visit to Lille, you can check out my 10 Restaurants you need to try in Lille blog post! On my Thatch account, I also have a Sweet Tooth Tour to Lille Guide and a FREE Rainy Day to Lille Guide! Be sure to give them a save!