Must see and must do in Ghent

Must see and must do in Ghent

Ghent, a hidden gem in Europe, is a city that captivates visitors with its rich history, architectural splendor, and vibrant atmosphere. And I feel like an idiot that I just spent half a day here (Grrrrr). So I did a day trip to Brugge and Ghent. It was my second time to Brugge so I thought I will be done there in an hour and rest of the day I will explore Ghent. However the magnetic charm of Brugge made me click some 200 pictures there and I was stuck for half a day. Anyway, I am happy that atleast I made it to Ghent.

And I can very confidently now, shout from the rooftops that Ghent deserves a spot on your Europe bucket list.

Full of medieval architectural marvels, a vibrant cultural heritage, an old and famous University, a cyclists’ paradise, culinary hotspot…ok this list doesn’t seem to end. So let me list down all the things I experienced and clicked in Ghent and humbly recommend to everyone.

Firstly, how to reach Ghent?

I stayed in Brussels for five days and traveled to Brugge and Ghent on the same day. I wouldn’t recommend this as both need one full day to enjoy at a leisurely pace. However I had been to Brugge before so I thought to visit it again and keep it a short one.

You can take a train from Brussels to Ghent, travel time is 25-30 minutes OR from Brugge to Ghent, travel time on a fast direct train is about 30 minutes. You can buy tickets directly at the station OR use Omio

You can also rent a car in Brussels and drive to Ghent. Europcar is reliable and well known across Europe. There are other rental companies like Hertz, Avis as well.

What to see in Ghent?

Ghent has so many sights to see and enjoy. It’s full of history with its magnificent medieval buildings. From the train station I walked to the old town which is a good 20-30 min walk. Along the way I stopped for a quick bite at Panos which is budget bakery with some delicious food on the go options.

The old town is the main area where you will find most of the attractions.

I headed straight to the St Michael Bridge and spent a lot of time walking around on both sides of the river.

  1. St Michael’s Bridge

So the first thing you notice when you reach the old town is St Michael Bridge. It literally joins the two parts of the historic center namely Graslei and Korenlei which are separated by the the Leie river.

The Sint-Michielsbrug bridge has a beautiful and very noticeable lamp post with Saint Michael and a dragon at his feet. The bridge is illuminated at night and I am told it looks spectacular. Do not forget to take a selfie at this most prominent landmark of Ghent. It offers a stunning view of the city’s medieval skyline, including the three impressive towers of Saint Nicholas’ Church, Belfry of Ghent, and Saint Bavo’s Cathedral.

The bridge itself is a beautiful stone structure, lined with elegant lampposts and adorned with statues of Saint Michael and various other saints. It serves as a popular spot for locals and tourists to enjoy the scenic views, take photographs, and soak in the charm of Ghent’s historic architecture.

From St. Michael’s Bridge, you can also observe the numerous boats cruising along the tranquil waters of the Leie River, adding to the enchanting atmosphere of the area. Entry to St. Michael’s Bridge is free, and there are no specific timings to visit since it is an open bridge accessible at all times. Therefore, you can enjoy the panoramic views and capture memorable photographs at your convenience.

St. Michael’s Bridge is a wonderful vantage point to appreciate the beauty and architectural heritage of Ghent. Make sure to include it on your itinerary when exploring the city. And click endless pictures of it from both sides of the river like I did.

2. Gravensteen Castle

Also known as the Castle of the Counts, Gravensteen is a well-preserved medieval fortress located in the heart of Ghent. Built in the 12th century, it served as the residence of the Counts of Flanders. Visitors can explore the castle’s towers, ramparts, and museum, which provides insights into the castle’s history. The entry fee for adults is around €10, and the castle is generally open from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM.

I could not visit it from inside due to the crunch of time, however I clicked some lovely pictures from outside, you can’t go wrong with it.

3. The Belfry of Ghent

Standing tall in the city center, the Belfry is an iconic symbol of Ghent. This medieval tower, reaching a height of 91 meters, offers panoramic views of the city. Visitors can climb the 300 steps to the top for a breathtaking vista of Ghent’s historic skyline. The entry fee is approximately €8, and the Belfry has varying opening hours throughout the year.

Its a real iconic landmark visible from almost everywhere in the old town.

4. The Ghent City Hall

The Ghent City Hall, also known as Stadhuis, is an architectural masterpiece located on the historic market square, known as the “Grote Markt,” in the heart of Ghent.

The City Hall of Ghent is a stunning example of Flemish Renaissance architecture, characterized by its ornate facade and intricate details. The building dates back to the late 16th century and served as the administrative center of the city, housing the offices of the city council and various municipal departments.

The exterior of the City Hall is adorned with beautiful sculptures and decorative elements, showcasing the wealth and power of the city during the Renaissance period. The facade features statues representing notable historical figures, including Emperor Charles V and his son Philip II of Spain.

Inside the City Hall, you’ll find a series of magnificent halls and chambers that reflect the grandeur of the building. These spaces are adorned with intricate woodwork, elaborate ceilings, and ornate decorations. Notably, the Gothic Hall (Gotische Zaal) is a highlight with its impressive stained glass windows and large fireplace.

I really loved the carvings and detailing on its walls outside and it was so interesting to study them in detail. A real masterpiece.

5. Saint Bavo Cathedral and Saint Nicholas Church

Two stunning medieval churches, former being a cathedral.

St Bavo is an iconic cathedral is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture and houses several treasures, including the famous Ghent Altarpiece painted by the Van Eyck brothers. The cathedral dates back to the 10th century and features stunning stained glass windows and intricate details. Entry to the cathedral is free, but there may be a small fee to visit the altar area.

Saint Nicholas’s Church is a magnificent Gothic church, dedicated to Saint Nicholas, is another architectural gem in Ghent. Dating back to the 13th century, it features a grand facade adorned with elaborate sculptures. The church is open to visitors, and entry is generally free.

6. Graslei and Korenlei

Graslei and Korenlei are two picturesque quays located along the banks of the Leie River in Ghent. These historic streets are lined with beautifully preserved medieval buildings and are regarded as one of the most charming areas in the city. Here’s some information about Graslei and Korenlei:

Graslei and Korenlei are adjacent streets that run parallel to each other, separated only by the Leie River. Graslei is the quay on the right bank, while Korenlei is on the left bank. These streets have served as important trading ports since the Middle Ages, bustling with commercial activity and lined with the guildhalls of wealthy merchants.

The buildings along Graslei and Korenlei showcase a variety of architectural styles, ranging from Gothic to Renaissance to Baroque. These beautifully preserved structures with their stepped gables, colorful facades, and ornate details provide a stunning backdrop and evoke a sense of Ghent’s rich history.

Today, Graslei and Korenlei are vibrant areas with a lively atmosphere. I walked both sides and clicked so many pictures. It was really hot and sunny so one side pictures were darker than the other side. Nevertheless the views are gorgeous.

7. Patershol

Patershol is a charming neighborhood located in the heart of Ghent, Belgium. Known as one of the oldest and most authentic parts of the city, Patershol is a historic quarter with a unique character.

Patershol is characterized by its narrow, winding streets, cobblestone pathways, and picturesque medieval houses. It was once a working-class district that housed laborers and artisans during the Middle Ages. Today, it has transformed into a vibrant and trendy neighborhood, known for its cozy atmosphere and excellent culinary scene.

Wandering through the streets of Patershol, you’ll find a delightful mix of colorful facades, small artisanal shops, cozy cafes, and top-notch restaurants. The area is renowned for its culinary offerings, with numerous restaurants serving a wide range of cuisines, from traditional Belgian dishes to international flavors. It’s a food lover’s paradise, offering a blend of traditional and contemporary gastronomic experiences.

8. The charming streets of Ghent

The streets of Ghent offer a fascinating blend of history, architecture, and vibrant urban life. When in Ghent, ensure you stroll around and absorb the local vibes from its very charming streets.

Here are three most recommended ones

  1. Veldstraat: Veldstraat is Ghent’s main shopping street and one of the busiest thoroughfares in the city. It stretches from Korenmarkt, the central square, to Zuid, the southern part of the city. Veldstraat is lined with a variety of shops, boutiques, cafes, and restaurants, making it a bustling hub for locals and visitors alike.
  2. Korenmarkt: Korenmarkt is the central square of Ghent and a vibrant gathering place. It serves as a central point for many of the city’s important landmarks, including the Belfry of Ghent and Saint Nicholas’ Church. Surrounding Korenmarkt, you’ll find several charming streets with cafes, bars, and shops, creating a lively atmosphere.
  3. Langemunt: Langemunt is a historic street connecting Korenmarkt to Vrijdagmarkt, another picturesque square in Ghent. The street is known for its unique boutiques, jewelry stores, and specialty shops. Langemunt is also home to the historic Masons’ Guild House, an architectural gem worth admiring.

9. Cute cafes and restaurants

Ghent is known for its charming cafes and boutiques, offering a delightful blend of local flavors, trendy designs, and unique shopping experiences. What I really loved were the flower baskets everywhere. The pop of colour is so beautiful. Here are a few notable cafes worth exploring in Ghent:

  1. Café Labath: Located near the University of Ghent, Café Labath is a cozy and popular spot for coffee lovers. They serve specialty coffee sourced from around the world, and the cafe’s relaxed atmosphere makes it an ideal place to unwind and enjoy a cup of freshly brewed coffee.
  2. Simon Says: Situated in the heart of Ghent, Simon Says is a trendy cafe known for its delicious brunch options and homemade pastries. The cafe offers a cozy interior and a beautiful outdoor terrace, making it a perfect spot for a leisurely breakfast or a midday coffee break.
  3. Barista: With its modern and minimalist design, Barista is a contemporary cafe that focuses on high-quality coffee and specialty brews. They also offer a selection of light meals, sandwiches, and pastries, all made with fresh ingredients.

10. Shopping in Ghent

The city is known for its vibrant and creative scene, so there are many delightful things to explore and take home as memories of your travel.

  1. Belgian Chocolates: Belgium is renowned for its delicious chocolates, and Ghent is no exception. Visit one of the local chocolatiers or chocolate shops to find a wide range of artisanal chocolates, pralines, and truffles. These make for a sweet and indulgent souvenir to bring back home.
  2. Ghentse Neuzekes: Ghentse Neuzekes, or “Ghent noses,” are a traditional candy associated with the city. These cone-shaped candies have a sweet raspberry flavor and are often found in local markets or specialty stores. They make for a unique and tasty Ghent-specific treat.
  3. Belgian Beer: Belgium has a rich brewing tradition, and Ghent offers a fantastic selection of local beers. Consider purchasing a bottle or a variety pack of Belgian beers, including some brewed in Ghent. There are numerous beer shops in the city where you can explore a wide range of options.
  4. Ghent Lace: Lacework is deeply rooted in Ghent’s history, and the city is known for its exquisite lace products. Look for lace bookmarks, coasters, or delicate lace accessories like handkerchiefs or shawls. These intricate lace items are beautiful and reflect Ghent’s traditional craftsmanship.
  5. Artisanal Products: Ghent is home to talented artisans and craftsmen who create unique handmade products. Look for locally made ceramics, pottery, glassware, or textiles. These handmade pieces showcase the creativity and craftsmanship of Ghent’s artisans.
  6. Postcards and Prints: Bring a piece of Ghent’s beautiful architecture and scenery with you through postcards or prints. You’ll find a wide selection of postcards featuring Ghent’s landmarks and picturesque views. Additionally, art prints or illustrations capturing the city’s charm are also great souvenirs to adorn your walls.

Remember to explore local markets, boutiques, and souvenir shops in Ghent to discover more options and find the perfect souvenir that resonates with your memories of the city.

Final thoughts…

Though I spent around half a day only at Ghent, I now look back and think, I should have dedicated at least a full day. There is so much to see and do in this art city. I will certainly come back here to explore more. A day trip to Ghent from Brussels is so rewarding. I recommend you stay a day or two in Ghent to explore this city and give it much needed attention.

Would love to hear your experiences if you have visited Ghent? What did you like the most? And any recommendations to add to this list?

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